In Goodbye, Eastern Europe, Jacob Mikanowski describes the defining and redefining of multiple borders of ancestral land and personal identity in a region that has never fully existed but is recognizable through history. Mikanowski’s fascinating new nonfiction defines this region between Western Europe and Eurasia by its complex and diverse language, ethnicity, and faith. A region that belonged to the “Red Star” empire. A region nobody wanted to claim as their own or be associated with historically. Drawing lines between cultural identities, geographic locations, and religious ideologies, we journey with Mikanowski into undefined borders of divided cities in Eastern Europe.
Eastern Europe contains many cities that belonged to different countries at various points in their history, leaving the culture divided and often undefined due to its complicated origins. Below are a few cities that fit this strange space of belonging and unbelonging:
Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina, created in Ottoman times, is what Milanowski considers a “Christian-Muslim borderland.” As we travel to the market halls and shopping streets of the old town, we recognize the rich culture and architecture before staying in an overnight traveler’s inn of the city. Sufis of Islamic mysticism, similar to the saints of Catholicism, helped unite Eastern Europe and were a great spiritual help to many women in the city in this duality of religions found in Sarajevo. Their story can still be discovered in the Suri Dervish Monastery. Sarajevo is a city with a rich diversity of faith, language, and ideologies split amongst the borders and frontiers aiming to define it. The city is also the location where Archduke Franz Ferdinand declared war on Serbia.
Bedesten, stone-built market halls
PC: Muhammed Ballan, Unsplash free photos
Vienna, historically known as the center of the Habsburg Empire and the capital the Austro-Hungarian empire, nestled in between Slavic countries as one of the biggest cities in Austria, has been divided culturally as an imperial capital. Once under the occupation of the Soviet Union as well as being declared a province of Germany, Vienna has remnants of a divisive history. However, with German still as its predominant language, this multilingual and multicultural city center welcomes people of all backgrounds. As a central location in Eastern Europe, it has been home to Muslim travelers for generations and has a beautiful musical legacy.
PC: Jacek Dylag, Unsplash free photos
As we travel to Budapest, a metropolis of Austria-Hungary, we visit the second capital of the dual monarchy split between Germany and the Soviet Union’s control. Austria-Hungary eventually divided into what today is modern-day Austria with Vienna as the capital, and modern-day Hungary, with Budapest as its capital. Today we see universities, tramcars, high-class hotels, and national museums in this beautiful city of split cultures and mixed identities.
Emma Fabbri, Unsplash free photos
Split three times during the partitions of Poland, once a part of Prussia, Germany, and the capital during the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Warsaw remains the capital of modern-day Poland. Warsaw has an intriguing communist history in WWII Poland, which Mikanowski explores as he shares his personal ties to the Polish Jews of Warsaw. A city situated in the middle of the Vistula River, Warsaw boasts delicious food, fascinating government institutions, incredible museums, and an indestructible Old Town UNESCO World Heritage site that has been a gem in Eastern Europe for many ages.
Historic Centre of Warsaw © OUR PLACE The World Heritage Collection
Author/PC: Geoff Steven