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07-11-2011 – Lake Balaton, Hungary

Southern Sky Adventures: 07-11-2011 – Lake Balaton, Hungary

Spent the last 5 days here on the shores of Lake Balaton in Hungary near the Austrian border. How might one have arrived at such a destination, and again, how might this journey be of consequence to those people who read this blog for its African content?
Last question first – the historical context is of consequence given this part of the world was held under Soviet occupation from the end of WWII until the Iron Curtain fell in 1989.

During the second half of the Cold War, the Soviets made efforts far and wide to spread the dark footprint of communism eventually sending troops, armaments and supplies to the communist guerrillas working to over throw the governments of South West Africa (now called Namibia), South Africa, Southern Rhodesia (now called Zimbabwe), Northern Rhodesia (now called Zambia) as well as Mozambique. Half a world away the brutal rule of communism was a real threat to the lives and welfare of everyday Africans. Most all communist guerillas in Africa who sent on to victory and the eventual overthrow of the colonial power eventually formed communist or socialist regimes sympathetic to the men governing from the Politburo in Moscow. Current president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, was backed by the Soviet Union and despite the eventual dissolution of the USSR, Mugabe remains in power some 31 years after his inaugural victory. The brutality of Mugabe and his henchmen has been (finally) the subject on international attention.
Without the Soviet Union there would have been no Robert Mugabe and without the Soviet Union the citizens of Hungary would have been free from 1945 – 1989. The Soviet footprint spread into forming the communist government of Mozambique in the early 1970’s, as well, eventually pushing the country into a 20 year civil war not resolved until about 15 years ago.

So, how did we get here, to Lake Balaton? Turns out my mother’s (Dutch raised) Hungarian friend from Bradford College in Boston in 1957, Eva Kapel-Fronius owns a house here with her husband, Georg Goztanyi. My mother and Eva have remained friends all these many years and Eva had invited my mother and me out to visit.

The personal story of the Goztanyis is a rich one indeed. Eva came to Boston shortly after the failed Hungarian Revolution to overthrow the Soviets in 1956. Eva was sponsored by an American family, the Gambles in Boston, to come study in the US. She showed up as a freshman at the now closed Bradford Junior College, along with my mother. The student body was fewer than 400 with very few foreigners so the two became good friends. Eva stayed on longer than my mother after my father eventually met and married my mother in 1958.

Yet the bond remained true after Eva returned to her native Hungary in 1961 after she also spent a year and a half in Geneva. Living under communism was a terrible plight as standards of living fell and the quality of life gradually eroded. With two boys to care for, Eva and Georg (married in 1966) were at the mercy of what was provided in the Soviet ruled country. All necessities were is short supply versus that what we understand as basic products and services in the west. To help with her clothing needs, my mother used to box up our family’s older clothes, as well as buy new clothes, and send the packages over to Hungary.

Georg went on to become a successful and well trained MD/PhD in neurology, eventually being offered a one year position in the science department of the Frei University in Berlin. Leaving to take positions outside the Soviet bloc countries was not common or often allowed during this time, especially if the entire family were to leave. The Soviets were fearful they would not come back and often required that some family members stay behind to insure that those leaving would return. On this occasion the government allowed Eva, Georg and their 2 boys to leave for Berlin. It was then that the Goztanyi’s decided not to return to Hungary – quite a traumatic decision to leave one’s parents, brothers, sisters and friends behind with the thought you may never see them again. Quite a worried state of mind indeed. Something we westerners have a hard time understanding but must work to feel the sacrifice.

Neither Georg nor Eva was able to return to Hungary until shortly before the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. They did return in 1988 for the first time and then again with regularity ager 1989.
The Lake
Lake Balaton is about 50 miles in length and about 3- 4 miles in width and sits about an hour and a half’s drive from Budapest. The lake has become a weekend retreat for many of the people living in and around Budapest. The south side of the lake sits at the base of a line of extinct small volcanic hills, some rising as much as 1,200 feet above sea level. The water depth drops a bit quicker on the south side and it is here in the village of Balacsony where Eva and Georg built their home about one third of the way up the Balacsony flat mountain top at 17 Szolohegyi ut.

What a view from their house! Behind us rose the hills of the volcanic outcrop and there laid out below us was the lake, large and wide, filled with sailboats and swimmers. From a distance the water took on a more bright blue or turquoise color, much like the lakes in Switzerland. Georg spent his youth traveling here to Lake Balaton with his family and friends.
The house was plenty big with 3 bedrooms at the top level and one on the main floor. The rocks to build the home were all taken from the property after the existing old structure was torn down. Outside lay a large patio with retaining walls and garden. The homestead looked like it had been there for a hundred years.

We took a half day trip to see Festetics Palace and the Balaton Museum.
As well as the Tihany Abbey

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