Monday, September 6, 2010

1989 Piknik

Here's some more on the former iron curtain that almost surrounded Sopron. In 1989 the Hungarian government decided to take down the border fence and started to allow Hungarians to leave at will. That's why the English Department at the University of Florida started its exchange program with the English Department at the university in Pécs. Our family got to be the first to come to Hungary in January 1990 as part of the exchange. A few months before we got there, some Hungarian anti-commmunists decided to sponsor a picnic on August 19, 1989 at a country border crossing near Sopron to have everyone cut some of the wire fence as a souvenir. They even arranged with the government to have the guards open the border gate for 3 hours starting at 3 p.m. to let people through. Then they distributed thousands of handouts to East Germans vacationing in Hungary to come to the picnic. This site is on the other side of Sopron from where we live.

The border fence and the wooden gate are gone now but this marks where they used to be.

This is a replica of what the fence looked like. Can you see how it was a double fence--the first a T-shape of barbed wire with an electrical line and the other a mesh "animal" fence? There was also a plowed border along the fence so the guards could check for footprints when the electrical line sent off a signal. Several months before the picnic the Hungarian government had turned off the electrical signal line.

Here I am trying to make an escape.

Do you think the guards in the tower would have seen me approach the fence?

Here's a look up into the tower. Can you imagine being stationed in this tower in the middle of winter?

Anyway, the East Germans at the picnic decided at 3 to rush the gate. Only Hungarians were supposed to go through but 600 East Germans made it through. When the 5 guards at the gate realized too late that the fast approaching picnickers were not Hungarians, they panicked and fearing for their lives let them through rather than shoot them. The next day the government increased the number of guards so no one could go through. Here is one of the abandoned East German Trabants.

This was the infamous East German car that was made of Duroplast, a type of plastic made of recycled materials (including wood, paper, wool and resin), had no gas gauge (you used a dip stick), no fuel pump (the gas tank was above the engine so gravity would feed the gas to the motor) and had a 26 horsepower two cylinder engine like a lawn mover that took 21 seconds to reach 60 mph. They usually had a waiting list of 15 years to buy one (so they were prized possessions) but the picnickers gladly abandoned them to rush across the border to Austria before the guards could change their minds and close the gate.

This is the original border stone that marks the border between Austria and Hungary that was established when the Austo-Hungarian Empire was split up after World War I. If you click on the picture you can see Caroly standing where the border fence used to be.

The border has been replaced by a bike path. There were lots of bikes out when we were there. You'll notice that Sopron, where we live, is just 8 km or 5 miles away. Like I said in an earlier post, Sopron is like a turtle's head sticking into Austria from the Hungarian turtle shell.

If your computer is like mine, if you click on this picture a second time after it enlarges, you can get an even closer look at the original wooden gate, the dirt road, the German invitation that the Hungarians had given out to the vacationing East Germans, and a picture of the East Germans rushing the gate.

Here's a memorial that was erected in 2009 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the picnic. The picnic was credited with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the unification of Germany. Although the guards stopped letting East Germans through, tens of thousands remained in Hungary hoping to get through to Austria rather than return from their vacations on Lake Balaton or in Budapest to East Germany. The government waited to see what Russia would do (Russian troops still were stationed in Hungary to keep them loyal to the communist cause). When the Russians did nothing, on September 11, the Hungarian government decided that East Germans could leave through any border they wanted so these tens of thousands fled to Austria. This led to other events that resulted in the fall of the Berlin Wall November 9. If you click on this picture, you can see a piece of the Berlin Wall in the V where the building is cracked.

Here the artist has people of all ages emerging from the captivity of communism because of the events started at this picnic. It was exciting for us to see all this since we lived in Hungary just a couple of months after this happened and we took part in the fall of communism in Central and Eastern Europe.

No comments:

Post a Comment