Friday, November 6, 2009

fine pastries and the ghosts of terror

Wednesday arrived with hunger and the anticipation of exploring the variety of pastries and rolls held hostage in glass cases at Jég Büfé. I was thrilled to discover this authentic Hungarian pastry shop was staring at our hostel from right across the street, and not only did they have loads of strüdels and mille feuilles, they had a waffle man! I meandered over to the little wooden cubicle where a burly man poured batter into waffle irons with a frown, and served the warm doughy gaufres to hungry pedestrians though a circular hole in the window. As I approached, he narrowed his eyes and turned his back to me with a grunt. I was intimidated, and opted for a beautiful braided roll stuffed with poppy seed paste and walnuts with a coffee instead. Judging by the interior, I imagine Jég Büfé has been around since the early 50s, but I can't seem to find anything about the history of the place so far. Almost none of the people working there speak English, so you have to bravely do your best to pronounce the names of what you want— but I've found a big, innocent, touristy smile and sign language works just fine.

Our bellies happy and satisfied, we took a tram to Buda to grab the #150 bus to Memento Park. After what seemed like an hour of weaving through rolling hills and pretty suburban streets, we arrived at a lonely bleak stop with electric towers and a large wall across the street. Following the other tourists, we hopped off and found ourselves exactly where we had hoped to be.

Clouds rushed across the sky colouring it blue then grey, then blue again, minute to minute. Huge angry figures speared the sky with flags and fists— relics of communism, scattered across a desolate park. There was an eerie silence that made the experience all the more dramatic.

Memento Park, as I understand it, is still being developed. In the barracks next to the park was a small exhibit detailing the key events that took place during those fifty years, and a theatre showing a film about surveillance and the life of an agent. I expected many more statues, but the wide empty space did give me plenty of room to think about the years of fear, terror and oppression that gripped the country. I cannot imagine what it must have been like— to live without trust, to live afraid of your neighbours, the shopkeeper, your friends.

On Andrássy the day before, we passed the House of Terror, a museum dedicated to the horrors committed by the fascist and communist groups that held Hungary tightly in their fists. The black metal awning on the building has the word TERROR cut out of it, and when the sun hits it just right, the word is projected onto the face of the building. Hundreds of people were tortured and executed in the basement of this building, as it once was the headquarters of the ÁVH, the secret police. To say the building was chilling would be an understatement. Once I saw the faces of the victims of this bloody history in little black oval frames along the outer wall, I couldn't bear to go in.

It just so happened we were visiting Budapest on the anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution against the country's Stalinist government. The revolt lasted from October 23 until the 10th of November, leaving hundreds dead and thousands imprisoned. About 200,000 people fled the country as refugees. All over the city I saw wreaths, flowers and little Hungarian flags placed at key monuments and spots in remembrance.


Szedlák Ádám said...

I'm glad you liked my city. :)

You were right, Jégbüfé was opened in 1952. The building - Párisi Udvar - itself is a bit older, it was built in 1909. A friend of mine explored it thoroughly with a camera:

szaza said...

I didn't just like your city— I loved your city!

Your friend's photos are wonderful. I absolutely loved that building— the carved wooden ceiling is simply amazing.

My visit to Budapest has been one of the best I've had :)