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A past future? — 2 Comments

  1. Going off on a tangent….
    A few weeks after crossing into East Berlin via Checkpoint Charlie, I found myself walking towards the Hungarian border from Austria. We’d been kicked off the train a the last stop in Austria for not having a visa.
    It was a beautiful sunny day, and on either side of the road, sunflowers shone as far as the eye could see. But as we tramped along towards the Iron Curtain, we began to seen signs of the frontier. First a watch tower, from which a distant guard was shouting. With Cold War memories and tales of young Germans shot at the Berlin Wall fresh in our minds, we were somewhat anxious. We’d no idea what the guard wanted, too faint to hear him whatever language he was speaking. So I waved my passport, which from that distance could have been anything. Then we slowly walked on, and he didn’t shoot us.
    Further along, across the sunflowers, we saw the border. Picture the fence from The Great Escape where Steve McQueen entangles his motorbike. More trepidation. We finally reach the border post.
    Through it, we can see stretching out of site, a long long line of stationary small cars, seemingly waiting to cross the border the other way. No movement in the line. Not a single car had passed us coming from Hungary that afternoon.
    Who were they? Hundreds and hundreds of East Germans trying to get to the West. Soon after Hungary opened the gates to let them out and thereby opened the floodgates for the demise of the German Democratic Republic.
    I, however, was delighted to get in. The Hungarian border guards and military were so friendly and welcoming, far more so than almost the entire population of Austria we’d encountered. It was a relief to escape Austria and arrive in Hungary.
    There was no railway nearby, so a car was commandeered to take us to the nearest town, where we were set up with a bed for the night. before leaving the border post we hada long discussion about we to go in Hungary, nightclubs and the like. The animated discussion was marred only by the fact that the only word of English the most cosmopolitan guard knew was “superb”, whereas I knew how to say, in Hungarian: “I don’t understand Hungarian.” One guard was the spit of a Mayo cousin of mine. It was all very jolly, and a perfectly appropriate welcome to a country where everyone, almost without exception, was hospitable. (We met the exceptions working in the tourist office when we finally made it to Budapest.)
    Since then I’ve always had a soft spot for Hungarians.

  2. I had forgotten, until last night’s documentary, that the Hungarians had dismantled their section of the Iron Curtain in May 1989.

    I’ve always found the Austrians very friendly – but I’ve been mainly in the Tyrol. I think they have felt for a long time that they were at the frontline and without protection – they were not NATO members.

    The fear is manifest in their voting patterns with large support for neo-Fascist parties (in the little village I’ve visited for a week during the past three Januarys, I tried last January to work out which one person in every three had voted for the extreme Right).

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