The first brewery in the region opened in Pančevo in 1722 (thus claiming to be the oldest in the Balkans), but the current one was constructed in the 19th century by the Weifert family, mainly Ignaz and his sons Georg and Hugo. In the century the brewery was under their ownership, between 1841 and 1944, beer from Pančevo became regionally famous and an important identity marker of Pančevo. In 1946, the brewery was nationalised but, two years later, its old facilities were also awarded the status of a protected monument. The old brewery operated until 1977 when production was moved to a different location in the town.
The old premises were given to another company that used them as a storage facility but also ousted the old machines for scrap metal. A part of the premises, the summer terrace and a restaurant, was sold to a private company in 1994. In April 2005, the oldest part of the brewery complex burned down in a large fire. Beer production in Pančevo ceased in 2008, after which all hopes that the old brewery complex might be renovated by the beer industry perished. This was a huge shock for the locals who took pride in having the oldest brewery (and one of the most famous) in the country. The production of beer with labels drawing on Pančevo’s legacy (such as the Weifert brand) has since then been distributed across other places in Serbia.
In 2015 an architectural competition and a seminar on the future of the complex were held in Pančevo, but it did not lead to any further action. With its walls prone to crumbling, the largest part of the brewery is derelict. About 1/5 of the compound, from Nikole Tesle St, is in good condition, having been renovated in 1994. This part has since been repurposed as a privately owned beer hall and tiny museum.
Researcher Vladimir Dulović
2018 Industrial ruin
2018 Mixed (private / public)
Form of government
1929 Parliamentary Constitutional Monarchy
2018 Parliamentary Democracy
Spatial Planning Agency
2018 Javno preduzeće »Urbanizam«, Pančevo
Type of heritage and protection
2018 National monument
Interview with Nenad Živković
Interview with Aleksandar Stanojlović
AS: Today it’s in a very poor condition. One quarter was renovated and is in some way active but the majority of it, the most valuable parts, that is the oldest parts of the complex, is in a state of decay. And that is, of course, on the one hand, a disgrace for the town and for the country, for something, isn’t being done. On the other hand, it shows the real inability of a general social malaise to – not only in culture but in all aspects, all spheres of our society – establish even a remotely decent level of social development. Because cultural heritage is, of course, a very expensive discipline for investment and upkeep. It comes at the end like a kind of “cream”. In other words, first, you do the basic things and then take care of heritage. Then again, on the other hand, heritage, as the word suggests, should actually be the motive to form some kind of identity – a sense of belonging to an area, precisely because of cultural heritage. From that point of view, the Brewery is a very poor example and it, of course, even in this condition, says a lot about the intensity of economic life Pančevo once experienced. This was after the Second World War and when the Brewery was closed down when production moved elsewhere, the economy lived on through other factories, from the Southern Zone, which are themselves becoming kind of archaeological sites – i.e. dead factories. And one day that too will probably be industrial heritage.
VD: Can we then say that the whole Vajfert or Old Brewery is in a way a reflection of the industry in Pančevo today?
AS: Generally of the industry in the whole world. As we know, in all of Europe industry is being moved to other continents and maybe only basic industries are left behind. In Pančevo the petrochemical and refinery complex is still working, everything else is small scale. So nothing’s left of the big ones. It’s completely clear that the economy is shifting from one form to another and that this results in the industrial buildings needing to be demolished once they’re no longer useful because they aren’t in any way significant for their primary purpose – i.e. industrial production. So, if we look at it from that puritanical angle when the Pančevo brewery closed in 1977 when production moved elsewhere, the brewery building could have been transformed into something else but that was too expensive. So this society didn’t see an interest in investing money to use it for a different purpose and then the solution was to make it a listed building but also for it to be left to the sands of time. So it’s in a state of decay because it is simply exposed to the elements – nobody is maintaining it so it’s normal that it will deteriorate and be in this condition. What is maybe where people are sensitive is the end of beer production in Pančevo, in other words, the cessation of the tradition of beer brewing. Now that’s if we’re talking about heritage, that’s that element of intangible heritage because when this privatisation happened 10-15 years ago the production of beer moved away from Pančevo and people were much more angry about that than about the deterioration of this building. The building has an atmospheric value and testifies to that… In fact, it testifies to the level of industrial and technical culture of this community at a given time in the past. It should show how developed our town was economically and technologically in its heyday; that it kept pace with similar breweries around the world; that it had, in fact, the most modern technology and so on. But the loss of the brand and the loss of production – that hit the people’s pride hard.
VD: How attached are people to the building? If someone tomorrow said, “It makes much more economic sense to demolish the building”, would there be an appeal to emotional values? Which buttons would have to be pushed with the people of Pančevo so that they would say the building should be saved after all?
AS: Well it is certainly protected by the law in the first instance and as a listed building it can’t be demolished because it’s protected.
VD: Which in Serbia often isn’t much of a…
AS: Well, even if it was physically demolished I don’t believe anything could be built in its place for a long, long time. Then again, on the one hand, one aspect of our society is that in Serbia, in our milieu, cultural heritage is protected by poverty. If we were a wealthy society everything would be demolished and replaced by something newer, more modern. That’s why we have lots of old houses, castles, buildings that have remained simply because nobody has the money to invest in them or to demolish them or modernise them. That’s what it’s all about. So it’s lucky Pančevo is economically and demographically stagnating so there is no need for new housing so this location is left to be for now.
Interview with Aleksandar Seneši
AS: It is, above all, certainly an exceptional monument. First, it is the oldest brewery in the Balkans and the beginnings of industrialisation began literally from that brewery. And also, here’s a fact, earlier the river Tamiš flowed right past the brewery. Later the flow of the river was straightened and the water doesn’t run by the brewery any more. The river bed was filled in and its meander was straightened. So to me, this is some kind of reminder of the old town that looked completely different than it does now and, roughly, that reminds me of that past
VD: And as it is today, let’s say, largely neglected, with a part that burned down… If I was to say that was some kind of monument, what would it be a monument to?
AS: That’d be a monument to stupidity. Because allowing such an old cultural monument… I used to work for the tourist board, I was guiding some foreigners who were aghast that the brewery was allowed to get so devastated and destroyed. At the moment there are maybe signs that what once was could return… Some small-scale brewing, a small brewery and that it’s heading sort of towards its original purpose. But what it looks like now and all that, it’s sad for us the ordinary people and it’s a kind of indicator of everything that’s happened in the last 30 years.
VD: And if I – or someone else – said, “Let’s knock that brewery down, look at how neglected and wretched it is already” or something to that effect. And if they offered some kind of growth for Pančevo – I don’t know, some kind of investment or something. Of course, you would say, “well it’s protected by the law”, which in Serbia doesn’t stop things being demolished. If someone came along with an idea like that, do you think the people of Pančevo – or rather, what would you say to an idea like that? Would it slip through or…?
AS: Well I don’t think it would. For a start, that’s like tearing off a piece of yourself and throwing it away. If that’s a constituent part of the history of everything this town represents if we all have if we’re all especially tied to it… Especially as, in my opinion, we didn’t let the fire and all that – but even all destroyed like this it could have some function – like KC Grad in Belgrade, say, in the old space it could… Whatever it is it’s a monument. It’s just important to secure the rest so it isn’t dangerous, I mean that could work. There was that tender that, as you probably know did go ahead, so there is, I think there is a chance for it to be a monument of culture and a monument to all of us. So I think something like that couldn’t slip through.
VD: If we think about the fact that Pančevo once had the oldest brewery in the Balkans and now doesn’t have a brewery – that is, a large brewery – there maybe some of those micro, craft breweries and so forth. What do you think? In the same way, Pančevo was once one of the most industrially developed towns in socialist Yugoslavia, and today what industry there is little more than symbolic. Is this one of the indicators of the whole situation?
AS: Well yes, that’s it precisely. I don’t see a way out really, I just don’t see it. We’ve buried ourselves in that industrial heritage which is no longer. Simply, something has to change radically. But, as I said, the brewery is an exception from all of that because it’s a cultural monument and a monument to Pančevo itself – a kind of symbol of the city.
VD: So you think if someone said, “Nevertheless, we still have to demolish part of that industrial heritage and move on from that, we can’t preserve everything”, you think that the brewery would be one of the last things that should be demolished?
AS: I think so if we save anything, it should be the brewery.