Touring Religion

Trip Start Jul 08, 2013
Trip End Aug 06, 2013

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Flag of Hungary  ,
Monday, July 22, 2013

First thing this morning I went to the cathedral. Lovely. Gold. Paintings. A mummified fist. I climbed the 400+ stairs to the tower, where my breath was stolen by the beauty below. I am so lucky! 

Afterward, I went to the old Jewish part of town. It was turned into a ghetto during soviet occupation, where ten thousand Jewish people froze and/or starved to death in the winter of 1944. Those who didn't have the pleasure of losing their lives this way, may have been shot or drowned in the Danube. To save bullets, soldiers would tie a group of people together, shoot one person, and throw the lot off the bridge so they were pulled down by the corpse.
Now this area is hipster central, like the Mission District in San Francisco. There are artisan shops, cafes and bars called Ruin Bars, that are the happening place to be after dark. They spring up among the ruins of old buildings. 
I walked down to the Dohány Street Synagogue, which is the largest in Europe and fifth largest in the world. Built between 1854 and 1859, it is of Moorish design and resembles a basilica, complete with stained glass windows, pews, an altar, pulpit, and even a pipe organ.
In the back garden, the original plan was to make a meditation pool, where people could  and contemplate God with serenity. Before that plan could be carried out, however, the city was occupied by the Soviets during the harsh winter of 1944. Thousands of Jews were collected and sent to various camps in the area. 70,000 Jews remained in Budapest, and were forced to live in the crowded ghetto. Due to cold conditions and lack of food, the streets began to become littered with the dead. The people stored the corpses in the courtyard area to stay until the ground thawed so that they could be buried.  Most were moved to a cemetery, but 2000 are buried here, in14 mass graves. There are headstones circling the perimeter and a tree sits on top of each mass grave. 
I burst into tears at this very human, organic memorial. The atrocities across eastern Europe were monumental, and this was such a real testament to the grief and strong community that carried on with dignity and grace. After I pulled myself together, I went to the back garden, where you can find several sculptures commemorating the same loss. One is a weeping willow metal tree, on which silver leaves, each embossed with a victim's name, dance and glint in the wind. 
After the synagogue, I explored the area and happened upon an artisan fair! There was a whole alley full of booths, while in the squares people played live music. I found a copper ring and a leather bag! Support your local artists!

Closer to the Danube, there is a chilling memorial to those forced into the Danube. Dozens of bronze shoes sit along the wall, all facing the water. The shoes are of all types and sizes. Some had flowers or candles inside.

I got lost AGAIN on the way back. I'm telling you, I have so had it with getting lost! Today I swore under my breath as I circled around the city for an hour or two, on noisy streets hot as Satan's skillets, with throngs of sweaty people loaded down with crappy souvenirs. I somehow ended up right back at that synagogue, where I exclaimed - too loudly - WHAT THE HELL?! before heading back to my sweet apartment.
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