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Some history

the zenith of medieval Hungary. Fast development, Renaissance influence, a strong army, and European politics are all synonymous with his reign, which is still one of the historical epochs that most Hungarians feel nostalgia for. Matthias realized that his country in itself was too weak to withhold the Turks – his goal was to become the Holy Roman Emperor. He even managed to conquer Vienna, and he died there suddenly and unexpectedly. After his death, Hungary quickly slid downhill. In 1526 the Turks miserably defeated the weak Hungarian army. Even the king, the young Louis II, drowned in a spring while running away. In 1541 the Turks captured Buda, and then for a century and a half stagnation followed (though this was also combined with religious tolerance and the construction of many bath houses). Hungary, as a matter of fact, was cut into three parts: the middle part and the south were under Turkish occupation, the north and the west belonged to the Habsburg Empire, and the semi-independent Principality of Transylvania was balancing between his two Big Brothers. Mind you, Transylvania, considered the cradle of Hungarian civilization, is a sort of Kosovo for most Hungarians, even today. The fact that it belongs to Romania is very difficult to accept. After several attempts, a united European army finally liberated Buda in 1686, and soon all of Hungary was freed from the Turks. To the amazement of the Hungarian nobility, Hungary was not given back its independence, in any form. It was simply incorporated into the Habsburg Empire. This led to a series of riots calling for secession from the Empire. The most important was led by Prince Ferenc Rákóczi II (1703 – 1711). During the 18th century, Hungary also benefited from lots of general development, especially during the reign of Maria Theresa (1740 – 1780). For instance, the formerly Turkish-occupied territories were re-populated. Meanwhile, Hungarians almost lost their language to German (a blessing and a curse at the same time, if one thinks of the Irish). Thanks to some dozens of writers, poets and scholars, who launched the language renewal movement in the first decades of the 19th century, the language survived. Partly thanks to the innovators who invented hundreds of brand new words – from oxygen and hydrogen to medical and philosophical terms. Then came the so called Reform Age when an abundance of new institutions were established, from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and Letters to the Stock Exchange and from the National Museum to facilities for horse racing. Many of these initiatives were taken by Count István Széchenyi, who was called the “greatest Hungarian”. On March 15, 1848 a revolution broke out, and it gradually evolved into a War of Independence. After a promising military

PARK_Budapest_belivek_v065.indd 68-69

Some history

András Váradi, biochemist, watch collector, flea market fanatic

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BUDAPEST

BESTS

For more than 30 years now I have been going to the Ecseri flea market every Saturday morning. I get up brutally early and I prefer to get there before 7 a.m. During the last few years my interest has mostly been focused on old mechanical wristwatches. Since then, I have become an advanced flea-market addict: I can be happy now even if I leave the market emptyhanded. “How much of a discount would you give from half your price?” is an old Ecseri flea market witticism, still often overheard. Here are some rules of thumb, for your use: • Don’t ask for a price unless you really want to buy the item. • Always decide in advance the maximum you are willing to pay for it. • Be a man (even if you are a woman), and stick to this maximum. • Don’t let yourself be tricked: if you are asked about the price, hand the object straight back. Or offer half of your maximum. Then try one third. • It is forbidden to interfere. If the piece is in somebody else’s hands, wait until he puts it down. Practically everybody is a character in the flea market, except for the noisy tourists with too much money. A man in his fifties comes here every Saturday and sells old Hungarian peasant glasses – wine and brandy bottles from the 18th and 19th centuries. During the week he is a homicide squad detective. Another character is the remarkable high-school physics teacher who sells old telephones and vintage radios. Certainly the most prominent obsessive flea market-goer is a somewhat small, bearded man, with a small golden earring in his left ear and ponytails, almost always in boots. He is Vladimir (“Jani”) Péter, a professor at MoME University and a silversmith who is the designer of the Wladis range of jewelry. He is generally an attentive listener. But not here – he hardly notices friends because he is so immersed in scanning “the stuff” (mere piles of junk to the uninitiated). Eating at the market is no gourmet occasion. At the small buffets people enjoy the traditional ultrahigh cholesterol diet: juicy sausages, grilled pork ribs, smoked knuckles with the skin on, blood pudding and tripe stew. It is like a real-time educational video explaining why Hungarians die so early. I only eat the sweets there.

2011.04.20. 15:49:07

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