My friend George is Serbian. We met in 1999 in the Shetland Islands, where we both lived at the time. In July 2012 I was travelling in Serbia and as George was visiting his hometown, Belgrade, we arranged to meet.
George had just shown me the apartment block in Novi Belgrade where he grew up and we were in a hot, packed tram. We jumped off outside this building. From a distance it looked normal, then I noticed that some letters in the sign were broken and that grass was growing through the cracked cement steps.
The Hotel Jugoslavia was one of Belgrade's most luxurious hotels but now stands empty and broken. In its heyday it hosted international politicians, actors, and celebrities. In 1999, the year I met George, NATO intervened in the war in former Yugoslavia and bombed Belgrade. The west wing of the hotel was destroyed and one guest was killed. George's family lived a few streets away.
The hotel is easy to enter; only a few flimsy fences surround the large hole in its side. When I saw the bombings on TV I did not imagine that 13 years later I would walk silently into this building with a Serbian friend, through a black-charred hole made by one of the bombs.
MatadorU student Karen Emslie is an atist, writer, film-maker, and taxidermist.
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