Resting adjacent to the Danube River lies the city of Óbuda, home to 2,000-year-old Roman ruins as well as modern coffee shops and cafes. As one enters the main square, this contrast is illustrated by colorful, modern seating arrangements, set against the surrounding historical buildings.
Sitting high and center in the square is the beautiful City Hall with its bright colored flowers and door. Today, this beautiful front houses the mayor and is used regularly for weddings and other events. Yellow walls, teal doors and pink roses immediately draw one’s attention to this historical monument. Vibrant colors layer together like the eras of history – complimenting and contrasting all at once.
The concurrence of history and present day times is further depicted by the modern coffee shop resting next to the historical City Hall. Formal and long-established institutions such as government and marriage sit hand-in-hand with modern crazes such as new-age coffee, gluten-free pastries and IKEA’s hanging bulb light shades. Contrast upon contrast work seamlessly together as the distinction between Óbuda and Buda is reduced to nothing more than a letter.
The coffee shop, located inside of the travel information center, brought me back to Waco, back to Common Grounds. In the midst of historical landmarks and thousand-year-old cobblestones, I sit in a coffee shop eerily similar to the ones back home. Lattes, macchiatos, mochas and more are etched into the chalkboard menu. Pies, cookies and gluten-free brownies make my mouth water as they stare back at me from their glass encasement. I will always find my home in a coffee shop, but I felt overwhelmed by the drastic shift in culture as I walked from the city’s square into the shop. In a matter of steps, I was able to travel through hundreds of years of culture. Ripples of foam in my coffee illustrating the ripples in time running deep through the roots of Óbuda.
One of my favorite statues of our day in the city was the man sitting at a table, right outside of the shop. Here, he beckoned me to take a seat in the empty chair beside him. I felt pulled to sit next to him and couldn’t explain why. Yes, my legs were tired and it was hot — but the pull seemed irresistible. When I asked our guide, María, to explain the statue, she simply stated the man was a famous writer named Gyula Krúdy.
“He loved to eat good food, drink good coffee and wine, and write his pieces while doing so.” Now I understand the draw to this sculpted metal: this man and I were connected by our love of good cuisine and drinks, and our passion for creative writing.
As we turned the corner, we met several more statues, these depicting women in waiting, all holding umbrellas. The solemn facial expressions on each woman’s face told the story of Hungary in one simple look of expectancy. Between the ages, Hungary has faced battle after battle. Even when it became its own free nation, Hungary had most of its land taken and fell under the socialist regime. These statues express the longing in each Hungarian’s heart for better times.
The sculptures depict women, standing in the storm, awaiting escape. In Hungary, the population was in the midst of communism’s storm of oppression, awaiting freedom. After happier moments in the coffee shop, these statues remind us of the ever-present memories of the communist regime that ended just 30 years prior.
Just as the city of Óbuda depicts the cultural differences across the centuries, our next stop illustrated those differences between the living generations today. While the older generation typically dwells on recent history and has hearts filled with the struggles of communism, the younger generation is freer, happier and less worried about what has happened in their nation’s past.
Our group passed an outdoor track and workout facility. María commented that “the younger generation is less worried about political regimes and more focused on individual health and happiness.” Next to the outdoor fitness center was a school playground filled with smiling children. The second our group walked by, young boys ran over to say “szia, ”and smile through the playground’s fence. These smiles were free, gentle and unafraid, a signal of hope and peace in the years to come.
Our final stop in Óbuda was to the Knights of Malta homeless shelter. After seeing the smiling, hopeful faces of children who are living in freedom, we enter into a building full of individuals who have been chained in the captivity of poverty as a result of the regime change. In 1989, when Hungary switched its political regime from communist to democratic, many individuals were left unable to find jobs and a place to live.
In socialist times, everything was distributed down from the government. Even when it wasn’t luxurious, it was equal. Then, after the change, those with power and land were able to move up, and those without were left with nothing. Knights of Malta is a Christian facility seeking to alleviate poverty, help the homeless and provide jobs for those who desire to work. Walking inside, I could feel my heart warm with love and compassion for the so-called “clients” living here.
After a tour of the facility, our group of 12 students studying in Budapest were able to make sandwiches for the clients and sit with them to talk. This quickly turned into a “sing-off” as our group sang American gospel songs and the clients reciprocated with Hungarian classic anthems. The room was filled with laughter, tears and many prayers.
After the singing came to an end, we were able to ask and answer questions with the people there, an experience unlike any other. María translated the questions and answers back and forth. It was overwhelming to see the different views of politics, homelessness and education between America and Hungary.
The day ended after our group sang Baylor’s alma mater and we said our many goodbyes. With our hearts broken and yet also filled, we returned back to Budapest and left a piece of our spirits there in the Old Buda City. As the name of our website alludes, historical, economical, social, linguistic and political gaps were bridged by the conversations and experiences we had in the wonderful, quaint and incredible city of Óbuda.