The Age Of Wine – Csopak, Hungary: Time & Again

Location is everything. The small, but thriving village of Csopak along the northern shore of Lake Balaton in Hungary has made the most of its location. Less than 10 km (6 miles) from the popular resort town of Balatonfüred, climate, water and wine have been central to sustaining the life of this village. Many visitors to the area bypass Csopak in a mad rush to Balatonfüred. This is unfortunate because Csopak has the kind of simple delights that make it a memorable experience in its own right.  It also has a fated history of cataclysm and rebirth that provides a unique perspective on 1,800 years of life in the area.

The essence of Csopak - wine and Lake Balaton

The essence of Csopak – wine and Lake Balaton

Water Into Wine
Start with the waterwheels of Csopak. These are the historic remnants of pre-modern industry that once helped power the local economy. Six of these mills can still be found scattered throughout the village today. They are among the oldest structures in Csopak. Their age, at just over two hundred years is less than ancient. This relative youth, compared to what can be found in other parts of Central Europe, is both deceptive and revealing. It gives some idea of the tumultuous history from which the village has so often suffered. The 16th and 17th centuries were not kind to Csopak. For many years it was located in a no man’s land border zone of conflict between the Ottoman Turkish and Habsburg Armies. Border warfare led to the total destruction of Csopak.  After a century and a half of on again, off again warfare little if anything remained of what had once been a prosperous community. Eradication of pre-Ottoman invasion Csopak was so complete that the village would have to be totally reconstructed. In the early 18th century only the village’s name remained.

The rebirth of Csopak would take place by recalling an earlier and much more successful era in the village’s history. An era that has reoccurred throughout its history, no matter who ruled the land, this might best be termed the age of wine. The first recorded documentation of Csopak can be found in 1082, with a written reference to the Bishop of Veszprém’s vineyards. Wine was a major force in the economic life of Hungary during the Middle Ages. The Hungarians were building upon a much earlier tradition. A few kilometers inland from Csopak, on the Balaca Plains, once stood Villa Urbana. This Roman site from the 2nd century was the beginning of winemaking in the immediate area. The Romans were the first to realize the tremendous potential of the region’s climate. The early springs, warm summers, long dry autumns and mild winters in the area were perfect for wine cultivation.

Vineyards at Csopak with lake Balaton in the distance

Vineyards at Csopak with lake Balaton in the distance

Continuity and Change – Cultivating Csopak
Hungarians built upon this legacy eight centuries later, as they restrung vineyards across the hillsides. Csopak’s situation on the shores of Lake Balaton proved to be advantageous as well. Sunlight that is reflected off the sparkling waters of the lake improves the quality of grapes, a key ingredient to the microclimate that has driven development of the village time and again. In a village that was susceptible to upheaval, winemaking turned out to be the one constant, a perpetual source of regeneration throughout its history. Thus in the early modern era of the 18th and 19th centuries an influx of new settlers restarted wine production to boost the local economy. This rebirth culminated in Csopak once again becoming home to the Bishop of Veszprém’s vineyards. This was not without difficulties as the dreaded Phylloxera plague put most of the vineyards out of business in the latter part of the 19th century. Csopak vintners had to start all over, reconstituting production.

Today one of the major economic engines for the village is the wine industry. The area is part of the Balatonfüred -Csopak Wine Region that covers 17 towns and villages across 2,500 hectares. Csopak is home to Olaszrizling, an ancient variety of white grape. The wines made from these are known for their complexity and acidic strength. Wine lovers flock to the Jasdi Wine Cellar which was built at the end of the 18th century. During communist rule it fell into disrepair, but was restarted by the Jasdi family in 1998. The family had the cellars neo-baroque buildings restored to their original appearance. This award winning cellar now produces approximately 80,000 bottles of wine per year. Wine tourism is thriving like never before in the area.

Strand in Csopak, Hungary

A Day At the Strand in Csopak

A Day At The “Hungarian Sea”
Visitors also come to Csopak for its famous strand which offers one of the prime vacation spots along Lake Balaton’s northern shore.  The greenish tinged waters of Balaton seem to glitter and glow depending upon the angle of the sun. They act as a magnet to those longing for relaxation. Though the northern side of the lake is the deepest, it still only averages three meters (10 feet) in depth. The water is also a bit cooler, but visitors can still swim here for at least five months a year. In this landlocked nation, Lake Balaton affords Hungarians the opportunity to frolic in the “Hungarian Sea.” Hungarians greatly value “the Balaton” as they like to call it, more so due to the fact that they do not have any ocean or sea coastline. As the largest freshwater lake in the whole of Central Europe, Lake Balaton holds a special place in the hearts of Hungarians and Csopak is center stage for many in this love affair. It is easy to see why. A tough day at the beach is usually followed up with a visit to one of the many pinces (wine cellars). What could be more appealing than a frolic along the strand, followed by an evening spent with one of Balatonfüred’s exceptional wines.

Another Kind Of Memory – The Legacy of Tihany: History Stranger Than Truth

Perched on a hillside along the northern shore of central Europe’s largest lake, Balaton, is the picture perfect village of Tihany. The village stands on a peninsula that is home to an entire district that contains both literally and physically some of the deepest historic roots in Hungary.  This history is matched only by Tihany’s beautiful natural setting. In one direction, the greenish blue waters of Balaton expand outward until they blend into the horizon where water and sky meld into one. In the opposite direction, the volcanic Pecsely Basin is laced with vineyards and shimmering with greenery. Surrounded by this natural beauty, with a history that few places can match, it is easy to see why Tihany was designated Hungary’s first National park in 1952. This designation was a well-deserved recognition of Tihany’s beauty and importance, but the area in and around the village achieved its significance long before anyone knew or cared about national parks. Tihany predates modernity by almost a millennium. Its history is among the most ancient to be found concerning Hungary.

The Abbey Church in Tihany

The Abbey Church – occupies the most prominent setting in the village of Tihany

The Challenge of Paganism – Stephen I & Andrew I: Christianizing Hungary
Tihany is not subtle in its initial presentation to the visitor. The town’s most prominent architectural feature is also its tallest, the Baroque style Abbey Church. Its twin spired towers topped with gold crosses soar skyward. The church edifice stands upon one of the highest points of the peninsula. Its red roofed, blinding white facade commands an imposing position. The first time viewer immediately surmises that the church’s builders wanted to ensure that it was the focal point of the village. While the church itself only dates back to the 18th century, it is home to the remains of one of Hungary’s earliest monarchs, the 11th century ruler Andrew I (Andras I). He is the only Hungarian King still buried in the same place where he was first laid to rest. Considering the chaotic nature of Hungarian history the fact that the remains of Andrew I have remained in situ for over nine hundred years is a miracle in itself.

To understand the history of Andrew I’s reign is to understand the paradoxes of power politics that defined the early years of Christianity in the Hungarian Kingdom.  This story begins with the Arpad Dynasty and the successors of Hungary’s first King, Stephen I (Istvan I), who was crowned the first Christian King of Hungary in the year 1000. Stephen staked his reign and the future of the Hungarian Kingdom on western style Christianity. He had little tolerance for other beliefs or customs, which were based on pagan rituals. Paganism in 10th century was in effect, opposition to Stephen’s rule. Nonetheless, there were those who still disagreed with him.  One of those was Andrew I’s father Vazul, a Hungarian nobleman and cousin of Stephen. Vazul along with many Hungarians still paid homage to pagan customs. In 1037 he was caught plotting the murder of the Christian King.  Stephen for all his Christianizing ways was also a man of his time. He punished betrayal in the harshest manner possible. Stephen had Vazul’s eyes gouged out, hot molten lead poured in his ears and his three sons exiled. Andrew, the middle son, fled eastward into Kievan Rus.

The blinding of Vazul, father of King Andrew I

The blinding of Vazul, father of Andrew I

Luck, Strategy & Circumstance – Andrew I Takes The Throne
At this point, the question becomes how did a man of Andrew I’s lineage end up becoming the King of Hungary?  He was one of the least likely prospects to rule Hungary. The fact that he would build upon Stephen’s legacy of Christianization is nearly as improbable.  Several years after the death of Stephen, Hungarian clergymen arranged for Andrew to reenter the Kingdom. Stephen’s successor Peter was overthrown by a revolt of the pagans. The clergy were increasingly under attack. Andrew had credibility both with Christians and pagans. He successfully employed a strategy of playing both ends against the middle. Even though he was pro-Christian, Andrew was able to forge an agreement with the pagans. This led to his coronation in 1046. Paradoxically, once in power he continued the Christianizing ways of Stephen, the supreme ruler who had blinded Andrew’s father for among other things paganism.

Coronation of King Andrew I of Hungary

Coronation of King Andrew I of Hungary – from the Illuminated Chronicle

All this makes little sense unless one considers that history – not truth – is stranger than fiction and much more improbable. Almost anything is possible when it comes to human affairs. Innumerable examples from Hungarian history bear this out, including the reign of Andrew I. He came to the throne by luck, strategy and circumstance.  One of Andrew I’s most notable decrees was ordering an Abbey’s construction on the rocky promontory where the village of Tihany is located today. The first version of the Benedictine Abbey, was built here in 1055. The charter for construction of the abbey is just as important historically as the Abbey itself. It is the first historical document containing words written in Hungarian (the text is mostly in Latin). The Abbey was somehow able to survive the excesses of war and conquest in the ensuing centuries. It was even converted to a fortified stronghold during the Ottoman invasion. Amazingly it was never taken by the Turks. A new structure was built during the Baroque period. It was finished in 1754 and that is the church which stands on the site today.

Grave of King Andrew I

Grave of King Andrew I (1046 – 1060) at Tihany Abbey – still in its original placement (Credit: Andres Rus)

The Persistence of the Past– Tihany & Early Hungarian History
Tihany has gone from a place of meditation for monks to a modern tourist mecca for hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. The village’s spectacular setting is a magnetic draw. There is solace and solitude to be found in the remarkable beauty of the peninsula. Visitors to Tihany spend much of their time gazing over the waters of Lake Balaton and the bucolic wonder of the Pecsely Basin. It is these spectacular views which make the place so memorable, but another kind of memory is just as important here. This is the historical memory of early medieval Hungary and its effects on Tihany. The effects of which persist to this very day, most prominently at the Abbey Church.

When the World Turns Against You – Erdody Castle & the Lost World of Hungary’s High Aristocracy

The small village of Doba, northwest of Lake Balaton in western Hungary is home to the Erdody Castle.  A fine example of neo-classicism, the castle has the look and feel of a giant manor house. The bright white façade and stately exterior would look just as much at home in Western Europe as it does in a small Hungarian village. Is it any wonder that the designer was French? The castle, constructed between 1836 and 1839, was designed by Frenchman Charles Moreau a leader in classicist architecture. Moreau had been instrumental in the redesign of Schloss Esterhazy, still one of the grandest palaces in Austria today. The Erdody’s were friends – and social competitors – of the Esterhazy’s. They decided to co-opt Moreau to design their own residence at Doba. The result was splendid enough, but the grand façade can hide the humanity that used this palatial residence. Who exactly were the Erdody’s and what happened to them?  In short, they were one of the oldest and most noble families in the Kingdom of Hungary. Like so many aristocrats, the changes wrought by revolution and war over the past two centuries put an end to their immense wealth and fantastical lifestyle.

Aerial view of Erdody Castle

Aerial view of Erdody Castle (Credit: Civertan)

Land & Power – The Erdody’s Vast Wealth
The Erdody’s first obtained noble titles in the 15th century for service to the Kingdom of Hungary in what is today part of Croatia. In succeeding centuries they sided with the Habsburgs who came to rule over Hungary after the Ottoman Turks were thrown out in the late 17th century. The early Erdody’s fought with valor and courage against the Turks. They were richly rewarded for their loyalty by the Austrian royal family. They were given many large and fertile tracts of land.  As the 18th and most of the 19th centuries passed in peace, the Erdody’s became less warriors and more socially refined aristocrats. Their wealth and power was based upon vast landholdings. From the Middle Ages, up until the latter half of the 19th century, land was power. It was the principle means of securing wealth in central Europe. Prior to the industrial revolution those who controlled the land, held almost complete power over the people. Land owners were many levels above the masses of peasantry.

Large estate owners like the Erdody’s held an even more exalted status. They were the privileged elite. The country was run for their sake, not for the masses. Viewing the Erdody castle at Doba it is easy to imagine that this massive manor would have been more than enough of a home for an entire family. Yet it is shocking to discover that Erdody castle was meant to be used as a summer residence. In today’s terms this was just a vacation home. Obviously they don’t make holiday villas the way they used to. The castle was part of an entire complex that included 260 acres of landscaped gardens and woods. This was one of many estates the family owned, spread across what are today three separate countries, Hungary, Croatia and Austria.

Portrait of Joseph Haydn - musical genius & servant of the Esterhazy's and Erdody's (Credit: Ludwig Guttenbrunn))

Portrait of Joseph Haydn – musical genius & servant of the Esterhazy’s and Erdody’s (Credit: Ludwig Guttenbrunn))

The Erdody’s main use of these estates was to impress their fellow aristocrats. They were influenced by each other’s tastes and whims of fancy. This was not only an age of excess, but also of entitlement. The famous House of Esterhazy was a direct influence upon the Erdody’s. Besides sharing one of the same architects for their palaces and castles, the famous Esterhazy court musician Joseph Haydn also had patrons among the Erdody clan. He went so far as to compose an Erdody quartet. Haydn may have been a musical genius, but he owed his livelihood to the Erdody’s and Esterhazy’s of the world. These families were so rich and powerful that they even held men such as Haydn in virtual servitude.

The End of the Age of Entitlement
Like the Esterhazy’s though, the Erdody’s power declined as mass movements and radical upheaval took hold across much of Europe. The liberation of people and the liberation of land were in many ways inseparable. The industrial revolution freed many from the yoke of virtual serfdom, revolutions did the rest. For all their wealth, the Erdody’s of the world could not control the forces of change wrought by war. Men such as Istvan Erdody who mediated the historic Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867 and Tamas Erdody who was an aide to Emperor Karl IV, the final Habsburg Monarch, were forgotten in the maelstrom of social change. The Second World War proved to be the final death knell to the family’s glory in Hungary. The Erdody’s eventually fled westward, though this flight offered little refuge from the vicissitudes of war. The family palace in Vienna had to be demolished due to bomb damage. Meanwhile, in Hungary all of their wealth was expropriated by the Communist regime. They could not take their land with them, but at least they were able to escape with their lives. Then again, what is an aristocrat without landed estates? What is an aristocrat without servants, lavish balls and gilded chambers?

The village of Doba Hungary was once owned by the Erdody's - the family has vanished but the village remains

The village of Doba Hungary was once owned by the Erdody’s – the family has vanished but the village remains

Scores of Erdody heirs were left to answer those questions by the middle of the 20th century. Their answers have been less than resounding. The Erdody name has been all but forgotten. Like so many others who once owned most of Hungary and Central Europe, they have faded into anonymity and been swallowed by oblivion. The world of the Erdody’s is just as lost to us as that of the ancient Romans. Perhaps this is only fitting, this was a world that was only theirs, it was never meant for the rest of us. All that is left today are slowly crumbling castles and manor houses full of drafty rooms. Restoration may bring a structure back to a rough approximation of its former self, but it will never bring back the humanity that gave it life. The best that can be hoped for an Erdody castle today is to become an echo chamber for tourist’s footsteps or a fantasy fixer upper for modern day dreamers trying to reimagine the past. Imagination is a beautiful thing, but in comparison to Erdody castle’s fantastical past it would hardly come close to replicating the gilded reality of that lost world.

Erdody Castle today - now home to a psychiatric institution

Erdody Castle today – now home to a psychiatric institution

A Century Later & Gone Forever – The Lost World of Aristocracy
Today the Erdody castle is almost forgotten along with the village of Doba. The only residents at Erdody are psychiatric patients, as it is now used as a mental institution. Tourists do not yet ply its vast halls, but can still drive or walk up to the castle and have a look. Viewing the castle reminds us of an age that was so much different from our own. It is hard to imagine that age was alive and well only a hundred years ago. It is even harder to imagine that age is gone forever.

 

The National Park Idea & Hungarian Communism – Preservation, Destruction, Restoration & Protection

Hungarians are well known for their incredible feats of innovation. Many of which have been accomplished by those who emigrated abroad. Whether they left the country for economic or political reasons, numerous expatriate Hungarians have been able to achieve abroad, what they were unable to do at home. Looking back through Hungarian history, it seems as though this traffic has flowed one way and that movement has been outward. During the 20th century such scientific luminaries as Leo Szilard, Edward Teller and John Van Neumann transformed the world with their innovative ideas. Sadly they were not able to do it, in the land which they were born. Over the last century and a half, Hungary has been a net exporter of brilliance. By contrast, the list of foreigners who made their mark on Hungary is relatively small, especially if one cancels out invaders and occupiers. Yet ideas immigrate just like people do. Ideas transcend borders, as well as space and time. They are fluid, dynamic and expansive. The influence of an idea can alter the people and even the land. In the latter case it can also preserve it.

Tihany - protected as part of Hungary's first National Park (Credit: Civertan)

Tihany – protected as part of Hungary’s first National Park (Credit: Civertan)

The National Park Idea & Hungary
Speaking of the land, one idea that has vastly influenced the protection of landscapes was a relative late comer to Hungary. Nevertheless, this idea has left its mark on some of the most beautiful areas in the Carpathian Basin. This is the National Park idea. As so often recited in popular lore, the national park idea is a uniquely American concept. It began with Yellowstone National Park, in what is today northwestern Wyoming, designated as the first national park in the world. This occurred in 1872. Since that time national parks have been declared all across the globe.

Some say that national parks are the ultimate example of democracy, setting aside land for the public good. These protected areas are held in ownership by all of a nation’s citizenry to provide for the enjoyment of everyone, rich and poor, the famous and forgotten. This is diametrically opposite an idea that dominated central Europe for centuries on end. This was a concept of great landed estates owned by aristocrats and royalty. In Hungary, an elite group of landholders kept an iron grip on land ownership right up into the 20th century. According to historian Paul Lendvai in 1930 “2,400 great magnates owned more than 36 percent of the land; by contrast, 72.7 percent of the peasantry owned only 10 per cent of it.” Furthermore, nearly half of the 4.5 million peasants owned no land at all.  This state of affairs crumbled in an abrupt and radical manner as the communists took control of Hungary following World War II. The state became the primary land holder. Now the communists would decide patterns of land use, dispersion and protection.

Totalitarianism With A Democratic Twist
Strangely enough the national park idea in Hungary first arose under a dictatorial regime. Despite an ideological bent towards totalitarianism, a communist government was the first to set aside land in Hungary for protection as a national park. The irony of this goes without saying. A chiefly democratic idea (national parks) was imported from the foremost democratic society in the world (the United States) for use by a Communist regime. Adding to this bizarre paradox was the fact that it was done by the same communists who emphasized heavy industry. This policy had severe consequences for the degradation of Eastern Europe’s environment. If anyone believes the Hungarian communists were lovers of nature and protectors of the environment they might want to visit the abandoned factories of Miskolc to understand the true nature of their policies.

The communist land use policy was implemented in the most radical way possible, putting all land under public or it should be said, state control. Economically, industrially and agriculturally this was terribly inefficient, eventually turning into a disaster. Yet there are a few exceptions to every rule. In this case, the protection of amazing natural landscapes as national parks did begin and even expand during the communist era. This is quite counterintuitive, but makes it no less true. In 1952, at the height of the Stalinist era in Hungary, the nation’s first national park was designated. It protected the Tihany peninsula, on the northern side of Lake Balaton.

An abandoned factory in Miskolc - TherRemnants of a failed policy

An abandoned factory in Miskolc – TherRemnants of a failed policy

Destruction, Restoration & Protection – Communism & Kis-Balaton
Yet it was the same forces which offered a degree of protection to many of Hungary’s most significant natural areas that nearly destroyed them as well. Following the end of communism, this led to efforts for their restoration and protection. A good example of this also involves the Balaton area at Balaton Uplands National Park. The park was designated in 1997 from six protected areas north of Lake Balaton that encompass volcanic hills, rare flora, fauna and wetlands.

One area of the park in particular, Kis-Balaton (Little Balaton) first suffered and then benefited from Communist policies. Located on the far southwestern edge of the lake, Kis-Balaton is connected to Lake Balaton by the Zala River. At one time it was the bay of the larger lake, covering 40 square kilometers. The lake lost over half its water due to accelerated draining for irrigation purposes during the 1950’s in order to aid communist agricultural policy. To make matters much worse, pollutants dumped into the Zala River further contaminated the lake and nearly destroyed it in the process. Something had to be done. Though communist policy had caused almost all of the damage, restoration was begun while the party was still in power.

Kis-Balaton National Park (Credit: Civertan)

Kis-Balaton National Park (Credit: Civertan)

The Best Idea – Saving Kis-Balaton, Saving Hungary
In 1979 the area was placed under the International Ramsar Convention for the protection and sustainable use of wetlands. This led to the protected wetlands that exist there today. Vast reed beds are a life force purifying water that eventually flows into Lake Balaton. The sights and sounds of numerous bird species are readily apparent. Thousands upon thousands of herons, egrets and geese stop here on their annual migrations. The resurrection of this globally significant ecological environment is a striking example of what conservation can achieve in the span of a single generation. The National Park idea has been used here to achieve a level of protection that can mitigate the worst excesses of the Communist ideology. It is enough to make one believe that the delicate balance of nature can be restored.  It is also enough to make one believe that democratic ideas like the National Parks cannot only save the environment, but also Hungary.

A Liquid Wilderness – Light & Darkness at Balatonfured

Balatonfured is the kind of place that makes you wish you were born there. There is something about this town set on the sloping hills north of Lake Balaton that seems to fill visitors with happiness. Perhaps it is the bluish green water of Lake Balaton, expansive and alluring with a hypnotic quality. No wonder this place was a magnet for convalescents. Water has made the town what it is today; a resort, a place of healing and a refuge for relaxation. Walking along the lakefront promenade, it is hard to imagine that winter ever occurs here. Perhaps in some alternate universe the lake does freeze. Locals have even been known to skate figure eights in the dead of winter on Hungary’s largest seasonal sheet of ice. This is exceedingly hard to fathom on bright and sunny days. Of even greater difficulty, is trying to imagine the darkness that on one notable occasion cast a shadow over these beautiful shores. Balatonfured has not always been a place of fun and frolic. It also has been consumed by tragedy. This place has a history much like Hungary’s, of light and darkness.

A Spa Town – Nursing the Nation Back to Health
The tidy streets and colorful buildings bright dispositions literally beam. Visitors stroll around in a languid, unhurried pace. Here at Balatonfured life is to be enjoyed. The town and its accompanying shoreline have cast a spell on visitors for well over two centuries. Balatonfured was designated a spa town in 1772, the first of many that came to line the shores of Central Europe’s biggest lake. From that point onward, its popularity began to grow, especially with intellectuals, artists and political elites. They came to soak in the waters, not only of Balaton, but also of the sulfurous springs just beneath the town’s surface. The healing qualities of Balatonfured’s mineral springs soon became legendary.

Famed Hungarian novelist Mor Jokai arrived here in 1862 at the age of 37 suffering from a life threatening case of chronic bronchitis. Magically, the soothing mineral waters of Balatonfured nursed him back to health. His already prolific literary output soared in the years following that first visit. He would soon rise to even greater fame. It was only a decade after his initial visit to Baltonfured that he authored “Az Arany Ember” (The Golden Man), whose translation was said to be Queen Victoria’s favorite novel. Jokai decided to take up residence in the town. He spent many more productive days in this refreshing environment. Today visitors can see The Jokai Memorial House where they can learn more about the man who is known as the “Hungarian Dickens.” Insight can be gained into the life of a man who produced thousands of pages of popular literature after settling here.

Monument to the Pajtas disaster that stands on the Balatonfured promenade

Monument to the Pajtas disaster that stands on the Balatonfured promenade

A Tragedy of Indifference – The Pajtas Disaster
Down by the promenade, close to one of the docks where waterfowl flock and float to the shoreline, a small monument looms. It is a testament to the fact that even in the sunniest of climes danger looms. A lone arm with five outstretched fingers is attached to a stone block. The hand seems to coax the viewer forward, as though it were alive and pleading for assistance. This is a sad reminder of one of the darkest moments to occur in the waters of Lake Balaton.

On May 30, 1954 the steamship Pajtas was traveling on the lake carrying 178 passengers. They were intensely watching a sailing competition. While attempting to get a closer look at the sailboats scurrying past, the passengers all went to one side of the ship. Their combined weight caused the boat to overturn. Suddenly passengers were flailing in the water. Emergency response was all, but nonexistent. Personal flotation devices and life boats were nowhere to be found. The accident led to numerous fatalities from drowning. Crowds standing along the far away shore line were reported to have heard screams and cries. They were unable to offer any assistance, as they stood helpless, watching the tragedy unfold.

Liquid Wilderness
The total number of victims is still not known today. Estimates range from twelve – given by communist news sources trying to cover up the tragedy at the time – to over forty counted by a first-hand witness. No matter what the number, the fact that the story was hushed up is a striking example of official indifference. Communism was supposed to be for the people, in reality it was often against them. The monument on the shoreline is a reminder that Balaton for all its beauty is not any ordinary lake. It may be alluringly, entrancingly beautiful, but it is also a liquid wilderness. Storms have been known to sweep across its waters with stunning and deadly swiftness. Balaton has the power to cast darkness as well as radiate light. Those who seek refuge along its beautiful shores would do well to keep this in mind.

This essay along with many others on the history and culture of Hungary can now also be found in the ebook: A Touch of Imagination: An Intelligent Traveler’s Guide to Hungary