We were heading south. It was the most exciting time of every year. Luggage, fixed to the top of out tiny Fiat made the car look almost as high as it was long. There were three hundred miles to drive but for us it was almost
an eternity. Three hundred miles could easly take more than one day if we happened to come accross nasty officers at the border, who would scrutinise our car inside out in case we were smuggling contrabands.
Equipped with government-issued food vouchers and a little amount of pocket money in local currency, we were driving to a warm, colourful and pleasant place. For us, coming from sad, cold, and almost monochromatically grey Poland, it was like a window to the world.
On arrival we found ourselves surrounded by a multitude of smells and colours. I would play endlessly on the beach with my sister and my parents. We would swim in the warm waters of the lake. For the next two weeks we would indulge in the holiday spirit until the day we had to make our way back home.
The Hungarian Lake Balaton is the largest in Central Europe. As Hungary is landlocked, the lake is often called the ‘Hungarian Sea’. From the 1960s onwards Balaton became a major destination for ordinary working Hungarians as well as for those from the eastern side of the ‘Iron Curtain’ who were rewarded for their work in building socialism with a permit to travel across the border. As we could not dream of travelling to Spain, Italy or Greece, Balaton was the closest and most achievable destination for ordinary Poles to see ‘what’s out there’.
My family and I were among the lucky ones who could go and spend holidays in what appeared to us a paradise. Twenty-odd years later, going through the pages of my family album, I found only one photograph of Balaton.
It was a blurry picture of my sister and I, that was taken somewhere on one of the lake’s piers. This snapshot was the only reminiscence of six subsequent summers spent by the lake.
This project is my attempt to create what my parents failed to do. I try to see the world through the eyes of a little boy who used to holiday there with his parents and sister over twenty years ago. Strolling among ruins of the glamorous, back in the day, concrete villas of Castro, Brezhnev and Honecker, the memories start to flood back. Balaton has hardly changed, it is almost exactly the same as I left it.
Perhaps a bit more rusty, but the atmosphere remains the same. Only now for me it is no longer a paradise. I have grown and changed.