The exhibition “Border – Transport, Meeting, Breakthrough” is now open to visitors in Vienna’s UngArt Gallery, located in the local branch of Collegium Hungaricum, an international network of Hungarian cultural centres. The exhibition, organised to commemorate the Iron Curtain that divided the two halves of the continent for decades, depicts the relationship between Austrians and Hungarians with the help of objects, documentary photographs and movie excerpts. Private life – in historical context.
Three people sitting at a table next to a rural stretch of road. Behind them, half hanging on the road, is the car with which they came and which they parked for the brief brake. Of the three people, one is a younger woman; presumably, she is the girl whom the older couple brought with them to expand their foreign currency spending limit with her Schillings. They may even be thinking of a Gorenje because the Trabant can bear the weight of a refrigerator on top.
Such photographs, taken of Hungarians in the final years of the softening dictatorship in Vienna or on the way there, could be put next to each other uin the hundreds. While one could say that what we see is less than exhilarating, who wouldn’t desire all the worldly riches the “brothers-in-law” have a few kilometres beyond the borders, and which the “Magyarhilfer Strasse”, as the Austrian capital’s popular shopping street was then nicknamed, was already offering to our Hungarian compatriots!
Needless to say, many ventured beyond the river Leitha in search for museums, Vienna’s attractions or the hills of the Alps. In the meanwhile, Lake Balaton became more and more a tempting destination for Austrian tourists, as did the view over Budapest from Gellért Hill or the capital’s thermal baths and Hungarian cuisine. And if the Austrians came, the East Germans followed in their footsteps; for them, Hungary meant living standards close to the West, abundance in consumer products, the feeling of freedom and of course the possibility of meeting up with relatives arriving from West Germany.
The couple of years that preceded the opening of borders is recalled by the exhibition, curated by the historian Tibor Valuch, with a colourful variety of everyday goods and souvenirs, illustrated magazines and advertisements. From the Hungarian point of view and a perspective of twenty-five years, this period was characterised not only by ever-improving shopping opportunities in Vienna but also the reemergence of the Central European citizen in Hungary who was able to experience not only the joy of possessing material goods but also the pleasure of belonging to Europe.
Precisely for this reason, it is symbolic that the exhibition is being held not only on the round, 25th anniversary of the opening of borders but also on the 10th anniversary of Hungary’s accession to the European Union.
Winston Churchill envisaged the Iron Curtain as early as 1946, and it seems that the demolition of barbed-wire fences began not when soldiers commenced the work with metal-cutting shears but years before, as encounters between Austrian and Hungarian citizens became increasingly common.
The exhibition is on display until 12 December.
photo: Antal Wormser