The first Covid-19 patient in Croatia was registered in the city of Zagreb on February 25th 2020. It was a young gentleman who, as a real Croat, enjoyed a good UEFA Champions League football match (yes, yes – we know, it’s soccer in some countries) between Atalanta and Valencia in Milan, and, as many others, got infected. The fun fact is that the match in question was almost held in Zagreb between Valencia and Dinamo Zagreb, but that’s a story for one of our following blog posts. Long story short, soon afterwards, Zagreb and Croatia went into a lockdown that continued until May 11th when finally bars re-opened and life started to make sense again.
The total number of Covid-19 patients in our country on the day we’re writing this blog post reached 2232, 478 of them being in the City of Zagreb. We can proudly conclude – we kicked Corona’s ass! And we do enjoy a good ass kicking (to use a football reference like we always do in Croatia).
That enthusiasm re-awakened the national pride and encouraged us to find out a bit more about the history of the healthcare system in Zagreb. We spiced it up with a drive around the city in our Yugo nicknamed Zagi, discovering 5 cool and photogenic hospitals – an old one, a new one, one reminding us of a cool castle, a spooky romantic one and a legendary never-completed one whose sole purpose is to confuse our visitors and to give Google Maps a stroke.
The first hospital in Zagreb
It would be quite strange to be (probably) the only city in the world to have a 16-stories hospital (find the glass high-rise in the photo) in the pedestrian zone of the main square. However, this is the place where the first hospital in Zagreb used to be. It was built during the Austrian rule at the beginning of the 19th century when Zagreb was referred to as the little Vienna (#mustvisit #zagreblovesyou #yugocitytour), having had 32 beds and a church within. When the city authorities realized there was a chance of Zagreb becoming an appealing tourist destination at one point in the future, they decided to build more hospitals outside of the city center and demolished this one in 1930s.
In the Yugoslav period (1950s), this skyscraper and the attached buildings were built. But, believe it or not, the church remained, although maybe not visible at first glance.
University Psychiatric Hospital Vrapče
Speaking of little Vienna, Zagreb has never had a royal castle where the Habsburgs danced the Viennese Waltz, but it has a 19th century psychiatric hospital which can easily be mistaken for a royal summer house. Built in 1879, this beauty designed by a German architect Kruno Weidmann, is still in use and even hosts the hospital museum. What can you find in a museum located in a mental institution? Many, MANY unusual things: from a handwritten diagnosis of a patient treated for hyper-happiness (no GDPR in the 19th century) and designer straitjackets to an electroshock machine. It also houses a real art collection of a prominent Croatian female painter Slava Raškaj, who apparently got inspired to paint while living there for a couple of years. Thinking about it now, there must have been some Viennese Waltz dance nights here after all!
We have to wonder, if the Covid-19 pandemic had happened between 1909 and 1968 would the patients have been treated in the respiratory hospital of Brestovec on the slopes of Medvednica mountain? Most likely – yes. Brestovec, specialized in tuberculosis and lung diseases, entered our list as the spookiest yet romantic hospital in Zagreb. It had a fairytale start: a doctor, Milivoj Dežman, was in love with a beautiful actress,
Ljerka Šram. A minor detail is the fact that she was married to another man, but since he embezzled money and was banished from Zagreb, his role was not crucial for this story. Ljerka, as you might suspect, got tuberculosis and Dežman had a mission to cure her. He managed to convince the richest members of Zagreb society to donate funds to build a sanatorium that subsequently opened in the middle of the mountain where the air was just perfect for respiratory issues. Dežman went so far as to build a cinema and a library as a part of the whole complex, to make life there more comfortable for his love. However, despite his efforts, he was not able to save her and Ljerka died in his arms at the age of 39. After her death, this symbol of their ultimate love and affection remained open until the late 1960s when tuberculosis was eradicated in Zagreb and the new role of the complex became a political debate that has continued to the present day. Today it’s a half-ruined structure in the middle of the forest, sometimes used as a paintball field. However, the legend says that the ghosts of Ljerka and Milivoj have never deserted it and that they still walk around the empty hallways of Brestovac holding each other’s hands.
Clinical Hospital Dubrava
The New Clinical Hospital, located in a borough called Dubrava, entered our list as the most photogenic because Instagram filters just love turquoise. It was built in 1988 as the biggest modern hospital in Zagreb and during the Covid-19 pandemic it was turned into the so-called coronavirus “healing centre”. Luckily, since the number of the infected was (and still is) very low – out of 750 beds only 28 beds were occupied! Meaning that most of the hospital staff enjoyed their first and last 2-months leave! Thumbs up for the responsible citizens of Zagreb! Dubrava medical staff will never forget it!
University Hospital Blato
This one might be the most controversial hospital in the city: a perfect example of what happens when you have a good plan, an empty meadow, a decade of construction and just half of the money you need for the idea!
The aim was to use the equivalent of today’s 150 million euros of public money to build a hospital complex covering the area of 210 000 m2 (52 acres). The only thing was that the amount mentioned was able to cover for only half of the project. The deadline came with the start of the war, the finances collapsed, the society changed and the plan has never been realized up to this date.
For the last 30 years, the city of Zagreb has been trying to decide what to do with this half-completed construction while it decays day by day. However, we must say that the University hospital of Blato did get a new function! It became a popular site for different photo shoots, zombie apocalypse movie scenes and Social media backgrounds. It even starred in MoMa exhibition “Toward a Concrete Utopia: Architecture in Yugoslavia”, along with many other socialist buildings and monuments of the ex-country. Frankly, wouldn’t you also want to have a selfie taken here? If so, now you know where to go when visiting Zagreb – and Zagi already knows the way!
At the end of this post we decided to choose our favorite hospital from the list. Even though it was a close tie, Brestovac and the touching love story won! A good love story always wins! But another plus for Brestovec was definitely all the pride we have towards our Yugo – he made it up and back down the mountain in one peace without overheating! Zagi did a great job, and now he patiently waits for new adventures, upcoming photo-shoots and new blog posts.