Bureaucracy. Sometimes it’s a good thing. Tony had planned travel for this week, but the country issuing the invitation did not approve the necessary visa until two days after he was supposed to have arrived, and after he had made arrangements for another colleague to give his presentations. Obviously the planned travel was canceled, and so we decided to head out on Sunday for lunch. But to where?
Almost always we elect to leave Austria on Sundays because the country is closed. We have auto vignettes to visit all of the neighbors, and I keep individual pocketbooks with Czech Koruna and Hungarian Forint leftover from previous outings, so all we really needed was a destination with good dining not too far away. Sopron came to mind; after all, we would likely be “hungary” when we arrived. Punny, I know.
Sopron is a terribly interesting city. Following the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Sopron was initially awarded to Austria. This didn’t sit well with the locals, who voted in 1921 to return to Hungary. In 1945, the border city was heavily attacked by the Russians and nearly destroyed.
In 1946, many ethnic Germans in Sopron and across Hungary were deported. Those who spoke Hungarian were permitted to become Hungarian citizens.
Sopron also happens to be the town where the Iron Curtain fell first in August 1989, three months before the Berlin Wall fell. The short story is that Otto von Habsburg, no longer having an empire to run, kick-started a discussion in June 1989 with Hungarian leaders of what Europe might look like without borders. The Hungarians agreed that a brief opening of the gate at Sopron (“just a few hours” was the plan), to allow Austrians and Hungarians to picnic together, would be a good demonstration of the ridiculousness of the borders in general.
One thing led to another, and in August 1989 Austrians, Hungarians, and many, many, many East Germans flocked to Sopron (and, ultimately, to West Germany). This brief opening of the gate was one of the sparks that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall, but Berlin had better PR managers and so received all of the media attention.
The town is slightly shabby, but with a lot of character. I decided I need to return when I can dedicate a longer stay and sunnier weather to wandering the town with my camera.
As it goes around these parts, the city of Sopron was also once an ancient Roman town; the Main Square sits atop the ancient Forum. Fascinating.
In the square we found a restaurant populated by persons speaking Hungarian; a place filled with locals is usually an excellent recommendation. Indeed it was. And, thankfully the menu was available in German, because Hungarian really is a foreign language to us! We started with Knoblauchcreme Suppe (Creme of Garlic Soup). In Hungarian? Fokhagyma kremleves.
Yep, Zander for me. Again. Thick, chunky filets lightly battered and served with lemon. Yum.
Near to Sopron is the former family home of István Széchenyi, a famous Hungarian statesman. Széchenyi is a little like America’s Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin; his family collections are the foundations of the Hungarian National Library and the Hungarian National Gallery, and he was a strong supporter of the Hungarian National Academy of Sciences.
The extensive gardens of the estate made for a nice way to walk off our hearty Hungarian lunch. Near to the estate was a siege of white herons! A lovely way to end our outing.