An Ode to Belgrade

In two weeks the Hackaday Community is gathering in Belgrade for Europe’s greatest hardware con, The Hackaday Belgrade Conference — an event not to be missed — but of course the city itself is a spectacular place to visit and has the perfect feel for those who like to build electronics. Why not join us for your own geek world tour to Serbia? Here’s a few of the things you’ll want to see while in Belgrade.

Aeronautical Museum Belgrade

Aircraft, Inventor, Architecture

Belgrade is a tech center and a hidden jewel of Europe. Need proof? Fly into Belgrade, and you’ll land at Nikola Tesla Airport. Pick up a car at the airport and you’ll pass a great glass torus housing Serbia’s Museum of Aviation. Here, you’ll find aircraft from both sides of the cold war, Sabres and MiGs, Hurricanes and Messerschmitts, a quite rare Sud Caravelle, and the canopy of the only stealth bomber ever to be shot down. It’s an aviation geek’s paradise, and you haven’t even left the airport.

What else is in store for you when you visit Belgrade? For the Hackaday crowd, the most interesting bit will probably be the Nikola Tesla Museum. You might know of Nikola Tesla from a webcomic, but he’s actually the greatest inventor of all time, even more so than Elon Musk. Tesla invented radio, even though Marconi got the credit. Tesla invented radar and discovered x-rays. The only person they could find to portray a figure like Tesla in The Prestige was David Bowie. Nikola Tesla is the most iconic inventor to ever live (change my mind), and his museum is in Belgrade.

Belgrade is the home and final resting place of the greatest inventor of the modern era, and there are multiple statues honoring this great mind. He’s even on the money. At the museum, you’ll find exhibits (in English, by the way) of what this magnificent person created.

There’s a copy of Tesla’s two-phase induction motor from 1887, a demonstration of his polyphase system, and even a copy of Tesla’s remote-controlled model boat — the first remote-controlled vehicle ever. Tesla’s ashes are housed in a golden sphere next to a model of the Wardenclyffe tower, Tesla’s experiment to deliver wireless power to the world.

Belgrade’s Western City Gate, or the Genex Tower. It is a masterpiece of the Brutalist form. Image Credit: [Błażej Pindor]
What about food and drink? Pivo is beer, and Gin and Tonic is the same in every language, but the real draw here is rakija, a fruit brandy that will destroy you. A lot of it is homemade. Did we mention the Hackaday Belgrade conference is going on until the wee hours of the morning?

Is that not enough? Are you not entertained? Belgrade is home to some of the greatest architecture on the planet. You’ll find ruins from when Belgrade was known as Singidunum, architecture from the Ottoman conquest (Belgrade was at one point the second largest Ottoman town in Europe, surpassed only by Constantinople), and Brutalist masterpieces like the Western City Gate (popularly known as the Genex Tower) shown here and more artistically at the top of the article. This impressive twin skyscraper is connected by a sky bridge with a revolving restaurant at the top. This tower is the purest expression of either Eastern Bloc architecture or the Orwellian dystopia Def Con is claiming for their theme this year.

Silicon Valley of Soviet Times

Belgrade was the industrial center of the former Yugoslavia and a lot of the chips and components that went into Soviet-era computers were manufactured here. In fact, Belgrade calls our own Voja Antonic one of her sons, and we call him the Woz of Yugoslavia. Voja is the designer of the Galaksija microcomputer an infamous home computer from the era where having your own computer could be slightly legally troubling. We’re in luck, he’s also building the conference badge for the Hackaday Belgrade conference, and it’s out of this world. Like the Galaksija, the Belgrade badge is a BASIC microcomputer replete with far too many buttons, PEEKs and POKEs, and everything you would ever want in a handheld computer. It is a work of art from one of the great PCB artisans of our time. To back up that claim, you need to check out Voja’s Hackaday.io portfolio.

The Vibe

Belgrade has great food, plenty of entertainment, and it’s inexpensive (a Pivo will cost you less than two Teslas). The city stays up late; it keeps the schedule of the hacker by working into the evening and partying from late night into the morning. If you haven’t been there, this is your excuse. If you have been there, we bet you’ve already made your plans to join us.

Come to the Hackaday Belgrade Conference on 26 May. We have an amazing slate of talks and workshops, and festivities stretch into the next day as the Hacker Village takes shape with live IDM and DJ sets, demos and presentations, lightning talks, and of course badge hacking. It’s an entire day of the greatest people you’ll ever meet and hardware hacking galore. But be sure to spend some time the day before and after enjoying the city itself. You’ll have no problem finding some of the Hackaday crowd in town to hang around with while there.

27 thoughts on “An Ode to Belgrade

    1. Per today’s Serbian official currency exchange rates, two Tesla bills go for US$ 2.07, or EUR 1.69, or GBP 1.48, or CHF 2.13, or CZK 43.29, or HRK 12.55, or HUF 535.05, or … etc.
      One standard bottle of pivo is 0.5 l, which is somewhere in between of British and US (liquid) pint.
      Most pivo’s are 5% Vol. Alcohol.

      Now, on to slightly more essential things, in case of an emergency, there are three shops with electronic components and tools I know of (other Belgrade locals, please step in and add the missing info) which will be open Saturdays ’till 3 PM (Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with either of the bellow mentioned companies):

      http://www.mikroprinc.com/ (if you arrive on Friday, they’ll be open till 8 PM),
      http://kelco.rs/ (Friday till 5 PM) and
      http://www.belielektronik.rs/ (ditto).

      Unfortunately, neither one has an English language site, but Google translate is your friend (although be prepared that maybe links won’t work on translated page).
      Sales personnel should be able to communicate in English, and if case they can’t, have a pencil and paper with you.

      Don’t expect to find anything but the rather basic stuff there. The first two are generally hobbyist/maker places, and the third one is actually an electronic repair service which stocks electronics spares for audio/video consumer electronics, and that can be interesting! However, they (belielektronik) require you to sign up to see their prices and stock, and I couldn’t be bothered.

      Kelco in particular is a heir to an establishment of long tradition and influence on Belgrade geeks reaching back to the days of budding ham scene since at least 1970’s (former shop of Radio-club “Nikola Tesla”, YU1AHI), and notorious for heavy crowds on Saturdays when all the working electronics enthusiasts come in for their weekly dose of fix and meet their brethren and talk with them about their projects. It is now under management of the second generation, and has been drifting away from its ham roots. Well, cant blame them … businesses need cash.

      Both Mikroprinc and Kelco also have some Arduino modules, sensors etc. too, so you may check that out as well, if you’d need them.

      There is also a Belgrade franchise of Bulgarian “Comet”, http://www.comet.rs/en/, with rather nice prices (compared to above mentioned) and you may find some development equipment e.g. from Olimex and Microchip, but they are closed on weekends. However, for the early birds, on Friday they are open till 4 PM (and are located on the main road connecting airport and city), but they are emptying their Belgrade warehouse. Most of the products stocked are in their main warehouse in Sophia, Bulgary, and can be ordered to arrive to Belgrade in a week. So, I guess you can order the stuff one week in advance to wait for you in Belgrade, but like I said, for emergencies …

      If you are early on Friday, you may also be able to visit Mikroelektronika HQ https://www.mikroe.com/ just out of town, not too far from the airport, but I am not sure if you could buy any of their products there. I think that like most companies, they sell direct from China, for more affordable prices, but with longer lead times.

      Should you need screws, nuts, bolts, Alumin(i)um profiles, wooden planks, acrylic sheets, balsa wood and other hardware-store hardware and tools, there are (Croatian franchise) https://uradi-sam.rs/ shops on several places around town. They are open almost whenever, even on Sundays, but warning: not all shops have all the products, so ask the staff about what you seek.

      Similar to Uradi Sam, only more tools and less materials, is Woby Haus (German company?), http://www.wobyhaus.co.rs/

      Visa and MasterCard cards are universally accepted, AFAIK.

      Whew, so much text, someone should rewrite this as an article …

      1. Awesome writeup! Just to add a few more things about the great scourge of Belgrade that is cab drivers:

        If you are arriving by plane you will be met with a horde of taxi-cab drivers offering you rides the moment you step out of customs. DO NOT use their services as they will charge you astronomical prices. As you step out of customs and approach the exit (glass wall) you will notice there is a stand just right of the sliding exit door which says Taxi Info (or something along those lines … they tend to change it occasionally) … go there and tell them where you need to go. They will write you a voucher and escort you outside just across the street to someone who will show you to a registered cab driver that will take you wherever you need to go for a fixed price. There are two tariffs from the airport … one for New Belgrade (the side of the city where the airport is) and one slightly more expensive for the rest of the town. Neither should cost more than 2000 to 2500 Dinar max (range is in case it got more expensive lately but it used to be 2000 for the higher tariff). Any other form of cab will cost you far more than you ever want to pay. Note: If you are going to more than one destination the fixed price is only valid until you reach the first destination. After that a regular cab fare applies.

        Also a good thing is to have a few thousand Dinar at hand to pay for the cab as they will accept foreign currency (even though it is illegal) but will use a very bad conversion rate and some take credit cards (but I wouldn’t swipe my card in their readers so do it at your own risk). You can get Dinar at the airport by using ATM-s (just right of the Taxi Info stand) or one of the adjacent exchange offices (but only change a small amount as the rates at the airport are bad but still better than what a cab driver will give you). One Euro is appx. 115-117 dinar depending on where you exchange … a US Dollar is just below 100 Din (official median exchange rate here: https://www.nbs.rs/export/sites/default/internet/latinica/scripts/kl_srednji.html … assume when exchanging for Dinars that you will get 1-2 Dinar less than the median rate indicated)

        A few more tips and things to be aware of:

        – Uber does not work in Belgrade and the only reliable ride-share service Car:Go just got pushed out of business by a deal between the cab unions and the government this very day so it might not last long.
        – There are a few thousand fake cabs operating in Belgrade. All official licensed cabs have a licence plate starting with BG … followed by three to five numbers and then the letters TX … if the licence does not start with BG and end with TX do not use that cab.
        – If they do not turn the meter on as soon as you start your ride, ask them to do so. If they refuse, just ask them to stop, leave and grab another cab.
        – Always check the Tariff on the meter: Tariff 1 is for workdays (including Saturday) 06:00h to 22:00h, Tarif 2 is Sundays and nights (22:00h to 06:00h) and Tariff 3 is for trips outside of Belgrade.
        – It is always better to call for a cab than to hail one on the street (especially when going to the airport).

        Here are a few cab company numbers to use:
        LUX Taxi
        +381 11 3033 123
        +381 65 3033 123

        PINK Taxi
        +381 800 11 9803
        +381 60 488 99 79
        +381 65 488 99 77
        +381 69 488 99 77

      2. Here is one more, they even have a site in English, https://012lab.com/en-gb/ don’t know their hours but I doubt they work on Saturdays since they are inside a technical university faculty building.

        Also this one in New Belgrade, a bit far from downtown, they mostly have cables, switches and transistors though. Open till 20h on Friday and 10-1530 Saturday http://www.kanibal.co.rs/

        From your list, Kelco and Mikroprinc are open Saturdays 10-15

  1. I’m fairly certain that Alexander Graham Bell beat Tesla to wireless communications. Ironically the time period between Bell’s work and Tesla’s, was nearly the same between Tesla’s and Marconi’s. Because he used light Bell’s work was impractical for broadcasting. Sure Marconi built on the work of other, but hell, isn’t that what hackers do? Why is it a problem recognizing it was Marconi’s work that showed the world the possibilities of radio transmissions? There where those in Europe who where developing polyphase concurrently with Tesla. Edison and Westinghouse are the primary reason why many is the USA associate AC with Tesla. Obviously even minor incidences of Tesla fandom are push button for me. The reason for that is the fan base is prone to parrot untrue facts. As Tesla invented AC, he did not. AC is more efficient, in transporting electrical power long distances in every case, not so. So many in the US have the notion that 240 AC is less expensive to consume than than 120 VAC. Not to mention those who don’t realize how much energy is consume daily believe Tesla was blazing a path to free energy No doubt Belgrade is a great place to visit, but for many reasons other than xenophobia born of bigotry and fear many US citizens will never travel internationally. Hopefully a comment is mild as this doesn’t led to the moderation of my comments.

    1. I’ve got a couple of thoughts about this. The whole reason people think it’s more efficient to transmit AC than DC over long distances is because it absolutely was during the so-called ‘war of the currents’. This was not because the AC was inherently better, just that we knew how to easily step up the AC to higher voltage to reduce current and therefor power loss due to wire resistance. Cheaper smaller gauge wire could then be used without wasting as much power as well. I’m not sure by which metric people supposedly think 240 AC is less expensive to consume than 120 AC, but 240 is preferred for heavy loads because of the aforementioned wire resistance. As far as power coming into the house is concerned, the only cost difference is in differing wasted power. The only untruths about these points as you presented them is in making them absolutes. If you are capable of putting 1500kV DC on a line it’s plenty more efficient than only 500kV AC. Long-range wireless power transmission the way Tesla imagined was and is a complete boondoggle.

    2. “I’m fairly certain that Alexander Graham Bell beat Tesla to wireless communications.”
      Tesla was not investigating “wireless” communications in the way we commonly understand the word today (meaning through the air, not “without wires”). He was interested in and worked heavily into “cableless” communications and transfer or energy which is very different from wireless ( again with the today’s meaning of the word ). He was using the ground as a medium for a transfer of signals and power. If his lectures and patents are investigated and read with the understanding ( that may require reading quite some mid and late 19th century scientific papers ), the ideas behind his misunderstood and widely misquoted work, will become crystal clear.

  2. Whole left part of Sava is full of “utopian” architecture. Tesla museum is not very interesting but I recommend Belgrade’s museum of technology. You can see there interesting robotics from ’60-’80 (for example exosceletons), few electron microscopes and other rarely seen stuff. Drink and food are indeed very very good and rather cheap.

  3. “Belgrade is the home …” Really ??

    “Nikola Tesla arrived to Belgrade for his only visit on 1st June 1892 and was in ceremonial audience with the King of Serbia Aleksandar Obrenovic the next day along with the Minister of Education Andro Mitrovic.
    Tesla spent 31 hours in Belgrade all together from 1st to 3rd June and was awarded the Order of St. Sava the second degree.”

    1. Indeed, when I read this one: “You might know of Nikola Tesla from a webcomic, but he’s actually the greatest inventor of all time, even more so than Elon Musk”
      I could not stop laughing, although I fully agree with the statement about Tesla.

  4. Oh, just one more thing I found out about what you can see in Belgrade: the workweek prior to Hackaday conference in Belgrade (Monday 21st – Friday 25th), the Belgrade fair will host 62nd International Fair of Technics and Technical Achievements (UFI), which may be interesting (there is usually at least one crazy inventor), especially if you have entrepreneur spirit and want to see what there *isn’t* to be found here and could be imported, or perhaps what small tech business with some potential could be bought.

    It has been the traditional holy trinity of fairs for Belgrade geeks: the car show in March, technics fair in May, and book fair + education and teaching tools fair in October. Of note there is also an IT+office equipment fair in September, and two recently introduced gaming related events, one in June and another in late November.

    It doesn’t have a flair and size of fairs I’ve seen in European cities, and virtually no freebies :( , but each time I went, I’ve seen something interesting.

    Furthermore for the foreigners who have never seen the Belgrade fairgrounds (the city folk here are mostly all “meh” about it after all this time), its great halls are some of architectural pearls of Belgrade – something I haven’t seen in more famous fairs abroad. They have a majesty of sacral architecture and expositions held are clearly a severe under-use for all that vertical space (we’d probably need a fair of Age of Sail maritime ships in full size for that, or indoors exposition of modern drones).

    It closes on Friday at 5PM, so once again, if you can get in Belgrade early, consider visiting.

    Here is the link:
    http://sajam.rs/en/calendar-2018/international-fair-of-technics-and-technical-achievements/

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