Monday, 6 September 2010

First impressions of Budapest: Museums, History, Philosophy. Is it necessary?

I’ve recently just moved to Budapest to study medicine. Why Budapest of all places? Well there’s a couple of reasons I chose to come here:
1. The medical school has a good reputation and has been recommended by several of my mother’s colleagues.
2. I would have the opportunity to practise and even study abroad
3. It’s close to home yet it’s not close enough for my folks to drop by spontaneously
So now I live in a completely new country. Whose language I don’t speak. Let me tell you I’ve heard the only other European language Hungarian is distantly related to is Finnish. Now as someone who studied Latin for 4 years rather than something practical like French of Italian in the hopes of being able to master any other language that way, this was not good news for me. But no worries, I have some very friendly people willing to teach me the language and the majority of the natives speak either German or English with relative fluency. That on the other hand is good news.
However, despite being equally fluent in German, I realised today I have a tendency to revert to English when asking for directions, out shopping, etc. Thanks a heap London!
SO yesterday was my first day at Uni and I had to register for all of my courses. This was done quickly and over by 9 am. Spontaneously, I decided to unleash myself on the city. This proved difficult as a. It was raining and b. I couldn’t understand any of the street signs. So I resorted to aimlessly walking around Kalvin Ter (Kalvin Square) looking for something to do. Which is when I spotted a branch of the bank I had an account with at home and I remembered I needed to enquire about money transfers and withdrawals with my cash card from home. I stalked in, picked a number (you need to pick numbers here for banks, in phone shops, etc) and had a chat with a bank official who spoke English. Upon inspecting my student ID to determine whether I was eligible for a student account she looked at me and told me we could have been speaking German all along, as she was more fluent in it. I remembered my ID stated I was a German student. WHOOPS!
After finishing up at the bank, I walked out onto the square again where it was not raining even harder. Feeling stranded I pulled up my hood and trekked up the Museum Körut. And there amid the downpour loomed in front of my eyes a familiar sign: Coffee Shop Company.
The Austrian coffee chain based in Vienna had spread this far and shone a light at me in this hour of need. After a dark hot chocolate I was in better shape and ready to explore this beautiful city cursed with horrible weather. Luckily, I had packed a German city guide distributed by Uni listing the main attractions. And what’s better than visiting museums on cold rainy days?
Luckily, the national museum was immediately opposite to the coffee shop, so I waited till opening time and braved the wind and rain to enter the giant Acropolian building that houses a massive collection of Hungarian history reaching from prior to the Vandalian conquests to after the fall of the Communist Regime. Two hours and a load of information later, I still had ages until my afternoon talk back at Uni. And I was getting hungry. Armed with a map of the city and my tour guide I jumped on a tram headed to the large Market Hall close to Erszebeti Bridge. The Market is housed in a building generally associated with old Victorian railway stations, all steel framework and pointed roofs. The bottom floor is lined with stalls offering veg, fruit, meats and fish. Out of the centre of this floor staircases jut upwards to the parterre along the sides of the walls, where one can find Hungarian lace and cloth, as well as the usual bric-a-brac stalls such tourist hot spots attract. One side of this balcony is lined with stands selling cooked foods typical to the capital and a large cafeteria or so-called Etterem. Having explored this thoroughly, I headed back to the centre of the city on the tram and decided to explore further up north on the Pest side of the Danube.
My search took me to the House of Terror, the former abode of the Hungarian Nazis (Arrow Cross) and the Hungarian executive body of the Stalinist regime – the Hungarian equivalent of the KGB. Being a WWII and Communism history buff myself, this was of particular interest to me. The exhibition is excellent although not entirely translated to English. The use of audio and video creates a vivid picture of the political atmosphere as well as the civil situation by using recordings of political speeches and videos of victims who survived both terror regimes, thus conveying the grotesque events and decisions that took place in number 60, Andrassy Utca. The basement in particular, featuring recreated and preserved prison and torture cells, was an emotional experience. My favourite exhibit however, was the memorial to all the victims – candles and old torchlights mounted on iron rods, illuminating an otherwise dark room, where the names of the victims line the walls.
This leads me to draw the conclusion of this blog post:
Many students and pupils complain about studying history. My father has a tendency to say, memory of past experiences leads us to improve ourselves and avoid making the same mistakes twice. I like to believe that studying history will teach us what went wrong in the past and what we should avoid. Unfortunately, this knowledge is lost somewhere along the way, maybe because we are so reluctant to study history and remind ourselves of the errors of our forefathers. Until this is altered, history will indeed repeat itself.

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