“My Osijek: Other Perspectives of Dwelling the City”

STSM Contribution by Angeliki Sioli, PhD

Assistant Professor, Methods of Analysis and ImaginationFaculty of Architecture and the Built EnvironmentDelft University of Technology

The embankment of Drava River by the Upper Town, where Wilma Vukelich, narrator and protagonist of A Past Rescued From Oblivion used to spend many hours as a kid.

The project “My Osijek: Other Perspectives of Dwelling the City” took me to the mid-sized Croatian city Osijek at the end of August 2022. I had the chance to examine two novels, that describe the city, and juxtapose them to the contemporary urban and human topography. These novels were: A Past Rescued From Oblivion (originally published in German, Croatian 1994/ English 2020) by Wilma Vukelich (1850-1956) and Unterstadt (2009) by Ivana Šojat Kuči (born in 1971). They both capture Osijek, transitioning from the 19th to the 20th Century, with remarkable historical accuracy. Unterstadt additionally describes the city at the beginning of the 21st Century, as its protagonist returns to Osijek to discover the (hi)story of her family. Both novels are written by female authors, have female protagonists, and portray the struggles of different communities (families of German descent and Jewish respectively) in their attempt to integrate and define their identity within the urban context.

Contemporary realities juxtaposed with past façade elements, Županijska ul, Osijek, August 2022.

In the few days I was in Osijek, I followed the protagonists’ peregrinations through the city, both figuratively, as described in the novels, and literally, by physically retracing them in situ. I walked in the Upper Town and Tvrđa (the neighbourhoods described in The Past Rescued from Oblivion) as well as the Lower town of Osijek which features a major part in Unterstadt. I followed the Drava River and walked on its embankments. I engaged in a photographic and written documentation (notes capturing intangible elects of space like sounds, smells, atmospheres) of the described buildings and public spaces in their current urban and social conditions. I also visited the City and University Library of Osijek and looked at city maps and photographs from the time periods described in the novels. I compared the material with the contemporary conditions of the city and drew conclusions related to urban atmospheres, affordances and social conditions. The project came to an end with a productive meeting with my colleague and host Sonja Novak, in her office at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. We discussed my findings and compared them with results of the recent PhD Training School, organized for all our COST members. We then outlined a detailed diagram for our article “Mapping the Fictional and the Physical City: Spatiotemporal and Cultural Integration Through Narratives in Osijek, Croatia” (nai010publishers, 2023), and promised each other to find ways to continue such collaborations.  

Building details captured with poetic and metaphoric language in Unterstadt.
Building details captured with poetic and metaphoric language in Unterstadt.
With our COST colleague and host Sonja Novak at the entrance of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

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