Continental Drifters - Day Two

For our first full day in Budapest, I had selected an itinerary focused around the legacy of communism in the city, centered on a visit to Memento Park, where city officials relocated the monuments of the fallen regime in 1989. However, Memento Park is located on the outskirts of the city, and the best way to get there is by a special sightseeing bus, that leaves only at 11:00. Since I despise wasting time on vacation, we started off the day with a visit to Mátyás Church, the city's preeminent Gothic cathedral.

Constructed almost 800 years ago, the most striking element of the exterior was the strikingly tiled roof, a common denominator in traditional Hungarian architecture.

The inside of the church is beautifully, and elaborately painted.

On the advice of the guidebook, we set out upon a walking tour of the castle district designed to take 90 minutes, which would have placed us back on the Pest side of the Danube in time to catch our bus. Perhaps the book assumes a particularly brisk pace, or else we lingered too long taking in all the majesty of the Mátyás Church, but we found ourselves hustling at full tilt by the end of our journey to make it to the bus stop on time, much to Dad's chagrin.

A view of Pest, from Buda Castle.

Although the park itself turned out to be a little on the shabby side, it had been at the top of my list for sightseeing in Budapest, and I reveled in the Soviet Realist works, particularly a fantastic sculpture commemorating the short-lived socialist state declared by the Hungarians after World War I, depicting a progressive worker waving the red flag.

We continued the communist theme at the Terror House Museum, which tells the story of Hungary's dual 20th century oppressions, first by the Nazis and then by the Soviet puppet state. The museum's texts were mostly in Hungarian, with only fliers giving information in English, but to me, it was most interesting for the way it portrayed information. Most of the actual exhibits were abstract in nature, like a table set for a Nazi victory party or a revolving platform with both Nazi and Soviet uniforms, such that the lessons came from oral histories instead of artifacts. The oral histories were presented both on film, and via old-fashioned phones mounted on the wall. When you pick up a phone and dial, you connect directly with the voices of the past. Also particularly powerful was the basement of the building, which housed a recreation of the original cells used to house and torture political prisoners.

The awning of the museum casts a shadow on the ground reading "Terror" and is designed to symbolize the way in which the Communist dictatorship cast a pall over all aspects of Hungarian life.

In sum, the day was an interesting contrast between what the Germans call "ostalgie" or a nostalgia for the Soviet past, often expressed in a kitschy manner, and the very real suffering experienced at the hands of communist rule. As a student of the Cold War, I found it to be a particularly satisfying day of tourism.

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