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Beyond the Danube

Far away from the hustle and bustle of Budapest and the streams of tourists in the Puzsta, the east of Hungary between the Bukk Mountains and the Russian-Romanian border presents itself from its quiet side.

Peter Moebius, Anne Christensen


Tibor is actually in a hurry. As a photographer for a Hungarian daily newspaper, he is supposed to take pictures of a student demonstration in Debrecen, where he happened to come across us. But he has time for a quick chat over a little coffee. He liked our Suzuki and our idea of ​​visiting eastern Hungary. “Most tourists,” he explains, “get stuck in Budapest or in the Puszta.” He spontaneously invites us to accompany him to Tokai tomorrow. He is supposed to photograph an open-air symphony concert on the market square in the evening. Before that he wants to show us the city and introduce us to one of his friends, a well-known artist. The next day we accompany Tibor with our motorcycle to the pretty town. It’s still quiet on the small market square and there are still a few hours left before the concert. Together we walk through a steep alley to the baroque church high above the city. Tibor’s friend, the painter Makoldi Sandor, lives next door in an old wine-growing house. In the garden, the artist has exhibited some of his works between the autumnal colored vines, and next to a disused washing machine lives a huge, black-haired wild boar. Sandor is of an impressive stature, and he wears a hat on his head that is reminiscent of those Rembrandt With an almost royal gesture, he invites us into his house. But before Sandor pushes the handle of the white door, which looks like a simple kitchen door, he turns back to us: “You have to bow your heads – if you want to go to paradise, you have to bend down.” He smiles and disappears into one sinister tunnel. We follow. Pleasant coolness surrounds us. Our eyes are only slowly getting used to the darkness of the narrow corridor. A light bulb in an aging holder gives off dim light. Sandor lights candles and spreads them on the wine barrels that are everywhere in the old vaulted cellar. The imposing figure of the artist casts huge shadows on the curved walls. Then he gets up – as far as he can – and proclaims in a solemn voice: “My Pince – my paradise!” The wine cellar, the Pince, was dug deep into the loess under the house as early as the Baroque era. The temperature in the room is always the same in summer and winter, around twelve degrees. Ancient roots of the vines hang down decoratively from the walls and lie on the barrels. Dark basement mold covers all objects in the room brown and velvety. But mold has an important function, explains Sandor: it regulates the humidity. The wine cellar owner leads us to a large barrel, dips a long glass tube with a bulbous bulge into a small opening in the lid, sucks in and then fills our glasses. The wine lifter is called »rabló«, which means nothing more than robber. The wine stolen from the barrel sparkles in the light of the candles. “Egeszegere, for your well-being!” Then the artist and wine connoisseur talks about viticulture, about the peculiarity of the Aszu berries, the dry berries that give Tokaj Aszu wine its unique taste. We learn that this fruit can only develop in a long and warm autumn. Then it is read separately and processed into a dough-like pulp. Finally, a barrel of new wine is poured onto three, four, five or six buttes of this Aszubrei. Then the wine rests in oak barrels deep underground for six to seven years. “But what is driving you to Eastern Hungary?” Sandor is also surprised about our visit to this part of the country. We tell that before Budapest we only stopped in Szentendre to look at the ceramics in the Kovàcs Margit museum. However, the small artists’ village on the Danube Bend is so overcrowded that we soon fled to the northeast and were surprised to find ourselves suddenly almost alone on the other side of the Danube. “Have you seen Eger?” Asks Sandor. Oh yes, a really beautiful baroque town in the middle of extensive vineyards. Sandor and Tibor nod in agreement. And the wine, the Egri Bikaver, which means bull’s blood, tastes great. Sandor lets wine from the robber run into our glass again. “Furmint,” he says pathetically, as if introducing us to a famous diva. The golden yellow liquid of the Furmintrebe shimmers in our glasses, tastes fiery and has a fruity aroma. The noble drop makes our cheeks hot and inspires our conversation. We really liked the wooded Bukk Mountains. Sandor and Tibor nod again, because Hungarians love their small mountains even more than the wide plains. But what we liked best was the Zemplener Uplands in the north, near the Slovakian border. A remote landscape with mighty castles on bizarre volcanic cones, lonely and far from any hustle and bustle, with lovely people and, last but not least, an ideal place for motorcycling. However, we had lost our way below the Fuzer castle ruins, where the Hungarian coronation insignia were once hidden from the Turks. Suddenly the street ended in a courtyard. A dog protested loudly, but was treated with such a torrent of words by the farmer’s wife that it withdrew quietly and with drooping ears into a barn. A stocky farmer in a beret continued to slowly scrape his fodder beets, the woman waved in our direction, we should come closer. A few nice words to greet us, and then we were already sitting in Mother Antonia’s kitchen. She quenched our thirst with orange lemonade from a large plastic bottle. Then she served fresh quark and cut thick slices from the huge loaf of bread. She slipped into the back garden in brightly colored socks and picked fresh peppers. Finally she sat down contentedly on a stool and let her worn-out hands rest in her lap. We communicated with many gestures and with the help of a small, long-gray dictionary. She had three sons, she proudly told them about Stephan, whom she had named after the first Hungarian king, and about Joseph, of course, and … and …, at that moment she had forgotten the name of her youngest son. Tears suddenly rolled down her wrinkled cheeks. He hadn’t been home for six months. The second son looked into the kitchen, a tall, mustached man. He didn’t take his eyes off our motorcycle, which was left unattended on the road. Because of the gypsies, Joseph indicated. “Yes, yes, the gypsies,” confirms Sandor, “they are not exactly popular with us.” “But they are friendly and have charm,” we protest and tell of a small episode. that happened to us a few days ago. In a village near Sàrospatak we had discovered a derelict mansion whose original beauty could only be guessed at. A wrecked car and a wheelless stroller are rusting in front of the building. I put the Suzuki on the side stand and we strolled through the ruins. Suddenly a gypsy boy, maybe seven years old, came by. He put his satchel aside, blinked in the sun, and watched us for a while. Then he shouldered his satchel again, went to Anne and said goodbye with the words: “Czòkolom, kiss” the hand, madam. “Sandor does not reply to my story, but is already busy with the next wine barrel. “It’s a Szamorodni, its bitter taste is comparable to that of a sherry – and with it a carp soup in the style of the Tisza fishermen,” Tibor smells with relish at the glass, “Carp dishes are a real specialty here.” The Tisza is next to the Danube largest river in the country, and in the numerous separated river loops, oxbow lakes, but also in the numerous small lakes there are still many catfish, carp and pikeperch. “At least until they go into the soup pot,” he adds with a laugh. “Yes, the serious side of life begins in the soup pot,” lectures Sandor and empties his glass with a strong sip, “because real carp soup is not cooked, it is conjured up.” Of course Sandor knows how. First, he explains, a strong broth with onions, tomatoes and peppers is made from smaller fish and the severed heads of carp. This fish broth must be put through a sieve along with the vegetables and slowly reheated over a small flame. Finally, thin carp slices, rye, milk, liver and lots of paprika powder would be added. You should only turn the pot from time to time or rock it gently, because the fish has to swim. “If you open the lid after ten minutes, your senses fade.” Sandor closes his eyes and clicks his tongue loudly. “Have you been to the Tisza at all?” We say that we have followed the course of the river to Szamtmárcseke over the past few days. But unfortunately no road led directly to the unspoilt banks of the leisurely flowing Tisza. Only now and then did we overlook a bend in the river. Sometimes the road suddenly stopped and we let an ancient ferry take us to the other bank. The further east we got to the vicinity of the Romanian border, the simpler and more original the country and villages became. Often we were traveling alone, only now and then an old Trabbi or a Moskvich came towards us. Most of the residents in the small villages with their ancient wooden churches and mills walked or rode bicycles, and sometimes there were two or three of them on a decrepit bike. In the small town of Tákos we looked over the shoulders of a few women who were embroidering the most wonderful patterns in tiny cross stitches on doilies, pillows and curtains in no time at all. Sandor nods, he too likes the area in the east of the country between Romania and the Ukraine, for him the soul of Hungarian folk art is at home there. “Come!” Sandor takes an old chandelier and waves us on. We’re afraid of getting to know a new wine barrel, but Sandor mysteriously lowers his voice: “Originally the cellar under the house only extended as far as here. But then I noticed that one wall sounded hollow. ”After a breakthrough, the artist, to his great surprise, discovered another corridor that he now wants to show us. “Come on.” The corridor continues in the same direction as the basement, branches off to the left and then to the right again. At the end of the corridor, Sandor wipes the brown cellar mold from the wall with an evocative gesture. A grim reaper, carved into the clay about five hundred years ago, becomes visible, a being that is a bird in front and a fish on the tail – a horned deity. “Look, here, the numbers 146 suggest the year 1460, at that time Gutenberg printed the first Bible in Mainz.” Then he knocks off the next wall with his strong hands, which also sounds hollow. At some point, the painter explains, he would dare to make the next breakthrough and definitely discover something new. We build ourselves into the enthusiasm that Sandor probably grips every time he indulges in his thoughts and dreams in his Pince. We don’t know how many glasses we tried for a long time. Our faces glow from wine and storytelling. A pleasant comfort sits in our limbs. Space and time have long been forgotten. Night has fallen over Tokaj. Stars shine, and there is a spicy smell of withered leaves and the nearby Tisza. It’s quiet, only a dog is barking in the distance. We are happy not to have to get on our motorcycle again until tomorrow, fortunately we have rented a hotel room. Tibor looks at the clock, joi – the concert! We hastily say goodbye, stumble through the dark down the bumpy path into the village and just see the last musician close the lid of his violin case.


In addition to the Budapest Metroplole and the Puszta, the east of Hungary is another attractive travel destination: varied routes lead through small mountains and through charming landscapes in which time seems to have stood still.

Arrival: The best way to get to Budapest is via the motorway from Munich via Salzburg and Vienna. Only a short section behind the Austro-Hungarian border has not yet been completed. All you need to enter the country is your identity card, vehicle documents and the green insurance card. In Budapest there is a decidedly cosmopolitan traffic hustle and bustle, but a detour is cumbersome. When driving on, one should avoid the expressway to Szolnok. The route via Eger and the Bukk Mountains is much quieter and more beautiful. Travel time: The summers are warmer and sunnier than those in Central Europe, but the winters are all the colder. The months from April to October are ideal for touring riders, especially the Indian summer and the autumn leaves in September and October. Wine lovers also get their money’s worth during these months.Overnight: Accommodation in Hungary is numerous and inexpensive, only in the eastern border areas are they limited to larger towns. In rural middle-class hotels you rarely pay more than 40 marks for a double room with breakfast. Private rooms and tourist hotels or youth hostels are even cheaper. However, rooms in Budapest rarely cost less than 100 marks. The numerous campsites are indicated with blue signs. Further information: Hungarian Tourist Office, Berliner Str. 72, 60311 Frankfurt, Telephone 0 69/9 29 11 90, Fax 0 69/92 91 19 18. Literature: Two books are recommended for preparing or following up a trip to Eastern Hungary: »Der Tokajer “by Michael Sailer and Pap Miklos from Michael Sailer Verlag for 38 Marks and” Die Puszta “by Gyula Illes, published by Greno Verlage for 48 Marks. The book also describes the history of the Tokaj wine and growing region – a chapter originally written by the Hungarian teacher and museum director Pap Miklos, who once owned the wine cellar described in the text. Contrary to what the title suggests, the book does not exclusively refer to the region of the same name, but describes the life of the Hungarian rural population. A very good introduction for the interested visitor. The description of the eastern part of Hungary can only be found in general Hungary guides. The ADAC travel guide “Hungary” for 29.80 marks proves to be quite detailed and practical. The Shell EuroKarte “Hungary” on a scale of 1: 300,000 for 14.80 marks is sufficient as a map. The smallest drivable roads are also recorded here

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