A masquerade and race rolled into one, Balinjera is known as the crown jewel of Opatija’s carnival season. A photo tribute on February 5, 2018
Once upon a time, Opatija was known as one of the leading racing hubs in Europe. Between 1939 and 1977, the road connecting Preluk with Opatija hosted the annual Adriatic Grand Prix, a renowned international motorcycle race. While the Grand Prix died down at the end of the 70s, as the track was considered too dangerous for the manifestation to continue, Opatija didn’t let its racing fame sink into oblivion.
Instead, they revived the glitz and glamour of the Grand Prix glory with an entirely different racing event. In 1983, Opatija hosted the first edition of Balinjerada, an amusing soapbox race that has since grown into one of the most beloved traditions on Kvarner.
While soapbox racing isn’t exactly a rare occurrence around the world, Opatija’s take has two peculiar technical requirements that make Balinjerada quite unique. One, the vehicles built by the participants have to run on ball bearings exclusively, as a nod to an era when industry used to thrive in the wider Rijeka area. Discarded ball-bearings that were too worn-down to be used in industrial facilities were acquired for free and used to build simple toy cars for kids; the so-called karet was a perfect little vehicle to zoom down the vacant roads in all parts of town. As ball-bearings are called balinjere in the local dialect, it didn’t take much brainstorming for the quirky race to get a memorable name.
As for the second requirement, it’s more of a season-appropriate feature. The decision to hold Balinjerada during the carnival season was basically a perfect excuse for the participants to step up their racing game with some flamboyant gear – both the racers and their vehicles are clad in colourful costumes which are often designed as cheeky social commentary related to current events in the country.
On Sunday, February 4, the 35th edition of Balinjerada took place in the main street in Opatija. The parade was set into motion by three prominent racers: Meštar Toni, the carnival maestro who kicks off the festivities in Rijeka by claiming the symbolic key to the city, shared a seat with this year’s carnival queen Iva Ciceran and Rijeka Mayor Vojko Obersnel.
While soapbox cars are known to reach impressive speeds considering they have no engine, the simplest karets don’t present any real danger, being more likely to slow down and stop than to run off the road. The gentle slope of Opatija’s track thus makes it safe for even the youngest racers to join the extravaganza:
Curious to see how this looks like in motion? Watch the video below: