Zagreb: Between chill and fear

So, it's officially started. Two weeks of semi-lockdown. I stress the semi part. It's not like you can't walk out in Zagreb if you want to, it's just recommended that you don't.


Schools and faculties have been postponed for two weeks. The youngest pupils of elementary schools are now learning letters and numbers from home thanks to wonders Croatian television. I took just a brief look at the TV out of curiosity because the newsroom is also on lockdown and all my colleagues and myself are now working from home.


Social networks are booming with jokes on Covid-19 on the one hand, and fear that this is a legitimate apocalypse on the other. But there is also a rise of groups where people organize to help those in isolation or who are at risk of getting fatally ill from the virus. They are reporting what areas can they cover, how much can they carry with them and some even volunteer, with precautionary measures, to keep company to those who might be isolated and completely alone.


Photo by Ivor Kruljac


It started in Zagreb but now groups like this are spawning across Croatia. And the thousands of people applying for the task in Zagreb alone is evidence that people haven't forgotten to think about what it is like being someone else. It's a nice reminder of something that is most likely always there, but is somehow undetected under the speed of the usual daily routines.

Despite the outbreak, Zagreb remains what it was: an interesting city full of opposites. Despite the warnings and even though many places don't work, people still try to socialize.

Despite the outbreak, Zagreb remains what it was: an interesting city full of opposites. Despite the warnings and even though many places aren't working, people still try to socialize. 'How are we supposed to stop the pandemic when people still go to cafes and literally sit on each other's laps?' asked one Facebook status I managed to see between two texts I was writing on at that time. It's a good thing it's not a radiation burst out there, because it seems I would die first. Or maybe I would be smarter then and wouldn't go out.


Either way, I went out during the afternoon. To see the relaxed (and maybe scared as well), residents. Not through the monitors, though, but with my very own eyes. It's Monday right now while I'm writing this and the city announced that all cafes will be closed, starting with Tuesday and until further notice (or maybe some date I didn't pick up on). If you have ever been to Zagreb you may have noticed that basically all life of the city is happening in the cafes. I took a walk towards my regular place.


Zagreb did seem more deserted than usual but the people that were out still enjoyed what was a pretty nice sunny day. Couples making out on the bench, close friends talking and joking without any fear that one of them might be a carrier. They are after all young, healthy, vibrant and hopefully smart enough to not visit any elders or peers that may not be blessed with such health.


There were literally two people in my favourite cafe plus the waiter. The waiter, whom I befriended over the many drinks I had there, looked at me with a smile and said that he didn't think I was going to show up today. 'Well based on what the city announced, this is my last chance to have a decent coffee in a while' I said. Usually, we would high five each other, but not this time. Seems we both realise that some precautions are in order. I asked him for a coffee with hot milk.

There were literally two people in my favourite cafe plus the waiter. The waiter, whom I befriended over the many drinks I had there, looked at me with a smile and said that he didn't think I was going to show up today.

He is a musician whose band published an album and he started listing all the performances they supposed to have but are now canceled. 'I lost more than 100 euros', he said while lighting a cigarette. 'Just wait until recession hits', I replied. 'An acquaintance of mine was already warned they'll be fired within the next month if something doesn't drastically improve'. The conversation continued about grim dystopian topics while some indie music played in the background. It did end on a cheery note: we will be fine, but it is important we don't visit our grandparents. I finished my coffee relatively fast, said goodbye to a friend, wished him luck and took one more look at a cafe I will not be able to go into for at least two weeks, before leaving the place. I rubbed alcohol on my hands right after the door closed behind me (as I did before coffee) and found myself inhaling the spring air that might have been spiced with something else.


I figured it would be smart to walk a bit more instead of just returning home right after being in a closed public space. Some girl was moving in my direction and as soon as she noticed me, she lifted her jacket over her mouth and nose and only then passed next to me at let's say a three-meter distance. But other people seem to be less extreme (or they just weren't close to me enough to see the point in doing that). Delivery boys were cruising on bikes completely unfazed but probably excited about a lot of money they are going to earn. Buses and trams had only about a couple of passengers, but groups of friends seem to be enjoying them. I crossed the road and a taxi was carrying a passenger.



Photo by Alfie Temple Stroud


The passenger may have been on the backseat but he was right next to the driver with his face and the two were talking and laughing. Seems like they had a good time. One more person on a bike with a mask on their face. Yeah chilled and scared, I got that right, even though it seems that the total count still favors chill over fear. There were lots of birds in the sky and they seemed a bit more cheerful than usual. Maybe nature noticed that humans are afraid and reduced negative environmental impact, which might have brought our other flatmates in the ecosystem a bit of a relief. Nice spring day and at least an hour to kill. Going anywhere else but Bundek would be utterly absurd.


Bundek is an artificial lake, not far from the Sava river which is the only river that passes through Zagreb. The whole area around the lake is turned into a recreational zone, perfect for walkers, cyclists, runners and people who just want to lay down in the green next to the water surface as there is a nice little wood in the center of the park. And other people noticed that as well. The area of a lake was a bit more empty than usual, but everybody was having a good time and enjoyed a relaxing day in the city's green oasis.

It's as if nature bonds with the brave souls that went out for the day in a way it usually never would.

By the beach, there were a lot of ducks and other birds around people who were looking one moment at their magnificent flight and another moment at the lake. It's as if nature bonds with the brave souls that went out for the day in a way it usually never would. The laughter, the smiles, the joy of those people couldn't help but put a smile on my own face. True evidence that nothing can ever be completely dark. As if it all together says: we will get through this. It will be alright, even if tomorrow we may not be able to go back to Bundek.


But, if we take care of each other, if we are smart about what we can and what we can't do and remain humane, this will just be another gritty chapter in the history books described with a lot of grimness for future generations. Still, those who experienced this, those who went out with a friend and were in Bundek that Monday, will remember a nicer version. As well as those who can look on the bright side of life and hold those close and dear by their side. Something Zagreb seems to be doing just right.


This story was shared by Ivor Kruljac from Zagreb, Croatia.

Join our global movement: spread stories & follow us

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Instagram