Communism, War, and CrossFit - Part 3
Part 3: Budapest
Leaving the Czech Republic was difficult. We had such an amazing time in Prague, Pilsen, and Brno, but it was time to see Hungary! We got up early, packed up the car, and started our journey to Budapest. We stopped for breakfast in Bratislava, Slovakia. Crossing from the Czech Republic to Slovakia was similar to the Germany/Czech border, noticeable differences but no actual border crossing (both are EU countries). If you have ever seen the movie Hostel, just know that Bratislava is nothing like it was depicted in that film. The people were friendly, the food was amazing, and the sights were gorgeous.
After breakfast we continued on the highway to Budapest. Arriving in the city is a sight to behold. Gorgeous bridges, amazing architecture (especially Hungarian parliament), and the breathtaking Danube river. We ate street food, visited a church that was dug into the side of Castle Hill, and walked the city until we had blisters on our feet. One of the highlights of our time in Budapest was visiting the old baths. We enjoyed the baths so much so that we went to them twice! They were an excellent way to relax and rejuvenate ourselves for the next day of travel. Possibly the most fun part of our time in Hungary was the food tour that we took. We met a local woman at a mall and she took us around the city tasting cakes, sausages, pickles, cheeses, traditional soups, potato dishes, wines, and chocolate. This was one of the most immersive experiences that we had in Europe. It truly was a taste of local life.
In Hungary we went to CrossFit B’Bros. Our warmup started with specific limb movements and moved into more dynamic full body movements. We started with variations of neck and arm circles, windmills, and hamstring stretching. We then did squat therapy, scap pull-ups, and planks. Our strength was finding a heavy deadlift. We did 8 total sets, starting with more reps, increasing weight each set, and ending with a set of 1. We superset our deadlifts with 8 sets of 5 strict ring dips. Our metcon was a brutal 18 minute EMOM (every minute on the minute). The first minute was 1 rope climb and 12 pushups, the second minute was 16 overhead kettlebell lunges, and the third minute was 20 abmat sit ups. We then cooled down and stretched as a group. Hungarians can come across as very stoic and serious, but we did not see much of that in the CrossFit gym. Hungarians were some of the most fun and charismatic people that we met. This perceived seriousness and lack of smiling seems to be a characteristic of all of Eastern Europe, and is speculated to have to do with all of the historical hardships that were endured there. World War 2 was the hardest of these hardships, and is the deadliest war in history. One third of all jews killed during the holocaust were Hungarian. Hungary was part of the Axis powers (the bad guys) and their ruling party at the end of the conflict was the Arrow Cross Party. This ruling party was brutal, non tolerant, and committed insane atrocities.
The Arrow Cross Party was defined by extreme nationalism. The party had been around for years, long before they came to power. They were voted into power by a strong following of working class people, military personnel, and nationalists. The new Hungarian government was said to have collaborated closely with Nazi Germany. The party was not a fan of minorities, and in 1944 they killed as many Jews as they could. They targeted Jewish hospitals, Jewish housing developments, and heavily populated Jewish ghettos. The most powerful piece of art that we saw in Budapest was the Shoes on the Danube Bank. This is a memorial to those Jews that were lined up along the bank of the Danube, forced to removed their shoes, and shot so that their bodies fell into the river. The memorial of metal shoes symbolized their shoes being left on the bank as their bodies floated away.
In 3 months the Arrow Cross Party killed 40,000 Jews, sent over 100,000 people into forced labor camps, and attempted to remove all Jewish influence in Budapest, including renaming Jewish streets and establishments. Ironically, the Soviet Union eventually liberated Hungary from fascism (communism ruled Hungary until 1989). The communists defeated the fascists. As Americans, it is hard to conceptualize two of our contemporary ideological enemies fighting one another, and that is why it is important to learn about history. Our enemies were once our friends, and our friends can sometimes turn into enemies. Fortunately both communism and fascism are no longer present in Hungary. We are now able to visit this beautiful country, meet the incredible and diverse people, and do CrossFit, all without fear of persecution.