Colorado Springs, Serbia

A sample of the wide mix of architecture found in Belgrade (click to see larger).Everyone has heard of New York.  Everyone has heard of California.  Not everyone has heard of anything in between.  The Serbians have, however.

I grew up in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  When I tell people this, they usually don’t know where Colorado is.  Once I explain it has great mountains and contains the famous ski resorts of Aspen and Vail, the person says “OH!  I’ve heard about those!”

My Hungarian high school students have an easier time identifying it as the home of South Park.  I get a lot of attention when I tell them that I’ve been to the actual “South Park,” and that “Chef” has served me lunch.

The only reason that any older Hungarians have heard of Colorado Springs is a little awkward – a military base.  NORAD is built inside of a mountain, and it was the major control center for nuclear weapons during the Cold War.  Since Hungary was forced to be on the other side of that war, it’s the place where my country aimed missiles at them.  Not exactly a friendly way to start a conversation.

Aside from knowing these three things (and the third is extremely rare), Colorado isn’t well known in this neck of the woods.  That’s why Serbia baffled me.

When I arrived in Belgrade, everyone wanted to know what state I’m from.  I answered with my standard line:  “Colorado, have you heard of it?  It’s kind of in the middle and it has big mountains.”    However, they interrupted me before the descriptive sentence.

“Yes, we’ve heard of it – Colorado Springs,” answered the first two Serbians that I talked to about it.

Being completely baffled, I asked them how they knew about the town.  I explained most people don’t know about the state, much less this specific city.  They both thought about it and discussed it, but they couldn’t remember why.  I figured it was some sort of freak occurrence and didn’t think much more about it.

Then it kept happening.  Every time I told a Serbian I was from Colorado, they would respond with, “Ah yes, Colorado Springs.”

The "Bohemian" street in Belgrade (click to see larger).Finally, I figured it out.  Nikola Tesla is a sort of national hero in Serbia.  My knowledge about him is limited to the fact that he’s a famous scientist, but they quickly taught me that he did a lot of valuable work with electricity.

Where did he do a lot of this work?  Colorado Springs.

He had moved to the United States to perform his research (for monetary reasons, according to the Serbians I talked to), and he made a lot of great progress in his laboratory in Colorado Springs.

The ironic part is that I never learned much about him.  I love history, so I was always attentive to the subject in school.  This makes it seem unlikely that I would have just missed my teachers making a big deal about him.  However, it seems obvious that the Serbian teachers make a big deal about Colorado Springs.

Next time I’m in Colorado Springs, I’m going to ask everyone else if they know anything about Nikola Tesla.  When they answer that they don’t (which is what I expect), I’ll give them an electric shock and tell them about the Serbians.  If your town is famous for something, you should embrace it – especially when it’s a man who studied electricity.

After all, “Your famous scientist did much of his great work in our town” is a much better conversation starter than “We aimed missiles at you from my town.”  Actually, I guess that depends on what sort of conversation you’re hoping to have.


Serbian word of the day (sticking with the Serbian language since it’s the topic of this article):


This means “thank you.”  It’s one of those critical words you should always learn as soon as you arrive in a new country.  One little word can mean the difference between someone telling the special thing to order, or intentionally sneezing on your food while preparing it.