Lest you think that I did nothing but drive to far cities and take trains to isolated villages, I had a lot of fun in Budapest, when I first arrived and then at the end of my trip. One of the more interesting spots I visited was Memento Park, or what I call the Park of Dead Lenins. When Communism fell, the civic leaders in Hungary had to make many decisions, including, what do we do with all the statues and busts of all the Lenins, Bela Kuns, and other Communist heroes scattered around the country? The answer: build a park and put them there.
This is not a silly question. The statuary in question was, to my eye, neither uplifting nor aesthetically pleasing. It was probably meant to dominate, and remind the Hungarians of the ideology that governed them. The park is at the same time ironic and deadly serious. It seems to say, “Snicker if you want, but this is part of our history and we have to confront it.”
Earlier I mentioned the Great Synagogue in Dohanyi Street. It is the largest synagogue in Hungary and was the center of the Jewish Ghetto in Budapest during World War II. The story of Raoul Wallenberg is almost a cliche. We need to remember that he was not alone in his efforts to save innocent people from massacre.
I also enjoyed the cuisine of Budapest and had a good soak at the St. Gellert Baths. The Alexandra Bookstore on Andrassy utca, Budapest’s Fifth Avenue,
is an extremely civilized place. It occupies a former department store and the top floor is dedicated to wine, coffee, tea, and cakes. A gentleman plays a grand piano and one can sit for hours, enjoying the refreshments and the atmosphere. Hungarians love to read and there is a great selection of books even in English. I bought a thriller for the long plane ride home.