Summer is here again. The long awaited, lovely summer with all the goodies of the season, such as watermelon, apricots, peaches, slush-ice (preferably the artificial Polish strawberry flavoured one), poppy seed or Túró Rudi flavoured ice cream, yummie. Yeah..the godforsaken continental summer has arrived in Hungary, which will give you nothing else but sweat stains, headaches and hangovers from hell, thanks to your ice cold Wine Spritzer (aka Fröccs) from highly questionable qualities of wine from equally questionable places.
This is the season when everyone who moves goes to the Balaton lake to survive the sweltering heat. Balaton is not an ordinary lake, it is a time capsule. Time has stopped ticking there in the mid/late 80’s when the lake was still used as a legal meeting point where East and West Germans could re-unite, or at least gather. If you remember the movie, Goodbye Lenin, you might be able to recall a dialogue between the mother who spent the time of German re-unification in a coma and her son pretending that nothing has changed in the DDR:
Comrade Ganske watches West-TV?
Comrade Ganske fell in love. During a vacation in Hungary. With a pensioner from… Munich. Since then his love for the party has suffered.
Hell yeah, of course it was at Balaton where Comrade Ganske allegedly fell in love with a decadent lady from the rotten West since this was the only place they could see a German from the West.
Germans overwhelming the lake became such a habit that they still kept coming in the 90’s and the place is still very popular nowadays among them. Maybe they just cannot resist spending a few weeks reminiscing about sweet past when they were secretly listening to the forbidden Kraftwerk on smuggled cassette tapes from West Germany.
This popularity ended up in the huge greed in the early 90’s transition economy, when everyone could steal and loot as much as they could due to privatization and loopholes in the system since there was no time to upgrade the laws to a democratic state. That was the time when people could get filthy rich within a split second and this is why new rich still means something very trashy in the region. The greed of local businessmen pushed up the prices to a level where local Hungarians could eventually save money on going to Greece for holidays instead of Balaton.
Suddenly a whole industry was built up on fucking over German tourists. And yet to this very day you can still hear the beautiful German language spoken loud on the beaches of Balaton.
There will be no point to this piece at all, so please don’t expect any cheesy moral lesson, all I want is simply to share some retro feelings about a place that managed to conserve itself in the past.
„For me, Balaton is the Riviera” – sounds the emblematic song from the Goulash Communism when the residents of „the most cheerful barrack” went to spend their holidays at the so called #Hungarian sea. About the background of the term the most cheerful barrack:
It was during the late 1960’s and the 1970’s that Hungary earned the appellation of „the most cheerful barrack” in the socialist camp. By Soviet bloc standards dissidents were not harshly punished.
Back then, your state owned company usually made it possible for you and your family to spend a cheap holiday at the communistic accommodations of the National Council of Trade Unions.
The following video – with the title song! – reflects perfectly that indescribable nostalgic and bitter-sweet atmosphere Balaton offers:
This so called time capsule is captured most beautifully by Michal Solarski, Polish photographer who used to spend holidays at Balaton as a kid and decided to return as an adult photographer to re-recreate the real 80’s feeling in modern times on his photos.