I step out onto what must be fifteen metres of unsupported concrete slabbing. The ten centimetre thick layer of frosted glass lining the austere, carpet-stripped concrete floor, noted. The shell casings mixed in between, noted. The rusted interior framework of the solid concrete walls protruding through gaping, vicious holes I can easily fit my head through, noted.
I sit, gazing out, a leg hanging haphazardly over each side of a knife-edge corner of the building.
The landscape beneath me is somewhat serene, almost out of a fairy tale even, a blue-green river winding through the floodplains of a deep-bottomed valley, the omnipresent terracotta rooftops only broken by minarets and church spires. Every now and then a hulking grey mass breaks the sea of orange, not exactly obvious from this distance but present all the same, lurking.
In the previous days as we explored more of the city we found plenty of skeletons like this, wiring draping from the ceilings, blackberries engaged in perpetual skirmishes with the shattered concrete foundations.
The city of Mostar in the Herzegovinian region of Bosnia was subject to a brutal 18 month siege, so bloody and tirelessly fought out that not even the heritage for which the city is now renowned remained. Stari Most, the bridge that defines the historic heart and gives tourists a solid reason to divert inland, was completely destroyed, its simple, triangular span plummeting into the cold waters below after the onslaught of repeated shelling.
For six months of 2014 a friend and I were essentially nomads. I knew plenty of people that took gap years, usually working their asses off to book a Contiki or Top Deck tour that would take them round Europe’s major cities with a hangover. Not us. It all kind of blends together now but I expect I spent five months in a tent last year, generally staying out of the major cities and seeking out the kind of stuff that really rattles you, excites you, basically makes you feel alive.
It was these kind of thoughts that brought us to Mostar’s abandoned bank tower. I’d read a blog once that described a building that had basically been a device for ethnic cleansing, a sniper’s nest used for the brutal murder of civilians during the siege of the city. We stumbled round the streets, looking for a building with the sharp, knife-edge characteristic I’d seen in a photo. We found it soon enough, a barren, obsolete mass of some eight-odd stories.
As suit-clad men were walking past on their way to work we clambered over a three metre high wall, doing our best to avoid the syringes as we landed with a thud on the other side. Despite this place’s horrifying past I just had to see it.
Now in pitch darkness we moved through a series of tight rooms on the ground floor, noticing copious bongs and god knows what else integrated in the foot-deep sea of debris covering the interior. Rounding a corner and emerging into the light once again, the sunlight was penetrating the space through a tactical-looking gap in the wall. The words “Where is your god now?” stared me in the face, scrawled fluidly in rich red paint. I couldn’t help but thinking that those four words aptly summed up the sentiments of entire generations affected by the atrocities that went on here.
The graffiti was extensive and very little of it seemed to be there just for the sake of it. Much of it was politically motivated, or simply vented frustration, some purporting hate, others everlasting love for one’s neighbour despite it all.
After what must have been two hours inside, looking at every detail and examining this forum of Bosnia’s young, I stepped back out onto the street, the sun now high in the sky. As I walked down the broad, tree-lined boulevard I couldn’t help but notice the age of the locals, realising that many, in all reality, lived through a horror that few of us can imagine.