Monday, December 23, 2013

My Ten Favorite Vienna Christmas Markets

In December 1967, when I was a student in Vienna, I stumbled one cold December day on the city’s Christkindlmarkt (literally, Christ Child Market) located in an alley at the end of Mariahilferstrasse in the back of a large complex known as the Messepalast. The market was a modest grouping of wooden stands selling crafts, toys, food, beer, trinkets, and hot wine. Its location was a good one, near a major shopping street and across a busy road from the Art History and Natural History museums.

Since that time, the original Vienna Christmas Market has been joined by nearly a dozen more, and together they have become a major tourist attraction. These markets are part of long tradition that dates back to 1764, when the Saint Nicholas and Christmas Market operated at the Freyung (1st District). After decades there, the market moved to different locations. From 1842 until after World War I, it was located at the Am Hof, a large open area just a couple of blocks from Freyung.  In the following years, its home was at different times at the Neubaugürtel and in front of the iconic St. Stephens church in the heart of the inner city. (For a history of the Vienna Christmas Markets, go to this link: )

Early Christmas Market at Am Hof

From 1958 until 1975, the market set up behind the Messepalast, which was reconfigured in the middle 70s as the Museumquartier. That was where I visited this market in 1967 and later in 1971, when I was again studying in Vienna. That site because unusable in 1975 when construction began on underground parking at its location. That year, the city’s Christkindlmarkt moved to the large plaza in front of Vienna’s monumental Rathaus (city hall), located on the Ringstrasse between the Austrian Parliament building and the main building of University of University.
1950 Christ Child Market at Neubauguertel
I am not sure when other Christmas Markets, also called Advent Markets and Christmas Villages, opened in Vienna. However, 2013 was advertised as the 27th anniversary of the Christmas Market at Freyung and the twentieth anniversary of the Christmas markets in front of Karlskirche (Charles Church) and the awe-inspiring Schönbrunn Palace, the summer residence of the Hapsburg monarchs. Likely, the Freyung market was the first established to supplement the main Christkindlmarkt at the Rathaus. If so, the number of markets in Vienna began increasing around 1986, with two more added in 1993. 

The number of Christmas Markets has increased since then, as has the number of people visiting them. In 2013, a new Christmas Market was opened alongside St. Stephens Church (which had been the site of the Market from 1924 to 1928 and again in 1943). This location near the intersection of Kärtnerstrasse and the Graben is one of the busiest in the city.

After visiting the 1971 Vienna Christmas Market, I did not return to the city in December until 2000; after that I was in Vienna in December, at least briefly, for seven years in a row. Also, I was also there briefly in December 2011. Each of these years, I visited the Christmas markets to enjoy the festive lighting and jovial spirit in some spectacular settings. There is something innately enjoyable in standing outside in the cold, sipping glühwein or hot punsch, hearing happy voices and glancing around at impressive, historic buildings and at dozens of small colorful booths selling all kinds of food and crafts. 

Returning this year for a couple of weeks, I visited all of the full-time Christmas markets, except one. Also, I missed the “medieval Christmas market” held one November weekend at the Arsenal building where the city’s War History Museum is located. Beyond that, I did not make it to some of the neighborhood markets that were held various weekends.

Based on my several years of experience with Vienna’s Christmas markets, I have ranked them according to my preference for them. My favorites are listed first. Also, I provide a little information about each of them and give links to web sites that have more information about each market.  A map showing the locations of the Christmas markets can be downloaded from this site: 

(I am writing this post shortly before Christmas 2013; most likely it will be read after the markets have closed for the year. Nevertheless, please keep in mind that it is highly likely that all of my ten favorite markets will be back with few change for the 2014 Christmas season. Thus, this list should also apply to the coming year.) 

The following are my ten favorite Christmas Markets in Vienna:

1.   Altwiener Christkindlmarkt (Old Vienna Christ Child Market)

This small market is located in a public square a couple of blocks from Schottentor, which is a main transportation hub. This market is a small one, limited by the size of the square. Its size and stability (the same people seem to return with their booths every year) make it more intimate that other markets. In many ways, it reminds me of the Vienna Christkindlmarkt in 1967 and 1971, when it was more modest in size and setting.
Natalia G. at the entrance to the
Old Vienna Christ Child Market, 2013 
In recent years, another small Christmas market has been operating across the narrow Freyung street. Its booths are set up on the large sidewalk in front of a huge building lying between Freyung and Herrengasse. This market is the Biobauern market, which sells organic and ecologically friendly foods and good.

Ranking this market as my favorite, I should disclose that I am predisposed to like the Old Vienna market because in Spring 1968 I attended Institute of European Studies classes in the Kinsky Palace, which lies a few steps from this market. Thus, I had occasion to be in this vicinity almost daily for about four months and it retains good memories.

In 2013, the market was open daily from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. It is located in the 1st district on Freyung. Website:

2.   Wiener Christkindlmarkt (at the Rathaus)

This Christmas market is the opposite of the Old Vienna Christmas Market in scale and grandeur. Its setting is spectacular and the lights and decorations are the best among the markets. Not only are the soaring spires of the city hall nicely lit, but also the parks on either side of the square have colorful and attractive Christmas decorations.
Entrance to the Christmas Market at the Vienna City Hall, 2013

This year, this market had 150 stands selling different drinks, food, crafts, and doodads. Every time I was there, the market was stuffed full of people. The density was especially great at night and on weekends.

This Market, the original one, is a “can’t miss” attraction; however unless a person likes large crowds, he or she likely will come to take a few pictures, grab a Christmas punch (the mugs are usually nice collectibles), and then find another market that is less hectic to enjoy at leisure.

The market was open in 2013 from 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., except on Friday and Saturday when it stayed open until 10 p.m. It is located on Ringstrasse between the Parliament Building and the main building of Vienna University.

3.   Weihnachtsmarkt at Schloss Schönbrunn

I especially liked visiting this Christmas Market during the day, though I also had to come in the evening to take pictures. The palace is a huge renaissance building suitable in scale and grandeur for the ruler of a huge empire. In fact, it was built as the summer home for the Hapsburg emperor.

The expansive Hapsburg-yellow façade of the palace provides a great backdrop for what seems to be a small village of modest wooden stands offering hot wine, sweets, and crafts. The food selection at this Christmas Market seems a bit better than many of the other markets, and the most of the crafts were of high quality. Although lots of people came to this market, it did not feel nearly as crowded as the Rathaus market.
People walking to the Christmas Market at Schönbrunn Palace, 2013

If you come during the day, you can stroll around the extensive grounds of the palace and even walk up to the Schönbrunn Gloriette to get a nice view of the city.
A Punsch and Krapfen Stand at Schönbrunn, 2013
In 2013, this Christmas market was open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. It is one of two Christmas markets that remained open on December 25 and 26th (from 10 am to 7 pm). Also, beginning on December 27, the site hosted a New Year’s Market (10 am to 7 pm) that lasted until January 1st.

Schönbrunn can easily be reached by the Vienna subway. Take U-6 in the direction of Hütteldorf to the Schönbrunn station. The entrance to the grounds is a short walk from there.  Web site:

4.   Weihnachtsmarkt am Spittelberg

The Spittelberg Christmas Market is not too far from where the Christkindlmarkt was located in 1967 and 1971. It can be found a couple of blocks behind the Museumquartier between Siebensterngasse and Burggasse.  The market can be reached by walking up Burggasse from the Volkstheater or by taking Strassenbahn 49, one stop from the Volkstheater.  
A Demonstration of Blacksmithing
at the Spittelberg Market, 2013
This 7th district market is another change of pace from the monumental markets at the Rathaus and Schönbrunn.  Most of its stands are located along two narrow streets (Spittelgasse and Schrankgasse, with some spillover on Spitalgasse). The Spittelberg area contains many traditional and funky craft shops and several small restaurants. So, many of the stands have handmade goods, and several restaurants are available near the market stands.

For me, this market captures some of the late 1960s and early 1970s feel. It is a comfortable place to drink some punsch and peruse crafts in a friendly setting.

In 2013, this market did not open until 2 p.m. on Monday to Friday. However, it opened at 10 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. It closed at 9 p.m. every day except Friday and Saturday, when it remained open until 9:30 p.m.  Website:

5.   Weihnachtmarkt, Am Hof.

This market had the misfortune in 2013 (as well as in 2012 and 2011) to be located amid much construction that obscured its setting which includes the Am Hof Church, a large statute of Mary, and the old Vienna Firehouse. Nevertheless, it distinguished itself by having vendors selling things seldom found at other locations, including an excellent stand selling meats from throughout Austria and several selling antiques.
Entrance to the Am Hof Christmas Market, 2013
This market had stands selling several different types of food, so it is a good place to each lunch or a snack.

I have to admit that I ranked this Christmas Market higher than the others that follow not only because of its impressive offerings, but also because it is part of my old neighborhood. In the 1966-67 academic year, I lived a block away on Parisergasse, and I have strong nostalgic feelings about Am Hof that likely biased me toward a higher ranking.

Am Hof is located two blocks toward the inner city from the Old Vienna  Christmas Market at Freyung.  If you visit one of them, it is easy to visit the other.

This market opened at 11 a.m. on Monday through Thursday and at 10 a.m. on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. It closed at 8 p.m. every day. Web:
Franz Josef Wurst for sell at the Am Hof Market
6.   Weihnachtsdorf im Alten AKH (the old General Hospital of Vienna)

This 9th district market is located in the huge inner courtyard of what used to be Vienna’s main hospital; the buildings are now used by the University of Vienna for various institutes and administrative offices. Because the court yard is expansive, this market has substantial space to host its stands: they are located along meandering paths amid trees and shrubs in a nicely landscaped setting. 

The large area allows the market to set up tables where visitors have ample room to stand and sip hot wine without bumping up against someone else. In all, it is a nice place for a leisurely visit. The market has a large number of stands with the usual drinks, food, crafts, and crap. It also has some children’s rides. 
Spacious Place to Sip Hot Punsch, the Old General Hospital Market
At night, the market is reasonable well lit, but lacks the brightly colorful setting of some of the better markets and the funky feel of others.  Nevertheless, it is worth a visit.

This market opened at 2 p.m. on Monday to Friday and at 11 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. It closed at 10 p.m. The market is located on Alserstrasse, a couple of blocks up from the main University building and Schottentor. You can enter the courtyard from a park (Ostarrichipark) or at the corner of Alserstrasse and Spitalgasse.  Website:

7.   Adventmarkt vor der Karlskirche

This market is another one with a notable setting: a huge church that has two soaring minaret-like columns in front of it. In 2013, Charles Church had a big antiabortion banner attached to its front, forming part of the setting for the market.

Punsch Stand with Charles Church
in the Background, 2013
The location of this Christmas Market is next to a large children’s playground. Also, it turns a huge fountain in front of the Church into a barnyard that covered with straw and housing some animals – such as goats -- for viewing by children. Near the barn yard are some low-tech kid’s rides and a place to ride ponies. All of this makes the Karlsplatz Christmas Market the best one for children to visit, and many are there in the afternoons.

The market also offers adults a good selection of booths, several with quality crafts. It also has many places to buy punsch and various specialty foods. Crowded at night, I did not find the layout or the lighting of the market to be attractive.  It seemed dimly lit and the atmosphere was not particularly enticing. The market was good for a short visit, but I did not want to hang around too long.

This market was open from noon to 8 p.m., though booths serving food stayed open until 9.00 p.m.  This market is a few blocks from the Staatoper  and across a major avenue from the Musikverein. Website:
Kids on a Hand Pumped Railroad Car, Karlsplatz, 2013

8.   Weihnachtsdorf, Maria Theresa Place

This market is located around a large statue of Maria Theresa that stands between two large museums, the Museum of Art History and the Museum of Natural History. On her perch, Maria Theresa faces Heldenplatz and the Hofburg, the complex that housed the Hapsburg monarchy.
Maria Theresa watches over the market in her square, 2013

This market is one of the newer ones. It is also one of the smaller ones, but also seemed to be a favorite of visitors who arrived in the dozens of tour buses that parked on the streets around the museums. With so many busloads of tourists, the market often seemed tightly packed during the day, especially on weekends.

The setting is pleasant, though the lighting is somewhat dim. The market has the usual array of stands selling the usual stuff. Nothing really distinguished it from the other markets, except this year, a huge banner hanging from the entrance of the Art History Museum was a bit jarring. It advertised an exhibition of paintings by Lucian Freud at the museum, showing one of his paintings. In this one, a not particularly attractive couple is lying naked in bed together. The painting is graphic and puzzling – if you look closely enough, and provided one of the stranger backgrounds for the Christmas markets.  

Right of the Maria Therese Statue, at the
Entrance to the Art History Museum

When I saw the blown-up painting, it occurred to me that it is fortunate that Maria Theresa -- a bit of a prude in her time -- looks forward toward the Ringstrasse rather than at the museum. She likely would be shocked by what she saw to her right.

The Christmas Market was open daily from 11.00 a.m. - 10.00 p.m. It is one of two that opened on December 25 and 26 (from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.). Website:

9.   Weinachtsdorf, Schloss Belvedere

This Christmas Market is located in front of another Hapsburg palace, though it is not nearly as impressive as Schönbrunn. The location faces a large reflecting pool. In the old days, the South Train station lay across the street from the pool. In the past decade, the South Train station has been demolished and new high rises are being built where it stood.

The back side of Belvedere is more impressive than the front, where the Market is located. The back faces a long garden that gently slopes down a hill. It offers a great view of the spires of St. Stephens and of Leopoldsberg and Kahlenberg, the mountains on the northern edge of Vienna.
Christmas Market at Belvedere, 2013
This market is a bit smallish, and I am not sure it has much to distinguish it from the others. It does have a couple of rides for children.

The best way to get to Belvedere is on the D Strassenbahn, which runs along much of the Ring. The D line has a stop on Prinz Eugen-Strasse that is a few steps from the entrance to the Belvedere complex. This market was open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays, but remained opened until 10 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Website:

10.   Weihnachtsmarkt am Stephensplatz

This Christmas Market opened for the first time this year. Its location insured that lots of people would visit it: It was situated next to St Stephens, a major Vienna landmark and attraction, near the intersection of Kärtnerstrasse and the Graben. These two pedestrian-only streets are always crowded, and on weekends are clogged with tourists.
Christmas Market Booth at the
side of St. Stephens Church, 2013
The market seems to be a pleasant, albeit small, one. The ancient church, visible from throughout the city, provides an impressive background. Nevertheless, the crowds were so dense that I did not want to spend much time there.

This market was open daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Website:

That’s my list. I know that others would place these Christmas Markets in a different order and have good reason to do so. I encourage readers to visit Vienna in late November or December 2014 to determine which the markets appeal most to you

If you do visit, keep these things in mind:

All of these markets that I have ranked are open every day for about five weeks. In 2013, the markets opened on November 16 and most closed on December 24th. As shown, two of them were open on December 25 and 26.

In late November and early December, it gets dark in Vienna by 4:30 p.m., so it is possible to see the lighted Christmas Markets in the late afternoon as well in the evening. Since most close at 8 p.m. or later, it is easy to visit several in one evening, if so desired.

The Markets have food that is great for snacks, but it is sometimes hard to find food that is sufficient for a meal. A few markets have food specialties from different Austrian provinces; they are worth sampling. Several booths cater nicely to people with a sweet tooth who want a snack.

The hot wine drinks come in many different varieties. I like glühwein, which is a traditional hot mulled wine. For people who want to try different things, the punsch comes in dozens of tastes, flavored with different kinds of fruit and seasonings (stands selling punsch seem to have some contest going to see which one can concoct the most esoteric punch flavor). My favorite, which I had at the 2013 Market at the Rathaus, is the Christmas punch, which had no particular fruit flavor but was similar to Glühwein. I don’t think you can go wrong with any punsch if you choose a flavor (e.g., orange, apple, pear) you like.
To your health: Natalia G. enjoys a Christmas Punsch

In 2013, a glühwein or punsch cost between 2.80 and 4 euros. The average was 3.50 euro. The prices vary by location with the highest prices at the most popular locations, such as the Rathaus. The drink is served in a mug that looks like a coffee cup. It holds one-fourth of a liter (a “viertal”). You have to pay a deposit for the cup (2 or 2.5 euro in 2013) or give up an empty one for a filled one. When finished for the evening, you can return the empty cup to get your deposit returned, or, of course, you can keep the cup if you want. Each market has a cup designed especially for it. Most are pretty nifty, and I have a small collection of them.

Vienna’s Christmas Markets provide some memorable experiences. I hope you can visit one in 2014.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Mathematicians at the National Security Agency: Men and Women without Qualities?

Taking a break from Robert Musil’s book, The Man without Qualities, I read a chilling story in the New York Times (Nov. 2, 2013) headlined, “No Morsel Too Minuscule for All-Consuming N.S.A.”  This story by Scott Shane is about the secretive government agency that spends billions of dollars annually to collect personal data from and about millions of people, including U.S. citizens and the elected leaders of our allies.  One sentence in the story grabbed my attention because of its link to Musil’s book: the National Security Agency (NSA) is and has long been the largest employer of mathematicians in the United States.
The NSA is located in this building in Ft Meade, MD
about 20 miles from Baltimore. Its web site is:

My mental image of mathematicians dates back to when I was in high school where the smartest students excelled at math. Some conformed to stereotype, wearing glasses and pocket protectors; I did not often see them because I was not a member of the Mathematics or Chess clubs.  Other math whizzes were well-adjusted, high achieving students active in different high school activities.  Some were good friends.  

        I don’t recall being friends with any mathematics majors in college. After finishing required courses in the first couple of years of study, I did not take courses they did, and vise versa. Occasionally I did bump into a few at the student union, but we did not have much in common. The same was true during two stints as a graduate student and in my professional work. I and mathematicians were in disciplines that rarely intersected.  

        Until I read the New York Times article, I had not given much thought to where mathematicians work after they get advanced degrees. I would have guessed that most went into teaching or did analysis for different types of industries. So, it was a shock to learn that so many of these bright people work for a Big Brother federal agency intent to stealing personal information from as many people as possible.

        Likely, Musil would not have been surprised that mathematicians had sold their talents to such a shady enterprise.  He took a dim view of them  and their work. The main character of his book, Ulrich, was a mathematician, choosing that profession to become a “man of importance.” He had previously tried to gain this distinction as a Cavalry officer and then as a civil engineer, but was disappointed with those professions. So, he became a mathematician – and apparently, a pretty good one.

In recounting Ulrich’s move to this profession, Musil commented on mathematicians and their role in the decline of European civilization in the years just before World War I. First, he suggested that mathematicians may have sold their souls to the devil, and if they had not, they had, at the very least, ruined them. He wrote:      

It is in any case quite obvious to most people nowadays that mathematics has entered like a daemon into all aspects of our life. Perhaps not all of the people believe in that stuff about the Devil to whom one can sell one’s soul; but all those who have to know something about the soul, because they draw a good income out of it as clergy, historians or artists, bear witness to the fact that it has been ruined by mathematics and that in mathematics is the source of a wicked intellect that, while making man the lord of the earth, also makes him the slave of the machine.  (p. 40)

Musil noted that many people at that time, especially those who had been bad in school at mathematics, were predicting the collapse of European civilization because “there was no longer any faith, any love, any simplicity or any goodness left in mankind.”  After WWI, these folks were convinced that mathematics “the mother of the exact natural sciences, the grandmother of engineering, was also the arch-mother of that spirit from which, in the end, poison-gases and fighter aircraft have been born.”

He pointed out that the only people who were oblivious to the dangers resulting from the work of mathematicians were “the mathematicians themselves and their disciples, the natural scientists, who felt no more of all this in their souls than racing cyclists who are pedaling away hard with no eyes for anything in the world but the back wheel of the man in front.” (page 41)

Now, about a hundred years after Musil’s Ulrich joined this profession, it appears not much has changed in the roles that many mathematicians play in society. They continue to use their education and intellectual gifts to help create soul-deadening innovations such as the precision bombing of anonymous drones. And at the NSA, they use their skills to crack codes to enable the pilfering of millions of private conversations; to increase the efficiency of algorithms that analyze stolen conversations, emails, and observations of daily lives; and to perfect the path analysis used to ferret out the links any person has with all other persons in the world.  Now, instead of using their mathematical skills to ruin souls, NSA mathematicians use them to enable government snoops to own souls.

Why do these bright, talented people, who seemed so harmless in high school, do such things? Perhaps they are so absorbed in the intellectual challenges of their work that they don’t notice what they are doing to other people and society: they are, as Musil described, watching only the back wheel of the bicyclist in front of them. Or perhaps they view themselves heroes who are part of the thin line protecting the nation from evil; the ends justify the means, right?  Or perhaps they need a fat paycheck to pay the mortgage on a large house and the bills for a pleasant life.

Likely their motives are a convenient blend of these three things. As Musil observed:
…the most coldly calculating people do not have half the success in life that comes to those rightly blended personalities who are capable of feeling a really deep attachment to such persons and conditions as will advance their own interests. (p. 11)

We might consider whether these men and woman are, like Ulrich, without qualities. Such people, instead of having a sense of reality about the effects of the things they do, have a “sense of possibility.”  Such “possibilitarians” are described by Musil as follows:

Anyone possessing [a sense of possibility] does not say, for instance: Here this or that has happened, will happen, must happen. He uses his imagination and says: Here such and such might, should, or ought to happen. And if he is told that something is the way it is, then he thinks: Well, it could probably just as easily be some other way. So the sense of possibility might be defined outright as the capacity to think how everything could “just as easily” be, and to attach no more importance to what is than to what is not.

It will be seen that the consequences of such a creative disposition may be remarkable, and unfortunately they not infrequently make the things that other people admire appear wrong and the things that other people prohibit permissible or even make both appear a matter of indifference. Such possibilitarians live, it is said, within a finer web, a web or haze, imaginings, fantasy, and the subjunctive move. (p. 12)

If they are people with a “sense of possibility,” some NSA mathematicians do not worry much about reality as it exists, including the impacts of pervasive spying on a nation’s citizens, its democracy, its values, its future.  The effects might be pernicious, they would say, but it is also possible that they will enhance these things, while saving everyone from disaster. Why worry about the effects of massive spying on citizens, the leaders of other countries, and who knows who else when it is possible the results may be good.

According to Musil, a man or woman without characteristics can be described this way: 

Every bad action will seem good to him in some connection or other. And it will always be only a possible context that will decide what he thinks of a thing. Nothing is stable for him. Everything is fluctuating, a part of a whole, among innumerable wholes that presumably are part of a super-whole, which, however, he doesn't know the slightest thing about. So every one of his answers is a part-answer, every one of his feelings only a point of view, and whatever thing it is doesn't matter to him what it is, it’s only some accompanying “way in which it is,” some addition or other, that matters to him…. (p.71)

In short, people without qualities do not make definitive judgments about, or have a commitment to, doing things that are widely viewed as right or good rather than doing things others judge as wrong or bad.  Every action for them is a possibility not to be judged absolutely; everything in the proper context is justifiable. 

Maybe it is unfair to NSA mathematicians to suggest that some of them are without qualities. Perhaps they have qualities, albeit unfathomable, similar to those of a man I met soon after I traveled for the first time to Ukraine in 1993, just a few years after that country had left the Soviet Union to become an independent nation. The man was affable, intelligent, and well-spoken, with a Kandidat Nauk degree (a Soviet degree roughly equivalent to a Ph.D.); he worked for a regional government in Western Ukraine and later was a partner for a joint project we had. Thus, I was dismayed some time after I met him to learn that this man’s job in the Soviet Union had been to read intercepted mail sent to and from citizens living in the region, and that he still carried out similar duties for the regional government of independent Ukraine.  
His explanation of why he was carrying out this odious job must have been the same as the explanation of many NSA mathematicians. He likely put it into some larger context of protecting his nation from the impending actions of evil people. What kind of qualities did this affable man have that made him capable of reading other people’s mail for a living? I don’t know, and I find myself wondering the same thing about the mathematicians at the NSA: if they have qualities, what are they that lead them to do the work they do?

Sunday, November 3, 2013

First Class vs Economy Class International Travel: One Hundred Years Ago

Folks who travel economy class on international flights not only have to endure narrow seats, insufficient leg room, lamentable meals, and, sometimes, smelly neighbors, they also suffer when they get a glance at what they are missing by not sitting in the front of the plane, where first class customers in wide, plush seats are fussed over by a host of attendants catering to their needs.  The plight of the economy class customers crossing an Ocean is not one to be envied.

Fortunately for them, they are better off than their counterparts who traveled across the Atlanta Ocean a hundred years ago. Then, the discomfort of second and third class passengers lasted days, even weeks, instead of a few hours. The folks on the crowded economy class decks had plenty of time to observe the luxuries of first class passengers who enjoyed spacious accommodations and memorable meals with their fellow well-off shipmates.

These following post cards show the contrast between the facilities for first class travelers and those for travelers of lesser means with second or third class tickets. First, four postcards from the Hamburg Line showing the accommodations for first class passengers on one of its ships traveling between Europe and the United States:

Sleeping Cabin, 1st Class

Dining Room, 1st Class

Smoking Salon, 1st Class
Walking Deck

In contrast to those facilities, here is a post card showing how the other classes traveled on these trans-Atlantic boats. In this case, most of the people on the top deck are likely immigrants traveling to the United States.

The postcard title (upper left corner) in German and Italian is "Immigrant Ship". It was mailed in 1913

The next time I am stuck in the back of an airplane headed to Amsterdam or Paris, I will recall that things would have been worse if I were traveling the same route 100 years ago. 

Progress on Birch Bay State Park's New "Heron Center"

When I last checked a week ago, construction of the "Heron Center," a log cabin and roofed patio area, was moving forward smartly in Birch Bay State Park. This building, located between the park's large northern parking lot and restrooms, will serve as an education center for the park. It has an intelligent and attractive design, and it is built in a location that did not require additional removal of trees, play areas, or other valuable park amenities.

The following are pictures of the construction site:

Side view of the new structure: Restrooms are visible to the South

Front of the Heron Center: The open patio will lie under these beams

How the Center will look when completed

For more on the plans for the Heron Center and on the Friends of Birch Bay State Park, which is behind the Center's construction, see the following link:

Friday, October 18, 2013

ANDOR AND ERZSÉBET PÜNKÖSTI: Fragments of Two Lives in Inter-War Budapest

Andor de Pünkösti (October 31, 1892 – July 12, 1944) was a Hungarian born to a noble inheritance; rejecting it, he earned greatness elsewhere. Later, he ended his own life rather than hand over his fate to Hungarian fascists.

His story is of a man whose father headed a Transylvanian family that had achieved nobility through seven generations of distinguished military service in the Austro-Hungarian army. In World War I, Andor fought bravely and sustained a severe facial wound, but after the war he refused to continue the family tradition of career military service. Breaking with the family, he instead he pursued his deepest passion: theater.

Pünkösti in 1942 in front of the Madách Theater
In the years between the two world wars, he gained fame in Hungary as a theater critic, scholar, educator, playwright, and director. From 1941 to 1944, he managed the Madách Theater at which he staged productions that were covertly anti-fascist. In the last few years of his life, Pünkösti extended his work into movies, writing scripts for three films and directing one. After Germany took control of the Hungarian government in March 1944, he became deeply depressed by events and committed suicide in July.

Part of the reason for Andor’s break with his family was his marriage to Erzsébet Fodor, whose mother was Jewish. Such marriages were not permissible for noble military officers. Erzsébet's father, Janos, had been a wealthy industrialist, banker, and newspaper owner who had changed his family name from Fischer to Fodor during Hungary's Magyarization drive. He had married Berta von Auspitz, who came from a wealthy and prominent Jewish family in Brünn (now Brno in the Czech Republic).

Like Andor, Erzsébet was a highly educated intellectual who spoke many languages and worked as a journalist. Most notably, in the late 1920s through much of the 1930s, she was a special correspondent for the New York Times, whose by-line was “Elizabeth de Punkosti.” The couple lived in a large apartment in downtown Budapest that she had inherited from her father.

Recalling Andor and Erzsébet: The Thompson-Fodor Discussion
My interest in Andor and Erzsébet Pünkösti was stimulated by mention of them in the written notes of a discussion on March 12, 1960 by retired journalists M.W. Fodor and Dorothy Thompson. These two long-time friends got together during five weekends in March and May, 1960, to help Dorothy with her planned memoir by recalling stories from their long careers. 

M.W. and Dorothy had met each other on March 1, 1921 in Budapest, soon after Dorothy had arrived to cover Central Europe and the Balkans for the Philadelphia Public Ledger. Fodor, a Hungarian citizen, had been the Manchester Guardian’s correspondent in the region for just over two years.

With both of them based in Vienna, covering the same territory for different papers, M.W. had assisted Dorothy with her first full-time job as a foreign correspondent; some suggest he was her mentor, at the least he was her guide as she began a career that would make her one of the most famous women in the United States. They became good friends and remained so for the almost forty years that had followed their first meeting.[1]

A 1925 painting of Pünkösti by Hugo Scheiber

In their March 12th discussion, they recalled many different people and events in their Vienna years. Among them were Andor de Pünkösti (whom they called Andrew von Pünkösti) and his wife Erzsébet, whom they called Erzi: [2]

In Hungary Andrew von Pünkösti of [illegible] is a CP [communist party] patron saint! He was in a counter-revolutionary organ during the Bela Kun regime. Commies were after him and Erzi until the regime was brought down by Horthy. He was a Hortheyist. But he was also an anti-Nazi and when 4 arrow crossers came to search his house he shot them and himself (Fall of 1944). Erzi who could have been brought out [of Hungary] until 1948 refused and died of heart attack in 1953. She still had her old cook who found her dead in her sleep. She was 57. She died in Budapest with communists in all rooms but hers and her maid’s. Pünkösti was “martyr.” Lived in country – everybody loved her.

Although not stated in this paragraph, M.W. had reason to know the story of Andrew and Erzi: She was M.W.’s younger sister.[3]

Andor de Pünkösti’s Story
A capsule version of Andor Pünkösti’s story was told in a recent e-mail sent to me by his nephew-by-marriage, Denis Fodor, the son of M.W. Fodor. He wrote:

Now, as to Pünkösti Andor:[4]  My uncle-by-marriage was a Transylvanian noble born in Slovakia (there you have the empire in a goulash).  His assimilated title was baron (the Transylvanians had another name for it). He started as a career soldier, an officer in the K&K Hussars (the most elite of Hungarian regiments). In World War I he was highly decorated and gravely wounded, leaving him with a scar that transited from his left ear across the mouth to the right lower chin. Sword. 

In the postwar turmoil, he joined one of the rebel militias that opposed the communist regime of Bela Kun. After these groups succeeded in hoisting Horthy into power my uncle, who by then had become a leading figure in the, let us say, society intelligentsia of Budapest, drifted into the world of serious theater. In time he became director of what I understand to have been the city`s leading progressive house. His marriage to my aunt, who represented the New York Times in Budapest, betokens that his life had turned into an archly modernized version of his beginnings.

When Horthy finally gave in to the Germans and a Hungarian Nazi took over, my uncle made no move to square himself with the new regime. When a team of secret police knocked on the door of my aunt`s house --on a very swank street -- they were received by shots from his revolver. The number of agents involved is to me unclear along with the actual final head count. But it is accepted that my uncle succeeded in killing himself; he did not deign to be shot by the intruding rabble.[5]

This lively version of a high achieving and tragically abbreviated life is fleshed out in several on-line documents and in a book written about him. The best on-line source is a lengthy biographical sketch available on a website devoted to the history of theater in Hungary: the link is . This website is in Hungarian, and although the Google translation to English is, at best, cryptic, information on most of the important elements of his life can be extracted.
Pünkösti with actresses in front of the Madach Theater   

In addition to the websites, a Hungarian-language book has been written about his years as manager of the Madách Theater. Its title is A Madach Színház Pünkösti Andor igazgatása idején by Zsuzsanna Borsos, published in 1979. No English translation of the book is available. Drawing from the on-line biographical sketch and other Hungarian-language websites, the following is additional elements of the story of Andor Pünkösti.

He was born an Uzonyi-Pünkösti, described as “an ancient Transylvanian family,” in 1892. His birthplace was Koŝice, which is now in Slovakia, because his father, an officer in the Austro-Hungarian army, was stationed there. While Andor was still a youngster, his father was transferred to Debrecen.

The direction of Andor’s life was foreshadowed by an event that occurred when he was nine. His parents took him to see a play, Shakespeare’s Richard III. He was hugely excited by it and, trying to figure out a way to enhance its presentation, he and a friend set a fire that burned down a wide swath of the Great Forest of Debrecen.

Andor went to high school in Budapest, but rebelled against his parent’s wish for him to study at Budapest University. Instead he went to Munich to study law. When the war broke out, he returned to take a commission in the Austro-Hungarian army, fighting on the front lines with an elite Cavalry unit.

As Denis Fodor wrote, he was wounded in 1915, a sword slashed his face and the cut required multiple surgeries, leaving his face with a deep scar. Also, according to the on-line biographical sketch, his injury inflicted deep psychological scars that made him subject to deep depressions. The experience might also have contributed to his later anti-war writings and leftist, anti-fascist, leanings.

Even as he had studied law and served in the military, Andor had kept up his interest in the theater, going when possible to plays and attending lectures. As he recovered from his wounds, he started writing about the theater and by 1918 had a job as a journalist for “Az újság” (“The Newspaper). By 1923, he was a well-known in Hungary as a leading theater critic.

The on-line biographical materials contain no information on his role in the opposition to Bela Kun and his short-lived communist regime in Hungary. However it is clear that near the end of the 1910s, he declined to become head of the noble Uzonyi-Punkosti family, which would have required that he have a career as a military officer. With this decision and his marriage to Erzsébet, whose mother who – as previously noted – was a Jew, he broke with his family to pursue a different direction in life.
Picture of the cover of a book about
Pünkösti and the Madách Theater

Leaving behind the family’s military legacy, he succeeded within a few year to become a highly respected critic. According to the biographical sketch, he was perceived as being “erudite, well-read, and well-informed”… “with a thorough knowledge of people,” plus a knowledge of many foreign languages. He wrote “unique, readable critiques” of theater productions that were witty and focused, but not demeaning. Also, he encouraged younger and novice playwrights. An opponent of kitsch in the theater, Andor supported modern, even avant-garde productions.

In the late 1920s, after a nearly decade as a theater critic, theorist, and educator, he was offered the opportunity to put his ideas about theater into practice as the dramaturg for a play by Ferenc Milnar. In 1929, he was for a half year the artistic director of both the Hungarian Theater and the National Chamber Theater. From then on, he took leading positions with prestigious theaters in Budapest, including director of the National Theater (1935), artistic director of the National Theater (1939), and from 1941 to 1944, director of the Madách Theater.

In addition to his newspaper journalism and theater work, Andor published a book of poetry titled Isten elzullot gyermeke. Versek (Elzullot God’s Child, Poetry), two anti-war novels (Bús Péter csodàlotos Kardja [Sad Peter, Beautiful Sword] and Bárczay Bella, a szeretőm [Bella Barczay, Love], plus numerous book chapters and magazine articles on theater. He also worked on films and is credited with writing screenplays for three films: Bünös vagyok! (I'm guilty!), 1942; Elkésett levél (Belated Letter), 1941; and Álomsárkány (Dragon's Dream), 1939. The last mentioned film, Álomsárkány (Dragon’s Dream), he also directed. For film credits, see:

During his years as director of Madách Theater, Pünkösti offered modern plays and innovative productions. Also, he courageously – and probably foolhardily – staged plays that were understood to be anti-fascist or even anti-Hitler. One of the favorite productions at the theater was a play about Nero, written by Francis Felkei. It focused on the murderous rein of Nero, and audiences immediately understood it to be a historical parable about Hitler. For more information on this production, go to these website (and used Google translate): and

Pünkösti at his desk

After the 100th performance of the play, Pünkösti was hauled into a Budapest police station to answer charges that Nero, the play, was in fact about Hitler. He replied something to the effect that the people who had suggested that Hitler was like Nero were the ones they should be investigating.

Andor’s life took a severely bad turn when Germany, fearing that Hungary would make a separate peace treaty with the Allies, invaded Hungary on March 19, 1944 and installed a Hungarian Nazi supporter to be prime minister. Pünkösti was removed as head of the theater in April. And even worse things were happening around him: from the middle of May until early July, 437,402 Jews were deported from Hungary (one-third of them were Hungarian citizens). All but 15,000 were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau and 90 percent were immediately killed.
Andor and Crew Work on the Play "Nero"

These events, and others, left Pünkösti deeply depressed, and he decided to commit suicide. Two different stories are told about his suicide. One is the story of the Fodors, who likely heard it from Erzi. In this version, Pünkösti shot Arrow Cross secret agents who came for him, then shot himself.[6]

Another version of the suicide, told in the on-line biographical sketch, is that on the night of July 9, he poisoned and gassed himself; his housekeeper found him unconscious the next morning. He died three days later, on July 12, in the hospital.

His will left everything to his wife. He requested that no one speak at his funeral, and his wish was honored. Andor was buried in an unmarked grave in the Farkasréti Cemetery. In 1957, the city erected a sculpture at the head of a tombstone to mark his burial place.
Andor Pünkösti's Grave, Budapest

With the information I could access, I found no evidence that Pünkösti was or was not viewed -- as suggested by M.W. Fodor -- as a “patron saint” by the Communist Party of Hungary. This observation has credibility because it was made by a man who was not only Andor's brother-in-law but also was a close observer of Hungary as the editor of the Berlin edition of Die Neue Zeitung (America’s newspaper in Germany) from 1948 to 1955 and, after that, a Voice of America analyst based in Munich.

One thing is clear, Pünkösti was not forgotten after his death. As mentioned, his unmarked grave was provided with an elaborate headstone, and his memory is honored with a plaque in the Örkény István Theatre, which is the building that housed the Madách Theater from 1941 to 1944. Also, he left behind a substantial body of written work that keeps his memory alive among scholars of Hungarian theater.

Erzsébet Fodor (or Fischer) Pünkösti
Much less is known about the life of Erzsébet than about the life of her husband Andor. As mentioned previously, she was raised in a wealthy family and was a highly educated intellectual. Her English was good enough that she could work as a special correspondent for one of the most prestigious newspapers in the United States, The New York Times. A search of its archives shows that she had eight by-lines in that paper, the first on February 3, 1929 when she wrote about Hapsburg Archduke Joseph, who was living in Budapest. The last was July 16, 1935, with the headline, “Nazi Propaganda Splits Hungary.” In between these two are several articles she wrote about theater productions in Budapest. No doubt, she contributed many more articles to the New York Times that were published without her byline. 

Apparently, Erzsébet inherited her parent’s house in Budapest after their deaths in 1918 or 1919, which the family attribute to Bela Kun’s communist supporters. (Kun's Soviet Republic held power in Hungary from March 21 to August 1, 1919.)  The house, located at 29 Eötvös Utca, is where Andor was living when he committed suicide and is the one referred to in both the Fodor-Thompson paragraph and Denis Fodor’s account of the lives of his aunt and uncle.

Likely, she and her husband had stimulating and intellectually rich lives between the two world wars and were, as Denis Fodor described, prominent along the Budapest intelligentsia. However, the rise of anti-Semitism had to have dampened the pleasures of journalism and theater as the 1930s progressed. And her life was in grave danger after the Germans invaded Hungary in March, 1944, and Adoph Eichmann came to Budapest to manage the murder of Jews. According to the on-line biographical sketch of Andor, Erzi hid out in Gödöllö under an assumed name and was able to escape deportation.

            Denis Fodor in his e-mail wrote about her life:
As for my aunt, she fell dangerously ill during the siege of Budapest by the Red Army. Somehow she recovered -- the regime may have helped, as her husband`s heroic gesture received high credit from the Russian occupation. Accordingly, she was allowed to live out her days in a country house the couple owned at Gödöllö, a tony resort that under the monarchy & Horthy regency was favored by the nobility and old money.

Perhaps this favorable treatment by the new Communist regime is what convinced her to stay in Hungary after it became part of the Communist bloc. The Fodor-Thompson paragraph indicates that he offered to help her leave Hungary, but she declined though until 1948 she could have. Erzsébet's relatively benign situation could have been related to her husband’s armed resistance to the Arrow Cross agents, the reputation he earned by staging anti-fascist plays, or both. Whatever the reason, her life in Soviet Budapest was apparently not too uncomfortable, though she died at the relatively young age of 57.

Stories to be Told
The life stories of Andor and Erzsébet remain largely untold, especially in English. This brief account of their lives suggests that they would be rich subjects for a researcher seeking to add texture to the history of Budapest’s inter-war period and to learn more about two prominent Hungarian families.

1.       For more about the life and career of M.W. Fodor see the following biographical sketch.

Information about the life of Dorothy Thompson is available in two autobiographies:  Peter Kurth, American Cassandra (1990) amd Marion Sanders, Dorothy Thompson: A Legend in Her Time (1973).n

2.      This quotation is taken from a document in the Dorothy Thompson Papers at the Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University. The SPRC retains all rights for use of the paper and requires written consent for publication of quotes or pictures in the collection.

3.      M.W. Fodor had another younger sister, named Margit, who was a few years older than Erzsebet. She married a fur trader named Ferenc Weiss. They left Hungary for England in the early 1930s.

4.      The Fodor-Thompson paragraph refers to Andrew von Punkosit. Denis Fodor pointed out the following in his email:  “Please note that for international purposes Pünkösti let himself be known as Andor de Pünkösti. Only the Austrians, under the empire, would have addressed him as von Pünkösti.”

5.      E-mail communication from Denis Fodor to Dan Durning, dated September 29, 2013.

6.    The Arrow Cross Party was Hungary’s strongly anti-Semitic national socialist party. Its leader was appointed Prime Minister after the German invasion.