Together in Lwów

The splendor of the illustrious travel company leaving for the Lemberg klezmer festival was in the last moment almost increased by another prominent figure, Arkadiusz Bernaś, the director of the Polish Institute in Budapest who, in a letter sent just a few days before the departure, presented himself as a devoted reader of the Poemas del Río Wang, expressed his regret for being unable to come with us to Lwów because of other programs, and invited me to be the guest of the Polish Institute at the Bruno Schulz festival in Drohobycz in early September. I gratefully accepted the invitation, and of course I will report from the scene here at Río Wang.

But to Drohobycz we managed to get already now, along the road to Lwów, after descending from the Carpathians and seventy kilometers before our destination making a short detour to the home town of Bruno Schulz and the scene of his dreamlike writings where still there stands – even though at the brink of collapse – the largest synagogue of Europe of those times. Even so, we arrive in daylight at Lwów, where we had managed to reserve three elegant accommodations for the group around the prestigious Shevchenko (formerly Akademicka) Avenue. The intellectual center of the circle of accommodations is the former Szkocka (Scottish) Café, where before the war the greatest mathematicians entertained each other with various problems after the lectures… but this story requires a separate post.

We dedicated the following day to a thorough visit of the old town, from which even the pouring rain could not prevent us: we only visited a larger than planned number of the excellent coffee houses, which in Lwów, the city of the very first European cafés and Monarchy-style cakes is an integral part of the city’s understanding anyway. We have visited the Armenian quarter, the Old Jewish Street with the ruins of the Golden Rose synagogue, the fin-de-siècle Mikolasch and Andreolli Passages, the Jesuit church reconverted in this April from a Soviet newspaper archive to its original purpose. The afternoon we have spent in the Art Nouveau-style Krakow quarter, that is the Jewish suburb described with so much inspiration by Witold Szolginia, checking en route the former Polish and Yiddish wall inscriptions emerging from under the plaster of Soviet times (which we have been long collecting and will soon publish on a map, too), the house of Sholem Aleichem, the sites of the former Jewish cemetery and synagogues, and, not last, the famous Sztuka Café still preserving the air of the Monarchy. We ended the program with a dinner completed in the Kriva Lipa passage, in one of our favorite restaurants, about which we will soon report, too.

In the third day we toured by bus the surroundings of the city. In the morning we were in the 16th-century Renaissance ideal town of Zsovkva/Żółkiew, the old headquarters of the Polish hetmans, where, besides the Polish and Ukrainian churches – both were full during the morning service – we also visited one of the oldest standing synagogues of Galicia, built in 1620 on the model of Lwów’s Krakow synagogue, which the Nazis had no time to completely destroy. We also were in the Janowska death camp which still today functions as a prison, in the open air museum presenting the wooden architecture of the Rusyn regions in a beautiful natural surroundings, and in the Łyczakowski cemetery, the Polish pantheon, where the military cemeteries of the Polish troops defending and the Ukrainian troops attacking Lwów in 1918 stand peacefully side by side now, after many decades of hardships. We had a lunch in the Armenian café above the roofs of Lwów, and in the afternoon we took part in the klezmer festival, organized for the fourth time in this year. Finally on the fourth day we arrived back to Budapest by crossing the Verecke Pass in the Carpathians, with the contesting monuments of the first Hungarians arriving here a thousand and hundred years ago to the territory of modern Hungary, and of the young Ukrainian nationalists fighting here against the Hungarian army in 1939.

The four days spent together and the atmosphere of Lwów also brought close to each other the members of the company, and we agreed that we would report about the road in a common blog post. The reports follow here below, except for one: as Catherine wrote not one, but four related short essays, we will publish them in a separate post right after this one.

I once again thank you all for this tour which we together have made so fantastic. Special thanks to Krisztina Kurdi, the greatest Hungarian expert of Galician Jews and Tamás Deák, a good expert of Polish history for taking over the role of guide more than once, and to Catherine Darley for speaking about her Gulag research in the Solovki Islands in connection with the visit of the Janowska death camp. We thank to Lwów for everything she generously gave to us. And we hope to see us again on new roads.

Lemberg, Lwów, L’viv…

We could take part on a journey, on a fantastic and bitter-sweet time travel, which was defined by a more than professional, fantastic guide. Studiolum gave over to us everything that can and must be known about this city as his personal treasures. His voluntary helpers, Krisztina spoke with consistent objectivity about Galicia, and Tamás Deák conveyed his far-reaching knowledge about Poland – we were all incredibly enriched. Catherine reported on her Gulag research – it was shocking. Should I say that I was on one of the most important, most interesting journeys of my life? Because I consider these four days among them.

The team has accepted with enviable persistence and curiosity everything that was waiting for us. In four days we got very close to become real friends.

The most important moments: the story of the special circle of mathematicians who in the evenings entertained each other with world-shaking problems in a coffee house, and the sharp-eyed owner every night after closing caused to copy everything they wrote on the marble tables and counting sheets – most of these problems are unresolved until today… The café in the skies, full with kerosene lamps: the story of the discovery of this material is also incredibly amusing. The broken off possibilities of the little Renaissance town of Zhovkva, which still today preserves the traces of beauty… and the Orthodox church with a Sunday service where the believers closely standing to each other sing in a deep and touching way the Господи, помилуй… As a skeptical person, it is in such moments that I feel myself the closest to the wonder of the faith. The Armenian street, the beers, the walks, the city which, despite the infuriating rain, still enticed us to go further and offered fantastic opportunities. And the historical and human confusion which has been lived here for centuries by Poles and Ukrainians, Jews and Germans, and by not a few Hungarians as well. I thank you so much that I could be with you. And I was reassured so much that I have not yet forgotten Russian…

Our thirteen year old daughter enjoyed to come with us everywhere. She also has a short summary:

“It was very interesting what the French lady (Catherine, professor of history in Paris) told us. That when the snow and ice melted, there emerge the bodies of the prisoners buried under them… And all the history of the islands. I do like to listen to such things.” (Catherine spoke about the history of the Gulag in the Solovetsky Islands).

And one more thing: she fell in love with kvass, and brought home more than two liters of it…

The road which rises in a wide arc and buoyantly on the hill – the vaporous hillsides – the giant dills higher than people – the small log-houses with colorful painted windows – the old ladies with humped back chatting at the bridge, just like at us – the woman keeping bees in the long garden – the blueberry-sellers along the road – the little girl braiding the hair of her mother sitting next to the blueberries – the storks in the boggy meadows – the far-shining golden domes of the little village churches – the lots of swallows flying in zigzags and screaming everywhere.

The little town, the only feeder of a grotesque and graceful, pressing and fascinating oeuvre, Bruno Schulz’s Drohobycz, which in spite of of its small dimensions is a self-sufficient small universe rotating around itself, and in which one can found everything to get lost in it forever; and this small complex system is linked with a thousand strong threads to the world of the k.u.k. Monarchy, of which it is a part. The little town which, in the oeuvre of an exceptional author, highly towers above itself.

The city, which in the first decade of the twentieth century – a decade which not without reason is classified with the nineteenth – was a home for Parandowski’s protagonist, Teophil, who, just grown out from the world of his well-protected childhood sought for his own ways, read the same books, and lived the same conflicts as so many other teenagers in several other cities of the Monarchy.

The city which, together with all its exoticism, is so familiar, because in the last period of the Monarchy it stood in a flow of everyday and durable goods, cultural products, styles, trends and ideas whose mark can be still felt today. Its inhabitants had to face similar difficulties and tried to manoeuvre between similar tragedies, constraints and opportunities defining their lives as the people in our parts. Familiar is the devastation and familiar are the strategies of self-supporting. Familiar are the structures of the facades, the lobular patterns of the cobblestones of the roads, the nineteenth century which brought it one more golden age and the twentieth which badly oppressed it, and the inexorable decay of the decades of state socialism.

The way as they carelessly tack one more patch on the tattered recent past; the city which again and again tries in its own way to heal its wounds.

Ray Musiker and the Klezmatics: Nokh an anderer alter bulgar. From the album Marriage of Heaven and Earth


I feel at home where history seems to be touched and walked, where the traces of richness and poverty appear in the same shades, where the layers adhering to each other have to be sought for, where I do not understand everything, but recognize most, where the center and periphery are interchangeable, where oblivion fights with remembering, which is the scene of so many things but not yet completely a museum of them.


I came home this afternoon from Berlin to Göteborg, and the make-up for a week’s undone work was waiting for me in our garden. Thus my afternoon passed with harvesting fruits, and I have managed to collect at least the most ripen strawberries, currants and raspberries before they would have fallen. Uploading the images and writing a report is unfortunately in a delay, and I’m not professional in these things anyway. The most important thing is, as I already told you in parting, that the journey was a great experience. I am especially grateful to you for the enthusiastic and high quality guiding and organization, but also to the other participants. Despite the small number of people there were some knowledgeable and prepared people from whom it was a pleasure to learn; but we, “amateurs” were also very interested and enthusiastic participants, which, I think so, is also essential to a good “cultural” tourist travel.

Lemberg provided a fantastic experience in this way, getting to know everything that we could have not known without you. Too bad that there is not enough money for the maintenance of the city and the restoration of the beautiful “brave old world” buildings, and especially not for the ones that are not important for the Ukrainians… But perhaps it is due to its being forgotten that so many things, even if not untouched but rather in decay, have survived in the incredible storms of the last century of which the inhabitants of L’viv had plenty. Perhaps in no other place of the world you can see so many monuments, beautiful houses, churches, streets, details together. And the world knows nothing about this!!! While collecting the fruits, I told non-stop about my impressions to my husband. I hope next time he would also come with us, also because he will never once more take care of the garden alone :) Thank you again for this experience, and if there is only one way, I’m eagerly looking forward to future trips.

In this short summary of the journey to Lwów I only would like to refer to some impressions, and not to present all the characteristics of the buildings.

On the bus I have mentioned that in general I love to walk in cemeteries, because it is instructive to see how the successive generations remember about the deceased. In the larger urban cemeteries this is enhanced by the series of sculptures added to the tombs. For those who love this melancholic genre, a great experience is a walk in the Łyczakówski cemetery, where the gravestones of the more or less illustrious Polish and Ukrainian residents of the city alternate with each other. In addition to the pleasantly chaotic civil parcels the regularly ordered military tombs also occupy a substantial area. Here finally the tombstones of the Poles and Ukrainians fallen during the complicated 20th-century history of the town can stand next to each other.

Just as in the cemetery the history of several decades is condensed in a small place, so the same historical layers are well visible in the downtown of Lwów where in an area easy to walk we could see the buildings of 5-6 centuries. A beautiful symbol of this stratification are the Polish, Yiddish and German-language advertisements once painted on the walls of the houses and now reappearing from under the plaster. These are also constantly changing: some of them, although worn, remained visible, some others have been repainted, but later revealing themselves from under the later painting layers, some of them beautifully renovated, while others permanently destroyed. At the same time it was also interesting to see (as we could read in the blog) that new Ukrainian inscriptions are also born on the model of the old labels.

Very interesting were the small architectural remains, by help of which our expert guide could tell about a slice of Lwów’s history: the carved pillars in the Armenian and Jewish quarters, some Armenian inscriptions above the windows (whose frames were changed for plastic in the meantime), the empty places of the mezuzahs on some doorposts, or the shutters from the times of the Monarchy on a couple of shopwindows.

Unfortunately, many times we could encounter only ruins (like in the case of the Mikolasch Passage or the Golden Rose synagogue), or even only their empty places. Thus of so much of the Jewish past only the place has remained, at most marked with a plaque. Therefore during our journey, to evoke the disappeared buildings, and even more those who once lived here, was essential the infinite number of stories heard from our excellent guide.

István’s map on the places visited. On full screen

Melinda constantly reports on her own blog on the journey (unfortunately in Hungarian only):

Az örömmunkás
„Verecke híres útján jöttem én…”
A csokoládé
A lavas
Lembergi részletek

Here I send some photos made earlier on places that we have not seen but often referred to.

The memorial plaque on the place of the Reform Synagogue blown up in 1943 (see also our post on it)

Statue of Queen Constance, wife of the city’s founder Prince Lev and daughter of Hungarian King Béla IV in the wall of the St. John the Baptist Church, built for her by her husband


Verecke – Death to the Container Factory, or the 10th Five-Year Plan

After admiring the beautiful panorama from the monument of the Hungarians’ arrival to the Carpathian Basin in 895, and descending somewhat below, we read the following inscription next to a Ukrainian-Soviet WWII memorial:

Death to… the Container Factory

Facing the Ukrainian-Soviet memorial, a proud monument to the 10th Five-Year Plan, in the form of two unfinished and abandoned hotels. Until the modern road built for the 1980 Moscow Olympics, the worn and almost impracticable road leading through the Pass of Verecke was the main road between Hungary and the Soviet Union. The two hotels in construction more or less at the time of the “olympic road” became obsolete at the moment of the opening of the the new road, and then all traffic disappeared from the Verecke Pass. The two hotels were abandoned just as they were. The first one can be better seen from the road, even the scaffolding is still on it.

Abandoned hotel

The other is hiding among the trees, but it is worth to climb up and admire it.

A fabulous castle rotating on a duck’s feet

An almost finished facade

A staircase without stairs

Lower level

Leaky floor

Edentate arch

And finally some photos from Lemberg, too:


Coming home

What kind of feelings do we bring home from Lemberg? It is impossible to summarize in words. Therefore I give the opportunity to answer to a song, in an old and creaky Polish gramophone disk.

Chór Juranda: Ten drogi Lwów, 1932

Ten drogi Lwów
To miasto snów
Gdy kiedys usłyszę
Całuji rączki
Gorączkę już mam.
Ten Stryjski park,
Ten wschodni targ,
Te szanowania,
Padam do nóg: bądź zdrów!
Ma tylko jeden Lwów!
The dear Lwów
The city of dreams
When I hear her
I kiss her hands,
I feel the fever.
The Stryjski Park,
The bazaar…
I appreciate you,
I feel to your feet: be well!
There is only one Lwów!

D. Tamás