Sunday, August 06, 2006


It’s not that I would say Central Europeans are unfriendly, but the first (non-American) person who smiled at me in a week was a little mentally disabled girl in the park at Terezin and her mother literally snatched her away by her face in response.

From my afternoon in Budapest, it seems that people don’t necessarily share quite the same loathe-thy-neighbour attitude as people in Berlin and Prague. I thought I sensed a change when I stepped off the train and was immediately descended upon by people asking me for money, offering to convert my money, and trying to get me to take their cab. Sure they’re not being friendly, but it does require that they acknowledge your presence. In Prague the beggars sit in a prayer position, forehead on ground, cap in front of them… no need to talk. Don’t get me wrong, no one has smiled, but someone did help me carry my luggage onto the tram and the security guard at the museum told me that I would need to hurry up if I wanted to see the whole exhibit (and he meant it in a nice way, he legitimately seemed concerned that I wouldn’t get through everything).

My first outing in Budapest was to the Terror House, located in the former headquarters of the Hungarian secret police, under both the Nazis and the Communists. It was one of the stranger museums that I have been in. Visually, it is quite appealing (perhaps the wrong term, but they do create an powerful effect). You go through a series of themed rooms that reflect the various eras of repression in 20th century Hungarian history (but largely centered around the 1940s and 50s). The rooms are quite bare, and there is very little text as a formal part of the exhibit. To supplement the lack of description, they have added a fully automated audio tour. The only problem is that the audio is linked to the room that you are standing in and the segments are anywhere up to 15 minutes each (with no option to fast forward). If you step over the line (sometimes the rooms aren't clearly delineated) it starts again from scratch. Because of that, I did learn quite a bit about Hungarian history (and I knew a reasonable amount to start with), but it did lead to me wandering around the same room again and again waiting for the segment to end. They have also recreated the prison cells of the victims of state torture and that part of the exhibit in particular was quite chilling.

Since I was only settled in at my hotel at four o'clock, that exhibit took up most of my first day in Budapest. I did wander around a bit, and there are some beautiful buildings, but I haven't been able to form too much of an impression yet. I have a packed day ahead of me tomorrow as it is my only full day here. I'll let you know how it goes.

No comments: