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.
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.
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.