In Sopron, my husband and I spent half a day visiting ancient ruins and the many colorful ethnic shops. Later, we figured we would drive into Vienna to sample its famous strudel, for Austria is renowned for its pastries. The capital is only a short distance by car from Sopron, but we were prepared for a thorough inspection at the border crossing, with reams of questions. We lined up with many others and crept toward the glass kiosk. There, an Austrian agent glanced at our passports, without checking for stamps or dates, and waved us through.
That was easy, easier than any inspection I had had in all my years of travel. It set me to pondering about a crossing half a century earlier, a crossing by hundreds of thousands fleeing Hungary in the space of two short weeks in 1956. For me, for my family, for those hundreds of thousands, this crossing signaled a new beginning, the start of a new life.
By nightfall, we were in Vienna, the city of music, of Beethoven, Strauss and Mozart. It teamed with life and light, with trendy clothing shops and street vendors speaking all kinds of languages. How different it was from those troubled days long passed. Now it was vibrant, packed with cars and pedestrians, and loud.
Half a century ago, most people walked long distances. Yes, some commuted by bus, trolley, cable car or horse-drawn wagon, and some rode bicycles. But what I remember is the walking, lots of walking. What else do I remember? A field that served as a border crossing, a quick tug of the hand, a push to climb up a ridge, with gobs of mud caked on my heels. I remember trying to scrape my shoes clean on the cobblestones under a gas lamp at dawn. The streets of Vienna, in that long-ago memory, were much less traveled than now. I remember Red Cross trucks, an immense building, helpful arms inside, and flat carrybags being dispensed, brimming with oddities—toothpaste, toothbrushes, combs, soap in rubber boxes, bandages, needles, thread and safety pins. To a child, these were wonders, their minutest detail never to be forgotten, the emotion of them to be imprinted for a lifetime.
The You Tube I’ve added is a film edited by Olson Wells in 1968 and 1969 of Vienna. It’s vintage but worth the watch. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6kz39VdxoQc