Grassroots Culture, Vandalism And A Bridge Called Jimmy Hendrix

Efforts will be made for Jimmy Hendrix to officially get his bridge in Zagreb, announced HŽ (Croatian Railways) after a citizen petition had started asking them to change the name of the Railway bridge on Sava river. It was a surprising but mostly welcomed news, as younger generations have been calling it Hendrix bridge for the last 20 years. The reason? A crude graffiti spelling the artist’s name that appeared on the bridge one night in 1995.


The bridge was built in 1939 with the biggest arc span in Europe at the time, replacing the old one from 1862 that stood two meters from its modern version. The foundations of the old bridge can still be seen during summers and low tides.

During the 1980’s and 1990’s the bridge’s arcs were a popular meeting point for lovers, stoners and kids listening to rock music. It was exciting, dangerous, remote and no police would ever climb the arcs.


‘We were in high school and had a rock band. We played Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and of course, Jimmy Hendrix. I don’t remember who’s idea was it and why we did it, but we scotch taped two broomsticks with a paint brush, and every member of the band wrote down one letter of the name, hanging upside down’ said one of the ‘culprits’ in an interview for Vecernji list. Today they all have kids and careers and are not willing to go out in public with their names. ‘We realize now it was vandalism and a stupid thing to do, but then we were kids, and it was something to do.’

The bridge is categorized as a cultural monument, and such an act of vandalism was not taken lightly by the public or authorities at the time. Still, younger generations of locals did not see it that way. They considered it a symbol of rebellion against the prudish sensibilities of the old, the provincial tastes of the newcomers and terrible 1990’s dance music ruling the airways. They started calling it the Hendrix bridge, and as they grew up, the name stuck.


Croatian Railways did their best to get rid of the graffiti, painting it over and over again, but every time a new one would pop up. The original crew claims they had nothing to do with the latter graffiti, but they were happy to see them back, painted on by new generations.

A complete renovation of the bridge that started in 2013 was finished a couple of weeks ago, marking the longest time the graffiti was absent in its 20 years history. It was clean, green and graffiti free…for a couple of days. A red ‘Hendrix’ graffiti once again stood on its west side (a break from the traditional black used in every iteration).

The Railway promptly announced that it is going to remove it yet again causing a public backlash and a petition to rename it officially to Hendrix bridge. It seems they listened. They are backing the proposal to the municipal government that is also keen on the name. Even if they were not, the name is stuck in the minds of the locals, it is used on in everyday speech, search engines and tourist guides call it that, Google maps calls it that. It is becoming the official name of the bridge in 2016, and a fitting one, as it was used (aside from the railway traffic) for, well, sex, drugs and rock and roll.

The Railways have one condition though: instead of a makeshift graffiti; a street art piece is to be painted, commemorating the legendary musician.


It is actually a weird situation and there are voices opposing the proposal, mostly from senior citizens. Everybody is aware that the bridge is a cultural monument and are opposed to acts of vandalism, even the people who did it in the first place. Everybody is aware that Jimmy Hendrix probably didn’t know Zagreb even existed and most likely would not have cared about it even if he had known. And finally, everybody knows it’s kind of tacky. But those crappy graffiti meant something to the people. It was, and is, a part of a living, grassroots culture of the city, not implemented top down. It was a symbol of defiance of the youth in the turbulent 90’s , defiance to the old and new values forced upon them, defiance to babbitry. It was, simply, rock.

Well, mister Hendrix, you are officially welcomed to Zagreb.