Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Beautiful Budapest 2

Beautiful Budapest 2

I have had another pleasurable week in Beautiful Budapest.  On the the Monday it rained, which pretty much killed my opportunities to draw.

But from the Tuesday onwards the weather gradually improved, and in the next four days I had plenty time to make more sketches.  I continued on a theme started during my March visit when I tried to investigate the city through its sculpture and lampposts.

In front of the the restored Eastern Railway Station is this statue that in Dec 2013 reappeared from hiding.  It represents the forgotten "iron minister" Gábor Baross (1848 – 1892) who consolidated the Hungarian railway network and was an unbending Minister of Commerce during Hungary's years of prosperity.  He must have been a remarkable man to have achieved so much for his Country in a life that only lasted 44 years

Hungary is keen to reinstate and remember these heroic figures from the cultural and economic renaissance that the country experienced during the decades before the First World War.    

The good times ended abruptly after Hungary sided with the losers of World War One.  In 1920 she was forced to sign the Treaty of Trianon (1920) that required her to surrender 72% of her land which included her important mineral resources, her industrial heartlands and the sea ports in Croatia. The treaty also took away 5 of her 10 biggest cities.

The Treaty of Trianon separated three million Hungarian speakers (Magyars) from their motherland.  

In the run up to the Second World War Hungary was promised her lost territory back if they again sided with the Germans.   Hungary, whose embittered political leaders were right wing and anti-Semitic, enthusiastically entered the war and sent her Armies to fight alongside the Germans in Russia.  Initially they were successful but later her divisions were sucked into the siege of Stalingrad where they were annihilated.  In  March 1944 Hitler was worried about rumours that the dispirited Hungarians were secretly negotiating  peace terms with the allies, he ordered Nazi troops to occupy Hungary   This occupation has been commemorated with a new statue that was secretly commissioned by the Hungarian Government and erected overnight on the 20 July 2014

The bird is said to be the German Eagle (which is confusing to my eyes because it looks like the Hungarian Turul bird) which is swooping down on the innocent Angel Gabriel who is about to drop the orb of the Hungarian State.  In front of the monument protesters, many of them relatives of the victims of genocide that happened in the months following the German occupation, have erected a huge broken mirror (a symbol of hypocrisy)  Other relatives have come and put down thousands of little stones to remember the dead, there are pictures of lost family members, broken chairs and abandoned suitcases. The protesters point out that the anti Semitism started before the occupation and that many politicians warmly welcomed the occupying forces.

In the year of occupation, between March 1944 and the end of the war in April 1944, nearly half a million Hungarian Jews, gypsies and gays lost their lives.  The genocide began to happen in Budapest after the authorities recognised the war would end before they had enough time to transport all their intended victims to the death camps.  The prisoners  were lined up along the banks of the Danube and ordered to strip before being shot.  Their bodies fell into the river and floated away leaving their shoes and clothes as the discarded evidence of the atrocities that were taking place in the city.   The protesters directed me to the banks of the Danube where there is a more appropriate monument.

Hundreds of old shoes have been cast into bronze and fixed to the paving stones.  This monument is moving, and it remembers without blaming anyone.  Many Hungarians hid the Jews and gypsies in their attics, others behaved badly.  Until we suffer it ourselves we cannot know how we would have behaved in Budapest in 1944-5.

The ending of the Second World War did not bring Hungary's misery to a close.  Hungarian soldiers could not return home, men were kidnapped from the streets of Budapest to be taken to Russia to be used as forced labour, the persecution of the Jewish communities still went on.  In 1956 the Hungarians rebelled but the uprising was brutally squashed by the authorities with Russian assistance.  The futile attempt to end Hungary's suffering from under the yoke of communism and totalitarian government is commemorate in front of the gorgeous restored Parliament Building where the bullet holes in her walls from the fighting are proudly preserved and displayed.

Further along on the Pest side of the Danube another statue overlooks Budapest.  It is huge, monumental, Soviet and called Liberty.  She carries what looks like fern leaves over her head.

Ironically the castle like building below was once used as a prison (or so I was told by a local).

The walls of Budapest are covered with sculpture, many from a much earlier age. The sculptural quality is not always masterful, but the compositions are often beautiful.  I enjoyed drawing the entrance of St Michaels which was built in about 1720.  Mary has a gold crown on her head and the infant Jesus has a gold halo with stars.

and the painted angels inside this church are also worth looking at

As I was drawing a service of remembrance was about to begin, an old lady arrived surrounded by her family who were all smartly dressed in jet black.  I felt they were unhappy with my presence so I removed myself, a little later I returned to attend a concert of baroque music.

Outside St Michaels is the bustling street with cafe culture and boutiques.  Franciska, smiling and young, was dressed in traditional folk costume and

ushering the smartly dressed passers-by into her shop

baskets of green foliage and red geraniums were hung from the street lamps 


and more planters decorated the cafe bars 

where maids were serving drinks

to gentlemen

and tables of gossiping students

I sat at one such table sipping coffee and drawing the trees in pots

and people across the way who were chatting on benches 

 and children passing with their parents

and a  monument made of warm stone could be seen in the distance

and short stroll away I drew another religious monument with Jesus on a pillar, his head haloed with golden stars

Our tour of the statues has taken us along the bank on the Pest side of the river.  Into a district with a  huge covered market and Turkish baths, but I do not have time to show you those.  Instead I have more coffee and watch the children in another play area.  There is a Turkish child with beautiful eyes

and this little boy with wispy fair hair

A far better place to draw the children is Margaret Island which is a huge island park (2.6 km long and 500m wide) in the centre of the Danube;  I know this place well from my visit two years ago. This is one of the splendid lamp posts on the bridge to Margaret Island

In the 13th century King Béla made a vow to send his daughter, Princess Margaret, to a Dominican nunnery if God would allow him to rebuild the country devastated by the Mongols.  The Ruins are still to be seen.

Recently they have created a fountain which has perhaps a hundred spouts that are controlled remotely and linked to music.  To imagine this you have to think of a firework display with water, but better!

Here is a you tube link

I drew this little boy who was waving his hands to the music

Of course the families come here to relax

There is an Open Air Theatre, swimming pool, formally laid out gardens and a Japanese Garden.  

After a dental appointment I sat amongst the red squirrels and drew the children looking at the ducks. 

When I am alone in Budapest I always spend my evenings in the square in front of the Basilica.  There is a place where I perch on the edge of a fountain and draw the crowds of young people who visit the wine bars in the area.

The fashion is to buy a bottle of wine and carafe of water to make spritzers, like this lady has.

It is a very beautiful place to be, the air is still and the buildings around majestic.  One evening they were using the Basilica as a background for shots of a bride and groom.  I had the strong impression they were paid models and the photographs were for a magazine or marketing literature

The young people of Budapest have grown up in a post communist world.  They will have been told stories of the hardships their parents generation had to endure, a bit like the baby boomers of the sixties they have seen  an austere serious world brighten up, widen and become liberal.  The centre of Budapest is opulent, there is conspicuous money, Ferraris and Maseratis.   

I am told that there is a lot of political corruption and jobs are very hard to find (3 million unemployed).  In this way Hungarians are not like we were in the sixties, the young Hungarians I met in Budapest know to spend their money carefully and prepare themselves for the future.

Through my drawing I do sometimes get to meet the people I am drawing.  This is Timi

Timi was with four girl friends.  Like all in the crowd around them they had dressed up for the evening and were sharing spritzers and were self contained.  When I returned to Britain I emailed her a copy of this drawing and this is how she replied: 

Dear Julian,

I'm so thankful to you for creating this drawing and sending it to me. It was a pleasure to meet you and see how much you enjoy what you do. You bring a little joy to some lucky one every day and it happened to me as well.

Thank you so much,


This is not the voice of a baby boomer

In the sixties we talked up the generation gap.  We grew our hair long to define ourselves and annoy our parents and did not worry about being out of work..  I have no idea how the older Hungarians are getting along with the new generation who live in a world so completely different from what they knew when they were young.  Budapest is a place for young people who are modern and already making it in the world, it is benefiting from EU money being lavished on its lavish architecture which was itself made in a lavish era.  Budapest feels like a real place, but it is also a lavish display and pleasure garden, not a window into what is happening outside the city.

You can hire a smart centrally located apartment from my friends that will sleep up to 4 people for 3 - 400 a week .  The city is still inexpensive. This is their email address

More Links about Budapest
This is a beautiful video that shows Budapest as it best

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