It would be a guaranteed dropout question in any quiz: where does a statue of Attila the Hun stand today? One could only guess: in Transylvania? In ancient Upper Hungary? In Sopron? In Óbuda? In Mongolia? On the battlefield of Catalaunum? In China, in the former capital of the Huns?

The correct answer is: twenty kilometers from Vienna, in the tiny Austrian town of Tulln.

Nowadays the late descendants of the Huns only make expeditions to the Praskac of Tulln, the richest nursery of Kukania for English roses and other Western treasures unknown in Hunland. Ancient Huns, however, used to come here for quite different flowers.

According to the Nibelung Epic, Attila, the king of the Huns received here his bride Kriemhild coming by boat from Passau:

ein stat bi tvonowe / lit in osterlant
div ist geheizen tvln / da wart ir bechant
vil manich site vremede / den si e nie gesach
si enpfiengen da genvge / den sit leit von ir gesach
vor eceln dem chvenege / ein ingesinde reit
vro vnd vil riche / hoefsh vnt gemeit
wol vier vnd zweinzech fversten / tiwer vnd her
daz si ir vrowen saehen / davon en gerten si niht mer
zwene fvrsten riche / als vns daz ist geseit
bi der frvn gende / trvgn iriv chleit
da ir der chvenich ecel / hin engegen gie
da si den fvrsten edele / mit chvsse gvetelich enpfie

A city by the Danube / in Osterland doth stand,
Hight the same is Tulna: / of many a distant land
Saw Kriemhild there the customs, / ne’er yet to her were known.
To many there did greet her / sorrow befell through her anon.
Before the monarch Etzel / rode a company
Of merry men and mighty, / courteous and fair to see,
Good four-and-twenty chieftains, / mighty men and bold.
Naught else was their desire / save but their mistress to behold.
As is to us related, / did there high princes twain
By the lady walking / bear aloft her train,
As the royal Etzel / went forward her to meet,
And she the noble monarch / with kiss in kindly wise did greet.

Such a historical chance cannot be missed by a small Austrian town of ten thousand inhabitants. Although Tulln has just recently (2001) erected a statue – a copy of the equestrian statue in the Capitolium – to Marcus Aurelius – “in order it might recall the memory of several centuries of Roman presence at the banks of the Danube” –, as well as to the great son of the town Egon Schiele (2000) – whose memory until then was only recalled by the town prison, where he condescended to serve his sentence, and which was then transformed into a Schiele Museum with open air beer pub and a gorgeous vista on the Danube – but having been mentioned in the Nibelungenlied is a whole other story!

The town has therefore given commission to the Russian sculptor Mikhail Nogin – who happens to have been the creator of the previous two statues as well – to erect a monument, in the form of a sculptural group on the presumptive site of that historical encounter, the desolate bank of the Danube behind the monastery of the Minorites, to the marching in of Tulln into German epic poetry. With this “Projekt” – as Landeshauptmannstellvertreter Ernest Gabmann formulated it with untranslatable German perfection – “wurde ein wertvoller städtebaulicher Akzent gesetzt”, and furthermore – a hardly negligible point of view – “wurden rund 160 Parkplätze in der Innenstadt von Tulln geschaffen, wodurch das Zentrum attraktiviert und eine Erhöhung der Kundenfrequenz erreicht werden soll”.

The statue unveiled in 2005 which, instead of being trivially mentioned as a “Denkmal” – Österreich ist anders! – is called a “Bronzeskulpturen-Dokumentation,” consists of three parts. In the forefront one can read the verses of the Nibelung Epic about Tulln freshly written on the open page of a large bronze book placed on a rustic slab – the quill of the bronze goose is still laying on the bronze page. Behind the book, the jets of water of the fountain shaped by “Wasserbildhauer” (haben Sie’s mal probiert, Wasser zu hauen?) Hans Muhr, repeat on a larger scale the double arch of the open book, subliming it into an unmaterial and timeless metaphor as if it were, while from behind the vapour of the water, like from the mist of the past, the historical vision emerges. A straight talk. The citizen looks at it and says: “I got it. That one there comes out of this one here, as if it were. Art, isn’t it.” And thus having succesfully absolved the component “art” of his duty, with peaceful heart he goes on to behold the history.

Citizens interpreting art

A Rezeptions-Dokumentation of the Bronzeskulpturen-Dokumentation

Kriemhild, coming from the left, from the direction of Passau is accompanied by the Markgraf of Osterland – today’s Austria – Rüdiger von Bechelaren and by the other “high princes twain” mentioned in the epic, to Attila waiting for her on the right side, in the direction of Hunnia. Behind the Hun king there stands his brother Buda, as well as two German princes living in exile in the Hun court, Dietrich von Bern and Gibich. The queue is ended by the little child of Attila, Csaba – according to the inscription he is Aladár, but this latter will be actually the son of Kriemhild – swinging his wooden sword and peeping curiously from behind the cloak of Gibich at his future stepmother.

Finally, behind Csaba – rigorously from the direction of Hunnia – a shocked bronze rat is watching the never seen multitude.

From the sinking ship save us, O Lord!

Captains remain the last

The composition is a monumental postmodern gag which – following the widespread recipe of the postmodern gag – starts from easily identifiable traditional frame topoi just in order to deny and ridicule them in the details. This genre is the great encounter of the artist with father complex and of the snobbish petty bourgeois, where both find their pleasure in the systematic emptifying and caricaturing of the exalted topos of the past. And both of them gain an additional bonus as well: the bourgeois an art easy to consume but held in high esteem (“traditional forms in the individual orchestration of the artist”), while the artist the delight of jeering at the bourgeois who consumes and esteems his gag as art. The overdetailed hyperrealism, the affected gestures and the grotesque expression of the figures of the majestic sculptural group recall the characters of cartoons and comics, thus offering an easy clue to the reception of the work of art which is even more enhanced by the genre figures (already qualified as an “opium for the people” by Schopenhauer). The soul of Hundertwasser is hovering above the waters of the fountain.

Incidentally, in the same period Nogin created the statue of another Asian monarch as well, that of Heydar Aliev, President of Azerbaijan. Its erection in the same year of 2005 was heralded by such electronic media like the Day.Az, the Nash Vek (“He left a memory made not with hands...”), or the Azerbajdzhanskaya Izvestiya (“The love of the people is eternal”). The statue standing on a pedestal made of Chinese and Brazilian granite in the Aliev Park established for this purpose was modeled by Nogin in collaboration with Russian artist Salavat Scherbakov, and prepared in the foundry of Smolensk, as it was bitterly commented on the forum of the Azeri AzTop:

Выходит у нас нет гранита, нет скульпторов и нет местечка, где его можно изготовить. Радует то, что хоть деньги у нас на это есть.

It is evident therefore that we have no granite, no sculptors, and no place where it could be prepared. I’m happy, however, that at least we have money for it.

This is of course not entirely true for Tulln, for the Nibelung group was most probably moulded in the same workshop where the two previous statues, that is in the Walter Rom Kunstgiesserei of Tirol, whose professional website offers a flash presentation of the process of moulding well worth to watch.

Heydar Aliev is also renowned for being the first leader of a post-Soviet state that has managed to pass on his power to his son. Attila was not so successful. His son Csaba will be defeated precisely by the son of Kriemhild Aladár, who himself will remain dead on the battlefield.

Kriemhild here, in Tulln does not yet know anything about this, although her ambiguous face gives the semblance as if she already had some preliminary idea about that fatal nosebleed. Being au courant thanks to the Moscow tabloids we happily share with you the secret that this face was borrowed from Varvara, the popular estrade singer of Moscow. An issue of 2004 of the Megapolis-Ekspress has published in the column “Kaleydoskop” its true story that was “narrated by Varvara like a fairy-tale”:

“When my director Edik told me that the world famous artist Mikhail Nogin came to us to create a statue of me, my first thought was that we were in a scene of candid camera. What kind of a statue? But the sculptor persisted, and came personally to show the sketches of the monument to Eduard.” Varvara then accepted to visit Nogin in his impressive studio apartment. “Mr. Nogin then began: Every German knows the “Song about the Nibelungs”, whose last version was composed in the 12th century. The characters of this epic are historical figures like Attila, the knight-king of the Huns, his brother Buda, Dietrich von Bern, ambassador Rüdiger and king Gibich, and not least the queen of the Burgunds, the intriguing Kriemhild. However, we have no authentic portrait of any of these personalities. I have to join all these figures in a majestic composition that will stand in the Austrian crook of the Danube, in the town of Tulln, but until now I have not found any female face amongst historical portraits or my own acquaintances that could be the model of the queen. But then I saw a clip in the TV. I did not know the name of the singer, but I was touched by the music, because it somehow bore resemblance to this Celtic [!] epic. And then I looked at her face, and my heart gave a leap. I’ve found my queen! The figure has been finished for a long time, but her face is still temporary. – Mr. Nogin pointed at a monumental statue. – If you agree, let us fix an appointment. If you pose for me, the queen will bear your face. – What a strange proposal! the stunned Varvara said. We have recently married with my husband in an Orthodox cathedral on the bank of the Danube. And although I of course do not know the “Song about the Nibelungs”, but in all my life I felt an attraction to Gothic art and to old castles. ... Even in my songs I draw from the cults of the ancient hunters and fishermen, and I bear the clothes of the ancient Slavs. Precisely this makes Varvara different! And you have felt this! How peculiar! – What is peculiar is that coming home to Moscow I have seen precisely you on the TV. I do not work too much in Russia. I have one statue in the cathedral of Christ the Saviour, but all my major works are in Austria. For example, the statue of Marcus Aurelius ... But the monument in the crook of the Danube will be the main work of my life. We’ve designed an unusual illumination around it, and music will emanate from every part of the statue, the rumble of vehicles and clash of weapons – the illusion of full life. I’m sure that this work will survive for centuries. And the more than three meter high “Varvara” will stand there, looking far away, through ages, fogs and rains.”

The enthralling song – as it was made explicit in another interview by Varvara – was the Grezy lyubvi (Dreams of Love). Unfortunately we could not see the clip, but from the graphics of Varvara’s site we can imagine what was that visual world that Nogin felt akin to his own.

And if it was established that one of the main figures was a portrait, we cannot brush aside the idea that the other one was it as well, namely that of the creator himself – whom we see here on the small picture at the inauguration of his monument to Vrubel in Omsk –, in the main character of the main work of his life. Is it possible that in the figures of the Burgundian Kriemhild and Attila the Hun – or, to borrow the original metaphor of Landeshauptmannstellvertreter Gabmann, in the encounter of East and West – actually two celebrities of the Moscow art scene make a rendezvous in Tulln, on the bank of the Danube?

In the beginning there was the Tao

This is how the Gospel of John begins in the most widespread Chinese translation, the Chinese Union Version, achieved between 1890 and 1919 in the collaboration of several Protestant denominations.

太 初 有 道
tài chū yŏu dào
[in the] remotest / beginning / there was / Tao

This statement is embarrassingly unambiguous. True, Jesus himself says some chapters below (Jn 14:6) that “I’m the way” – in Chinese 道, tao as well –, but does this authorize us to identify the common noun with the concept carrying powerful historical and philosophical connotations, the Verb with the Tao?

In order to answer this question, first we have to clearly see what the Verb of the biblical tradition, the logos of the Greek original means.

Then we have to see what the Tao means for the Chinese Taoist tradition.

And finally: who, why and how attempted to reconcile these two concepts, and with what results.

This is what I will try to survey in the following months.

A Long March

The daughter of our Chinese friends was about three or four years old when I got to know her. She had arrived a week earlier from a far away borderland of China, where she had been guarded by her grandmother while her parents were working here in Hungary. She did not quite look like a little child. Instead, she looked as if she were a figure in a hundred years old photo. I at once felt love for her.

She was an extremely talented child. Within some months she fluently spoke Hungarian. One could have thought that she was just like all the other little Hungarian schoolgirls if one did not know that in certain respects she really lived like a figure in a hundred years old photo, spending all the summer with her grandmother in China, and learning with her Chinese language, literature and history from morning till night, ten hours a day, only having some minutes of a break in an hour.

In the second class of the high school she found an international high school network founded for preparing talented children from all over the world for admission to the best British and American universities. We helped her to write the application. She was admitted. Two years ago she began the third year of the high school more than ten thousand kilometers away from us. She quickly grew fond of the school, and they also loved her.

This spring she made her exams of admission to the university. I've rooted for her very much. I've prayed a lot, and we’ve also offered Mass for her. Yesterday I got to know the results. Six American elite universities sent notification that they welcome her among their students – the little Chinese girl who still some years ago looked like a figure in a hundred years old photo.


Matthew Tree, who has lived “for exactly twenty years” (“fa vint anys que tinc vint anys”, as Serrat sings) in Catalonia, in his book Un anglès viatja per Catalunya per veure si existeix (An Englishman travels across Catalonia to see whether it exists) gives a cruel definition of ‘province’:

“What is a province? A province is a place that is not its own center. And the overwhelming majority of Catalans – for whatever reason – want their region to become its own center.”

Living in Hungary, I daily experience that there is one condition that is incomparably more sorrowful and hopeless than just being a province: when the province – for whatever reason – has finally become its own center.


Since MP Zapatero in a TV show a month ago – where the viewers could freely interrogate him – answered the simple and sneaking question of “how much does a cup of coffee cost nowadays?” like “about eighty cents”, which is in fact almost half of the actual price (the querying person has indeed commented: “that was in the times of uncle Pachi! * ”), the pueblo de España cannot run short of fun. In blogs, forums, cartoons, companies, trains and bars they keep creating a shower of daily new variations on the theme. Google gives 28,000 hits so far for “abuelo Pachi”, and 35,000 for “el café de Zapatero”, just to mention the least refined queries.

It was in Palma de Mallorca that I’ve recently found a nice new invention. This bar had a handwritten inscription:

„Zapatero no toma café aquí. Lo siento.”

Mallorca, Bar Es PetitAnd the coffee was one euro thirty indeed.

So far, so good. However, when I asked permission to take a photo of the paper, the owner refused.

When I asked why, he showed me a local newspaper where the illustration of a report on a manifestation had the door of the bar in the background. “These things do bad publicity to us”, he said.

This recalls to mind the old Soviet joke, where this person boasts of having shitted in the door of the Cremlin; but later, in a moment of sincerity he confesses that it was dark, that he looked around very carefully, and that... he did not even pull down his pants.

Nevertheless, in order we should not remain without any illustration, here you are at least an outside photo of this model institution of civil courage. Bar Es Petit, Palma de Mallorca, Carrer de la Pietat, if someone wants in the door... With pure goodwill, of course, as it is customary in Catalonia.

Tibet: Klöster öffnen ihre Schatzkammern

Exhibition, Dahlem, February 21 - May 28, 2007

Tibetan yama in DahlemAs in Studiolum (this is the place of advertisement) we have just recently published the web presentation of the Tibetan collection of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and the legacy of Sándor Kőrösi Csoma, the founder of Tibetan Studies, I decided to visit the Tibetan exhibition first. And there I stayed on until closing time. Dahlem only can be digested in small pieces.

This exhibition was organized at the end of the last year by the Kulturstiftung Ruhr Essen in Essen’s Villa Hügel, from where it has been transferred to Dahlem. The exhibition is of historical importance, as this is the first time that cult objects of active Tibetan monasteries are exposed outside of Tibet. Jeong-Hee Lee-Kalisch, head of the organizing committee relates in the introduction of the catalog that they have been engaged in field research in Tibet since 2003, in the course of which they managed to convince the largest Tibetan monasteries to allow their sculptures, paintings and liturgical objects being exposed, all in all 150 objects from the 5th to the 20th century. It is interesting to read that although the Tibetan monks – in spite of their best efforts – could not grasp the Western concept of “exhibition object”, nevertheless they understood that it was important to the Western scholars, and thus they readily collaborated in the interest of this unconceivable purpose.

The difference of the two visions is well attested among other things by the fact that the cult statues that are dressed in precious clothes in the Tibetan monasteries are exposed without these vestments in Dahlem, as if an allowance to the European concept of statue that considers them a superfluous addition. Just like the Gothic statues of Pietà wear rich Baroque robes on the altars of Marian pilgrimage shrines, but if they happen to get into museums, they are exposed without their vestments. Fortunately, the catalog of the exhibition also includes the “vested” images of these statues, as the Tibetan believers encounter them.

The objects are grouped by some basic themes of Tibetan monastery culture, and this is how they are explained on the summary boards in each room: portrait statues of monastery founders, the stupa, the mandala, musical instruments, healing and so on. By this they intend to offer some handle to the European visitor in his probably very first encounter with this unknown and complex culture. However, the result is that one is urged to behold the object as illustrations of this conception, and not as autonomous objects of art.

A flash presentation of the exhibition – still from its Essen months – that is worth an abbreviated catalog can be seen here. It puts less emphasis on the thematic conception, and presents the objects on independent pages and with separate explanations. And this is already enough to achieve what the exhibition was unable to do: the presentation of these objects as objects of art.


Berlin, Dahlem, metro (U-Bahn) stationIf you get in three or four hours from Mallorca to Csömör, you will not really grasp how far you were. Therefore – in the periods when there is no direct flight – it is not bad to have that day of sluicing in Berlin, so that you have enough time to feel the taste of being on the way.

I have been planning for a while to spend this sluicing day in Dahlem. It’s a long time since I have not been to Dahlem. It was Ernő Kunt who, in the year of my anthropological detour in Miskolc, drummed into me that visiting the museum of ethnography in Dahlem is a must, as they have distinguished objects exhibited in an intelligent way. And so it was indeed. At that time, some fifteen years ago, no other exhibition employed that point light which in the dark room of the gallery drew an individual space around each object, isolating it from the context of the room and of the other objects, endowing it with a life of its own and offering it in this way for reception, thus rendering visually perceivable the concept of “autonomous work of art”. I remember the first time I was there, I stopped in the room of the Buddhas of Gandhara, and spent there all the afternoon.

Another attraction of Dahlem is that it is a Gesamtkunstwerk organizing the whole space of the museum, and even its environment as far as to the metro station. Right now it houses a number of Eastern Asian special exhibitions. Therefore the museum coffee – the large central hall of the building, from where each exhibition opens and to where they all return – decorates its tables with Japanese ikebana, Dahlem, ikebana on the table of the museum caféand in the vitrines set up in the space of the coffee a small exhibition of Eastern spices is installed. And in this period the museum bookshop is also dominated by Eastern Asian books, not only from their own stock, but also purchased from a large number of other museums of the world as well as from local antiquaries, so their offer is arguably better than that of a department library.

And at six o’clock when the exhibitions close, lectures begin for the visitors until eight, and during this period the bookshop and the coffee bar work as well. The lecture of the day was held by a lovely and well-prepared tiny Tibetan woman who reads ethnology in Berlin, dressed in a beautiful Tibetan garment. She gave a summary in a nice German about the Tibetan special exhibition, and when from time to time the adequate term did not occur to her, it also offered a good occasion for a little show of the repertoire of Eastern Asian apologizing smiles. At the end she was applauded, and I’m sure that the service she did to the cause of Tibetan culture through those hundred persons – and their friends as well as the readers of this diary – was not less than that of the exhibition itself.