Please forgive me for such a corny title…but I couldn’t stop myself.
First things first. Budapest is actually two cities that have merged into one. On one side of the Danube River is Pest (it has Parliament on its side) and the other side (which is literally a giant hill) is the Buda side. We stayed at this cute little B&B just down the hill from Matyas (pronounced Matthias) Church. The official name of the church is Church of Our Lady, but is now popularly known as Matthias church, after a past king (Even though he just rebuilt a tower and had two weddings there).
I was really excited to visit Budapest, not because everyone told me it was one of the most beautiful cities in Eastern Europe, but because it was under Nazi and Soviet Union occupation. Let me explain. I’m not saying that I am super happy that this country was subject to that leadership, it’s a country that went through some very very difficult times (just recently gained it’s independence in 1989!!!!!). Plus everyone knows that I am super (and when I mean super, I MEAN RIDICULOUSLY) interested in the 1940-1989 time period.
So during World War II, Hungary was under the Nazi occupation. 500,000 some Hungarian Jews were killed during the Nazi occupation. Even though the Nazi’s are long gone, Hungary (especially Budapest) still hasn’t forgotten their past. All over Budapest there are monuments in the memory of these people. The most breath-taking one is called Hero’s Square which is dedicated to all the hero’s of Hungary. It was originally built with the intent to celebrate the original chiefs of the Hungarian tribes. Nowadays it also has a Tomb of the Unknown Solider, and the grave of Imre Nagy (that’s another story).
The second one, which sadly I wasn’t able to locate, are the 50 pairs of bronze shoes along the Danube riverbank. However the owner of our B&B told us the story of how the Nazi’s rounded up some international Jews who were living in Budapest. These Jews were brought to the Danube Riverbank and shot. Their bodies were thrown into the river. The Shoes on the Danube Promade was created by a man named Gyula Pauer and is a memorial on the bank of the Danube in Budapest. It is a memorial to the people who fell victim to the Arrow Cross Militiamen in Budapest and depicts their shoes left behind as they were cast into the river after having just been shot during WWII. There were shoes of men, women and children, and even including the shoes of a toddler.
Finally, the third and maybe my most favorite is the House of Terror. It is a museum housing artifacts about the two terror regimes that controlled Hungary. The first regime was the White Terror and then the Red Terror. The museum is located in the actual building that the secret communist police headquarters were. There were many exhibits explaining each terror, along with evidence, and first hand accounts of experiences. In short it was AMAZING. SERIOUSLY. It was the only museum we had to pay for in full (excuse me, what happen to student discounts, I mean FREE ENTRANCE?), but it was completely worth it. My favorite part had to be the interviews with prisoners or people who were put into labor camps. Also, I almost got kicked out for touching STALIN’S CAR. YES, I SAID STALIN’S CAR. And it would have been totally worth it to have been kicked out…however I was allowed to continue with the tour with a warning (like that would stop me). Since the museum was in the old police building, there was a room full of all the records of people they were investigating, so of course I snooped (but sadly they were all in Hungarian). We also got to tour the cells in the basement, and the museum was able to trace back to which political prisoners were in which cell. Now these cells were not the “traditional” type of cells, there was a cell where oxygen could be shut off and another cell where the prisoner had to stay or sit in water for amounts of time. The tour ended in a small room filled with pictures of all the victims that had died within the walls of the building. Then when you walked out of the room there was a letter stating all of the communist organizations that were at fault for these deaths, along with many other incidents and events linked with these groups. I haven’t been to many museums like this, but I found it comforting that there was some attention drawn to specific groups. This theme of sharing the stories of the victims continued to the outside of the building, where there are pictures of each victim along with a memorial to them. Also, there is a memorial for the Iron Curtain (the nickname of the USSR during the Red Terror) as well as part of the REAL Berlin Wall.
Here are some other memorials we found along the way:
Another special part about Europe that I got my first taste of in Budapest was the Christmas Markets! There is some good and some bad to these markets. The Good: SO MANY DELICIOUS TREATS! The Bad: I ate ALL of those treats, plus more. The history behind these markets started during the late Middle Ages. The Germanic people would set up markets to celebrate Christmas during the four weeks of Advent. Generally held in the town square and adjacent pedestrian zones, the market sells food, drink, and seasonal items from open-air stalls, accompanied by traditional singing and dancing. On opening nights (and in some towns more often) onlookers welcome the “Christkind”, or boy Jesus, acted out by a local child (most markets had a beautiful nativity scene instead). At the Christmas Markets in Budapest, I stuffed my face with plenty of tasty traditional treats like: apple strusel, a giant hotdog, and Hungarian goulash.
And the food tour continues:
And finally, the tasty treat I may or may have not eaten twice a day…
As you can see, Hungary is ready to move forward with the independence and finally have the chance to be HUNGARIANS (YAY!), but also they understand the importance of learning from the past. As with other countries in Europe that had to deal with the terror of the Nazi’s and/or the USSR, there is a saying that has been said that sums it up perfectly: “Never forget.”
Don’t forget, Prague is next! HASTA LUEGO!