By: Blonde Two
Those people who say things; say that new experiences are good for you. I hope that this is true because last week this Blonde who loves hills and wide open spaces found herself in the middle of Budapest surrounded by tall crumbling buildings, murals and busy streets.
To be more precise (I can’t give you a grid reference, because I would have been lost without the street skills of some friends) I was in Pest; on the other side of the Danube (which was blueish) to Buda. Our apartment was in the Jewish Quarter to be exact; a place so steeped in history and character that you would really have to spend a couple of days there to appreciate it.
Budapest’s Jewish Quarter is a seemingly unending grid of narrow streets, towering department blocks, crumbling frescos and unnerving cellars. It sounds disturbing, and to some extent it was, especially as we arrived straight into the hustle and bustle of a street market. The disturbance though, turned out to be part of the attraction; there was so much to take in that you could walk the same street three times a day and see different things each time.
The sense of history in Pest’s Jewish Quarter is so strong that it pervades your dreams (at least it did mine). During the Nazi occupation of Hungary, it was a controlled ghetto into which Jews were rounded up before their deportation to concentration camps on the Austrian border. Budapest’s Jewish population of 200,000 souls was reduced to 70,000 in this manner. The ghetto was sealed, no food was allowed in and no waste (including the dead) was allowed out.
You have to admire the tenacity of the Hungarian people (especially the young people of today). The Jewish Quarter is now (whilst not ‘pretty’ and often threatened with demolition) the centre of an emerging night and street culture. Buildings that were previously condemned have been taken over and furnished with an eclectic range of rejected furniture from all kinds of locations. They are now cafes, craft beer cellar bars and ‘Ruinpubs’; and are a fascinating assault on the senses.