Kicking off the year with biannual list of your favorite posts

The topics of posts you have been reading most over the last six months are wide-ranging. Concerns about the Alamo and Alamo Plaza tend to be remain your high priority, and the primary battle between Jerry Patterson and George P. Bush for Land Commissioner will keep these issues on the front page. I love it that you continue to help me promote Helen Madarasz as a ghost actively haunting Brackenridge Park.

The interest in our favorite restaurant in Budapest might arise not as much from regular followers as from Fricska’s loyal fans on facebook. San Antonio’s current Tricentennial Celebration seemed to send more people in search of “The San Antonio Song” written in 1907 by Williams and Alstyne. Thanks for your interest in my quest for a mini-Kate, and it makes me happy some of you heading to Guanajuato were aided by our restaurant suggestions.

So here’s your top 12, with the numbers in parentheses representing the rankings from six months ago:

  1. Dear Mayor and City Council: Please don’t surrender Alamo Plaza, 2017 (1)
  2. The Madarasz Murder Mystery: Might Helen Haunt Brackenridge Park?, 2012 (2)
  3. Postcard from Budapest, Hungary: Currently suffering from case of miss-you-Fricska blues, 2017

    Fricska Gastropub in Budapest

  4. Please put this song on Tony’s pony and make it ride away, 2010 (11)

    Chorus of “The San Antonio Song” written by the Tin Pan Alley pioneer team of Harry Williams and Egbert Van Alstyne in 1907: “San An-to ni An-to-ni-o. She hopped up on a pony and ran away with Tony.”

  5. Brackenridge Park: ‘Is it still a postcard place?,’ 2017 (4)
  6. What’s up top counts, 2017 (3)
  7. Thanks to the Mister on his day for persistence in obtaining my Mother’s Day present, 2017 (8)

    3-D representations of Kate

  8. Postcard from Guanajuato, Mexico: Wishing these dining spots were not 600 miles away, 2016 (6)
  9. Postcards from San Antonio a Century Ago, 2016 (5)

    San Antonio’s love affair with fresh corn tortillas is nothing new.

  10. How would you feel about the Alamo with a crewcut?, 2011 (7)
  11. Postcard from Campeche, Mexico: Sittin’ on Campeche Bay, 2017 (12)
  12. Postcard from Bergamo, Italy: Bidding Italy ciao, for now, 2017

    Bergamo, Italy

And the best part of number 12 on your list is that our bidding ciao to Italy “for now” appears accurate. Will be taking you there through pictures later in 2018. For now, though, delivery of postcards from the fall trip to Mexico City was delayed by the holidays. They will be dribbled out over the next month.

Thanks for dropping by periodically. Always welcome your feedback.

Postcard from Budapest, Hungary: A little bit of everything to say szia*

Certainly did not want to leave you imprisoned in the Terror House at the end of my postcards from Budapest, so here are some random parting shots from a beautiful place to explore.

*Szia is kind of like the Italian word ciao, a casual way of saying hello, goodbye or later to someone that conveniently is pronounced see-ya. Casual seems less complicated to use than the more polite form of goodbye, sort of happy trails until we meet again – viszontlatasra. And, no, I have absolutely no idea how to pronounce it.

Postcard from Budapest, Hungary: Nightmares from the past haunt the city

Unlike the haunted houses that spring up around Halloween, the Terror House of Budapest is open year-round. And, instead of play actors pouncing out of shadows to try to make you scream, this house is filled with the ghosts of real people staring back at you from black and white photos and old newsreels.

Andrassy Boulevard is one of the most impressive in the city, and the Neo-Renaissance building at Number 60 added handsomely to the streetscape when completed in 1880. But a new tenant occupying the building beginning in 1937 proved a case of “there goes the neighborhood.” A branch of the Hungarian National Socialist movement made it the group’s headquarters, the House of Loyalty for the Arrow Cross Party.

With Hitler’s rise, the Hungarian government adopted the yellow star to mark its Jewish citizens. Many were rounded up for deportation to death camps in Germany; others were herded into crowded ghettos in the neighborhood of the Dohany Street Synagogue. In the basement of the House of Loyalty, hundreds were tortured and killed. As a shortcut, instead of shipping Jews out to concentration camps, citizens were lined up on the banks of the Danube, shot and plunged into the icy water.

When the Russian forces finally defeated the Germans occupying Budapest near the end of the war, many greeted the Soviets as liberators. The honeymoon was brief. The Soviets settled in comfortably at the Andrassy address, its headquarters for the Department for Political Police. The basement continued to be a convenient location for torture and hangings.

While hundreds of thousands of Hungarians managed to flee the country, thousands were imprisoned and transported to labor camps in the Soviet Union. A shadow army of informers and spies infiltrated workplaces, universities and churches. One building was no longer enough to accommodate the organization’s needs; the whole block was commandeered for their activities, with the basements connected to form a warren of prison cells. From the end of the war until 1953, more than 35,000 Hungarians were confined to jail. Between 1945 and 1956, close to 400 were executed for political reasons; 152 were executed in the year after the failed 1956 revolt.

The intimate spaces of The Terror House today echo with videotaped testimonies of survivors, with subtitles in English. The museum was opened in 2002 as a memorial to the victims and to preserve these two painful periods of Hungarian history.

The number of millennials stopping to hear the witnesses to the horrors was impressive, hopefully ensuring a new generation will not let history repeat itself under their watch.

I, however, overdosed from the sad stories quickly and did not linger to listen. Holocaust denial is not in my DNA. Like many adolescents, reading Anne Frank had a lasting impact. In high school German class, we watched the black and white flickering reels showing the previously unimaginable scenes of piles of bodies and emaciated survivors found in the concentration camps at the end of World War II. In college, Hollins Abroad summer tour stopped for a visit to Dachau where the ovens stood as evidence to the fate of many. Passing through the highly armed checkpoint between East and West Berlin petrified me as guards slid wheeled mirrors under the bus to make sure no hitchhikers were hiding in a desperate bid for freedom.

Having already visited the Synagogue, the Terror House marked the end of any desire to revisit this period of history. I did not even want to view the shoes along the banks of the Danube representing those who were shot on its banks, but we encountered shoes elsewhere in our wanderings. Almost every museum has a section dealing with those turbulent times and the propaganda or opposition posters relating to them.

And then we made one more stop. One too many for me. The Holocaust Memorial Center. The contemporary building adjacent to a synagogue is dedicated to the persecution of both the Jewish and Roma people of Hungary. The dark interior rooms are filled with more photos and videos of victims. I just wanted out, so much so that I did not even pull out the camera.

The visit plunged me into a temporary depression. I related to some of the older people we encountered in our wanderings. Glumly hunched over. No sparkle in their eyes. Downturned mouths reticent to break into smiles. Suffering from hangovers brought on by the horrors of past decades.

Even though this itinerary was stretched over a month, it was much too intensive. I do not recommend you duplicating the entire agenda. I suggest visiting one or two of the memorials/museums for a smaller dose of real life horror stories, a reminder of what can happen when madmen are in charge.

Unless you are a Holocaust denier. Then the full dose is required as shock therapy.