Budapest old and new, and a cafe that looks like a palace

Budapest old and new

I liked Budapest on my first visit in October, but coming back a second time added depth and some significant variety to my experience. I heard a wide spectrum of political opinions about the current government and the upcoming elections. I was confirmed by some colleagues in my suspicion that public buildings get the most elaborate makeovers for political reasons – the election is coming up in April, and the renovations are expected to be done in time for that. Some of the people I met – all intelligent, thoughtful people – support or at least “can sympathize” (a quote) with the current prime minister and believe the western media has demonized him as a right-wing fanatic; others think the western media has it right, and that there has been a dangerous tilt to the right in the name of nationalism. Given recent upheavals in the Ukraine and other eastern European countries, Hungary will be a very important country to watch in the near future.

During this trip I was exposed again to juxtapositions of new and old, but had a better sense of both the variety and the stratification of socio-economic classes in Budapest.
Budapest Old and New

This elegant café, with its live piano player, is as opulent as anything to be found in Habsburg Vienna – maybe moreso, with its elaborate gothic windows and gold-leaf carvings and ceiling paintings.
Budapest ceiling and windows cafe

I also had the chance (I splurged) to stay in a 5-star hotel at 3-star New York prices, choosing from a list the analysts provided for me as being convenient to the Psychoanalytic Institute’s location. I stayed in the Corinthia, which by coincidence or synchronicity, was the old Royal Hotel where Ferenczi actually lived for several years, as did many artists and intellectuals in early 20th century Budapest.
Budapest Ferenczi Corinthia hotel staircase
I got a real sense of the cultural and intellectual renaissance that was going on in Budapest at the same time as in Vienna, and a taste of an elegant fin-de-siècle world that was crushed, like all of eastern Europe during WWII and the subsequent Soviet occupation and later capitalist corruption (which apparently persists to this day). In places like my hotel, catering to international business people and wealthy tourists, it’s possible to relive a bit of the elegance of old prewar Budapest – and I confess that I really enjoyed being pampered there! The major downside to such tourist places is that it’s actually quite possible to remain somewhat insulated from the poorer realities of Budapest. Once in the hotel room, one could be anywhere in the world where such posh oases exist. I appreciated having stayed with our Columbia seminary colleagues on my first trip, and visiting Judit’s flat this time, so that I was able to experience what “real life” is like for a variety of people at different stages of their lives and careers. I was able to have breakfast with Eszter once more before I returned to Vienna, caught up on the news of her family and close church friends (the pastor Zoltan’s son contracted Hanta virus or some other mysterious infection and was in a coma, but fortunately will recover). I was happy to hear that Eszter is now licensed to prepare for ordination, and is serving what in the Anglican tradition we would call a curacy, in Dunavarsany.

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About pcooperwhite

Christiane Brooks Johnson Professor of Psychology and Religion, Union Theological Seminary, New York NY
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