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.

The Tisza River has always been a source of pride for the residents of Novi Bečej and Vranjevo

The Tisza River has always been a source of pride for the residents of Novi Bečej and Vranjevo

The people of Novi Bečej took pride in their town not for its appearance or the strength of its economy but for its exceptional location. The Tisza flows right through the center, a feature not common in many towns situated near such a large river. The wooded banks with a beautiful promenade made this part particularly attractive and charming, giving the impression of a seaside town, especially in the evening when the lights along the promenade and the summer hall of the "Vojvodina" hotel lit up, along with the numerous lights on the barges waiting for loading or being filled to be towed to their destinations.

The Tisza's bank, from the current dairy factory to the Workers' Hall, served as a port. There were dozens of barges filled with grain, and in that area, there were scores of horse-drawn vehicles bringing grain from Kumane, Melenci, Beodra, Dragutinovo, Bašaid, Torak, Banatska Topola, and other places in that part of Banat. Of course, the heavy horse-drawn carts of the Novi Bečej industry, including the Bon Brothers' wagons and mills, were almost continuously present. It was bustling, like a fair, from morning to dusk, every working day. Quiet only descended when darkness fell and on Sundays.

In the fall, a special kind of liveliness took place on the Tisza's bank. In addition to the usual dispatch of grain and other goods, fresh plums from Serbia were brought by rafts. These plums were sold in baskets weighing 20-25 kilograms. Plums were sold for one dinar per kilogram. Despite such a low selling price, as Branko Kovačev - Bajer claimed, selling one raft of plums earned him another raft for free. Apart from the people of Novi Bečej, plums were bought by residents of Kumanovo, Melenca, Beodra, Karlovci, and Bašaid. Most of these plums were used for making jam since sugar was very expensive at that time. The transportation and sale of plums took about twenty days, turning the Tisza's bank into a market with all the hustle and bustle.

Besides its role as a trading hub, the Tisza was rich in fish, providing a livelihood for about ten families engaged in fishing. The catch was abundant, ranging from carp and pike to catfish, zander, and bream. The fish market in Novi Bečej extended from the corner of Mladen Nastić's bakery, today's corner of the Workers' Hall, to the exit from the dock towards the small ferry. Instead of stalls, fish were placed in special large shallow baskets or corn baskets. A special table, serving as a counter, was often set up on the dock where large catfish, weighing several tens of kilograms, were cut into pieces and sold. This table always attracted the most people, including many children fascinated by the size of the fish. Much of the fish was consumed in the families of farmers. However, not all the fish brought to the market could be sold, and the remaining fish stayed in the Tisza on barges until the next markets.

The most well-known fishing families were the Barna brothers, the Rečo brothers, and the fishing cooperative, whose members were from the fairgrounds. The fishing cooperative had its hut on the Bačka side, across the Tisza towards the dairy, as they mostly fished in that part. They used a fishing net called "alov," a large net with one end tied to a wooden stake on the shore, while the other part was slowly lowered into the Tisza in a semicircle, reaching almost halfway across the river. The boat had six rowers and one helmsman who simultaneously lowered the net into the water. Once back on the shore, everyone, side by side, slowly pulled the net closer to the end tied to the stake. The gentle slope of the bank made it easier to pull the net as there was a sandy shoal without any vegetation, crucial to prevent the net from snagging and tearing. This process was repeated several times a day, and the effort was worthwhile because the net always contained fish, encouraging further fishing.

Other Novi Bečej fishermen used a hook and line method with a "struk" of 200-250 hooks or tips seen in all the riverbanks of the Tisza, except where loading and unloading of barges occurred at the dock. This fishing method was also fruitful, as evidenced by the fact that the Barna brothers, thanks to fishing, built beautiful houses and bought the best land near the Tisza for vineyards. They achieved success in viticulture besides fishing, and their grapes were among the highest quality in Novi Bečej. Other fishermen likely did well too, staying true to their profession until their later years.

Undoubtedly, the Tisza played an invaluable role in the economic development of Novi Bečej, but it also occasionally caused significant damages. Almost every year, when the water level rose, Gradište would flood, temporarily halting the activities of footballers and other athletes. Every third or fourth year, the high water level flooded large areas of arable land in Ljuto and Libe, causing substantial losses for individuals. However, Tisza, as if wanting to make amends, made the flooded land more fertile in the following years with its mud deposition.

Tisza also claimed other, more precious victims. Almost every year, someone drowned while swimming. However, the event of September 11, 1931, stands out as the most significant tragedy from that time to the present day.

On that beautiful autumn day, the beginning of the school year, a boat was returning from Stari Bečej, the weather turned cloudy, and dark clouds appeared, as if they could only exist in human imagination, heavy, as if wanting to press down on the earth and destroy everything living on it. I have never seen a similar occurrence since. A heavy rain with hail, accompanied by a storm, ensued. For such a natural force, the small boat was like a nutshell, toyed with by the wind as it pleased. It carried the boat into the middle of the Tisza, capsizing and sinking it. Fifteen lives were lost with the sunken boat. The waves of the Tisza claimed the lives of about fifteen people who tried to escape by boat or swimming. Although not everyone, around fifteen more people found their deaths in the waves of the Tisza. In total, about thirty people lost their lives on that occasion. Interestingly, no students perished, even though they were mostly 11 to 14 years old. All of them were swimmers and were lucky to quickly reach the shore. The tragedy was immortalized in a folk song, known to many residents of Novi Bečej to this day, even though many of them may not know the reason behind its creation, "The boat sailed, and in the boat was Mlađa..."

That dark cloud that sank the small boat was not satisfied with just that; it took many roofs and broke many trees. Hail caused visible damage to farmers. The top of the Novi Bečej Orthodox Church tower collapsed. Until then, the tower had been pointed, like all church towers in Novi Bečej. It collapsed on the part where it now has a blunt shape. The collapsed part was replaced with a dome, and a "golden apple" with a cross was placed on it, the shape it still has today.

As time erases bad things and ugly events from memory, and thoughts return only to the beautiful moments of the past, this tragedy has also been forgotten. Tisza forgives all, just like any beloved child. It fully deserves such generosity from those of us who grew up beside it. For all the beautiful moments it provided, the nights spent walking along its fragrant banks, the joyous dawns awaited by its side, the sounds of bird songs, and the melodies it sang with its gentle murmurs when encountering even the smallest obstacle in its seemingly endless flow of time. How many beautiful moments it gave us, how many nights we spent strolling along its fragrant banks, how many joyous dawns we welcomed by its side, how many bird songs we heard, and how many melodies it sang with its soothing, quiet murmur when encountering even the slightest obstacle in its seemingly endless flow of time. How much it has given us to reminisce about beautiful moments from our youth and memorable fishing adventures. That's why I will strive to say a few more kind words about the Tisza.

The Tisza is beautiful in spring when the floral ornaments on its banks renew and spread the scent of freshly bloomed willows, followed by the scent of mown hay on the dolma, which the Tisza is surrounded by throughout its course. I remember how beautiful it is in the summer when the water recedes, revealing its sandy shoals almost halfway across its bed. It flows silently, the water clear and calm, just cool enough to refresh us from the summer heat. Unforgettable is the Tisza in autumn when it adorns itself with all the beauty of colorful autumn leaves and the scent of the river on fish.

Every beautiful autumn, the Tisza offered special delights to its enthusiasts. Low water levels and a gentle flow made the water exceptionally clear during this time, a quality known only to those who grew up beside it. Is there anything more beautiful than being in a boat on the Tisza during this time, enjoying the richness of colors adorning the shores? The satisfaction derived from the scent of the withering Ušće, the river's freshness, and the chirping of wagtails in the indescribable beauty of silence is beyond measure.

The sunset on the Tisza is enchanting. The multicolored: crimson, yellow, green-brown leaves illuminated by the last rays of the sun, with various color shades and reflections in the water, create such an impression that one feels alive only for these moments. It is difficult to distinguish at that time between the image in the water and the rich vegetation along the shore. It gives the impression that the sun is sinking into the Tisza and disappearing, only for a blink of an eye, to seem like it is shining from within and emerging from it. These beauties cannot be described or imagined in thoughts; they must be experienced.

The Tisza is the most beautiful part of my childhood, and I carry it in my soul, just as coastal residents carry their sea, no matter how far away from it they may be. It played a crucial role in inspiring me to write these memories.

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