A city in miniature

In the eastern part of Zagreb is a neighbourhood named Dubrava. Not many people know that this part of town has an exceptionally interesting past.

It covers the area between the eastern fringe of the Maksimir forest and the western edge of the Sesvete. Around 100,000 people live in Dubrava today. The district is bisected by the main thoroughfare Avenija Dubrava into Gornja (“Upper”) Dubrava, north of the road, and Donja (“Lower”) Dubrava south. Gornja Dubrava's streets quickly start to climb up the foothills of Mount Medvednica while Donja Dubrava is completely flat.

Before the Second World War Dubrava was still largely covered in oak forest, which is why Dubrava gets its name from one of the Croatian names for the oak tree, “Dub”. This was once a recreational area and hunting ground for Zagreb's citizens.

The blueprints for an urban plan were made by Slovene industrialist Rade Hribar who bought land in what is now Gornja Dubrava from the Catholic Church in the inter-war period. He split this into 400 plots and started to sell them. People started to buy land to build weekend cottages, but there was no mass influx of residents until after the Second World War due to a lack of infrastructure.
The first residents of Dubrava started to trickle in the 1930s and 1940s. These were mainly young working class families, railway workers who settled along the railway line connecting Zagreb with the north and east of the country and beyond towards Budapest and Belgrade.

After the War people from all over Yugoslavia started to flood towards Croatia’s capital in search of work and housing. This is why Dubrava is still today one of Zagreb’s most multicultural districts. It is perhaps best known for being the home of a community of Croatians with an interesting part named “Janjevci”. Janjevci were once merchants and craftsmen from the Republic of Dubrovnik who moved to the town of Janjevo near Priština, the capital of Kosovo due to metal ore deposits there. In the 20th century they began to migrate back to Croatia due to the economic and educational opportunities there. They have traditionally run family businesses such as restaurants, jewellers and shops and have had a palpable influence on the development of Dubrava.

Dubrava was quickly connected with the centre of Zagreb; tram tracks were built as early as 1942. The residents of Dubrava in those days saw a great many bombs fall in 1944 and 1945 which were aimed at an airfield which then stood at nearby Borongaj, and at the nearby railway station and train line. After the war people started to move into Dubrava in large numbers creating residential neighbourhoods. People who remember those times talk about socialising and playing on the street, garden parties, public swimming pools and youth work actions to build and improve the neighbourhood. Many people remember those youth work actions as connecting everybody and being a lot of fun. There were also three brothels, notorious throughout Zagreb, close to today's turning circle for the tram catering for the soldiers from the nearby barracks.

Although at first there was an urban plan for the neighbourhood which was started upon, due to the exceptionally large influx of newcomers to Zagreb in search of work and sudden industrialisation, this was largely abandoned and people pretty much built as they chose. Many of the educational institutions and much of the transport infrastructure were built by youth work actions, and in 1965 work started to build the first «Nama» department store on Avenija Dubrava. For many years the biggest problem in Dubrava was the infrastructure, and particularly the water mains which could not keep pace with the rate of development. In the 1970s people still fetched water from street pumps which were nicknamed železni Franceki, or “Iron Frankies”. Another big problem was a shortage of asphalt, and it was still common to come across farm animals in 1970s Dubrava.

As well as all the problems with infrastructure which the fast-growing settlement ran into, Dubrava was well-known for the Zagreb Bus Factory which many of the residents worked in. Also in Dubrava there was Jugoton, the first and biggest record company in the former Yugoslavia, today called Croatia Records. Jugoton published a great many albums by popular Yugoslav groups of the time. Close by there was also the Jadran Film studio which as early as 1947 produced its first film, "Živjeće ovaj narod" by Nikola Popović. In the golden age of Jadran Film, when big international co-productions were being made you might have witness the streets being transformed into a past era or an exotic part of the world, and you could have bumped into Orson Welles. In the period between the 1960s and the 1990s Jadran Film was one of the greatest and most famous film studios in Central Europe. During that time about 145 international co-productions and 124 domestic films were filmed. Some Oscar-winning greats were filmed in the Jadran Film studios films such as Sophie's Choice, directed by Alan J. Pakula, for which Meryl Streep won an Oscar. The most famous co-produced serial produced at Jadran Film was a German saga about Native Americans named Winnetou.

In the period from 1948 to 1951 “Pionirski grad”(“Pioneer City”) was built, named after the Socialist youth organisation and nowadays called “Grad mladeži”(“City of Youth”), in Gornja Dubrava, more precisely in Granešina. Pioneer Cities were created following the Second World War in most countries of eastern Europe as centres for youth education and as model urban plans. The City of Youth is today a beautifully landscaped space with pleasant architecture which is used as a recreational area and outdoor school for nursery and primary school age children. The park has footpaths, open pavilions, summer houses, a forest stage, sculpture park and sports grounds.

It is worth noting that the Dubrava Cultural Centre was founded as early as 1958, and that it has for many years run a school of animated film for primary and secondary school age children. In the late 1970s and early 1980s during the New Wave music scene a bunch of rebels came from Dubrava: Prljavo kazalište, one of the most famous Croatian rock bands, still loyal to their roots in Dubrava after 40 years.

Dubrava is also home to the Miroševac city cemetery. After the Second World War when Zagreb's historic Mirogoj cemetery was no longer able to fulfil the needs of the growing city and the city authorities started planning a new resting place for the city's departed souls. The cemetery was opened in 1952 and today is one of the most sought-after cemeteries in Croatia.

Dubrava is also the Zagreb neighbourhood with the greatest number of Olympians: 5 Dubrava residents won a total of 6 Olympic medals in the last Games: (discus thrower Sandra Perković, boxer Filip Hrgović, shooter Josip Glasnović, taekwondo athlete Martina Zubčić and handball player Manuel Štrlek). That is more than some nations won! Sporting life has been important here for many years. A swimming pool was built at the Eighth of May primary school, now the Marija Jurić Zagorka primary school, in 1980 which became the centre of the Dubrava Swimming Club where many swimmers have perfected their strokes over the years.

It's very easy to get to Dubrava – if you're travelling from Zagreb's main square catch the no. 12 tram which goes to the Dubrava turning circle, or the no. 11 which goes all the way to the last stop at Dubec. Along Dubrava's main avenue you'll find a great many restaurants, hotels, sporting facilities, shops and family businesses. Worth seeking out is the Boys Burger Bar, a favourite not only with fans of the beefburger but also of retro design as it's fitted out like a 1950s American diner. If you prefer Italian style visit the Volare trattoria and pizzeria with a warm atmosphere and Italian specialities. For pizza lovers we recommend Pizzeria and spaghetteria Mihita and Pizzeria Amfora , and it’s worth making the trip to Čučerje in the foothills of Pizzeria Purger's with its rustic interior. For excellent grilled meat definitely try Rustica which is well known for its leskovački roštilj, as well as the ever popular meat patties čevapi and pljeskavica.
There are heaps of cafes with coffee and cakes, while those with a sweet tooth should head for the Cukeraj cake shop. If you love pancakes you should try out Činkica.
Shopoholics should head for the Supernova - Garden Mall shopping centre on Oporovečka ulica. Fans of culture won't be disappointed since the National Adult Education Centre at Dubrava is here with its cultural centre; the Dubrava children's theatre has been running for 60 years; the Vladimir Filakovac gallery organises interesting exhibitions and the cultural centre has a school of animated film.
Dubrava is a family neighbourhood with an exceptionally interesting past which lends a special atmosphere to Zagreb and makes it well worth visiting and exploring.
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