Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Happy Birthday Grandpa Vern

Happy birthday Grandpa

Thinking about you from Vienna, Austria!!

Current cubes of yummy old loftiness

In Hungary, they use forint as a currency. We spent 10700 ft. for dinner. How much is that? The approximate exchange rate from forint to $ is 200:1, so take off two 0s, and divide by 2 to get a feeling of the price. There are lots of 'souvenir' shops in Budapest. In most of the shops they sell Rubik's cubes. We think Rubik was Hungarian. He didn't think that a physical cube, with more than 5 rotatable layers was possible to make. Nowadays, there are 6x6x6 and 7x7x7 cubes available for order, made by a Greek mathematician. There were lots of different shapes and sizes of cubes. For example I saw one that had different sized pieces in it. I also saw one that wasn’t a cube at all, but was rather a ball, where you could slide triangles around it.

Souvenirs weren’t the only thing you could buy in Budapest though. There was a fabulous restaurant called Vapiano right next door to our apartment. It was an Italian restaurant and I thought I might die in Italy from the luxurious aroma. The first and last meals we got from the same cook, and they were the best. I think he just put more love into it. The other cook would take one down, thrash it around, and spill some. Our favourite cook, Ákos, would gently stir it, ask about more ingredients, and take care in our meal. Overall, the food there was excellent. Vapiano was unique because you had to go up to the counter to order and they made it right in front of you. After you got it, you put your card that you got when you came in up onto the register, and it loads what you bought onto it. You pay when you leave the place.

Heading back home, the elevator in our apartment was 50 years old. It worked fine, but there were little safety restrictions in it. You could see the whole works, all 7 floors. How did you tell what floor you're on? Look out the window at the roman numerals on the doors and add 2. There was a half floor, and floor 0, which is ground level.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Terror

Today Tom and I decided to visit The Terror Museum. It was a special post-birthday treat. The children opted to stay home. They had a choice of doing schoolwork or coming to The Terror Museum and they both chose school! Go figure.

The Terror Museum is in the building used by both the Nazi’s and the Soviets during their reign of terror. I was surprised that the majority of the museum was devoted to the Soviets. During WW2, Hungary was allied with Germany. Some suppose this was in an effort to avoid being trampled by the Germans and to protect their Jewish population. It worked for awhile but after the Nazis had mowed over most of Europe, they got Hungary.

Actually, the Hungarian Prime Minister was concerned about the events of 1944 and thought to give over to the Soviets. Hitler got wind of this and threw the Prime Minister out of office and brought in his own special guys, The Arrow Cross. The emblem was similar to the Nazi emblem but formed a cross instead. They all got special jackets and fancy hats and were made to feel really special. I guess it helped them with their mission to exterminate the Jews. Over the next five months they decimated three quarters of the population of Jews in Hungary; over 600,000 people. The country was then liberated by the Soviets…if you could call it that.

Once the war was over, Hungary set about trying to restore itself. They held elections and the socialist party won with 57% of the vote. The communist party had only 17%. This didn’t sit well with Stalin so he insisted the Soviets would help the socialist party get started. Soon that created the necessity for a revote. The Soviets stacked the ballot box to muster up 22% of the vote for the communist party but then they threw in another 700,000 votes so their party could come in to power. This pretty much spelled the end of the happy war years.

My big question is how could people follow a guy like Stalin? I mean, when you’re being asked to spy on your own family and report to the police, don’t you begin to wonder if maybe this isn’t the way you want to live? How did this guy get any support at all? Who were the guys saying, “Yeah, great guy that Stalin. Let’s support him.” The museum is very dramatic and artistic in its representations. There are numerous video clips of survivors telling their stories. There are even more clips of news footage of the time. It was frightening to see the city after the bombings and to recognize places we had visited.

We visited the prison cells and saw rows and rows of pictures of the people who had died or been held there. We saw the torture cells, the death row, the interrogation rooms and so on. Eerie music and lighting followed us throughout. I couldn’t imagine working there every day. I mean, you can’t exactly laugh or joke about this subject so every day would be so heavy and draining. One of the more interesting displays were the walls of pictures of the victimizers. These were the people who had committed the atrocities and the majority of them are still alive. So where do you live after that? What kind of a life do you have? Most of the victimizers were in their 20’s during that time so they are in their 70’s and 80’s now. How do you come to terms with the horror?

In one of the videos we watched, one of the survivors was talking about the guards they knew who had committed suicide. Even the guards couldn’t stand the cruelty. So how did they all let it continue for so long? The heads of the secret police weren’t even safe from persecution. A couple of the leaders who had been responsible for killing off unwanted and suspicious Hungarian characters was himself accused of suspicious behaviour and killed. Brothers beat and tortured brothers. Sons ratted out fathers. Family members were asked to hurt, torture and kill each other…and they did! It defies understanding.

It all began to unravel for the Soviets when Stalin died in 1953. Kruchev admitted crimes had been committed and the communist system became morally tainted. On October 23, 1956 students in Budapest organized protest marches in support of events happening in Poland. The secret police opened fire on the protestors and the protest turned from a peaceful demonstration into open warfare. The revolution was on. In five days, the Soviets gave ground and Hungary moved into “Communism Lite” for the next four decades.

Tomorrow we are going to visit the Memento Park where all the communist statues were removed to in 1989. Should be interesting.