When the Berlin wall fell, I was a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania and I remember wishing that I could have been there to absorb that very important moment. Who would have thought so soon? The closest that I came to seeing the wall literally torn down was 1991,
during a trip to Istanbul. I tried, without, success, to extend my Frankfort stopover to visit Berlin. I wouldn’t actually make it to Berlin until 2002, when there was very little of the wall to see.
At any rate, I do have one whiff of an experience of what Eastern Europe was once like. I entered Budapest during a trip to Vienna with my best friend, an architecture student. We traveled by train to Budapest and found a reality in stark contrast to the West. Everyone seemed in a daze, the city still in black and white (versus the West’s vivid color and stereo surround sound), and they were definitely unused to travelers. For our ignorant part, we struggled because nothing was written in English. We limped our way through the magnificent city, almost a hulking ruin of its imperial past stamped with the shadow of the Soviet Union. We made our way to the Danube, one of the great natural boundaries of the Roman empire.
Little did I know that I’d be returning to the same spot in the summer of 2009 for the filming of Ancients Behaving Badly: Attila the Hun. (Blatant self-promotion, and no, I didn’t see it last night). Things really had changed and Hungary’s affair with capitalism was complete– didn’t stay at the Four Seasons but there it was at the banks of the Danube. For me, the highlights were a majestic boat ride along the river in the sunshine (it rained for most of my trip) and a magnificent evening thunderstorm while having a succulent dinner of duck and goose!