Of Light And Darkness
Balatonfüred is the kind of place that makes you wish you were born there. There is something about this town set on the sloping hills north of Lake Balaton that seems to fill visitors with happiness.
Perhaps it is the bluish green water of Lake Balaton, expansive and alluring with a hypnotic quality. No wonder this place was a magnet for convalescents.
Water has made the town what it is today: a resort, a place of healing and a refuge for relaxation. Walking along the lakefront promenade, it is hard to imagine that a thing called winter ever happens here.
It seems that in some alternate universe the lake does freeze and people even go figure skating there. This is hard to believe.The tidy streets and colorful buildings literally beam with the brightest of dispositions.
Visitors stroll at a languid unhurried pace. Here at Balatonfüred life does not seem so hard after all. The town and its accompanying shoreline have cast a spell over visitors for over two centuries.
Balatonfüred was designated a spa town in 1772. From that point its popularity began to grow, especially with intellectuals, artists and political elites during the ensuing decades.
They were here to soak in the waters, not only of Balaton, but also of the legendary of the sulfurous springs just beneath the surface. The healing qualities of Balatonfüred’s mineral springs are legendary.
Famed Hungarian novelist Mór Jókai arrived here at the age of 37 in 1862 suffering from chronic bronchitis that was threatening to end his life. Magically, the soothing mineral waters of Balatonfüred nursed him back to health. His already prolific literary output soared in the years following that first visit.
He would soon enjoy great fame and produce some of his best known works. Jókai decided to spend many more productive days in this refreshing environment.
It was only a decade after his initial visit to Balatonfüred that he authored “Az Arany Ember” (The Golden Man), whose translation was said to be Queen Victoria’s favorite novel. The Jókai Memorial House is open today for visitors who want to learn more about the man who became known as the “Hungarian Dickens.”
Visitors can gain keen insights into the life of a man who literally produced thousands of pages of popular literature after settling here.
Down by the promenade, close to one of the docks where waterfowl flock and float to the shoreline, a small monument stands as a testament to the fact that even in the sunniest of climes danger looms. A lone arm with five outstretched fingers is attached to a stone block.
The hand seems to coax the curious forward, as if to be alive and pleading for assistance. This is a sad reminder to one of the darkest moments that ever occurred in the waters of Balaton.
On May 30, 1954 the steamship Pajtás was traveling on the lake carrying 178 passengers. While aboard, they intensely watched an ongoing sailing competition.
Attempting to get a closer look at the sailboats floating past, the passengers all went to one side of the ship. Their combined weight caused the boat to overturn. Suddenly passengers were flailing in the water.
Emergency response was all, but nonexistent. The lack of any kind of safety devices or life boats led to many fatalities from drowning. Onlookers on the far away shore line are reported to have heard screams and cries for help.Tragically, the total number of victims is still not known today.
Estimates range from twelve given by communist news sources trying to cover up the tragedy to over forty counted by a first-hand witness. No matter the number, the fact that the story was hushed up is a striking example of governmental indifference.
The monument on the shoreline is a reminder that Balaton for all its beauty is not an ordinary lake. This, the largest freshwater lake in the whole of Central Europe, has the power to cast darkness or radiate light. Those who seek refuge along its beautiful shores would do well to keep this in mind.
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