hidden europe 20

Spring, storks and trains: a visit to Brcko

by Nicky Gardner


Brcko is one of those places that lie at the heart of hidden europe. When we visited this small Bosnian town recently, we were amazed to find that the train to Croatia only runs in warm weather!

A three-legged dog scuttles past the Pirana fast food joint with a chicken leg in its mouth. The ragged mongrel settles in the tattered dark of a long abandoned telephone kiosk to make the most of a free meal. The storks will be back any day now. As will the train. At least that's what they say here.

Only the slow train comes to Brcko. When it comes at all, the train dawdles down the Tinja valley, hopping to and fro across the river on its way to the plains of Posavina. Along the valley there are old fortresses like the weathered ramparts that tower on a rocky buttress at Srebrenik. Slow, slow wanders the train, past minarets and mosques, out onto the plains where women dressed in black work in fields that are as neat as a grave on the day of its digging. There are plum trees and pear trees, half-built churches and telegraph poles that wait for the new season's storks.

Who knows if the train ever actually comes to Brcko. "Not during the heating season," says the man who is affixing a death notice to a lamp post outside the station. Seventy years of life summed up in a little green-rimmed notice with a picture of a woman and a few lines announcing her death last night.

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