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Knez Mihailova Street

A man in traditional Serbian dress playing a double-barreled flute
Miroslav Vesovik, Belgrade,Serbia

Some time ago, one of my Georgian friends recommended a book to me: Humankind, A Hopeful History, by Rutger Bregman. In the course of 480 pages, Mr. Bregman intelligently tears down the historical myth that humans are inherently bad, arguing that our very survival as a species was built on our innate goodness.

There are cynics out there who might hold the opposite view. There are wars, dictators, terrorists and all sorts of other things that fill our 24-hour news cycle. But there are many more things in this world that aren’t breathlessly reported, stories that speak to our compassion and kindness.

The funny thing is, we don’t even have to speak the same language to experience kindness and connection.

woman wearing a colorful costume and bright wig
Stilt Walker, Belgrade, Serbia

I set out one day last week to photograph people along Belgrade, Serbia’s Knez Mihailova Street, the main pedestrian thoroughfare in the old part of the city and a lively mix of people visiting over coffee, shopping, or simply enjoying a warm afternoon.

A man named Miroslav Vesovik caught my eye. I had passed by him several times since we’ve been in Belgrade. He’s hard to miss, dressed in traditional Serbian costume, happily filling the air with melodies from the flutes he builds and plays.

I motioned with my camera to ask if I could take his photo. He asked me if I was "Deutsch," and I found out the question was the limit of his German language ability. While I took photos, he played the dvojnice, a two-tubed traditional Serbian flute played by shepherds watching their flocks.

Miroslav is one of the many street performers on any given summer day along Knez Mihailova. Dancers, musicians, clowns, stilt walkers, and other buskers give the street an exciting, vibrant energy.

The pedestrian street, lined with buildings from the late 1800s is more than a place to shop and relax. It’s a cultural monument protected by the Serbian government with a history nearly as old as the city itself, following the central grid layout of the Roman city. With each new power that ruled the city, Knez Mihailova Street’ character changed.

One of the most recent changes was the 1987 restoration of the street and conversion to a pedestrian-only zone.

Mihailova’s and my inability to speak the same language didn’t stop us from having a memorable conversation. He understood my question about the flute’s tuning when I asked, “Do,” the well-known name for the tonic note in a musical scale. I happily listened to him, his face lit up, as he described the instrument’s tuning and how to play it.

I didn’t walk away with a deeper understanding of the dvojnice, but I left with a memorable experience and a reaffirmation that the real story of humanity is one of the connections we make, sometimes with complete strangers, that make the world a better place.

A man in bright clothes and clown makeup holding a human figure made out of balloons
Balloon Artist, Belgrade, Serbia

A man playing the harmonica and guitar on a busy street
One-Man Band, Belgrade, Serbia


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