Saturday, February 5, 2011

MEETING RICHARD GERE TERRENCE HOWARD AND DIANE KRUGER AT THE SARAJEVO TUNNEL MUSEUM

One of the strangest experiences of my time in Bosnia (and there have been plenty) was meeting Richard Gere, Terrence Howard and Diane Kruger at the Sarajevo Tunnel museum in 2006. I had always wanted to go to the Sarajevo tunnel museum and to see the famous "Tunnel of life" that the Bosnian government had dug underneath the airport to connect the city to the outside world. During the siege of Sarajevo the capital of Bosnia was cut off from the rest of the country surrounded in a hermetically sealed siege, the longest in modern history. The Bosnian government decided early on a ambitious project to connect the city to the outside world. This was done by digging a tunnel underneath the airport and connecting the Sarajevo suburbs of Dobrinja with Butmir. The Butmir side of the tunnel after the war was turned into a museum to commemorate this tragic and triumphant feat (since then the Dobrinja side now has a commemoration site as well, located by the airport and easy to locate unlike the Butmir side which can be hard to find).
I found a taxi near my hotel in Sarajevo who could understand my broken Bosnian and explained that I wanted to go see the tunnel museum. We agreed and he took me outside the city down a dusty road on the outskirts of the airport. He pulled up a lane and said this was the place and I got out. There were no real signs or markings displayed saying were I was but I could tell it had to be close, as the houses in the area bore all the hallmarks of a heavily shelled area. I made my way down the lane to a shelled and pockmarked house that had a little sign by a door buzzer stating "ring door bell and wait five minutes" in English. I figured this was the place so I rang the bell and waited. Five minutes later a man came to the door, I paid my 5 Kontvertible Marks and they led me to a room were for the next hour I watched a documentary in Bosnia about the horrific shelling of the city. afterwards I went out of the room, went down a set of stairs in the living room that led to the actual tunnel (not the actual original tunnel entrance though, that is actually located across the street at another home) and went down the path. The problem with low tunnels is there is always a natural urge to straighten up and I constantly kept hitting my head. After coming back out the tunnel there were now two Americans on a couch in this guys living room. The African American male had a baseball hat on backwards and was playing an acoustic guitar, the girl was sitting there watching. I had a short conversation with both, as I was surprised to run into Americans who weren't government officials or military types at that time. Eventually I got around to asking them why they were in Bosnia, that I wasn't used to meeting Americans in Bosnia. They both gave each other a strange look (as if I was missing out on something) and told me "we are here making the film". Just then I looked over my shoulder and standing next to me was Richard Gere. I knew he was in Bosnia making the movie Hunting Party, I didn't know that Terrence Howard and Diane Kruger (the Americans on the couch) were making the movie with them. I recognized their tour guide the famous Zijo Jusufovic (if you ever want to take a war tour in BiH he is the man you want to meet). I had a nice conversation with Mr.Gere about the war, my impressions of BiH, why I loved the country so much and his interest in the place. I was impressed and left with a changed opinion of Mr. Gere at that point and happy to have finally had seen the famous tunnel of life in person. I ended up running into them a few more times, even appearing in the background of a scene they filmed in downtown Sarajevo. I was disappointed later, when I heard that he was terrified by the reputation and feeling in BiH. They cut the filming short and finished the shots in Croatia. Also, Terrence Howard's personal lifestyle choices while in Bosnia left many a more modest Bosnian feeling quite sick at his behavior while in Bosnia...I was hoping that Mr.Gere would love Bosnia like so many before him. It is my belief that you either love Bosnia or hate it as a visitor, very few leave with feelings in between.
When I returned in 2010 I was able to take my family and our friend to see the tunnel again, even though finding it wasn't any easier. I was happy to see a steady stream of international tourists there visiting the sight as well.

This is the tourist information available on the Sarajevo tunnel...
The Tunnel Museum
Working hours: 9 - 18h
Bajro i Edis Kolar
Tuneli 1 Street (Donji Kotorac 34)
71210 Sarajevo
Ilid┼ża, BiH
tel. +387 33 466 885 (19 - 8h)
tel. +387 33 628 591 (9 - 18h)

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