Martin Pammer

The symbols of Sarajevo are its bridges!

For the June edition of “Expats in Sarajevo”, we spoke with Martin Pammer, the Austrian Ambassador to BiH, who has been living and working in our capital city for a little over six months and who shared some of his impressions.


Author: Sarajevo Navigator

Martin first heard about our city from his grandmother, who told him stories of his great uncle, Josef, who had served as a young captain during the Austro-Hungarian Army's campaign against BiH in 1878. Josef brought back a colorful braided belt from Sarajevo, which Martin still has in his possession.

Once he arrived he could see that the city is much larger and more colorful than he had imagined. He has been most impressed by the city’s diverse and rich cultural life, as well as its dynamic art scene. He also hadn't expected to find restaurants where they dance till dawn and the night clubs in Ilidža.

His first impression of Sarajevo was that it is an Ottoman city with a dash of charm from the Austro-Hungarian period – you can eat delicious ćevapi and drink excellent beer until late into the night! What first delighted him was the unique manner in which the call to prayer from the mosques blends with music from jazz clubs.

Martin is fascinated by the small and mysterious streets of Sarajevo and the mahalas with their gates, beyond which may lie a mystical adventure. There are other little things that he loves, like the pleasant evening breeze that comes after a hot summer’s day and the bookshops with their fine assortments.

During his time in our city he has made a few friends who treated him like family from the very start. As for Sarajevans’ virtues, he would cite their kindness, which is often very touching, but something he is less fond of is the fact that they can be depressed and fatalistic. He adds that Sarajevans can be characterized by their excellent sense of humor and their pragmatic approach to the challenges of everyday life.

He was most surprised by the custom of having barbecues around town, along with the revving of car engines and blaring radios. It has been hardest for him to get used to the polluted air and fog during autumn and winter, the fact that one cannot drink beer in BBI Center and the surprisingly low level of environmental consciousness that Sarajevans have.

Martin’s little Sarajevo ritual consists of a walk from Tržnica and through the old part of town, which is then followed by a break at Franz & Sophie Tea Shop and he admits that he likes to smoke nargila from time to time. He also likes to enjoy a view of Sarajevo over breakfast at Kod Bibana (which is on the side of town that suffers from mildew) and often has a coffee up on the high balcony of Hotel Hecco in the center of town.

According to Martin, Sarajevo is different from Austrian cities, given that it’s less organized and there are no high mountains around town that have glaciers. However, the architecture, culture, cafés and regular concerts and operas are very similar to those of Austria.

Pammer cites Sarajevo’s multicultural nature and proximity to the ski slopes and paths for mountain climbing as great advantages, but some negative points include the buildings that are still scarred from the war and the rather poor condition of roads which lead to the sea.

For Martin, the symbols of Sarajevo are its bridges and the places of worship for the four major monotheistic religions, which make this city a European Jerusalem.

He would advise those who come to the city for the first time to order half portions in restaurants (to avoid going back with five extra kilos!) and he says that visitors should stroll through Baščaršija and enjoy a view of Sarajevo from the Jewish Cemetery.