A Wooster Geologist in Budapest

Budapest, Hungary — This month I have the privilege of attending the 18th meeting of the International Bryozoology Association (IBA) in Liberec, The Czech Republic. As is the tradition, there is a pre-meeting field trip, this time to sites in four countries: Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, and The Czech Republic. There are 11 participants in a chartered bus setting off for a week of fossils and history, led by that excellent bryozoologist and good fellow, Kamil Zágoršek. We begin in Budapest with a classic view of the beautiful Danube River as it flows past our hotel. It is sunny and very warm.

There will be plenty of fancy views, but fr the local feel I want to include an image of just a regular Budapest block near our hotel.

Our first stop was at the Hungarian Natural History Museum in Budapest. It was established in 1802, and as our guiding museum scientist told us, the first 154 years were “normal” (at least for this part of the world), but in 1956, during the Soviet suppression of the Hungarian Revolution, a Russian tank fired into the museum, causing extensive damage. Shortly afterwards a Soviet jet dropped an incendiary bomb on the building. Tens of thousands of specimens were lost in the ensuing fires. The collections have still not recovered the numbers they had prior to the attacks.

Bryozoologists all love natural history museums, especially when we can open the drawers.

This particular museum doesn’t have a lot of bryozoans (a few drawers), but does have extensive vertebrate collections, fossil and modern.

Every natural history museum I’ve visited has a basement floor with hundreds of stuffed animals that are no longer in fashion for public displays.

The public part of the museum is diverse and well organized. I wouldn’t use Noah’s Ark as the initial theme for biodiversity, but it works here!

Our first locality was an Eocene bryozoan-rich marl site near Mátyashegy, Hungary, just outside Budapest. The bryozoans are numerous, but tiny little critters for my camera!

The second site is another bryozoan marl and sand, this one Miocene near Fót on the outskirts of the Budapest city center.

Our first group dinner was in the center of Budapest, ironically at an American restaurant. Our leader Kamil is at the head of the tables.

That evening we walked up Gellért Hill in the center of the city to see the amazing lights. My phone camera wasn’t up to the challenge, but you may be able to make out Buda Castle here.

At the top of the hill is a massive Soviet monument originally dedicated to the Soviet defeat of the Nazis in Budapest in 1945. The tall structure is the Liberty Statue. After the Soviets left the country (in 1989), the Hungarians removed some statuary and rededicated the monument to “those who sacrificed their lives for the independence, freedom, and prosperity of Hungary”, which includes thousands killed by the Soviets during their occupation.

On my first day in Budapest I was alone, so I visited the former Hungarian Secret Police headquarters, now a museum called The House of Terror. It is a grim but highly informative look at Hungarian life under fascist and then communist rule.

Photography was not allowed inside. The outside of the building has what seems to be an endless row of photos of Hungarians who were executed here. Quite moving. In one of the displays inside is a wall of photographs and names of the “victimizers”, the agents (Russian and Hungarian) who perpetrated these crimes. The point is that we don’t see these atrocities as simply results of a system but also the actions of individuals.

This artwork outside the museum entrance is simply called “Iron Curtain“. The link has a full description and more images.




About Mark Wilson

Mark Wilson is a Professor of Geology at The College of Wooster. He specializes in invertebrate paleontology, carbonate sedimentology, and stratigraphy. He also is an expert on pseudoscience, especially creationism.
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