Travel Bosnia-Herzegovina. Mostar. Bridge the Gap

There was a war in this part of the world in Southeastern Europe, it ended fairly recently in 1995, the war is over and the situation is best described as complex. Bosnia-Herzegovina today is surrounded by Serbia, Croatia and Montenegro, there is also a coastline of 20 kilometres. Imagine that the country is sort of a few in one, a Bosniak-Croat Federation and the Bosnian Serb-led Republika Srpska. The mountain river Neretva is 225 km long, and 203 kilometres are in Bosnia and Herzegovina and 22 kilometres are in Croatia. The river runs right through Mostar and divides it in half.

Travel Bosnia-Herzegovina. Mostar. Stari Most.

Nationalism is wrong; add religion to it and the disaster is complete. Mostar is an excellent place to understand that once more. "Don't forget" is what someone sprayed on a rather small-ish stone exactly opposite a popular lookout point. Everybody is so engaged in taking photos and selfies in front of that infamous bridge. Do they remember? The Stari Most, in English Old Bridge, sits in the most incredible setting, 21 metres above the fast flowing and blue-green river Neretva. It connects two totally different parts of town. On one side there are mosques and minarets, and the high pitched but soothing sound of the calls for prayer are driven over by the wind to the other side with its churches and crosses.
The bridge was built in 2004, rebuilt after the original one from the 16th century that was destroyed by Croatians during the Bosnian war.

Stari Most. Moonwalk-mayhem and real men

Visitors don't look left and right, they are totally focused on their mission to get a good shot. People roll their eyes when I don’t get out of their way fast enough. It is like an army of ants, crawling towards me, their camera in one hand. Crossing that bridge is slightly slippery, and people hold on to each other and to railings, aiming not to break their hips. Many decide to walk backwards. Michael Jackson would be delighted, hundreds imitating him, trying their luck at the Mostar-Moonwalk. “Don't Forget.” As so often I have the feeling that compassion has long become irrelevant.

The bridge jumper carries a wide smile while collecting money from the audience. When his boss with her long blonde hair yells over the head of the crowd "no money, no funny" I understand that it would be rude not to give a gold coin donation. One of the guys jumps only minutes later, and it is spectacular to look at.

The bridge dive itself has got a 450 year long tradition, no matter your ethnical background, and it most certainly has not been introduced to entertain tourists. "A boy jumps and lands in the water as a man,” a lady at the Mostar Dive Club tells me. The fall lasts roughly two to three seconds before divers splash into the a little bit over 4.60 metres deep Neretva. Interested visitors have to pay EUR 30 to dive off that bridge, and most important, they will get trained how to do it (just ask the guys on the bridge while you are there). It is an absolute fair fee. Visitors will (most probably) survive the jump, the tradition lives on, and locals earn money from their skill and heritage. Everybody is a winner.

Each summer in July and ever since 1968 there is a competition at the Bridge in Mostar where as many as 70 divers from different countries come together to take the plunge either head or feet first.

How to get from boy to man in under three seconds

Tie the Knot in Mostar

As I stand at the shore of the river Neretva to see the bridge in its full glory a couple both dressed in floaty white clothes arrives at the scene. After a while the lady comes over to me and asks whether I can take a few photos of them. They are from the UK and she tells me her boyfriend just proposed two days ago and they got married one day earlier at the mosque in Mostar. We have a little chat, they are sure about this, having been together for five years, and no, he didn't just propose after a few great nights of sex (this is not the right moment to be too shy to ask questions). This relationship is serious. They love each other but their parents aren't delighted about their union, so they just got secretly married. Her hands are henna painted. I take a few photos of them, that bridge in the background. When I ask why they didn't get married in Las Vegas the guy says "it is more appropriate to do it here" ...

Karadjozbey Mosque built in 1557

I watch them walk up the hill "I think of you. Always. Hope you can quickly sort things with your families," they turn around “Thank you so much,” smile brightly but somewhat hopeless. It is 2016, they are in love, and happy. Their families should be jumping up and down out of sheer joy instead of making them run off to marry secretly. Religion. You would ask yourself how someone can be so dumb to destroy that historical bridge. How can someone be so irrational to start a fight or a war? The attitude of the families is exactly the same, obviously with comparably lesser consequences but they have torn down a bridge. Will they be able to bridge that gap? Many tourists are cool enough to jump off bridges in foreign countries, but are they courageous enough to tolerate other beliefs? I wasn’t brave enough to jump off that bridge but travelling teaches me not to be afraid of others.

View towards the east bank of Mostar

How to get to Mostar 

Visit the Mostar Airport website for more information. You can also take a bus or travel by train from Croatia and Bosnia Herzegovina. By car Mostar is two hours from Split, Croatia, and two hours from Dubrovnik, Croatia and two hours from Sarajevo. If you cross boarders in a rental car, a small surcharge applies (depending on your rental company). Driving is as safe as everywhere else, speed limits shall not be exceeded, alcohol not to be drunk, wear a seat-belt, use common sense and you will be fine. Petrol is readily available. There is plenty of parking opportunity in Mostar, and it felt absolutely safe. Please note: There still can be landmines in rural areas; best to ask locals before you leave.

From Berlin with love