If you haven't heard of Burgenland before and/or maybe aren't exactly sure where it is, pull out a map or Google it. It is the easternmost province in Austria. Burgenland is celebrating it's 90th birthday in 2011. It was formed in 1921 when the Austrian - Hungarian monarchy was disbanded. The majority of the people who live here are German-speaking, but there are also a number of Croation- and Hungarian-speaking people.
My grandmother kept in touch with her family after immigrating to the U.S. We recently unearthed several letters that were exchanged between her and one of her sisters. After my grandmother passed away, one of my aunts continued to connect with the "old country" by keeping in touch via the post. This responsibility was then passed down to my mother (the youngest of her siblings).
Our first visit to Burgenland was in 1977; I had just completed my sophomore year of high school. My mother and I spent a week visiting relatives that we barely knew; we even met an uncle/great-uncle that we didn't realize that we had! (He was born in 1905 and my grandmother immigrated to the U.S. in 1906!) Despite the language challenges and the distance between us, we formed relationships that have lasted almost 35 years! I have been fortunate, this trip was my fifth visit to Burgenland, and my mother's sixth or seventh. It's a special place in our hearts.
Back to that first visit - the borders between East and West were closed. One could only cross after much scrutiny and questioning by the Eastern Block border guards. Since these villages in Burgenland are located on the border between Austria and Hungary it was commonplace to see towers with guards and machine guns. On those first trips to Burgenland we could only travel around Austria. Fortunately, today everything has changed. People can freely travel across the border between Austria and the countries of Hungary, Slovakia, and Slovenia. And travel we did!
One destination that we were lucky to visit was Bratislava, Slovakia! It's only about 40km from Vienna to Bratislava (so an easy hour by car). It was raining the day we went, but we didn't let the rain deter our plans. We parked near the center of the old part of town and then got out our umbrellas and started walking. I hope that the pictures will convey the beautiful architecture of the buildings in Bratislava!
The opera house in Bratislava:
A little red bus for sightseeing:
The town square:
Walking down the cobblestoned streets of the old city:
We were thrilled to have the opportunity to visit Bratislava!
Another East/West trip that we made was to the Bridge at Andau. Any James Michener fans out there? He tells the story of when in 1956 the Soviets attacked Budapest and the Hungarian people revolted. The Bridge at Andau was an escape route for Hungarian refugees who were trying to flee into Austria. The bridge was destroyed by the Soviets in November 1956. On the 40th anniversary of this event, the bridge was reconstructed, and today there is a memorial on this site.
A reminder of the past (guard tower in the distance):
One more East/West visit - one day we traveled to the border between Austria and Hungary near Sopron. There is a memorial here; the site is known as the place of the "Pan European Picnic." August 19, 1989, between 15 and 20 thousand people demolished the remaining portion of the "iron curtain" on this site and broke through the border gate and pushed their way into Austria.
A barbed wire fence remains as a reminder:
In the distance, another reminder of the past:
Let me leave you with one of my favorite pictures from our trip. The area around the Neusiedlersee (Lake Neusiedl) is a bird lover's paradise and one of the frequently seen inhabitants is the stork. They build their nests on top of chimneys and power poles. Here is one family of storks that we saw while traveling through Hungary.