The Dohany Street Great Synagogue was near my hotel, so it was my last stop on my trip into the past. It had started to rain pretty well, but we were shepherded inside the great synagogue and out of the rain. Our tour began promptly, with a historical introduction to the religious house.
The Synagogue was built and opened between 1849-1859. It has an interesting mix of Catholic and Moorish influence in its style and decoration. The massive organ is the most innovative thing – the Orthodox churches don’t accept it. I think I heard that it has 500+ pipes! Outside of the synagogue in New York City, this is the second largest in the entire world. That is something!
She told us that 25 Torah scrolls were saved during Holocaust; they were buried by Catholic priests in Christian cemetery to protect them from destruction. About half of the Jewish population was killed in the Holocaust. The tragedy hung over the courtyard like a pall. Rows of small graves commemorated the mass grave of Jewish citizens that had been interred there.
The Holocaust Memorial was a beautiful sight. There was a stained glass window designed by a Holocaust survivor in the garden, one whose flames symbolized the destruction of the people and the renewal of spirits. The grey flames symbolized the Nazi oppression. The light in the upper corner symbolized hope and faith – eternal life after the darkness.
However, the most heart-rending sight was the metallic Tree of Life. It was a weeping willow, steel twisted and twined together and covered with cold drops of rain. On the willow leaves, names have been etched into the thin pieces, names of victims and names of those who never came back.
Raoul Wallenberg had a memorial here as well, a man who has been called “Righteous Among the Nations” for his humanitarian work in rescuing thousands of Jews by falsifying papers that allowed them to stay on undetected. His death was still disputed – some say he died in a Soviet camp n the 1947 and others say that he lived for much longer in Russia. Either way, he was a man who stuck to his principles and rescued many people.
This was the end of my tour into Holocaust and Soviet-era history. It had been a mentally and emotionally exhausting day. The only thing that could pep up my flagging spirits was the most Hungarian and basic of dishes – chicken paprikash.
There was a restaurant right around the corner of the synagogue called Blue Rose. Its sign advertised Hungarian food, and honestly, on such a cold, rainy, and depressing day, I wanted the equivalent of comfort food to fill my aching stomach (I hadn’t eaten lunch).
There wasn’t anyone else in the restaurant (yet, anyway. I must have been early for dinner), but the service was quick and friendly. I ordered a local beer, chicken paprikash with dumplings (those little dumplings are absolutely filling and delicious), and the rum-soaked cake with whipping cream. By the time I went to leave, the cafe was filled with locals and a set of tourists.
After dinner, I wandered further, for some reason, and came upon a local cafe and art gallery. It had some of these amazing prints from an artist I had seen in a folk art shop near the Miro Cafe. It happened to be the same Hungarian artist’s work, so I was able to buy it this time! One B&W print had the main street names of Budapest in varying fonts and sizes, and the second showed a large cooking pot with traditional Hungarian ingredients going into it, along with other cultural items (Rubik’s Cube, cigarettes, dog poop…I had NO idea the Rubik’s Cube had been invented in Hungary!). One of my favorite items to pick up when I travel is local art. I hope in my next apartment I can finally hang up all the pieces I’ve acquired so I have an awesome gallery.
On my way home, I found a local chocolate shop whereupon I went gift-shopping for my fellow colleagues. Nothing like a little chocolate to make the day better.
Finally, I was back at the hotel. It was a long, tiring day, and but the next dat, I was headed to Szeged on the train.
All aboard for paprika and salami!