I was standing outside the National Library of Sarajevo, looking at the mountains reflecting in the glass doors of the grand entrance – the same mountains from which incendiary ordnance was dropped, burning the Library and its heritage to the ground – when the tram entered my view, happily ringing its bell as it stopped to pick up some passengers.
Tramways in Sarajevo have a long history, starting in 1885. Trams rolled through the city streets, drawn by horses and then by electric motors, as Gavrilo Princip fatally shot Franz Ferdinand, kick-starting WWI. They were plying the cobbled streets as Nazi Germany invaded Yugoslavia and they were there as the Siege started.
At the beginning of the war, in 1992, their depot was set on fire by bombarding Serbs; at the very end of the conflict, in 1996, a rocket-propelled grenade was thrown against one of them as it took commuters into town, killing a woman and wounding 19 more. Many of them were tore to bits but some, throughout the war, remained on the roads, serving their city.
Today trams are back en masse on the city streets. Some are modern, donated by other European cities, but the bulk of the fleet is still made of Tatra models made in 1970s Czechoslovakia. Saying it equals admitting an incurable geekiness, but I was delighted to see their slightly démodé shapes coasting along the busy Sarajevo roads, despite their less-than-pristine looks, with bumps where their bodywork had been pierced by bullets and with different paint jobs.
At the end of the day, Sarajevo’s trams are veterans, much like the rest of the city. And, just for this, they deserve respect.