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Nikola Tesla:

The European Years (1856-1884)

Tesla in his laboratory, 1899


D. Mrkich

Part I
I was in Europe in October of 2001, to see a number of
cities where the young Nikola Tesla once lived, studied,
worked and divined his future inventions.
GRAZ, Austria, October 10.
Nikola Tesla studied electrical engineering at the Graz Polytechnic School, the Ioanneum, now the Technical University
of Graz, from September 1875 until late 1877. The Ioanneum
was one of only four technical schools in the entire Austrian
Empire others being in Vienna, Prague and Brno which
granted engineering degrees.
The school is very proud of its illustrious alumni, my
hosts, two professional employees of the University, tell me,
and present me with a school memorial book, which features
Teslas picture on its cover, and a 20-page profile inside.

Nikola Tesla: The European Years, copyright 2002 D. Mrkich

The two ladies take me everywhere throughout the monastery-like school, where Tezla might have attended lectures;
introduce me to a number of staff, including the Professor
who wrote the profile just mentioned; and in one of the technical halls, the schools Tesla Induction Coil is switched on
for my benefit: it erupts in a spectacular shower of high frequency, high voltage, shooting discharges.
But there are no plaques or busts to honour Tesla.
You see, we build statues and plaques only to musicians
and poets, offers one of the ladies. We are not practical that
way.
There is a tradition in Graz, I am told, that Tesla was
dismissed from the school in his last year, because he did not
give any exams, and they hand me a copy of Teslas school
records. See, no exams given in the third year.
Why did Tesla drop out of school in his final year?
Nikola Tesla, the worlds greatest electrical mind in the
age of machinery, never graduated from any school of higher
learning, though after the achievements and the world-wide
acclaim, he received many Honorary Doctorates, including
one from Graz, in 1937, 50 years after the school had dismissed him - it has also been said - for leading an irregular
life.
Teslas life in Graz was a contradictory affair. Mindful of
the leave his father had given him to study electrical engineering, instead of entering the service of the Serbian Orthodox Church, he drove himself to learn, to excel, to surprise,
to please everyone, and
during the whole first year I regularly started
my work at three oclock in the morning and
continued until eleven at night, no Sunday or
holidays excepted.
So he wrote in 1919, in a series of six autobiographical
articles, entitled My Inventions, and published in the Electrical Experimenter monthly magazine in New York.
Tesla skipped no lectures, even on the coldest of morn-

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ings.
Brother, where are you going, in this cold, at 24 degrees
Reaumur below frost? his roommate Kosta Kulisic chided
him once.
Must go, replied Tesla. To miss even one lecture here
would be a sin and a waste; the professors are so intelligent.
Three professors had impressed Nikola particularly:
Rogner, who taught Arithmetic and Geometry; Poeschl, who
held the chair of Theoretical and Experimental Physics; and
All, who taught Integral Calculus and differential equations,
a brilliant lecturer, who often stayed with Tesla for an hour
or two in the lecture hall, giving him different mathematical
problems to solve, and to whom Tesla showed his first concepts of flying machines and turbines.
In the 1870s, the polyglot campus teemed with students
from throughout the polyglotic Empire, who, naturally, congregated along national lines. On December 19, 1875, St.
Nicholas Day his name day and Patron Saint day Tesla
founded a Serbian cultural club Srbadija (Serbdom)*.
The group met every Sunday, with each member expected to
hold forth on a historical, cultural, scientific or humorous
topic. Tesla gave at least two dissertations: a serious one, on
the then new subject, Of the surface of liquids, and a mock
one, About Noses. The Srbadija continued to exist for many
years, as on April 10, 1897, it made an announcement that it
had received a gift of 100 florins from Nikola Tesla in New
York.
Nikola Tesla earned the highest possible grade in every
subject he heard that first year. But when he went home to
Gospic, in the summer of 1876, and showed his school report to his father, Reverend Milutin Tesla, a serious and upright man, and no lover of excess, only said, Oh, I know
how you achieved these.
*Its members, in addition to Tesla, were: Jovan Grbicic, Paja
Markovic, Djuro Dimic, Joca Sevic, Milan Nikolajevic and Kulisic
(his roommate from January to June, 1876).

Nikola Tesla: The European Years, copyright 2002 D. Mrkich

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Nikola Teslas school records in Graz (Courtesy Technische


Universitt Graz, Austria)

Nikola Tesla: The European Years, copyright 2002 D. Mrkich

Three years later, after his fathers death, Nikola


was pained to find a package of letters which
the professors had written him to the effect that
unless he took me away from the Institution I
would be killed through overwork.
In his second year in Graz, Tesla enrolled only in Physics, Mathematics and Mechanics, which allowed him to spend
the hours of leisure in the school library, learning the Italian,
English and French languages, and reading his favourite works
of poetry: Goethes Faust, Dantes Divine Comedy, Shakespeares Hamlet, Njegoss Mountain Laurel, Byrons Child
Harold. He memorized poetry easily, and could recite many
long passages throughout his life.

Gramme dynamo (Smithsonian Institution, Washington)

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One day, in January 1877, Professor Poeschl brought into


the classroom a new machine, just arrived from Paris, a
Gramme dynamo, invented by the Belgian physicist,
Theophile Gramme. The horseshoe-shaped machine, if turned
by power, would generate electricity, and if supplied with
electricity, would run as a motor. A direct current, of course.
The instrument required a commutator, a set of wire brushes
which created sparking connections. In the process of demonstration, the machine sparked discordantly, creating loud
discharges. Some, as yet unformed idea, took hold of Tesla,
and he was of the view that commutators were not necessary,
and was brave enough to pronounce his opinion. To which
the Professor responded that the defect was inherent in the
nature of the machine, and that, as long as the electric current flowed in one direction, and a magnet had two poles, a
commutator was necessary.
The device only limits the use of the machine, Tesla
went on. Now, if the flow of the current could be altered, by
some other means, the instrument would run consistently,
economically
Poeschl, a big-handed, big-footed, bushy-browed, methodical German, who was said to have worn the same suit of
clothing for the past twenty years, was annoyed by this challenge, but continued his lecture, demonstrating, explaining,
walking up and down the classroom, precisely like a clock.
Tesla would not retract his doubts. The next lecture Poeschl
devoted entirely to disproving Teslas views, and ended his
remarks, by saying:
Mr. Tesla may accomplish great things, but he
certainly never will do this. It would be equivalent
to converting a steadily pulling force, like that of
gravity, into a rotary effort. It is a perpetual
motion scheme, an impossible idea.
Tesla was not convinced. The power of gravity moves
the moon around the earth, and the earth revolves around the
sun. but the discussion was closed. The classroom was

Nikola Tesla: The European Years, copyright 2002 D. Mrkich

stunned silent. Tesla wrote later,


I could not demonstrate my belief at that time, but
it came to me through what I might call instinct,
for lack of a better name. But instinct is something which transcends knowledge. We undoubtedly have in our brains truths which we could not
attain through logical deductions, and which it
would be futile to attempt to achieve through any
wilful effort of thinking.
Poeschl is remembered today chiefly for his rigid stance
in this discussion with his visionary student.
At the end of his second year, Nikola Tesla found himself
without a further scholarship from the Military Border Authority back home. The scholarship was 420 gulden, paid out
ten times a year, at the end of each month, following the successful completion of exams.
Why did he lose his scholarship?
There are no simple answers.
There were wars brewing in the Balkans throughout the
years of 1875, 1876 and 1877 for the Orthodox Cross,
against the Ottoman Turks first the rebellion of the Serbs of
Herzegovina against the Turks, then two wars between Serbia and Turkey, then in July of 1878, Austria-Hungary occupied Bosnia and Herzegovina. And Tesla owed a military service to the diverse powers of the day.
My hosts hand me a freshly typed copy of a document
issued by the Military Frontier Administration Authorities
(Grenzlandsverwaltungsbehoerde) in Agram (Zagreb), on
September 22, 1876, and addressed to the Rector of the
Ioanneum, emphasizing that Nikolaus Tesla, of Gospic in
Lika, the Military District of Otocac in return for scholarship of 420 gulden per year, has pledged that, on conclusion
of his studies, he will discharge his military duty and serve a
minimum of eight years in the army The German-language sentence runs to 97 words. Krajina had been dismantled three years earlier, and its south-western part handed over
to the civil administration in Zagreb, while the eastern territories were delivered to Budapest.

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A Unilateral Agreement: a three-year scholarship for eight


years in the army.

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Nikola Tesla: The European Years, copyright 2002 D. Mrkich

There is a suite of rooms in one of the wings of the University, which houses old samples of ores, photographs and
other historical memorabilia, and in one room, on a square
table, only a little smaller than the room itself, there is a clay
relief map, hardened and darkened with age, of the AustroHungarian Monarchy: it doesnt even show its Balkans underbelly, the Militargrenzen the Frontier lands with the Ottoman Turks with Teslas birthplace in it.
Nikola Tesla tried to extricate himself from the obligation under his scholarship agreement, and on October 14,
1876, wrote to the Serbian Queen Bee, a patriotic organisation in Novi Sad, applying for financial assistance. With his
letter, he enclosed a transcript of his marks, and an attestation that his father was too poor to support him in school. He
was turned down.
Toward the end of the second year, too, Tesla is said to
have developed a taste for gambling. In 1936, his former
roommate, Kulisic, related the following incident. One day,
a fellow, a member of some German cultural club, turned on
Tesla in the school corridor, struck him lightly with his cane
across the shoulder, and said, Why waste time here; better
go home and warm the chair, so that profs can praise you
even more. Tesla was offended by the gesture, and his susceptibility to criticism and blame, regrettably, got the better
of him, and he responded, True; I am more conscientious
than you, both in studying and attendance. But Ill show you
that I can even carouse better than you. And from that day
onward, according to Kulisic, Tesla began to frequent the
Botanical Gardens, a night time hangout, where students gathered to play cards, domino, chess, and pool, oftentimes staying until closing time. They were all loners games, and with
his mathematical mind and good memory, Tesla quickly excelled at the tables, liked to win, and liked to return his winnings. He suddenly loved the tumult of a larger city, and the
commotion of night life. Games and excessive coffee-drinking and smoking began to take control of his life. He now

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spent more time in the Gardens than in the library.


Tesla was insecure, because he was insecure, and he would
remain so for much of his life, a prey for rich and authoritarian men.
In his third year, in the fall of 1877, Tesla stopped attending lectures, and in January 1878, is not a registered student
any more. He continued to live near the school, and for subsistence depended entirely on what he received from home.
But the year 1878 was not a misspent year. Gravity, mystery of energy passing back and forth from one source into
another, and the effect of electricity on the surrounding space
resonated in his mind, in patterns, uniting different elements
of poetry, geometry, calculus. Men had been talking about
electricity for some time now, but no one knew exactly what
it was; and in recent years, there was talk of an alternating
current. What was this mysterious energy? He would understand it: the currents would be his love, his utterance, his
service to humanity and to heaven. Some day, the world would
talk of his, Tesla currents. He visualized electrical energy,
and assembled and reassembled dynamos and turbines, without putting anything on paper; but there was no solution. And
giving up was not an option. Tesla wrote later,
I had a mania for finishing whatever I began.
On September 1, 1878, he appeals, for the second time,
to the Novi Sad Queen Bee, and begs humbly for a scholarship, so that he may continue his studies in Vienna or Brno.
Because of illness, he writes, he was forced to abandon his
studies, and relinquish scholarship from the Military authorities, and thus was now free from that heavy obligation
He is a Serb, as is self-evident, and takes liberty to mention that, in addition to German, he now knows Italian,
French and English, as well as one is practically expected to
know. And his health, he states, is now fine. He signed the
letter as Nikola Tesla, technician.

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Nikola Tesla: The European Years, copyright 2002 D. Mrkich

Teslas letter seeking another scholarship (Courtesy Nikola


Tesla Museum, Belgrade, Yugoslavia)

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It took two days for the letter to reach Novi Sad; three
days later, his request was turned down again, and his life in
Graz comes to an end.
There is nothing left today of the old Botanical Gardens.
There was construction scaffolding in one of the courtyards of the University, and a cluster of men, repairing the
building, were all speaking in Croatian.
We have lots of foreign workers now Ukrainians and
others, said my hosts.
Austria is a small country today, tucked away in the peaceable centre of Europe, rich but, like all western countries,
suffering from a low birthrate. My hosts worried if twentyfive years from now, there would be enough working people
to sustain the society, and wondered what kind of foreign
nationals Austria should let into the country.
In Austria, we must be careful how we treat minorities,
because of our recent history, says the more senior of my
hostesses.
There were student signs and banners throughout the campus, protesting increased tuition fees.
The student Tesla had roomed at four different locations:
Attemsgasse 8, in his first year; then Hans-Sachs-Gasse 10;
Jahngasse 5; and Heinrichstrasse 11. Two buildings have been
replaced by new ones, but two still stand: stately, bigwindowed, tall-ceilinged. I am shown all four sites, and my
hostesses then invite me to visit the Schlossberg Castle, the
one standing on the hump of a hill in the middle of the city.
We walked down the street, under rows of chestnut trees,
which were just beginning to drop their chestnuts, then went
up the winding road, through the sunless forested hill. The
air was cool, sharp and scented with pine trees and decaying
vegetation. My guides are younger than I am, and I find the
road steep and the forest-heavy air sharp, and by the time we
reach the clearing at the foot of the formidable Castle, I have
had enough of walking. But when I looked down, over the
tree tops, back at the city, the walk was well worth it: below

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Nikola Tesla: The European Years, copyright 2002 D. Mrkich

us lay a vista of red-tile-roofs, resembling a sea of new copper coins, an infinite variety of windows, and a town a thousand years old.

A view of Graz (Graz Tourismus)


Graz, called Gradec by its first Slav settlers, is seemingly
picture-perfect, busy but not congested, a city of Grss Gott
greetings, endless and constant. For Nikola Tesla, Graz was a
great improvement upon the malaria-and-cholera-ridden
Karlovac and Gospic.
Tesla must have walked on many a Sunday to the
Schlossberg Castle with his young Srbadija friends, so they
could talk freely about the situation back home. There is an
anecdotal evidence of Tesla giving a political speech here to
his fellow students: Brothers, look toward the east. There,
in our country, a war is fought, the chains of slavery are be-

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ing broken. Dare we look at it docilely? I think not Even


though the Austrian authorities forbade its citizens military
volunteering abroad, a number of volunteers were said to have
left Graz in 1876, to help fellow Serbs fight the Turks. During the First World War, Tesla helped recruit Serbs in America
to join the Serbian army.
But Tesla, a born mountaineer, must have been on this
hill alone too, to hear the commotion of the winds, observe
the storms, see the elements pelt the city. Some 250 years
earlier, Johannes Kepler, the great astronomer, who wrote
some of his Laws of the Universe in Graz, would have watched
the planetary motions from this same hilltop. And Kepler had
to construct forms in his mind before he could find them in
the universe. He, too, was a stranger, a Protestant in a stridently Catholic town. And thinking of Kepler, Tesla would
remember his own father, who was wont to say that a man
had to be something as a person, before he could accomplish
anything of true worth in the world.
We rest a little, the two ladies and I, survey the city, then
start our descent, going by another route. I followed my hosts,
step by step.
Would you like to live in Graz? asks in good humour
the younger of my hostesses.
I wouldnt. But I say that I dont know.
From these years the late eighteen-seventies or early
eighties dates the only European photograph of Nikola Tesla
as a young man. Graz claims that it was taken while he was a
student here; Maribor, that it was taken a year or two later;
but the photo was probably taken in Paris, in the year 188284. Teslas face is dark, pale and clever, an expression of
closed nature and reflection; he has a high forehead, and
bright-dark, penetrating eyes; his thick, raven-black hair is
not yet parted, and there is no moustache. The hair transition
would wait until his new life in America. He was uniquely
tall, straight as a candle, athletic, and is said to have had a
high-pitched voice. His hands, particularly his thumbs, were

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Nikola Tesla: The European Years, copyright 2002 D. Mrkich

unusually long. His weight would remain at 59 kilograms for


nearly forty years.

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17

Nikola Tesla returned to Austria, to Vienna, in April, 1892:


some say on the 22nd of that month, which is not likely the
case, as his mother died on April 16, and it is generally accepted, that he arrived in Gospic the day before she died, and
stayed there, grief-stricken and in ill health, for the next four
weeks. Nevertheless, the Viennese Elektrotechnik Zeitschrift
for May of that year, notes Teslas presence in the country,
and states, It is commonly held that Tesla is an American
but by nationality, he is an Austrian Serb, born in Lika in the
former Military Krajina. One of his uncles is a senior officer
in the Austrian army, Paja Mandic; the other uncle, Nikola
Mandic, is a Metropolitan of the Tuzla-Zwornik Diocese. He
gained his first knowledge of the magneto-electric dynamomachines under the late Professor Poeschl.
The University of Vienna awarded Tesla an Honorary
Doctorate in 1908.
It is only an hours train ride from Graz to Maribor, and it
isnt even clear when one crosses the border. Night falls during the journey. The only other passengers in the car are a
group of Bosnians, having problems with passports and
work visas. Not unlike what Tesla might have encountered
on his journeys in the 1870s, especially on that last ride out
of Graz, sometimes between mid-September and mid-November 1878.

Nikola Tesla as a young man (Courtesy Nikola Tesla Museum, Belgrade)

MARIBOR, Slovenia, October 11.


In Maribor, Nikola Tesla found temporary employment as a
draftsman with an engineering firm, managed by one Master
Drusko. He lived in the vicinity of the train station, and spent
much of his free time in a pub called Happy Peasant, a hangout
for passengers with time on their hands. The Peasant was
demolished in 1985, to make room for the new Bus Terminal.

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Nikola Tesla: The European Years, copyright 2002 D. Mrkich

The Happy Peasant pub (Courtesy Muzej Narodne


Osvoboditive, Maribor)
In the Happy Peasant, Tesla continued to play chess and
cards for small amounts of money. These pursuits lightened
his mind and substituted for his lack of any emotional attachments. He smarted from his failure in Graz, and often expounded to an incredulous audience on how the power of the
alternating current would change life on earth and beyond. In
January, 1879, Kosta Kulisic, in Maribor, looking for a teaching post, happened to see him in the pub, sitting in the far
corner, and playing cards with two men. Kulusic recalled the
meeting in 1936:
Whats with you, Nikola, by God, weve been looking
for you everywhere, especially your poor parents.
Kulisic had done him wrong by finding him and speaking to him, and Tesla responded coolly, I like it here; I work
for an engineer, receive sixty forints a month, and can earn a
little more for every completed project.
No, you must return to Graz, to finish your studies.

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19

Well see, Tesla said, and shrugged his shoulders.


Kulisic was happy that he had found Nikola alive, for
before he disappeared from Graz, Tesla had been exceptionally depressed, and some feared that he might have drowned
in the Mur. On return to Graz, Kulisic informed Teslas relation, one Djuro Banjanin, a student at law, who sent the word
to Gospic.
Milutin Tesla arrived in Maribor early in March 1879, to
see his son. He pleaded with Nikola to return home, and continue his studies in the fall, in Prague - a Slav city but without success. He could not reason with him, could not appeal
to him on any level. The boy had worked himself to exhaustion, and something in him had snapped. Nikola had refused
the church calling, and now, after everything the both of them
had been through, even a technical profession was in doubt.
The sundering between father and son was complete. Dejected, Milutin left Maribor from this very same station, to
return home by a long circuitous way.
Not long afterward, someone traduced Nikola to the
Maribor police, and the police came to his lodging in
Tegetthofstrasse, where he lived without a residence permit,
to begin administrative proceedings to ship him home, which
they did on March 24.
Following his return to Gospic, which was still gripped
in the teeth-chattering dead of winter, Milutin fell ill with an
unspecified malady, and took to bed; the sight of Nikola, being brought home under police guard, was more than he could
bear, and he died on April 29, 1879, aged 60 years.
Nikola Tesla never wrote or spoke about his stay in
Maribor, so painful a memory the breach with his father, and
his fathers death, must have been to him.
Walking away from the Maribor train station, down the
former Tegethoffstrasse, now called Partisans Road, I glance
at the sparse crowds, restaurants and new pubs. Maribor is
not a well-lit city.
In the morning, I was welcomed by the Mayor, a Dean of

Nikola Tesla: The European Years, copyright 2002 D. Mrkich

the Faculty of Technical Engineering, Director of the Maribor


Museum and a Slovene Teslac, who had written about Tesla.
The Mayor assured me that the city planned to renovate
the area in front of the Faculty of Technical Engineering, and
rename it the Nikola Tesla Square. The square was now mostly
a parking lot. The Mayor, an impressive young politician,
with a studentish beard, was confident that the work would
be completed within two or three years, during his civic watch.
We are proud of the fact that Nikola Tesla lived in
Maribor. Its too bad that his stay here wasnt more pleasant,
but it was an important part of his life.
The Dean of the Faculty offered a more positive Slovene
connection to Tesla, and we rehashed the story of the Magnet
flux density unit: tesla. In 1956, at the session of the International Commission of Measurements in Paris, a Slovene in
the Yugoslav delegation, Dr. Milan Vidmar a physicist, and
a world class Chess Grand Master, who had visited Tesla in
New York in 1936 - proposed that a unit of measurement of a
magnetic fields strength be named in memory of Tesla. There
was a number of candidates, and voting went through several
rounds, but continued to be tied, when a hitherto-uncommitted voter raised his hand for Tesla, and Tesla got a one-vote
majority. The deciding vote-bearer later said that he had no
idea why he had raised his hand at that particular moment, or
even what the vote was about. Who was the late voter?
Tesla was the first Slav to have a scientific unit named
after him.
I give my hosts copies of various documents I received in
Graz, and am told in the process, We cant get anything out
of Graz. You know how it is when you were under somebody, and afterward they dont care about you.
The Slovene Teslac gave me a copy of Teslas police
record, entitled Standing Order Transcript 1879 which, under numbers 2160, of March 8, and number 2675 of March
24, state that Nicolaus Tesla was deported from Maribor as
a vagrant, and taken home to Gospic.

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21

Teslas police record in Maribor (Courtesy Mr. Momcilo Radic, Maribor)

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Nikola Tesla: The European Years, copyright 2002 D. Mrkich

Looking at the rest of the page of the Police Protokoll for that
month, the Maribor authorities were exceptionally energetic
in running people out of town.
Later in the morning, I was shown some local sites: the
proposed square; a Tesla statue - the work of the recently
deceased Slovene sculptor, Gabrijel Kolbic - on display inside the Engineering building; a monument to the Slovene
patriots killed in WWII; a 600-year old synagogue, said to be
the second oldest in Europe. (Nearly all the Jews of Maribor
were killed during WW II, so that today, only seven or eight
are left in the city; and 10-15 indigenous Germans).
Here, too, student fees were an issue, and a cause of protest banners.
Maribor is the second largest city in Slovenia - an uncomfortable status, in untypical times I learn, and learn also,
that after the break-up of the Yugoslav federation, large textile, chemical and transportation concerns could not be restructured, and became insolvent industrial graveyards.
And I am told, with a tinge, however slight, of needing to
explain, that a conflict arose between Slovenia and the central government over unrealistic expenditures; that Slovenia
wanted to model itself on smaller countries elsewhere in Europe; and how, when ethno-nationalist wars commenced,
Slovenia scraped through because it did not have many minorities. And hear, incidentally, that Teslas isnt the only name
being proposed for the square in front of the Engineering Faculty.
I listen, and nod, thank everyone, and again, at the end of
the day, leave for the next city, next new state.

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tryside, and then, as the dusk turned into dark, we entered


Zagreb, and a burst of city lights.
ZAGREB, Croatia
There is a Nikola Tesla Street in Zagreb, with a plaque on the
Tesla and Preradovic (another Croatia-born Serb, an Austrian
General, and a poet) Streets. The bronze plaque was installed
for the 100th anniversary of Teslas birth. The wording, acceptable to the former communist and the current nationalist
Croat governments,
reads:
NIKOLA TESLA/MADE
POSSIBLE WITH HIS
INVENTIONS/IN THE FIELD
OF ALTERNATING AND/
HIGH FREQUENCY
CURRENT THE MODERN/
DEVELOPMENT OF
ELECTRO-TECHNOLOGY./
HE WAS BORN IN
SMILJAN ON JULY 10
1856./DIED IN NEW
YORK ON JANUARY 7
1943./ ALL HIS LIFE HE
REMAINED A LOYAL SON
OF HIS/COUNTRY AND
WAS ANXIOUS FOR HER/
AND SUPPORTED HER
STRUGGLE FOR

There were few passengers on the Maribor-Zagreb bus, travelling mostly short distances. As one passes from Slovenia
into Croatia, the country is less orderly, the towns and villages less well-off, yet, the place is, unmistakably, still central-European. The plumes of smoke rose from the lumps of
rubbish and flameless fires, hung ominously over the coun-

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FREEDOM./ERECTED IN

1956.
Nikola Tesla Street
and memorial plaque
in Zagreb, Croatia

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Nikola Tesla: The European Years, copyright 2002 D. Mrkich

In 1956, the country was Yugoslavia; today it is Croatia;


as for Tesla, he was a Serb. On his patent applications in
America, he would state from Smiljan, Lika, border country
of Austria-Hungary, I, Nikola Tesla, a citizen of the
United States or ...a Serb-American.
In the morning, the streets of downtown Zagreb were clean
and wet, as if freshly washed; many historical buildings had
recently been restored; the prices of merchandise in store
windows were high.
Tesla had passed through Zagreb in the summer of 1889,
during his first visit to the old country after he left for America.
He may have ordered here his fathers tombstone.
Tesla also visited the city from May 22-25, 1892. He travelled in the company of his uncle, Nikola Mandic, the newly
appointed Metropolitan of Tuzla. He met with the civic and
technical authorities, to discuss the electrification of Zagreb,
advising them, of course, to choose the alternating, rather
than the direct current; discussed the construction of a hydro
plant; and recommended, then a completely new idea, to bury
electrical wires underground. And, as a son of this country,
he said that his advice, by word and deed, was at the citys
disposal.
On the last day of his visit, Tesla sought a meeting with
Serbian students at the University of Zagreb. A delegation of
seven students, from various faculties, came to see him in the
Hotel Austrian Tsar, and one of the students, Dr. Kosta
Hadji, remembered Teslas words forty-five years later, as
follows, On sacrifices, patriotism and scientific competence
of the peoples intelligencia depends the fate of the whole
nation, because the intelligencia is called upon, not only to
lead politically, but also to create the sound social conditions
for a better and more dignified existence of the people. Therefore, my young friends, use wisely all your time at the University.... and permit me to add one more remark.... Beware
of women, because too close a friendship with them hinders
most a man in his scientific work. This last bit of advice was

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25

not well received by the seven male students, none of whom


followed technical studies.
Tesla received telegrams from prominent institutions and
men in Belgrade, asking him to visit their city too, or, if that
was not possible, that they may visit him in Zagreb. The telegrams were sent in care of the Serb newspaper Srbobran.
The visit was extensively reported in the Srbobran and
the Croat Obzor.
The University of Zagreb awarded Tesla an Honorary
Doctorate in 1926.
There is an astonishing amount of real estate in downtown Zagreb which belongs to the Serbian Orthodox Church;
the buildings were nationalized by communists, and the
Church is now trying to win them back. One of these buildings houses the Canadian Embassy on a ten-year-plus-option
lease.
The building was empty, they tell me in the Embassy.
Some people were afraid to rent it, in case the building gets
bombed, some didnt want to rent it for other reasons, but we
were not afraid, and rented it anyway.
The rent is not paid to the Serbs, but to a Croat firm, which
renovated the building. After ten years, the building will revert to the full ownership of the Church.
I visited the Serb cultural club Prosvjeta, its bookstore,
and the Reading Room. Other visitors were mostly older men,
pensioners or unemployed, who frequented the premises in
order to be out of their cold apartments. My host worried that
this discouraged younger people from coming in, and taking
part in the renewal of national life of the Serb minority in
Croatia. At the Prosvjeta, they show me an invitation to the
day-long celebrations in observance of the 150th anniversary
of Njegoss death. The events, organized by the Montenegrin
Society of Croatia - a separatist organization promoting independence of Montenegro from Yugoslavia - were sponsored
by Croatias Minister of Culture. Prosvjeta would not attend.
In the afternoon, I visited the Technical Museum, which

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was showing a fine exhibit about Teslas work and achievements. The display featured the original transmitter of Radio
Zagreb from 1926 - the first to transmit programs in southeast Europe; a Tesla Coil; the Chicago Egg; and replicas of
different transformers, built in the late 1970s, for the Orson
Wells film The Secret of Nikola Tesla. The Director, a young
professional, whom one would almost expect to want to work
in the West, gave me a tour of the entire Museum.
Culture is important to us; with culture, we are trying
somehow to place ourselves in the world.
KARLOVAC
The town, founded in 1678, following a decision made in
Graz, was fog-pressed on this October evening, and the smell
of coal and chimney soot in the air burned my throat, as it did
fifty years ago, when I first came here. In Teslas time, the
town was limited to its 6-prong star shape, so that even its
High school, the Higher Real Gymnasium on Rakovac Street,
was outside the town proper, and in Krajina.
Tesla arrived in Karlovac from Gospic, by train, in September 1870, in company of another 14-year old, who was
travelling even further away to go to school. For the first time
on the train, Tesla stood by the window nearly all day, quietly
singing a couplet from some obscure heroic ballad:
Montengrins are cutting down Turks,
And untying hands of their brothers.
When he spoke, he told his companion that he was thinking about a device which will transmit conversation between
America and Europe without any wires.
The Karlovac High school was the best and, has remained
to this day, the toughest school in Croatia. Its graduates
had never needed to give entrance exams in any of the Universities in the Austrian Empire, or the successor states. Tesla
enrolled in Grade eight; the next year in Grade 10; and then

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11. The entire school curriculum was condensed into three


years. The language of instruction was German.

The High school in Karlovac, Croatia (courtesy Nikola


Tesla Museum, Belgrade)
This writer attended the school in the fifties, from age 10
to 18. Some years, I was the only Serb in my class.
Tesla lived in a little house up the street, Number 42, for
three years. The house was demolished in the late nineteensixties, so that an apartment building could be built on its
perpetually water-logged or dusty backyard. He boarded in
the attic flat with his fathers sister, Stanka, and her husband
Dane Brankovic, a retired Colonel, an old war horse. But the
aunt was the Colonels Colonel. I lived on the drafty ground
floor of the same house for one year, in my eighth grade. My
landlady had the same name as Teslas aunt, but her husband
was a shy policeman; the flat at the top of the steep wooden
staircase was occupied by a little postman and his big wife,

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Nikola Tesla: The European Years, copyright 2002 D. Mrkich

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29

and they were childless

Karlovac: Tesla lived in this house, 1870-73 (from C.


Patesics Genije S Naseg Kamenjara, 1937)
Writing in 1919, Tesla still referred to the town under its
German name of Karlstadt, and described his life as follows:
I never can forget the three years rigid discipline I was fed like a canary bird the slices of
ham cut by my aunt were like tissue paper. When
the Colonel would put something substantial on
my plate, she would snatch it away, and say
excitedly to him, Be careful, Niko is very delicate. I had a voracious appetite The land was
low and marshy and malaria fever never left me,
while there, despite the enormous amounts of
quinin I consumed. At last, however, my course
was completed, the misery ended

Tesla seldom studied, but paid close attention to what was


being said in the classroom, reserving the greatest amount of
interference for Physics. Martin Sekulic, the professor, was
something of a showman, and liked to demonstrate an apparatus of his own making a rotatable bulb with tinfoil coating connected to a static machine! It did not take much to
awaken Teslas imagination, and an intense interest in electricity.
The teenage Tesla must have cut an unusual figure in the
school, and in the street: rigid, studious, punctual, chaste in
his speech, compulsively hygienic, a frequenter of St. Nikola
Church; conscientious to a fault; he had few, if any friends,
few possessions, no indulgences. He was readily recognized
by those around him as someone who would, one day, be an
important man.
I return to the old school. Beside the entrance door, there
is a plaque, installed in 1978, in memory of Teslas school
days here. The bare minimum.
Two janitors sat in a little cold room inside the entrance,
as in the years past, silently watching the gloomy hallway.
The tumult had subsided; the students were in their classrooms. The current Principal had graduated here four years
after me. We sit in his office, and I ask about Nikola Tesla,
and he looks at me, and says that he has nothing at all about
Tesla because, during the recent war, the documents were all
transferred to the city Archives for safe-keeping. There was
even a danger that the school itself would be destroyed, he
adds, and waits confidently for my next question, as well as
he might, because he wont let me see anything anyway. As
we spoke, he toyed with the new Memorial book, listing all
the school graduates in the past one hundred years, and much
else besides, and finds the year of my graduation, and my
name, and we talk a little about the old and dead acquaintances, and then I return to Tesla, ask to see his school marks,
but again he says, that, no, the school had absolutely nothing

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Nikola Tesla: The European Years, copyright 2002 D. Mrkich

about him. He pulled his chair closer to the desk, leaned his
elbows on a pile of papers, and looked at me with a cold
look, and I give up. I was in the Balkans.
Later in the day, when I visited the Director of the Archives, a former fellow student, she had nothing about Tesla,
either. In the Public Library, the Director, a school friend once,
had no interest in Tesla, and grew visibly shaken at the sight
of the Cyrillic script. I visit the city Museum, but here, they
are more interested in who I am, than in what I am looking
for.
I am surprised, but shouldnt be. In my years in Karlovac,
there was never any expressed reference to Tesla, either in
the school or in the city. Not even a poster anywhere. The
main cinema house was called Edison, named for Teslas arch
foe in America. There was a Nikola Tesla Street somewhere
beside an old hydro plant.
But in that old little house on Rakovac Street, in a lowceilinged, sloping-wall room, Nikola, undernourished and
unwell, missing home and the mountains of Smiljan, read
continually - poetry in the first place - Serbian heroic ballads,
Njegos, Pushkin, Goethe, then French novels in German translation, and anything he could find about Michael Faraday.
He was left in Karlovac to shift for himself.
Standing by the dormer window, if he looked to the left,
down the long dirt street, paved only in the 1950s, he would
see the Turkish gate, and the steeples of the Catholic and
Orthodox churches, and straight ahead, and to the right, was
the river Korana, and the plains and the hills beyond - and he
read more. He dreamed of travels and had visions of journeys every night and sometimes during the day, visualizing
new countries and new cities and, gradually, new concepts
and devices. For a while, he sought Milica, the angel-like,
blond-haired girl from Gospic and, not finding her, moved
on to other things. He said the same childhood prayer every
evening, and awoke in the morning to a cold room, a gloomy
day, and whatever other books would come his way, to ab-

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31

sorb his busy mind.


Nikola Tesla was born left-handed, but in Karlovac forced
himself to use his right hand too, and, within three years,
succeed in being ambidextrous. Other than reading and
dreaming, depressing boredom was seldom relieved, unless
one recounts the story of mice.
One autumn, the river Korana flooded the marshy field
between its bed and Rakovac Street, and before the water
and scum, came a plague of mice, overtaking yards and pigsties, climbing into dry woodsheds, finding their way into
dimly-lit hallways and pantries, devouring everything even
to the bundles of fierce paprika. For a while, there was a
question of whether the mice or people would prevail. Observing mice, Tesla concluded that they readily came to each
others succour, and designed a box with an easy entry but
no exit, placed a live mouse into it, and left it to squeal for
help. Soon, the box was full, and soon thereafter, Teslas invention spread through the town, and hundreds of box-traps
were filled with mice, and mice only had to be drowned and
disposed of. He obtained a nickname of mice-catcher and,
after the flood had subsided, and rodents ousted, grateful city
officials came to the house to present Nikola with a certificate. Graffiti appeared in the entryways of houses, depicting
him as holding a mouse-box, in a crude imitation of some
fresco, showing a Saint or a King, holding a model of his
church.
I look at the already aging apartment building, and then
walk to the river and the little waterfall, where Nikola nearly
drowned one summer, and where, I too, had my moments,
and then just walk through the old part of town.
There were signs of bombardment, devastation and hasty
departures everywhere; indentations in the streets marked
where various projectiles had landed; the towns oldest building the Grain and Seed House - struck by Serb shells, stood
a ruin; two cavernous ruins of buildings were once the Serbian Orthodox Church of St. Nikola, built in 1785, and the

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Nikola Tesla: The European Years, copyright 2002 D. Mrkich

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Bishops Residence, built a few years later, both blown up by


Croat military on Christmas eve 1992; many streets had been
renamed, some more than once, though in places, the old name
plates were still in evidence. I visit another area, where I once
lived, and find much of it boarded up and crumbling, and
stop to ask a passerby what happened: after a pause, during
which he tries to determine whether I am a Croat or a Serb
I see him decide that I am a Serb but say anyway, Enough
for the very heart to ache. There are even gypsies here. Catastrophe.
We walk in silence, over the prickly hulls and the ox-eyelike nuts under chestnut trees, and can hardly wait to go our
separate ways. Ten years ago, one half of the towns population of fifty thousand, was Serb: in the last three years, a
Doctor tells me, only two Serb babies were delivered.
Nikola Tesla matriculated from the Karlovac High school
on July 24, 1873. His passing grade was Praiseworthy, or in
todays parlance B or 4, with a special recommendation
that he attend a higher school of Technical Studies.
His original diploma, together with all his documents,
was stolen in Paris, on the very day of his departure for
America, in 1884, and the duplicate, issued on June 29, next
year, does not list individual marks. However, his previous
school reports show consistently Excellent in German, Geography & History and Chemistry; only Sufficient in Geometry and Free Drawing; and Praiseworthy in all other subjects. In the Certificate, dated February 8 of that year, his
Comportment was Inconsistent.
There were ten students in the final year, of whom, two
declined to go up for examination, and eight graduated.*
* They were: Julije Bartakovic, Jovo Bijelic, Isak Kordic, Jovo
Ljustina, Mojsije Medic, Nikola Prica, Dragutin Sir and Nikola
Tesla.

Nikola Teslas High school diploma (Courtesy Nikola Tesla


Museum, Belgrade)

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Nikola Tesla: The European Years, copyright 2002 D. Mrkich

Then, just as he was ready to go home, Nikola received a


message from his father to go hunting, rather than come
back to Gosic. There was a cholera epidemic in the town. He
returned, anyway, and as he was already undernourished and
unwell, contracted the disease on the very first day home,
and was bedridden for the next nine months, wavering between life and death. Or so it seemed. Prospects before the
17-year old boy were not easy: priesthood, which he resisted
with his life, the army, or something else he really wanted.
Army, due to ill health, through family contacts, or bribery,
he could avoid, but his fathers resolve that he should enter
ministry, could not easily be smothered.
Milutin Tesla knew his son, his precarious state of health,
his hypersensitivity, a compulsion to overtask himself, his
drive, his need for recognition, and, knew in his heart that, if
there was ever a young man who needed a predictable profession, a wife and a well-defined God, that was Nikola. He
should be a priest like himself, like his two uncles, and two
brothers-in-law so far, and one man in every generation, on
his mothers side, for as far back as anybody could remember.
But Nikola would not enter the service of the Church.
His calling, if there was one, was to be unique, greater, and
his service more visible and permanent than that of a village
priest. He wanted to be an electrical engineer. He loved humanity, but not people and their daily concerns.
An inevitable antagonism was building up between father and son.
Nikola Tesla visited Karlovac only one more time, in May
of 1892, following his mothers death and his own uneasy
rest; there is no written record of that visit.
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia, October 17-19
To get from Zagreb to Belgrade by air, one must fly to Vienna, Prague or Budapest first.

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In 1892, when Tesla wanted to go from Zagreb to Belgrade, there was no direct train line between the two cities
either, because the European powers of the day did not allow
it, and he went via Varazdin - parted there with his uncle,
Metropolitan Nikola, who was travelling to Vienna to swear
fealty to the Emperor, before taking up his new duties in
Bosnia - and Budapest. I take a bus, an all-night affair, sitting
amongst the Serb poor, who were either going to visit, or
coming back from visiting displaced relatives. The bus
stopped at the Croatia-Yugoslavia border, and waited for the
bus from Belgrade to arrive, to pick up the bedraggled passengers. The two countries do not yet trust each other with
their buses, train cars, or planes.
A forbidding fog lay over the recently disputed countryside.
The Yugoslav fog, someone said, self-deprecatingly.
The Bus Terminal in Belgrade is beside the very train
station, where Nikola Tesla arrived from Budapest, on June
1, 1892, at 10:30 in the evening, to a tumultuous welcome by
the city, nation, government, academicians, a society of engineers, a new choral society, military music, flowers and
flags. Tesla had been met by the Serb state delegation in Budapest, where he told them, All the glory which I have received in London and Paris, is like nothing; all that is small
compared to your welcome. The cradle of my forefathers,
the Kingdom of Serbia, invites me that is a great reward for
me, and nothing in the world, in my life, will be dearer to me
than this attention. I am happy that I am a Serb, and shall
pride myself with this all my life.
He returned greetings to the welcoming crowd, tried to
speak, but only said, Less enthusiasm, brothers. Less enthusiasm
The next day, he was received by King Alexander
Obrenovic.
At a banquet, prepared in Teslas honour, the leading poet
of the day, Jovo Jovanovic, whose late wife was from

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Nikola Tesla: The European Years, copyright 2002 D. Mrkich

Divoselo, read a newly-composed poem Salute to Nikola


Tesla; and in the middle of the reading, Tesla went up to the
poet, and kissed his hand. (Later, in New York, he translated
thirteen of Jovanovics poems for Century magazine.)
He met other prominent writers of the day: Janko
Veselinovic and Jovan Ducic; met fellow students from Graz
- Jovan Grcic, and from Gospic and Karlovac - Mojsije Medic,
with whom he spent much of one night in the Hotel Imperial,
reminiscing. He discussed the electrification of the city. That
year, the first electric lights were being installed in Belgrade,
and tracks laid for the first horse-drawn streetcars. The city
had 60,000 inhabitants.
At a reception, the following day, he said, In all moments of success and failure, my hope was always nourished
with the idea that my work will be of use for the Serbdom,
for my dear people in which I was born. And in a visit to the
Great School, he addressed students with, Thank you for so
much attention. In you I see ... the Serbian future. I have, as
you see and hear, remained a Serb even overseas, where I
pursue research. You need to do this also, so that with your
knowledge and work, you may raise the name of the Serbs in
the world.
All Belgrade and Novi Sad newspapers covered the visit,
but as the art of photography was still in its infancy, papers
carried no photographs of the events. The Belgrade newspapers were destroyed in the Second World War, when the German air force fire-bombed the National Library, but the Novi
Sad Zastava and Nasa Doba, are still available, a witness to
Teslas only visit to Belgrade.
Teslas admirers had little understanding of the nature and
importance of his vast discoveries. That same year, on December 24, 1892, Tesla was recommended for membership
in the Serbian Royal Academy, but four days later, did not
get enough votes; he was voted a Corresponding Member on
January 18, 1894; and became a full member of the Academy
only on March 7, 1937. In 1895, Nikola, the King of

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Montenegro, awarded his namesake an Order of Danilo, a


decoration given only to military heroes.
The University of Belgrade awarded Tesla an Honorary
Doctorate in 1926. The same year, King Alexander
Karadjordjevic awarded Tesla the Order of St. Sava; and in
1931, the King awarded him the very first Order of the Yugoslav Crown. In 1936, the Government of Yugoslavia began
sending Tesla a monthly stipend of $600, which continued
until the forgotten and emaciated old man died of heart failure in New York, on Orthodox Christmas day in 1943. Tesla
died intestate.
As for the Serbian Queen Bee in Novi Sad, which had
twice turned down Teslas pleas for scholarships, in 1902, on
request for financial assistance, Tesla sent it 250 forints. That
same year, Tesla became a member of the Serbian Academy
of Arts and Sciences. For a while, Novi Sad was an important
centre of General Physics. Albert Einsteins first wife, Eva
Maric, was from Novi Sad, and the Einsteins would visit the
city often, and later, Eva and her two sons, lived there for
many years. On July 10,1936, Novi Sad proclaimed Nikola
Tesla its honorary citizen.
In the second Yugoslavia, Tesla was also a favoured son.
Titos long-time wife, Jovanka Budisavljevic, was related to
Tesla through his maternal grandmother, and it is said, that
the lady never tired of boasting of her distant relation. Over
the years, numerous banknotes and postage stamps have been
issued in Belgrade in honour of Nikola Tesla.
Belgrade is an impoverished city. After nearly ten years
of wars, the country is in ruins. No one was sure any more of
the countrys boundaries, its political system, its symbols;
there was little left to sell or steal. Myriad thousands of Serb
refugees, ethnically cleansed from Serb lands elsewhere in
the former federation, were seen as an added burden. The
entire older generation of this third Yugoslavia is condemned
to a shortened life of a series of uncertain gestures and unfinished sentences. It was no wonder that October 19, the 150th

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Nikola Tesla: The European Years, copyright 2002 D. Mrkich

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anniversary of the death of Njegos, came and went, unobserved.


There was a wind blowing down the main street, Terazije.
I met several young people coming out of a church; then
watched a detachment of soldiers, beardless boys, walking
into gusts of that razor-sharp wind. Will they have enough
time to turn the country around? Who will now recruit young
Serbs abroad to return to Serbia?
On the morning of June 3, 1892, Nikola Tesla left Belgrade for Budapest, Bonn, and back to New York, promising
to return the very next year. And so elated was he with his
visit, that he promised to publish all his new research in Serbian first. Neither promise was kept. But after his death, both,
Teslas homeless papers, and ashes were brought to Belgrade.

A few of Nikola Teslas personal articles, (Nikola Tesla


Museum, Belgrade)

Nikola Tesla Museum, Belgrade

The Nikola Tesla Museum was installed in a former villa


and opened on December 5, 1952. Teslas possessions, stored
indifferently, in some fifty barrels and various boxes in the
Manhattan Storage warehouse in New York, were retrieved
by his nephew, Sava Kosanovic, Yugoslavias first Ambassador to the United States, and shipped home on the vessel
Srbija, in 1951. After the FBI had rifled through Teslas papers, and taken or copied what they wanted, no one showed
further interest in the inventors estate, or disputed the Ambassadors right to take it away behind the Iron Curtain, at
the height of the Cold War.
The villa was designed by the noted Architect Dragisa
Brosnovan, and once belonged to the Minister of Police, one
Djordje Gencic, who hanged himself inside this very building. No living heirs of Gencic are left today to lay claim to
the building.
Here, for the first time, in my journey, I begin to get the

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Nikola Tesla: The European Years, copyright 2002 D. Mrkich

sense of Nikola Tesla, the meticulous, lonely, puritanical,


gentleman, whose chief joy in life was in scientific thinking.
I see the man, because I see his things, and his devices: his
crocodile leather travel bag, deer-skin gloves, spectacles,
shaving kit, several black hats, 13 white, old-fashioned shirts,
an evening suit, a black cane he used after he had been struck
by a taxi in 1937, a home-spun peasant bag made by his mother
and, of course, some 600 library size boxes of material, containing 150,000 documents; 70,000 letters to and from some
6,900 individuals; 35,000 pages of notes; Teslas Honorary
Doctorates and Awards; nearly 2,000 photographs - all things
diligently preserved by Tesla, year after year, hotel suite in
New York, after hotel suite.

The urn with Nikola Teslas ashes, Nikola Tesla Museum,


Belgrade
I pause before a pedestal, with a gold-plated, globe-like
urn, containing Teslas ashes, and think of Shakespeares
words, his almost very last written words:
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, are all spirits, and

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Are melted into air, into thin air;


And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
In the two days I spent in the Museum, there was a steady
stream of visitors: an entire classroom of students; Srbija TV;
attentive individuals. They all thought that Tesla was a big
name in America.
One employee, who has been with the Museum for years,
tells me, When I came to work for Dr. Veljko Korac, the
first Director, a godfather to someone in the Tesla family, he
said to me, If anything should happen here - fire, flooding,
whatever - you go right away to the nearest electrical post,
and hang yourself, and Ill follow you. Because therell be
no saving us. But nothing untoward has ever happened here.
Except that, I am also told, there are thousands of documents still to be reviewed and catalogued. After fifty years!
Says another employee, a woman, Teslas situation has
always depended on the Serbo-Croat relations. With the
Slovenes, we get along well; but with the Croats, its always
terrible. They recently asked for a share of the Museums
collection, as part of the settlement of the old federations
state assets, but we told them that Teslas papers are private
property. Archives are not divisible. The Serb entire history
during the Turkish times is in Constantinople, even though
most of it is written in Serbian; in 1918, Vienna did not share
any of its archives with the newly-created Yugoslavia. Croats
ask for Teslas papers, but go and burn down his birthplace
and destroy his monuments whenever someone isnt looking.
I turn the pages of some books from Teslas personal li-

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Nikola Tesla: The European Years, copyright 2002 D. Mrkich

brary: Heroic Ballads of Serbia; Jovan Ducic; Milan Rakic;


Nikolaj Velimirovic; The Message of the Bee; The Law of Sex
Determination; How to Communicate with the Lord;
Mazuranic; Rubayat; Lola Montez; Liquour, the Servant of
Man; Remembered Yesterdays; different books about him.
Although the Museum has published some dozen books
over the years, mostly Teslas lectures, notes and diaries, there
is a dearth of Tesla material written originally in Serbian, and
as I leaf and read through various booklets and newspaper
articles, often indifferently researched and repeating each others mistakes, I ask myself, why and wherefore, arent these
bookshelves bulging and creaking under the weight of detailed and reliable studies of Teslas life and work? Where
have all the Serb writers and academicians been these one
hundred years?
The next day, I return to Krajina, Teslas and my own
border lands and fatherland.

An empty Serbian house in Krajina

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43

KRAJINA
No mail, newspaper, TV, radio, or visitors to speak of, for
two weeks. I go for long walks through the hills, beside the
burnt down and vandalized homes, while autumnal mists cling
to the neglected earth. There is only one child of school age
in an area as far as the eye can see; men have no work, and
there is hardly a living soul who doesnt depend on the handouts from the hunitarian agencies and relatives abroad. A
stranger is a dangerous sight here, even if he comes on foot.
I enter my old public school: its doors and windows are broken, the two clay stoves demolished, parquet floors buckling, and on the way out, startle a grouse from its cover near
the schools door.
I visit cemeteries.
The village stream is weed-overgrown and fishless.
Only the farm animals, with their placid, stoic warmth,
can show pleasure in the temporary existence of being.
The country is returning to heath and bush and, eventually, itll be the way it was three or four hundred years ago,
when we came. Only paved roads will remain for a while.
But Nikola Tesla was born here, and grew in this midst, a
continual reminder of the mystery of life and the wonder of
genius.

D. Mrkich takes a fresh look at the early life and times


of Nikola Tesla (1856-1943), the inventor of alternating current and some 700 other inventions in the fields
of telecommunications, radar, medicine and starwars technologies.
The book conveys to the reader Teslas genius and
sense of purpose, his attachment to his Serbian roots,
his insecurities and why he left Europe for America at
the age of 28.
This is the first of five parts of the book-in-progress.