Monday, June 05, 2017

Budapest- 14 Miles on Foot in 1 Day

I told the CEO of one of my portfolio companies (Fermat) that I would come visit him in Budapest on one condition...That we did all of our meetings while walking the city.

I hadn't been to Budapest in 20 years and had no idea when I would get back.

So, off we set...Over the course of 11 hours, we covered 14 miles, including:

The Liberty Statue, originally dedicated to the memory of the Soviet soldiers who died liberating Hungary and subsequently changed after the 1989 transition to democracy.

The Dohany Street Synagogue, the largest in Europe. Apparently, it was where Theodor Herzl had his Bar Mitzvah.  There's also (unusually so) a cemetery immediately adjacent to the synagogue. In 1945 when the Soviets liberated the city, they found 2000+bodies piled high in the courtyard and a mass grave was created.

There's a garden of remembrance as well and a small plaza dedicated to Raoul Wallenberg for his efforts to save Hungarian Jewry.

Apparently, in the winter of 1944/1945, nearly all of the deaths in Auschwitz were Hungarian Jews. 

The tour guide was excellent. A young man who didn't know he was Jewish until he was 15 because his great-grandfather, in an effort to protect the family, burned the identity cards that had "Judaism" as the religion printed on them.
I know the Hungarian Nazi sympathizers were right up there with the Poles in terms of their hatred of the Jews, so I'm not whitewashing history here.  

I did notice, in more than a few places, the very public pronouncements (both official and otherwise) of Hungary's complicit role in exterminating Jews. There were a few places (like the memorial behind this sign below) where the blame was placed squarely on German shoulders.

This is the memorial that blames external factors.

But there's obviously a current of people who are openly challenging it...and the signs are allowed to remain up.

 One of the most poignant sights is the shoes along the bank of the Danube, which is a memorial to the Jews who were brought down to the river, told to undress, and then shot, falling into the river.

Apparently, some were psychologically tortured first (asked to get undressed, witnessing execution of those next to them, and then told to return back to the ghetto-which had 70,000 people in a 24 square block area.)

Obviously, it was quite sobering.

We also saw the Hungarian parliament, which is a magnificent building.

and then made our way up the hill to Buda castle for fantastic vistas of the city and the river below.

and there's a horse statue up near the castle grounds. It is made of bronze, but apparently, it's good luck if you put your hands on the horse's testicles.

That's why they are shiny.

Naturally, I wouldn't want to miss the opportunity to have some good luck come my way now, would I?

When I was here 20 years ago, Budapest was still fresh out of the Communist era.

Now, it's a different city. The level of English (at least among the young in touristy areas is first rate). It's VERY clean. There's a modern looking tram system. Some fashionable eateries/cafe's and, I'm told, it's very safe

It's VERY walkable and the river is majestic. I certainly lucked out in terms of weather.

They don't use Euros, btw. (which I figured out when I got here---oh well) and there's definitely a lot of energy. Great bike paths, a lot of runners, and I found people to be generally very friendly.

Towards the outskirts (as you come in from the airport), there's plenty of Soviet era architecture left over, but as you get into the city center, there are some really nice buildings that have a ton of character and charm.

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