Saturday, September 27, 2008

My Brush With The Cold War

Even though I was a young teenager when the Iron Curtain fell, I saw plenty of reminders of the Cold War mentality during my travels overseas. Sopron, Hungary is very close to the Austrian border. Although the barbed-wired and electrified fencing is long gone, a giant observation tower remains, visible from a great distance in all directions. Originally this tower was for border observation. Today it serves as a communication tower for radio and television. Some tourist literature I came across mentioned a tower you could climb for some fantastic views of the surrounding hills. From the heights above Sopron you can easily see Lake Ferto (Neusiedlersee in German) along the border.

After climbing up some narrow streets through a residential neighborhood, I expected to eventually see this tower.

After a nice stroll through some parkland and a few steep trails, I reached my goal. The area outside the tower was surrounded by fences and barbed wire. Hmm......was this a tourist area? Ignoring a little red sign with a white line and several signs in Hungarian which said "Tilos" (Hungarian for "forbidden") I eventually found some stairs and made my way into the tower. Funny, I couldn't find the tourist desk. Also, there didn't seem to be any other tourists around. These should have been my second and third hints that I was somewhere where I shouldn't be. I didn't see anyone, tourist or otherwise, so I wandered around aimlessly. I passed a few rooms full of communication equipment that look like something left over from the 1950's and a few smaller rooms with beds in them. The whole place seemed very cold and impersonal - very Cold War and "military-ish".

Eventually I found myself back at the top of stairs from where I had first entered. A 60-ish year old man was in a small office at the top of the stairs and when he saw me pass by the open door, he came out immediately. The ensuing conversation unfolded something like this:

Him: Ummm.....Hallo?
Me:[pointing at the maple leaf on my t-shirt with a big grin]........Canada.
Him (with a puzzled, rather severe look]: Oh.......Canada......angolul? (English?)
Me: [smiling a little bit less] Igen! Angolul (Yes, English) there a tower?....tourist.....?
Him: [pointing]......Ah.....other tower.....350 meter that way.
Me: [relieved] Oohhhh! Sajnalom! (sorry) I go now. Sorry to bother you.
Him: (smiling) Bye Bye Canada.

Eventually, I found another trail which, very shortly led to this tower...

Not quite as tall as the first one, although it still had some nice views.

It's funny how much Europe and society have changed. I pondered this as I made my way back to my hotel. I had gone into an area I clearly was not supposed to be in, ignoring my better judgement and feeling especially adventurous instead. All I bumped into was a perplexed old man who kindly pointed me on my way, even though technically I suppose I was trespassing. I remember thinking that if I had made this exact same mistake back when I was in high school I have may just have been shot at, or at the very least arrested.

It never ceases to amaze me how much the world has changed within the span of my own lifetime.


Anonymous said...

Letting your adventurous side control your actions can lead to once-in-a-lifetime experiences that you may have otherwise missed. Speaking from personal experience, audacious exploring has lead me to something I now hold very close.