Discovering Novi Bečej: Stories, people, history

By the paths of the past: Discover the rich history, interesting events and unforgettable people who have shaped Novi Bečej through time, as we return together to the heart of this beautiful city on the banks of the Tisza.

Explore the vibrant past of Novi Bečej's market days - a bustling hub of commerce, diverse produce, and cultural encounters in this historical narrative

Novi Bečej Market

Markets were held on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays, just as they are today, but today's market is quite different from the one we remember from the past. Market days brought a special liveliness not only to the market itself but also to the shops and streets. The streets buzzed with people and crowds, as well as with horse-drawn vehicles. These days were significantly different from others, especially Wednesdays and Fridays. Even before dawn, carts and pedestrians from surrounding villages arrived, and the railway experienced increased traffic on those days, as many used its services to reach Novi Bečej and its market.

I remember, from Kuman, hundreds of pedestrians hurried to secure the best spot in the market, carrying buckets on their shoulders or tied hens, ducks, and even turkeys. They aimed to sell their goods quickly and return home for other tasks.

Spring was particularly lively, as agricultural work hadn't yet engaged the laborers. In the absence of money, people sold livestock, eggs, and everything that would help them survive until the harvest, corn picking, and other agricultural yields. The more prosperous ones would bring out cattle, cows, and pigs, along with calves and piglets, wheat, corn, and other items to pay their taxes and clothe their families. Various motives led people to come to Novi Bečej on market days.

In July and August, during the harvest, threshing, and other agricultural activities, the roads became less crowded. However, the first free market days after these works became even livelier, with longer waits at the payment ramps, crowded streets, and full shops.

The market stretched across today's Liberation Square, Revolution Street, all the way to the first buildings near the dolma. It was several times larger than today's market space, but the number of sellers, and likely buyers, was even more disproportionate. If there were no buyers, there would be no incentive to come with goods to the market next time. The market was divided into livestock and grain sections. The grain market was located on Revolution Street, from the Workers' Hall to the first buildings near the dolma. From the Workers' Hall corner, from Revolution Street towards dolma, there was a fish market, and the entire Liberation Square served as the main market for livestock, fruits, vegetables, meat, and all other agricultural products.

The presence of so many people was also utilized by the local craftsmen of Novi Bečej to display and offer their goods. Cobblers with their stalls, slipper makers, shoemakers, saddlers, rope makers, sieve makers, and tailors with ready-made suits were all there, as were gingerbread makers and butchers with their covered stalls. There was everything, even "starež" as we used to call it (old tools, parts of tools and machines, padlocks, and more).

Apart from stalls owned by these craftsmen, whose goods were displayed on the stalls or pegs, all other products at the market were sold on the ground. On the Turkish cobblestone pavement, old sacks or tarps were spread out, often newspapers, and on them, goods such as vegetables, various seeds, apples, and all other fruits except grapes and plums, which were kept in baskets, and very rarely in crates. At that time, only fruits and grapes from the Rohonci estate (today's Pearl Island) were brought to the market in specially made crates, with a conspicuous sign saying G. Rohonci. Farmers brought tomatoes in baskets because they were actually sold in baskets.

However, the market was well organized. The placement of products was known. Next to the sidewalk near the "Vojvodina" hotel, there was a row with livestock, from the corner where the Workers' Hall is today to the end of the Cooperative Hall, leading to the dolma. It wasn't just one row but, like the street, there were rows on both sides, and in months when the markets were usually abundant, even three rows. Next to the livestock, towards the middle of the street, rows of fruits and vegetables, seeds, eggs, cheese, butter, curd, milk, and everything else a farm could produce for the market extended. Along the sidewalk, on the side where the "Jadran" restaurant is today, were the stalls of Novi Bečej butchers. Besides the 4-5 butcher shops in the city center, during the market, another equal number of stalls with meat appeared. These were butchers who had the appropriate certificates for a master's exam in the butchering trade but didn't have shops. Instead, they appeared with their products only on market stalls. The part closer to the square, where the monument was, was filled with craft stalls. There were 2 gingerbread stalls, two saddler stalls, two rope maker stalls, 4-5 cobbler stalls, and the same number of slipper and shoemaker stalls. Of course, there was also Novi Bečej tailor for markets and fairs (confectioner) Maksa Josimović with his products.

A lot of people were at the market, and the hustle lasted until around 9 o'clock. Let's not forget the bakers who, with their large baskets carried over their right arms, bent under the weight of baskets full of bread rolls, pretzels, and other bakery products. They maneuver through the crowd, offering their goods. In addition to sellers and buyers, all the Roma from Novi Bečej were also present. Those who hadn't acquired work habits yet spent their time in these market crowds, expecting to either receive the remaining unsold goods for free or buy them at the lowest possible price. From the corner, where the Workers' Hall is today, in a semi-circle to the end of the hall right on the quay, the fish market extended. It offered various types of fish - from catfish, pike, carp, perch to redfin and chub.

Markets were exceptional days for merchants of colonial goods because, in addition to Novi Bečej and Vranjevci residents, there were people from Kuman, Beodra, Karlovci, Melenka, Taraš, and Torđa. There were also Biros from the Spahi estates who came from Pearl Island, Borđoš, Prečka, and Sokolac to shop on market days for their household needs. Not only colonial goods stores were full of customers but also stores with textile products, ironmongers, butchers, and craftsmen felt the difference between market and regular days of the week.

Competition at the market was fierce, so prices, quite understandably influenced by significant competition, were very affordable. I remember the prices of some products during the peak season: bell peppers for stuffing were 1 dinar per kilogram, tomatoes were 0.50 dinars per kilogram retail and 0.25 to 0.30 dinars per kilogram in bulk, eggs were 2.5 dinars for 10, grapes were 1.5-2 dinars, and watermelon was not sold per kilogram but per piece. It was so cheap that at the end of the markets, ordinary farming and artisan families often took almost entire carts for 15-20 dinars. After the markets, unsold bell peppers were thrown into the Tisa River.

At that time, Novi Bečej might have been one of the cheapest cities to live in. This is quite understandable because it was not an industrial city with a large number of workers consuming agricultural products, but rather a place where mainly the bourgeoisie lived - civil servants, merchants, and craftsmen, with the majority of farmers who satisfied their needs through their own production. However, fruit and vegetable production in Novi Bečej itself was exceptionally high. Given that this production could not find placement only at the Novi Bečej market, it found its way to Veliki Bečkerek (Zrenjanin), Velika Kikinda, surrounding villages, and fruit from the Rohonci estate in Novi Sad. Marketing difficulties did not affect reducing production but, at that time, were seen as something normal and lawful, contributing to more productive and cheaper production. Vegetable growers sought to harvest two crops per year from cultivated land, making their products available for maximum consumption and for those with lower incomes.

Thus, the market was an opportunity for everyone. In a word, the market in Novi Bečej made Wednesdays and Fridays, and to some extent, Sundays extraordinary days. Often in the restaurant of the "Royal" hotel, there could be found the very popular tambourine player and singer "Vrana" from Srbobran. He was not only popular in Novi Bečej but in the entire region of Bačka, and Novi Bečej was just an addition to his popularity. In Bačka, there were then three famous tambourine players and singers: Trnda from Sombor, whose fame extended beyond Sombor and Western Bačka, Mimika from Mol, and "Vrana" from Srbobran. This was the period of their greatest glory and perhaps the end of the so far "wild life" of the wealthy farmers of Bačka and Vranjevac - agriculturalists.

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