Four Days in Budapest 2
Here’s a good trivia quiz question for you; the River Danube flows through four different capitol cities. Answer is Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest and Belgrade. I’m sitting on the banks of the Danube next morning nearby the Elisabeth Bridge called locally; the Erzsébet, contemplating this. Same name as my hotel as it happens so that was easy to remember. The third newest bridge connecting Buda and Pest the Erzsébet is situated at the narrowest part of the Danube in the Budapest area.
‘The original Erzsébet, along with many other bridges all over the country, was blown up at the end of World War II by retreating Wehrmacht sappers. This is the only bridge in Budapest which could not be rebuilt in its original form.’ So says my handbook.
Opposite me was a huge rock face with what they called the Citadel, a monument, sitting on top and overlooking the city. Turns out the Germans commandeered this place at the end of the Second World War and with their guns, blew Budapest apart, including all the bridges. Hard to believe looking at it from my vantage point. I was relaxing in the early morning sun, watching the world, or the boats go by when an elderly gentleman on a Zimmer frame came shuffling along. He saw me sitting on the stone steps and decided he wanted a chat. He was German as it happened. I felt like saying “so it was your mob that blew these bridges up!” but I refrained. The thought made me smile though, I could feel it, I’m always amused by my own wit! He was a nice old chap and we chuntered away in our different languages for about twenty minutes before he continued on his way. Neither of us could make head nor tail of what we were talking about for half of the time but it was nice sharing pleasantries.
The point of this sightseeing half hour was to check out the cruises. Plenty of them to choose from, I made a note of one which sailed for about an hour and a half up around Margaret Island to the north which departed around one o’clock. Sorted I then walked across the Erzsébet to Buda to explore the other half of the city. Ambling along the other side of the river, careful to avoid getting run down by the trams, “What? no elf’ and safety?” You have to keep your mince pies open here, I discovered statues and memorials everywhere. They’re certainly fond of them that’s clear. Buda appeared to be very quiet compared to its neighbour. Infinitely more greener and relaxed. After studying and taking a photograph of a war memorial commemorating Hungarian soldiers in the Second World War I took time out for a coffee and a cake at a wonderful eatery overlooking the Danube.
I then headed for the Chain Bridge, one of the most famous apparently, to cross back over to Pest. A plaque on one of the pillars explained a few facts about its construction. To my surprise I found it was designed by an English engineer, William Tierney Clark. The first permanent bridge across the Danube in Hungary was opened in 1849. Supervised locally by Scottish engineer Adam Clark, it was designed in sections and shipped from the United Kingdom to Hungary for final construction. The bridge was blown up on 18 January 1945 by the retreating Germans during the Siege, with only the towers remaining. It was rebuilt, and reopened in 1949.
Fascinating stuff. I pondered; How did Tierney and Clark hear about the proposed construction of a bridge in Budapest back in the 1800s though? I mean, there was no emails, telephone or whatever to correspond. Maybe they used pigeon! Must have been a long job was my consensus.
It was a lovely day for a cruise, sitting on top of the boat taking in all the sights on either side of the river, past the Parliament Buildings which looked magnificent, as did the Presidents Palace on the Buda side.
Only irritating thing about this trip was a family of obese proportions taking residence in the seats right in front of me. Not only did they impair my view, having to shuffle my rear end along the bench intermittently but why did these people have to talk and laugh so loud? Bellowing in between chomping Mars Bars and cackling. Mirth was inherent throughout the trip, annoying to say the least. The boat circled Margaret Island a couple of miles up the Danube. Looked nice and isolated, green, quiet, apparently there is a hotel there so this could be one for the future I surmised. It is surprising the number of bridges there are in Budapest, reminded me of the Thames. This really is a lovely city. It was a nice way to relax for a while, messin’ about on the river, apart from the jolly monsters putting a spoiler on it!
Anyway, onwards and upwards, the magnificent Parliament Buildings were awaiting, where students staged a demonstration which ignited the fuse to the 1956 revolution.
Guards were positioned around the building and square, mostly young recruits or perhaps national servicemen, armed and looking serious, or was that boredom? They seemed friendly enough though, tourists were having a photo taken with some of them so I approached one to try and engage some conversation. He looked a bit surprised but nonetheless.
“Morning” I said to him. He didn’t answer but I continued. In situations like this, even though I know where I am and what’s going on, I act the dumb tourist.
“This the Parliament Square?” I asked, knowing full well it was. Still, no answer. Thing was, I wanted to learn more about 1956 and all that and thought that a first hand account or something from a native tongue might be more than interesting. Like, from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.
Finally, the soldier opened his mouth; “sorry, speak little English” he murmured. Well that was a start. Figuring he must have learnt something about the Uprising at school I asked him; “This is where the students rioted, yes?” Blank.
“1956? Parliament Square? the Revolution?” Clearly this was going over his head. I sighed and gave up with a parting shot; “Christ, I know more about your country than what you do!”
He looked at me in puzzlement.
Tension reached its peak with the headquarters of the Hungarian Radio becoming the focal point. Shooting started and by night the freedom fighters seized control of the Radio building and other important parts of Budapest. The leadership of the AVH (Hungarian State Police) and the intervening Russian army decided to keep under terror the people of Budapest. Russian tanks appeared on the streets.
At Kossuth Square the Russians turned their fire on the demonstrators who sought refuge in the ministry of agriculture building opposite but were denied admission. Around 800 people died. There are balls on the wall in the original holes of the bullets. Viewing these is quite chilling. I looked around, trying to picture the scene. People running, cowering, hails of bullets from the Russians and the AVH flying everywhere. It must have been terrifying.
‘The violence continued, as revolutionary militias sprung up against the Soviet Army and the ÁVH. The 3,000 strong resistance fought Soviet tanks using Molotov cocktails and machine-pistols. Though the preponderance of the Soviets was immense they suffered heavy losses, and by 30 October most Soviet troops had withdrawn from Budapest to a garrison in the Hungarian countryside. For a time, the Soviet leadership was unsure how to respond to developments, but decided to intervene to prevent Hungary from breaking away from the Soviet bloc. On 4 November reinforcements of more than 150,000 troops and 2,500 tanks entered the country from the Soviet Union. Nearly 20,000 Hungarians were killed resisting the intervention, while an additional 21,600 were imprisoned afterwards for political reasons. Some 13,000 were interned and 230 brought to trial and executed. Prime Minister Imre Nagy was captured, and was executed in 1958. Because borders had briefly been open, nearly a quarter of a million people had fled the country by the time the revolution was suppressed.’ - Taken from the Net.
The massacre on Kossuth is commemorated with a monument and memorial in the southern ventilation tunnel to the unarmed victims who gathered here with videos, photos, candles and memorabilia.
This was where it all began.
|Some people are obviously fed up with all the monuments!|
The centre of the square is filled with green grass, trees, a playground, and a fountain designed for children to run through on hot days, and so the square is a busy and lively place full of kids, parents, and dogs, and has a happy vibe. In the exact centre is a cafe that serves excellent espresso drinks and light snacks.’
Very nice it is too.
One of the few remaining Soviet monuments in Budapest and occupying a prominent place in the middle of Freedom Square, honours the soldiers of the Red Army who died in 1944-1945 during the liberation of Budapest.
The monument consists of an obelisk with a crest showing the Communist hammer and sickle. At the bottom is a bas-relief of Soviet soldiers engaged in battle. The obelisk is crowned with a five-pointed Communist star.
The square is also in front of the American Embassy with a statue of former President Ronald Reagan standing proud, honouring him for his role in helping to end communism in the 1980s.
Time was now getting short and I decided to press on and make my way to the House of Terror on Andrassy Avenue.
You are welcomed into the museum, which was the headquarters of the Hungarian Secret Police by the unnerving sight of a imposing Russian tank. Being up close to this monster brings it home to what it must have been like in those dark days more than what the photographs do.
Thousands were executed here by the dreaded Secret Police and viewing the incarceration rooms with their grizzly artefacts is not a pleasant sight. The walls are adorned with photographs depicting the horrors, there are cabinets with weapons on display, interrogation rooms and even a courtroom where inmates were given their ‘trial’. Not a very nice place this at all. Apparently there’s Hungarians living to this day who remember the terror of the hated AVH.
Time had once again caught up with me and I headed back to my hotel to freshen up and to get organised for the early start back home next morning before going out for something to eat and drink.
I had seen a Hard Rock Cafe during the day and went there to enjoy some good music on the videos and to look at the guitars and photos on the walls, as well as another ‘Hungarian’ style cheeseburger.
Had a nice chat with the friendly barmen too, they seemed intrigued that I was on my own, also I guess that I was English. Thats one thing I did notice in Budapest. There wasn’t that many English speaking people around. Did surprise me a bit because everywhere you go you can hear our native tongue.
All in all the trip to Budapest was enlightening, loved it. Beautiful city, almost a hidden gem I’d venture. There were a few places I didn’t have time to visit such as Monument Park on the Buda side and a Railway Museum which is supposed to be well worth a visit. According to my trusty handbook.
I’ll be back.