Through the Beer Glass: Sarajevo’s History
A museum dedicated to one just brewery doesn’t seem like it’d be chock full of meaningful history, but that isn’t the case at the Sarejevska Brewery Museum in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The 150-year-old brewery has experienced the highs and the lows of the country’s often-painful history, making their museum a must-see for those interested in beer, history or a combination of the two.
Sarajevska Brewery was formed back in 1864 when the country was ruled by the Ottoman Empire. The city of Sarajevo received it’s strong Muslim influence from the Turkish rulers, with numerous mosques and a devout population remaining to this day. More than a decade later, the country came under the control of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The brewery prospered, as did the city of Sarajevo as a whole. Despite the brewery’s growth and acquisition of other beer companies, tensions from the Austro-Hungarian occupiers were high and the original brewery was badly damaged during skirmishes.
The new, and current, brewery was built in 1882 and Sarajevska absorbed several other breweries as it rose to the top of the market. Things were going fairly well under the Austro-Hungarian empire until the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914 just a few hundred meters away from the brewery.
During World War I and World War II, the company suffered as did the rest of the country. Bosnia became part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. After World War II, so many working-age men were killed that scores of brand-new employees had to receive extensive training in the brewing process. It was a rough couple decades, but the brewery found it’s footing again, and it seemed like the rest of the country was on track. The 1982 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo was a high point for the nation, and promised a bright, prosperous future.
When Bosnia tried to break away from Yugoslavia, neighboring Serbia invaded and held the city under siege for four violent years. Nearly 14,000 people were killed in the battles, but the brewery continued on symbolically as the city endured the longest siege in modern history. Despite heavy damage to the building and a constant barrage of mortars and gunfire, Sarajevska managed to crank out 3 percent of its previous production. More important, the brewery was one of the only sources of drinking water for people in the city trying to survive the siege.
After the war, and an investment of about 43 million euros ($47 million USD), the brewery was rebuilt and the company rose from the ashes. It’s one of the biggest companies from the Yugoslavia era and it sold in more than 1,000 stores in the region.
What a hell of a ride it’s been for the brewery. The tiny museum costs 5 Bosnian marks (about $2.50), and includes a beer at their beautifully restored restaurant next door. It’s a decent lager that’s well above average for the region. The museum is on 15 Franjevacka, just a short walk from the old town across the river. It’s open Monday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
I'm an American freelance writer who spent a couple years living in Cambodia. Now I'm on the move again and traveling all over the place. I'm willing to try any bizarre liquor that's presented to me. Any recommendations?