These are my impressions of a recent trip to Budapest.
My father’s parents grew up in Budapest. The Waldmann family has returned on 5 or so occasions. Caroly, Erzebeth and Thomas (dad) went back in 1937 to tell the folks it was time to bug out of central Europe (they didn’t listen). Dad went back in 1989. I was there in 1997 after hopping on a train from Vienna. My sister was there on her honeymoon but didn’t take photos. I was there a month ago.
The main sight I went to see is Hojos 3, my grandmother’s family’s apartment. Dad took a camera to document the effects of war, 70 days of siege and 44 years of communism. Grandma didn’t notice any changes.
I was there in 1997 and found a used car dealership on the ground floor. Also the sweet shop across the street had turned into a bar. I had alarming thoughts about the relative power of the market and bombs in making everything solid melt into air.
Also I had never felt so foreign. Here I was in the city 2 of 4 grandparents came from and I couldn’t read anything. I mean I look at a sign that says something street and I don’t know which word is the name and which word means street. Also, for the first time in my life, I had to look carefully at the little stylised picture of a man and of a woman to figure out which was the mens’ room.
Budapest in 1997 had embraced the market and was smothering it with hot kisses. The city is at least as beautiful as Vienna (OK I’m prejudiced) and not totally out of Prague’s league, but the Budapest approach to attracting tourists was Las Vegas East (sorry central). I personally stopped at the “Las Vegas” casino but I still had money when I left so it is OK. I also have to congratulate the guy who impersonated a police officer (with no ID) accused me of changing money on the street (for no reason) inspected my foreign currency holdings and gave back most of them to me. Embarassing and expensive, but that’s the way to treat idiot tourists who are being paid strangely large sums to teach about economics while clearly lacking the most basic concept (don’t hand over your money to every guy in a suit who asks to see it).
By 2004 things seem to be going pretty well. Budapest seemed markedly richer. In fact it seemed like a normal functioning European city. OK the Las Vegas casino is still right across the Danube from Buda (next time I am not going back to it). Also there is sign advertizing a strip joint legally attached to one of the poles of a fence around a municipal playground. Still the place looked clean efficient etc. Also instead of the Eastern tin can cars people were driving normal Western cars (that means cars made in the far East).
Also the language had changed. I mean people still spoke Magyar but about half of commercial signs and bill boards were in English.
Finally there was positive proof of integration into the global capitalist consumer society — billboard advertisements for “motercycle diaries” the film about the young Che Guevara.