How can a flooded carpet be salvaged?

History in the flow. Rivers as European places of remembrance

Momir Turudić

Momir Turudić, born 1964 in Čačak, Serbia, lives in Belgrade and works for the Serbian weekly newspaper Vreme. His reporting on the problems of the Roma has been recognized internationally. He is one of the leading writers in the Middle East and North Africa.

The Ada Kaleh was an island in the Danube where Christians and Muslims lived together peacefully. It was located at the Iron Gate on the border between Serbia and Romania, but was an exclave of the Ottoman Empire until 1912. When Romania and Yugoslavia built the Djerdap reservoir and the power station at the Iron Gate in 1968, the island disappeared in the floods of the Danube.


The smell of the Orient

The rays of the November sun fall through the ornaments on the window that frame the words Ada Kaleh and illuminate a large room in which every detail breathes Orient - the carved chairs, the low tables, the tiles with arabesques on the floor, the chandeliers. The air is heavy, stale, you can feel that the room has not been ventilated for a long time. Emil Popesku brings the coffee and pours it into the mocha cup. There is a smell that I know, the smell of coffee made from beans that someone has roasted and ground in a hand mill.

I haven't smelled it for a long time, but after forty years I can still smell it. I was seven years old when my aunt took me to the Visegrad market to visit a Muslim friend of mine. To Turks, as they said in the Serbian villages, then without malice, when they talked about the other side of the Danube. It was then that I tasted the Orient for the first time. Since then it has been in me, this taste. He drives me to look for him no matter where I am.

Emil Popesku's café

Emil Popesku also speaks of smells: "When I heard that the island would go under with the construction of the dam, I wanted at least to save some of what connects us people from Turnu Severin with this place. I did not live on the island, but as a child I was often there, even as a young man. I remember it as if it had been yesterday: The Ada Kaleh was a basket full of flowers in the Danube, roses, figs, grapes, olives, people. "

Popesku sits down. "I had a lot of friends there, I wanted to help them so that they know where to go when they have to leave the island. And also that they can do what they did there. They made Lokum, Turkish honey, Jam from roses, and this Coffee. The last time I took my son there was when he was four years old. He still says today that he remembers everything. "

Popesku opened the café in Turnu Severin, the Romanian city on the Danube and border with Serbia, in 1968, the year the dam was built and people were relocated to the island. He has his café in her honor Ada Kaleh called. His café is also no longer where it used to be. "The old café was kind of nicer, but they destroyed the house and a few others when they built the fountain in the city center, this big one made of metal. After that, I moved here. I set it up for four years, around every detail taken care of. "

While he is talking, Emil lights a cigarette and ashes in a large, rusty jezva, the small pot in which Turkish coffee is usually made. "I no longer use this jezva," he explains, "but at that time ten coffees were made in it at once. Very different guests came to my café because of the coffee, the sweets and everything else. Sometimes came a whole bus worker straight from the factory, but also the richer ones came, two presidents of Romania were here when they visited Turnu Severin. "

In the café, says Emil, his friends from the island would have worked - in traditional Turkish clothes, with fez on their heads. Then business began to deteriorate. "I finally closed in 2009. I don't think I'll start again, now there are new laws. If you want to make cakes, you need a permit to make it, a lot of permits. Many Turks have left, there are only a few left." in the city, they are old and sick like me. The young people are looking for other things today, they drink espresso or Nescafé. Who drinks Turkish coffee? "

One island, many names

But the island that gave it its name disappeared before the café. That was two years after Emil Popesku opened his café. In 1970 the Danube flooded the 1,750 meter long, barely half a kilometer wide island on which legends and history for many generations had accumulated. Tradition has it that precisely there, on this piece of earth in the middle of the Danube, where the climate is as mild as that of their homeland far to the south, the Argonauts rested and saw olives for the first time. They took them with them from the Ada Kaleh to the ancient world.

The Ada Kaleh was rich in history simply because of its location. Whoever was their master ruled the lower course of the Danube: The Ada Kaleh was the entrance to the journey through the Iron Gate. Tales from ancient times tell that the Roman Emperor Trajan set his legions across the river at this very point when he went to war against the Dacians. He had linked his boats together so that a bridge was created with the island in the middle. At the same point the Mongols crossed the frozen Danube on their terrible move west. Visigoths, Huns, Slavs, Hungarians, Austrians, Serbs and Turks passed after them through the centuries. Turkey and Austria fought the longest struggle for control of the Ada Kaleh - it lasted more than five hundred years.

The name of the island also changed. For a long time it was called Sa’an, the origin of this name is lost somewhere in the fog of history. Later she was known as Karolina, after the Austrian fortress of the same name, or Neu Orschawa after the town of Orschowa on the Romanian river bank. Sometimes it was called Ada-i Kebir, the Big Island, in a mixture of Arabic, Persian and Turkish. The name Ada Kaleh, which means fortified island, was given to it after the great Turkish fortress was built. Under this name it should also sink into the Danube.

Fortifications had existed on it for a long time, from the Romans, but the Austrians began to build the last, the largest fortress. That was in 1689, it was completed in 1717. Felix Philipp Kanitz, an Austrian naturalist, archaeologist and ethnologist, noted that there were "barracks, a hospital, a church and a tunnel under the Danube to the Serbian river bank" on the island. This led to the bank fortress, "that of the Austrian customs Fort Elisabeth was called ".

Numerous battles were fought for the island, several times the Austrians and Turks took it from each other. The first thing each winner did was mark the territory with a place of prayer. When the Turks conquered the Ada Kaleh in 1738, they turned the building of the Austrian military command into a mosque. The Austrians occupied the island again in the spring of 1790 and converted the mosque into a Franciscan monastery. But after only one year, the Ada Kaleh was given back to the Turks in the peace treaty, who routinely turned the monastery back into a mosque. But the time of Turkish rule was slowly coming to an end. When the last six Turkish fortresses were peacefully handed over to the Serbs in 1867, the Ada Kaleh lost its importance for the great powers. From then on it was a bizarre international law. Austria-Hungary took over the administration of the island, with the islanders officially remaining residents of the Ottoman Empire. However, they were exempt from customs duties and military service.

Multiculturalism on the Danube

A thick mixture of peoples and religions has always simmered on the Danube, this eternal border between the worlds. It was difficult to draw a line. Especially on the Ada Kaleh, which flourished again after the First World War. She had shaken off the heavy burden of having been the spoils of war over and over again. After 1918 the residents decided to join Romania. The Ada Kaleh's Golden Age began in peace.

The island still looked like a forgotten part of Turkey in Europe, but not only Turks had settled there. In the documentary Stories from the Ada Kaleh by the director Ismet Arasan, residents of the island living scattered in Turkey remember that the people came from everywhere, some as exiles, refugees and adventurers of different religions and nations. They say that they lived together, mixed, that it was not uncommon for a Jew to bury an imam or a Muslim to bury an Orthodox priest. Everyone had a day off on Hidrelez, a Muslim holiday called Djurdjevdan in Serbian. The islanders were like a family, they respected each other, wore the same clothes, especially the traditional Turkish ones. Every evening people drank, mostly local schnapps made from mulberries, and the doors were left open while sleeping. Nobody could remember any record of theft or argument.

In 1931 the Romanian King Carol II visited the island. He drank coffee from the cup that his father had also drunk from, and laughing, he listened to the legend according to which some time ago someone on the island predicted that a ruler would come to the island that same year, who would Islanders would return their privileges and would also exempt them from import duties on tobacco and four wagons full of sugar and from the tax on souvenirs. There was a cigar factory on the island whose cigars were said to compete with Cuban cigars. Both members of the English royal family smoked them and the Romanian king himself.

Every year tens of thousands of tourists came to stroll through the narrow, cobbled streets, to enjoy ratluk with hazelnuts, fig and rose jam, halva, water pipes. In some black and white photographs you can see a soccer team, the clothes could be from the 1950s. The Danube shimmers behind the playing field. Some say the biggest problem was that the ball often fell into the river and that spectators or players had to swim after it.