Saturday, 2 July 2011

My Moskva tér

What was yours?

Yesterday I posted on Facebook –

Dear, scruffy Moscow Square has been renamed Széll Kálmán tér, after a long-forgotten Hapsburg Prime Minister, a change not popular, even with nationalist Jobbik Party. 
the square will be physically redeveloped too:

I added –

It would be nice to think that redevelopment would include some aknowledgement of the terrible events of the failed German-Hungarian breakout of the beseiged Budapest garrison, from 11 to 15 February 1944. Some seventeen thousand died, mainly between Széll Kálmán tér and Hűvösvölgyi in the first six hours. When it was over, the square was piled with bodies, in pyres several metres high.
Nor should it be forgotten that one of the armies' attempted escape routes beyond the square was past the hospital and up the Kútvölgyi út hill, where the present Pető Institute stands. Terrible things happened there too.

I was drawing upon the British edition of Krisztián Ungváry's Budapest Ostroma. Once I had read this, I was never able to look at or even think of the square and that area of Buda to the West of it, that had once seemed such a careless stomping ground, in quite the same way again. Or of Hungary.

What was Moszkva tér to me?

I may not now see Moszkva tér again (sorry, Széll Kálmán tér) and I accept that the world has to move on and to change. Here, though, are some of the general associations that mention of the name Moszkva tér evokes in me, and will continue to live on in my mind even when swept away from the world of reality (as some already have been):
  • stumbling across broken pavements and roadways
  • little bent old ladies selling bunches of snowdrops
  • vagrants and ne'er-do-wells, the beggers and hucksters
  • continuous surges of people out of the Metro
  • weary-looking people, going early to their first work of the day; weary-looking people going home late from their last
  • the huge bus-tram interchange
  • the astonishing tangle of tram tracks, bus route and pedestrians
  • that grotty little market, with its wonderful fresh vegetables and wild mushrooms, and arrays of second-hand shoes
  • Trafik, ticky-tacky shops
  • rough-and-ready food-to-go, langos
  • in my earlier days there, the great red star shining atop the Central Post Office
  • and also in those earlier days, the heavy-duty plod in their blue leather-look greatcoats, giving hard looks to anyone seeming to need one (and that seemed just about everyone, me included)
  • the tiny one-room basement shop selling stamps and old postcards
  • Devény Anna's movement alapitvany, in a house near the end
  • that wonderful pince bar selling strong Austrian beer and hearty steaks
When you came up the long, long ecalator from the Metro and joined the bustle in the square, somehow it seemed more like a 'real Hungary' than the sort of places in Budapest that a foreigner usually saw. I wonder whether this will survive.


Andrew Sutton's Facebook page
Ungváry, K. (2002) Battle for Budapest: one hundred days in World War II, London, Tauris, 2002
A lot of this book is on line, through Google Books:
I had wanted to link here specifically to pages 179 to 187 for first-hand accounts of the start of the break-out across the square and the struggle up Kútvölgyi út, but Sod's Law decrees that those pages are not available on line.

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