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Monday, December 29, 2014

Vienna & Andau

We are having a lovely time in Budapest. Our wedding anniversary was on December 24, and Judith’s birthday on the 26. With an approved serendipity, I decided that we would go to Vienna to
Palais Coburg
celebrate the birthday and booked an overnight stay at Palais Coburg. It is just a short 2 ½ hour drive to Vienna, and we arrived mid afternoon. Although here many times, we walked the inner city, Stephensplatz, the Kärntner Strasse; and then out to the Ring and had cappuccinos at the Imperial hotel before returning to the Coburg.
The added treat of this visit was dinner at Silvio Nickol’s 2-starred Michelin restaurant. The five course set menu was wonderful, as well as the perfect wine pairings. This restaurant is clearly a “chef’s restaurant;” food and flavor are everything. Therefore, one must discount the lackluster decor and the youthful front of house staff. To be sure, they are well educated to a fault, from the best schools and
Menu - Silvio Nickol
all possessing impeccable CVs. But their adolescence lacked a certain gray-haired gravitas and the worry lines of experience I’ve come to enjoy in my maître d’. But only a fool would comment or complain about these things.

After a restful night we spent the brisk morning visiting the iconic Karkskirche and the Secession Building, Olbrich’s 1897 architectural manifesto for the Vienna Secession movement. The Klimt friezes remain magnificent. It was then on to the lively
Jugendstil Apartment detail
Naschmarkt and the few remaining Otto Wagner Jugendstil apartments. We were back to the hotel by noon and checked out.

We had one more stop to make on our way back.

While in Budapest, a friend lent me his copy of “The Bridge at Andau” by the Pulitzer Prize winning James Michener. One of this prolific writer’s lesser know works of non-fiction, it is a vivid account of the horrors of Hungary’s 1956 Revolution. In the late autumn of 1956 Michener found himself in the Austrian border village of Andau, as nearly 70,000 Hungarians escaped to the west over this rickety conduit crossing the Einser Canal, a few miles north of Kapuvár in Hungary. Through many hundreds of interviews, Michener stitched together composites to narrate this tragic story that started on Tuesday evening, October 23, 1956. It is a tail of frustration, bravery, betrayal, terror, barbarity – ending weeks later on November 11.
Michener’s style is almost journalistic, an account that is “in the moment”; and he is prescient in some of his conclusions. He writes: “In this book I propose to tell the story of a terror so complete as to be deadening to the senses…I am absolutely convinced that the yearning for freedom which motivates the Hungarians will operate elsewhere within the Soviet orbit with results that we cannot now foresee.” Michener saw the brutal crushing of the Hungarian uprising by the Russians to have forever pulled back the curtain from the false promise of communism. He knew then that November 9, 1989 was coming, he just didn’t know exactly when, or exactly where. I recommend this short work in spite of the rather longwinded philosophizing of the last two chapters.

After reading it, Judith and I visited some of the battle sites within Budapest including the Radio Station off Bródy Sándor utca, scene of the first shootings; Corvin ter, with its circular theatre; and
Corvin Ter
across Űllöi ut to the Kilian Barracks where the freedom fighters staged their last stand. I was very surprised by how modest the memorials to this horrific event were.

Our trip home from Vienna east on the A4 allowed us to detour about a half hour south to the town of
Brücke von Andau - 1956
Andau, and then another nine miles further south to the marshy fields near the bridge and canal. The original bridge was blown up by the Russians after their discovery of the escape route, but it was restored close to its original design in 1996.
The site dripped with memory; hopes both fulfilled and extinguished. It was well worth the diversion, as I was reminded
Brücke von Andau 
once again how lucky I was to be born when and where I was.

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