How was the opening night?
Vladimir Kosić: It was really, really nice. We had the opening three days ago. And for three days we have been booked seven day in advance or something. We made a place for 160 people.
And you have a live music concept as well.
Mmm-hmm. The program will be on Wednesday we will have a jam session. So always Wednesday live music. And Saturday will always be live music, but like Serbian-style, like in Belgrade in some kafanas. But we are a kafana in Berlin so we are open to everything. We will also maybe make here Irish night. We will make Austrian. We will make some opera. We are completely open in that matter. We want to become a spot for people who like a little bit of music, nice food and something like that.
And what did you have on your opening night?
That night was Balkan style Gypsy with the drum and trumpet. I can show you the picture. It was also two guys who came – because I also come from Belgrade. I have been living in Belgrade for twenty-two years. So I also ran there some bars and clubs and also restaurants. Yeah, so there were two of them, and there was also the band. But we will see what will happen next time.
Where did you find the musicians?
The musicians come from Belgrade, the two of them, and Lukas has contact to a lot of musicians because he already – Lukas is my partner here – Lukas is every month touring some bars in Kreuzberg always making kafana sessions.
I know these guys in the picture. Their name is Ticvaniu Mare.
They were this Wednesday. And these are my guys from Belgrade, in this picture. Accordion and guitar. But they are thirty years in similar places in Belgrade. They are very nice, and they will play tonight. It’s the last night. So, three nights we made the opening. 12, 13 is the Serbian new year, Orthodox new year. So we connected that things. Today is Saturday, and we are making a reply to last night. And we are also tonight overbooked.
And then on the 18th you have something as well?
The 18th is starting our program. So that will be Wednesdays will always be jam sessions. So that is free to all people who like to play music on any instrument which is not extremely loud, or something, because the neighbors. But they can come, they can make a music here. They can get from us a drink and something to eat, and the concept is like that. We are open for everyone. They just need to call us, – we want to come and play a little bit.
Can you tell the people who don’t know – what is a kafana?
Kafana is a very old name that comes in history from the Turkish time. Because the Turks were in the Balkans, in Belgrade. And it’s old slang, like in Berlin – Kneipe, or something like that. But that’s actually a place, of course, that is not only for the food and drink, it’s some social place where the people meet. We like to say – “Kafana is life”. I want to show you one more picture to explain. It’s from last night. Here is a picture of a mother with a baby – so we said, – Let’s start kafana life from the beginning. Ha, ha.
So what belongs to the kafana is music?
Music. But also we are into the very nice Serbian food. The concept is we represent that food in some modern way, and a little tapas. But it’s a deep, originally old style of Serbian food.
What is Serbian cuisine?
Serbian cuisine can be many things. I don’t know, but something which you can try in our restaurant for now – we have like ten tapas, and something that’s special is ajvar. But it’s not ajvar that you can buy in the stores here. That’s nothing similar like that.
Where do you get the ajvar?
We get it. We get it. Just we can say that we get it. It’s not possible to buy…Ajvar and kajmak. Kajmak is possible to buy here. There is one Serbian store.
What’s the store?
Nenad Ilić, a Balkan shop that’s in Charlottenburg. Because really we think that the taste of some prusciutto is a little bit different taste. And a different style how to prepare it for people. All the other things, like some several salads…and we also make some dishes from the beans, like the Prebranac, which is also typical from our region – we make that dish with the lamb, spinach and potatoes. It’s also called kapama. We bake that Karađorđević schnitzel, which is usually very big. And they said that schnitzel is like a girl’s dream, but we make it small. We say that it’s not everything.
Lukas Ertl: We made it like a guy’s nightmare.
Vladimir: Ha, ha! Something like that. Something like a tapas. But it’s actually similar to a Wiener Schnitzel, but inside is kajmak, a special stuff. But also we are making sarma. The sarma that we are making here is coming from the Turkish time, but in Serbia it was developed into something different. And we can say that it is in the original Serbian style.
Immediately when you think of Serbian cuisine you think of ćevapčići.
That’s also Serbian. But many foreigners think that’s the main stuff in Serbian cuisine. But that’s just a little part.
Lukas: It’s a fast-food.
Vladimir: It’s the fast-food of Serbia. There are some other things that we are doing, with the veal, with the lamb, with the Schweine. It’s…different. And we are not into the ćevapčići. You can not find it here.
And when you think of Serbian kafanas you also think of slivovitz.
That is his job (Lukas). He is an importer of very, very good rakija from Serbia, and the wines.
What’s the brand?
Lukas: Samovino. That’s the brand that imports the wine and the slivovitz. The slivovitz that we sell is from Rakia Bar.
What is Rakia Bar?
Lukas: Rakia Bar is actually a bar in Belgrade. It’s a very small, but quite famous place.
Vladimir: That’s the chain of the bars. They already have a lot of bars in Belgrade.
Lukas: In Belgrade and also in Vienna. But they are very small. There are just a couple. They created this bar. And in the beginning they got the rakija from suppliers and labeled it with their brand. But in 2008 they started to make it on their own because the quality was going up and down. Now since 2008 they have a distillery in the south of Serbia and the rakija is very good.
Can you tell me something about the people that come here? Are they Yugos? Germans?
Vladimir: My opinion from the beginning was that it is a really people from Yugoslavia – they know about kafana, and they like that style. And they now come, but many other people also. There were these days many people, like Germans, Italians, Spanish. All Berlin people will come soon. In some other places maybe not, but here, we are not closed in some nationalities. We just use that nationality to explain something about the food. But, we are Berliners. He’s from Austria. I’m from Serbia and Montenegro. But, I discovered this city three and half years ago, and…I’m a Berliner. Ich bin ein Berliner. And I’m not a Gastarbeiter. I didn’t come here to work and make some money and go in Serbia and Montenegro and buy the Mercedes. No, I’m living this life here. I’m a Berlin and I enjoy the life in this city and I will stay here, I think, until my end.
The problem is, here in Berlin there is a lot of action in the east, and now a lot of action in Kreuzberg and in Schöneberg, but this area is a bit off the beaten track.
Yes, but we will change that for this little spot. I think we have the energy to change that. I mean, when you open something and you are already booked three days, that’s a good sign. That’s already a good sign that we are doing something interesting for that couple of hundred people who wants to come and start. But we will continue. I think me and Lukas, and also our wives – Brana and Cathleen – we are one team. We are here together like partners. And we have similar tastes, we have good energy, and I think we will push that in the right way. We also have two brands that are already well known: Lesendro is among the top three fish restaurants in Berlin. And I’m originally a fish cooker. The Berlin people know me as a fish cook. You can see me as a fish cook on television. But now I’m into learning about the Serbian kitchen and I will cook here very, very nice dishes. We also have the help of one chef, who is making a little bit of a modern menu of Serbian kitchen. And he’s originally a Berlin chef. He’s not from Serbia. We want someone else to come to us and we make that synergy and make something different. And I think we are unique with this offer. We are also unique for many restaurants in Serbia, in Belgrade there are not too many restaurants that are similar to ours. And, yeah, I’m now cooking these Serbian dishes. And this is my second restaurant and I will be in this kitchen.
And I think this place was kind of an interesting German restaurant before.
The place was named Zwiwwel, and that was some time in the sixties and seventies and later a very, very famous restaurant. And then at some moment it was the restaurant Reuters, and then before me came a guy, he tried also with the name Zwiwwel to make Bavarian cuisine, but he stayed just a little time. I also opened here for a short time a second branch of my restaurant Lesandro, but I was not satisfied with the response of the people, and I realized that it was enough, that Lesendro should stay one. Then one day I got the idea of a kafana, and I immediately called Lukas because he’s already into that kafana style business; he’s making those special evenings in Berlin, in bars with kafana style. Like his events we are open to having jazz and swing. We can put also Irish music here.
Lukas: The Balkan style is to have live music and to celebrate here.
Vladimir: That’s the Balkan style. To be full of joy. And enjoy the life, because tomorrow maybe will be too late. That’s the philosophy of life. We are not saving much. We are spending what we have. Some people think we are crazy because our bank accounts are not so full. But on the end you cannot bring money into the grave. So our lifestyle is – the people know about it. Now many people have visited Belgrade, and they know that Belgrade is like a second Berlin and everyone is speaking about that lifestyle.
You call this place a modern-style Serbian restaurant. But if you look at the décor of this place, it’s very old fashioned.
Yes, but that’s the catch. Because when you look at the décor, that is the original décor of all the famous kafanas in Belgrade. You go to Belgrade to visit famous old kafanas. They look like this. It’s the same. And this is a kafana one hundred years old, but an old Berlin kafana, so we put this concept into a very nice and old Berlin kafana. And we put this concept, but we of course make the opposite. We make it modern, not for old people – for young people. And the answer in these two days is amazing. People say, – What is this? This is something that is not easy to make. Come on, the people who are making this are not existing anymore. Who can build that? It’s really nice. But we restored everything. It’s not old. You can touch that sofa – it’s a hundred years old, but we renovated it so that it is new, the leather on the chairs and everything. So for me it’s a very, very cozy and nice place, especially when it’s full and people have nice food and music. We feel the response.
I’ve been to Belgrade many times, and I know there are some famous kafanas, like this Znak Pitanje.
I was in Znak Pitanje almost every day of my life.
I know the band that played here for the opening, Ticvniu Mare.
They want to play here, but we didn’t decide yet.
If they play here I’d be hear every night.
Yes, but they are too loud. And we are afraid to not too much disturb the neighbors. That was the opening, okay, but we will invite them for some special occasions. Because we are very friendly with them and they come to us really friendly. But we will invite them for some special occasions, and then we must announce to the people that there is some special event and we will be a little loud, and they will understand. I already spoke to some of them, and we will try to get them all of the time.
You should get some tamburaši musicians.
Now the situation is that Belgrade is very near to Berlin. There are a lot of local flights and everything. So we will, of course, engage people from here, but I have many connections in Belgrade. So we will do here many, many nice things. And also sometimes with the big names from Belgrade. Also with very big names in the world of tambura. Like some tamburaši from Vojvodina. And also from Belgrade, who are not mainly known by many, many people. But they will come. We will find some.
A couple of years ago you came up from Belgrade.
I lived in Belgrade for twenty-two years.
And you ran some clubs.
Yes, I had one club. I had also some bars and some restaurants. But I had one club.
Do you still have it?
No. The club was working from ’97 to 2009.
The name of it was Underground.
Yes, the name of it was Underground.
Belgrade in the ‘90s was a pretty crazy place.
Yes, it was. Pretty crazy and also pretty interesting.
Can you tell me a little bit about how it was back then?
The ‘90s were of course the years of the war. It brought many bad things. Those ten years were really difficult for all of us there. But, I don’t know, in some way, we also found a way to enjoy the life. I cannot explain that, but I didn’t have a feeling in all of that time that it was really bad. There were plenty of nice parties. We had many, many good parties in the club. Many, many very famous DJs who were guests in the club. Also there were big parties happening in places around Belgrade, and we were involved in that. But, I don’t know, we enjoyed the life in some way, even though it was very, very difficult. We didn’t have too much money in the pockets. But probably we spent everything that we had for life. It was like that, you know.
What was the musical concept of Underground? Techno?
Yeah, it was techno, electronic music, drum ‘n bass. That was the concept of the club. Like the name says, it as “underground”.
I know Belgrade somewhat, and for me the special thing about the city is the Gypsy music. Splavs. For example, the Black Panthers. Can you tell me about the kafana side to Belgrade.
Now, I think Belgrade is famous. We have amazing food. It’s also a way of life, connected also with the celebration of live music. Sometimes the places in Belgrade are working late, even till the morning with the music.
Serbian people have the reputation of giving a lot of money for music.
Yeah. They sometimes – okay, not everyone – but they are giving money to the music. And being a musician is not a bad job to do it in Belgrade. Especially if you are good.
It’s a bit of a paradox isn’t it? Because people in Serbia don’t have very much money –
Yeah, but when you ask someone in Belgrade, – How much did you spend this month? – I spend a thousand euro. – What is your salary? – 500 euro! – But how is that possible?
How is that possible?
Really, I don’t know. He will answer to you, – Really, I don’t know. But it’s definitely like that. It’s like a joke. Not everyone is like that. But somehow when you are in Belgrade and going out you think that the situation is not like that. You see the full cafes and the restaurants and the bars and the clubs. But anyway, we always charged some fee for getting into the club. But that was one euro or two euro. It’s not like twelve euro, like in Berlin. One or two euro maximum. Or half a euro. It’s a very low range what you can take from the people, especially from the young people, who are the guests in clubs like that. But also in that time – the time is changing – many foreigners, tourists are coming to Belgrade, especially young tourists who enjoy the nightlife of Belgrade. It’s really, really good.
When you were growing up, when did you start going to kafanas and spending time in kafanas?
I was spending time in kafanas my whole life. It’s something which is familiar to us. First of all we go to some restaurants and kafanas with the parents. For some celebration. And after that we go for the music and to eat something, maybe not too much. Mostly to drink a lot. But after that I had a different approach of many things. I also travelled a lot. I lived in a lot of cities in Europe. And I also have different taste in some things. When I was in my twenties and thirties I was mostly in the clubs of Belgrade. And also those underground clubs with electronic music. I was also, I can say, a very important part of that nightlife in Belgrade. Because even now that club, Underground, was one of the legendary clubs of that age. I was also a part of that. All my friends and colleagues from that time, they are also running now underground clubs in Belgrade. That was a big part of my life. I also like to go to kafanas.
What’s the most famous kafana in Belgrade?
You have many, it depends on the taste. There are kafanas for having fun and music, or kafanas for nicely going to eat. Many of the famous kafanas are also closed. Their position was very central in the city and they changed into some other bars, into some new-wave bars or something. But still there are kafanas like Srpska Kafana, like Madera, like some kafanas for having fun and music. There are many kafanas in parts of Belgrade like Zemun, and there are also many kafanas on the river, like on boats.
If you look at kafanas in Belgrade they are mostly old-style with antique furniture. But in Germany young people don’t go in for similar kinds of places here at home. But maybe the taste among young people in Serbia is different.
Young people like that. They like that style because they are enjoying something traditional. There are also many influences in Serbia. Just like you have turbo-folk in Serbia, you have schlager in Germany. That’s something similar. But also in Serbia you have that old wave like what we are practicing here. Some very old way of the Balkan songs. We call that Starogradska muzika, which is really nice and has a history and have very nice melodies. So there’s always a difference between the things.
Do you have any interesting kafana stories?
Yeah, it’s like, now that I’m in Berlin I’m not so often in Belgrade. I am there for a couple of days per year. But my friends tell me there is a trend of big parties in the big kafanas for one hundred, two hundred people with some big bands and singers. I heard it’s a little bit of a trend in Belgrade at the moment. Old style kafanas with young people inside, enjoying that old music.
Why is Belgrade all of a sudden hip?
I don’t know. Because people know that in Belgrade happened many bad things. In 1999 was the bombing of Belgrade for two or three months. All of those things mean that Belgrade is now more of an interesting city. And Belgrade deserves that. Because Belgrade is like Berlin, a city with a soul. There are many foreigners who are living in Berlin and when they must go back to their countries they are very sad, because nothing can compare to Berlin. I can say many nice things about Belgrade, but for me personally I am enjoying this challenge of living in Berlin at this moment. I enjoy that, and I am not comparing to much. And everything that is important for me now is keeping me in Berlin. I will always be some guy from Belgrade. But now I feel like a Berliner. Already I am domestic, and I am trying here with this kafana to control that energy, and I think that we are already showing that in a couple of weeks we already have a lot of guests who are enjoying our restaurant.