Budapest was my first “real” Danube experience, and it was so fun to see the river that has so many stories associated. There are six bridges over the Danube in Budapest, and each one has its own unique character.
I loved just walking up and down the river and exploring. I even took to taking some morning runs out along the Danube. Seriously, there is nothing in the world quite like having your morning run on the Danube. The people who live there are so lucky! (Though it did remind me of morning runs along Bayshore – and there’s nothing quite like that either! I’ll be happy to be home. 🙂 )
The buildings along the river are exactly what you’d imagine for a European capital. They’re a good mix of old and newer, and each one just reinforces the character of the city. There are wide walking paths along the river, and the whole city is very pedestrian-friendly.
The bridge closest to my hostel was the Liberty Bridge and it’s one of the two more intricate bridges in Budapest. It was the first one I walked over, and it was just a fun introduction in my first few hours in the city. I’d just gotten off of the overnight train from Brasov, so getting to then walk over the Danube was a great experience.
The best-known bridge is the Chain Bridge – it was the first bridge connecting Buda and Pest, and it was designed by the same architect who did the Schzenyi Baths. Apparently the story is that he thought it was the most perfect bridge ever designed and built (and it IS gorgeous) and he challenged anyone to find fault with it.
Someone pointed out the the lions guarding either side don’t have tongues, and apparently he committed suicide over it! The bridge goes straight to the bottom of Buda Castle, so the views of the castle next to the river are just fun to stand and look at.
Along the river, one memorial that just stopped me in my tracks was called “Shoes Along the Danube” and is a collected of bronze shoes just standing on the banks of the river. In the last days before WWII ended, the Jews remaining in Budapest were rounded up and summarily shot so their bodies would fall into the river and be washed away.
I cannot even imagine that, and the empty shoes on the river stand in memorial to those who lost their lives that day. As there’s so much discussion in the States about Confederate memorials and what’s a memorialization of history versus a celebration of poor choices, this memorial spoke to me.
It spoke about remembering the men, women, and children who lived and then died there, and was a potent reminder of that past. I did not, however, see any statues or memorials to those who did the shooting. I think, to me, that’s the difference between remembering the past and celebrating the poor parts of it.
In the city from the river, there’s a new memorial that also caught me. It was a statue of Germany’s imperial eagle swooping down on the archangel Gabriel, symbolizing Hungary’s innocence, and was erected to memorialize what happened in Hungary ini WWII. In the way the eagle is swooping down, it made it seem like Hungary was simply a victim in all that the Nazis did. Also, the whole thing is odd – the statue was actually erected in the middle of the night, has never been officially inaugurated, and doesn’t seem to have a real name, as far as I can tell.
So in front of that statue, there sprung up a protest memorial. And it’s powerful. There are signs that talk about the importance of not rewriting history, and that Hungary was not innocent in all that happened in the war. The signs mention them being one of the first and strongest allies of Hitler’s, and how many citizens helped with rounding up the Jews and other undesirables. There are stories of people’s parents who were killed in the death camps, and some people have brought things like suitcases used to pack up belongings.
It’s an incredible testament to free speech and the power of truth that these two monuments can exist side by side. It made me admire the Hungarians so much, and especially those who chose to have the protest memorial to not shy away from their part in history. It’s still controversial, and I feel lucky to have seen the protest memorial next to the official one – it’s a vision that will be in my head for quite some time.