Visit to Hungary & Austria

By Ernest Chrisbacher, 1998
© 1998 Ernest Chrisbacher, all rights reserved
[Published at DVHH.org Sep 2006]

The purpose of my trip was threefold: 1. To attend the 50-year reunion of the ethnic German people expelled from the village Bakonyjako, Veszprem County, after WW II in 1948, the town where my grandfather was born; 2. Go to Eisenstadt to do research for ancestors in the Diocesan Archives of Burgenland; and 3. Visit several small parish villages around Oberwart in south Burgenland for research in their old baptismal and marriage records.

Day 1, Thursday, Aug. 13, 1998:

Weather clear, sunny, hot, humid, temp. 93 deg. F. I arrived at Budapest Airport at 11:00 a.m. on Malev Hungarian Airlines, having left Kennedy Airport on Air France yesterday at 5:30 p.m. and with a three-hour layover at Paris. I slept six hours on the initial flight so I was not affected by jet-lag. I picked up my rented Mitsubishi Lancer with AC and drove into Budapest. The roads and highway signs are very good but the street signs in the city are difficult to see and read while driving because they are located high up on the corners of buildings. With the help of a city map I found No. 50 Jozsef kort, the apartment of my correspondent friend and genealogist, Dr. Sandor Harmath. We sipped some Tokaj wine and discussed plans to travel to Austria for research at Eisenstadt and at several villages in the vicinity of Oberwart. It was agreed that we would meet Tuesday morning at 8:00 a.m. in Papa where I had a reservation at the Hotel Griff. I left Budapest at 5:30 p.m., headed southwest and found the M-1 Autobahn, then drove to Gyor City and then Papa, a two-hour drive. The hotel Griff is in the main city square opposite from the double-domed Roman Catholic Belvarosi Cathedral. My room was clean and very comfortable so I showered, shaved and had supper. It was tender Beef Stroganoff with potato croquettes, salad and two glasses of rather good dry Riesling wine, cost was 1,400 forint, about $7.00. Watched CNN and retired at 11:00 p.m.

Day 2, Friday, Aug. 14, 1998:

Weather clear, sunny, hot, temp. 85 deg. F., morning showers. Up at 6 a.m., continental breakfast at 7 a.m., then I walked down the main commercial street of Papa to the post office for some stamps. There are a hundred shops and the streets are crowded with shoppers and the hustle and bustle of productive activity. Then I drove 35 km to Veszprem City and visited the Queen Gizella museum which displayed many old garments, regalia and jewels worn by Hungary's rulers. I walked through the old castle section of the city where some of the buildings are 700 years old and are situated at the top of a commanding hill with beautiful views of the surrounding city and countryside. I visited the Dezso Laczko Museum which displayed artifacts of Hungary's history from the stone age up to modern times. There was a straw-roofed ethnic German farmhouse (Bakony Volk Haus) from the 18th century next to the museum building which displayed typical period furniture, cooking utensils, smoke kitchen, bedroom and tool room. I walked all around this beautiful old city observing the commercial activity, construction, old and new buildings, the tourists, the vitality of the place and the apparent flourishing business and prosperity of the inhabitants; a stark contrast to the poor, depressed, drab, gray downtrodden people that I had seen here under Russian Communist domination when I visited in 1973. Many of the people spoke German with me, also in stark contrast to the situation in 1973 when no one would dare to speak German. But the bureaucrats in the county offices speak only Hungarian so I was unable to obtain maps of the German villages which I wanted. After many photographs I returned to Papa where at six o'clock I had a glass of Riesling wine at a table in the sidewalk cafe of the Hotel Griff . Three marching bands came by to start off the festive weekend celebrations of the city. It was very pleasant, crowded with happy people, a beautiful small city enjoying its freedom and looking forward to future prosperity. I found out that next weekend is a four-day holiday for the Hungarian people beginning on Thursday, August 20th as the 1000-year anniversary of the crowning of the first king, St. Stephen.

Day 3, Saturday, Aug. 15, 1998: Weather partly cloudy, clearing, hot, temp. 90-95 deg. F. At 9 a.m. I drove east 15 km to Bakonyjako, the village where my grandfather, Joseph Grisbacher, was born. This was the weekend of the 50-year reunion celebration of the German people who were expelled from the village in 1948 after WW II. Because the population of Bakonyako was at that time 95 percent ethnic German, almost all of the people had to pack up what they could carry on their backs and leave their homes. A drummer marched down the main street the morning of January 6, 1948 and a list was posted at the town hall. Only those who were sick, pregnant, with babies, or old and unable to work were allowed to remain. Tragically, these innocent peasant farmers, descendants of Germanic settlers who colonized and opened up the land for productivity 200 years earlier, were ruthlessly forced from their homes, families were put in wagons, carried to the Varoslod train station 12 km to the south, loaded into boxcars and shipped to East Germany where they had to live in camps until they could be resettled and find jobs. Today, 50 years later, they were coming back to their home town to revisit their lost homes and to renew old friendships. At 9:30 a.m. people started to gather at the sport hall of the village school. By 10:30 a.m. there were perhaps 250 people greeting one another with smiles, hugs, kisses and tears. Starting the ceremonies was difficult because of the highly emotional nature of the reunion. The mayor, Hans Szabadi, greeted everyone in German and Hungarian. Then a memorial speech was given by Franz Heilig, head of the regional office of German minorities. He gave a very moving talk in German about the history of settlement and the expulsion. There were not many dry eyes. After the introductions a small band played German dance music, waltzes, marches and polkas, and lunch was served of sandwiches, beer, wine and soda. I introduced myself to many people and spoke German with them, taking notes and taping the conversations. Joseph Leitner invited me to his aunt's house, Lizzi Heller, who served us (seven people) a very large meal of chicken noodle soup, chicken paprikash, noodles with tomato sauce and six different kinds of pastries and coffee. We ate and drank wine all afternoon. At 4:00 p.m. we went back to the sport hall for more meeting of friends, a big goulash party and entertainment by a group of majorettes and athletic dancers from the village. After that everyone went to the culture house where the street was roped off and dance music was playing and dancing started in the main street at 8 p.m. I met several people with whom I had corresponded but had never seen before: distant cousin Joseph Griesbacher, Andrew Gabriel from Fairview Hts., IL, distant cousin Maria Griesbacher Tillich from Canada, Joseph Steiner from Germany. I asked Mayor Szabadi if I could go to the town hall to get a map of the village and see if I could find information which would enable me to correlate the old house numbers with the new house numbers. That would enable me to find the house where my grandfather was born since the old number was included in his baptism record.

Day 4, Sunday, Aug. 16, 1998: Weather partly cloudy, rain,. 85 deg. F.  At 9:00 a.m. there was a small group playing music at the Kultur Haus as people began to gather for the morning services. At 10:00 a.m. a wreath-laying service was held during a rain shower at the memorial monument for those who were lost in WW I and WW II. An introductory speech was given by Mayor Szabadi and a memorial speech by Dr. Zoltan Kovacs, member of Parliament, about the role played by the German people during the wars. At 11:00 a.m. high holy mass was celebrated at the newly renovated Holy Trinity church by Bishop, Dr. Gyula Marfi, of the Arch Diocese of Veszprem to a standing-room-only crowd with full orchestra, organ, choir and a large overflow of people outside of the church. This was a very beautiful and moving ceremony with the bishop speaking about the expulsion of the German people and asking forgiveness of the Hungarians. It was a very emotional
service with plenty of tears including mine. Following mass there were more than 300 people at the school sport hall for lunch which included Hendlsuppe mit Knudeln (chicken noodle soup), Rindfleischgulasch mit Petersillie-Kartofeln, beer, wine, soda and pastries. There was plenty of time to mix and talk to newly-found distant relatives. The weather cleared to a humid 95 degrees F and I went with Joseph Steiner to the house of Emilia Maria Griesbacher Andl, age 77, where I reviewed my genealogical charts to determine that we are fourth cousins once removed. Her daughters, Emma Andl Sas, Anna and Eva are fifth cousins to me. Then back to the sport hall for more meeting, greeting and talking. At 5 p.m. there began a cultural program in the courtyard of the school which included: 1. a song by Barbara and Katharin Sas, cousins of mine, 2. Jaka Margareten children's dance group, 3. German Nationality Choir of Totvazsony, 4. Dance group from Totvazsony, 5. Frauenchor from Ganna, and 6. Brass band from Soskut. The celebration ended with "auf wiedersehen" which became a very emotional and long farewell. These expellees are mostly 60 years old or more who were childhood friends. They came back to their birthplace from many locations, including the USA, Canada, Germany and Austria, where they have made a new life. Saying "until we meet again" was difficult knowing it probably will never happen. Although I am a second generation American, they made me feel like one of their own, a native German-Hungarian, and I found it hard to keep a dry eye when saying goodbye. I am probably distantly related to many of them.

Day 5, Monday, Aug. 17, 1998:

Weather partly cloudy, hot, humid, 90 deg. F.This morning I drove to Bakonyjako again to try to get the key to the old house numbering system, but the clerk was unable to provide it . He did, however give me a copy of the list of about 300 names and addresses of the respondents to the advertised notice for the 50th reunion celebration. He also showed me maps of the village and I was able to obtain an address of a company which prepared them. Then I drove through town and saw Zoltan and Elizabeth Kungl Bergmann who invited me into their house for a drink of wine. They tried to help me with the question of old house numbers but without success. Zoltan is a hunter and has several antler trophies on his walls. He is now retired but worked as a foreman at a scientific sheep breeding operation with 4,000 ewes. After saying good-bye I decided to photograph more of the villages of Veszprem County for my book, so I drove through Bakonyszucs, Bakonykoppany, Bakonybel, Penzesgyor, Lokut, Harskut, Marko, Band, Herend, Szentgal, Urkut, Nagyvazsony, Vorosto, Barnag, Azsofo, then to Tihany, a beautiful peninsula jutting out into Lake Balaton with the double domed cathedral of the Benedictine Abbey at the pinnacle of the hill, and then along Lake Balaton, Europe's largest fresh-water lake, with its crystal clear blue water and thousands of vacationing swimmers. Back to Papa at 7:30 p.m. for supper.

Day 6, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 1998:

Weather clear, hot, 90 deg. F.At 8:00 a.m. Dr. Harmath, arrived from Budapest, with his son at the Hotel Griff and we drove to Eisenstadt, Burgenland, Austria to research in the Archives of the Diocese Eisenstadt. We spoke to Dr. Hans Peter Zelfel, head of the reference matricals , and asked about three parishes: Allhau, Neumarkt and Rotenturm. Dr. Zelfel telephoned the Priest at Neumarkt where the original old books are still kept, and he set up an appointment for us at 2 p.m. We had lunch at a local biergarten and drove to Neumarkt near Oberwart arriving at 3 p.m. Father Mach was very understanding and helpful and allowed us to look through the old baptismal and marriage registers from 1698 through 1760 where we were hoping to find my GGGGGGrandfather Johannes Carolus Grisbacher or any other Grisbacher names. Unfortunately we had no results. Dr. Harmath and his son returned to Budapest and I went to Stadtschlaining for a hotel room and supper which included a very good dry Riesling wine, veal cutlet with mushrooms and wine sauce, cucumber salad like mother used to make, raspberry marmalade filled Palatschinken, also like mom's, and good strong coffee. The cost was 162 Schillings (about $14).

Day 7, Wednesday, Aug. 19, 1998:

Weather clear, hot, 90 deg. F.Today I drove to eight village parishes in the vicinity of Oberwart to look at old church Baptismal and marriage books for possible clues to my Griesbacher ancestors. Most of the priests were away on summer vacation or just not in. Some of the parishes had their Pfarramter (offices) at other locations. I was told that the records of St. Martin and of Rechnitz were now stored at the Eisenstadt archive. Had a late lunch at Rechnitz consisting of Nuckerl Suppe, beef Goulash and Apfelstrudel not even close to Grandma's. Then I drove to Oberwart where the traffic in town was very heavy and I found out that it was market day. There were hundreds of merchants set up with their stalls and wares all along the main street and thousands of shoppers rubbing elbows and jostling along on the sidewalks. I had to drive around the back of town to get to Gasthaus Neubauer. I had a late supper in the garten restaurant with excellent Riesling wine, breaded fried fish cutlet, mixed salad, potatoes and coffee. Food and merchandise cost about twice as much here in Austria as in Hungary. The Cookoo birds actually say 'cuckukaruk' and there are large stork's nests on tops of telephone poles or roofs in most of the country villages.

Day 8, Thursday, Aug. 20, 1998:

Weather clear, warm, 80 to 90 deg. F.I drove to the Evangelical Church of Markt Allhau where the secretary said that the Roman Catholic parish office is in Wolfau. To Wolfau where the priest was
not at home. Following is a list of the parishes that I visited:1. Allhau, records at Wolfau parish, Priest away; 2. Rotenturm, Records at parish begin 1688, Priest away; 3. St. Martin, Records at Oberwart begin 1725, Priest away; 4. Stadtschlaining, records since 1727, Priest away; 5. Tatzmandorf, records at parish, Priest away;6. Pinkafeld, Looked at oldest book beg. 1752, Prior to that records burned;7. Rechnitz, Priest said books begin1676 are at Eisenstadt; 8. Mariasdorf, Records since 1682, Priest away; 9. Mischendorf, Records since 1719, Priest away; 10. Lockenhaus, Records since 1660, Priest away;11. Hannersdorf, Records since 1721, Priest away.The lessons to be learned from this are: Do not try to visit parishes in Burgenland during the month of August when most of the priests are on vacation, and call ahead to make appointments with the priests. Unfortunately I had to schedule my trip around the 50-year reunion celebration at Bakonyjk_. In late afternoon I left Oberwart and drove 4-1/2 hours through the border town of Hegyeshalom to the Hotel Art in Budapest where I had a supper including white wine, mushrooms stuffed with goose liver surrounded by a fruit salad of bananas, grapes, orange slices, pear and kiwi slices; a mixed salad of pickles, peppers, beets, slaw, cucumbers, carrots, and lettuce; mushroom-covered pork tenderloins with rice and peas. I had no room for dessert but had my eye on sour cherries over cake. The cost including tip was 2530 HUF (Hungarian Forints), or about $12.00.

Day 9, Friday, Aug. 21, 1998:

Weather cloudy, scattered showers, clearing by noon.At 7:00 a.m. I met Dr. Sandor Harmath at his apartment and we drove the M-1 Highway at 140 km/hr (85 mph) with plenty of cars passing us. This is an excellent highway but there is a very high toll of $8.00 at the newly-constructed western 40 kilometers in Hungary. We drove to the village Furth-an-der-Triesting in Lower Austria. The travel time was 3-1/2 hours. We had a quick lunch of wurst platter with vegetables, beans and French fries washed down with the excellent local bier. The priest, a Pole, allowed us to look at the old marriage records (1740-1750) but again unfortunately we did not find the marriage of Johannes Carolus Griesbacher to Eva Maria Pantzenpeck as we had hoped. We then drove to nearby Pottenstein and phoned Mr. Leo Wirtner, a local historian and genealogical correspondent of mine whom I had not yet met. We were cordially invited to his house at 1 Einsiedler Weg and there we discussed my lost ancestor problems. He said that possibly Eva Maria might have been born in Rohr, that he would look at the records and write to me of his findings. We then drove to Vienna to visit Lazslo Kovi, another researcher and correspondent of mine and of Dr. Harmath's, whom I had not yet met, but unfortunately he was not at home. It took us only 2 hours to drive to Budapest and after I drove Dr. Harmath to his apartment where his wife awaited him, I had a nice supper at the Hotel Art consisting of wine, duck, parsley potatoes, red kraut, and coffee followed by sour cherries on vanilla ice cream.

Day 10, Saturday, Aug. 22, 1998:

Weather cloudy, steady rain, clearing in afternoon.  I took a 3-hour tour of Budapest on Ibusz Bus Tours, the highlights of which were the Danube River, Parliament Building, Margaret Bridge, Chain Bridge, The Royal Castle on the Buda side, Fisherman's Bastion, Matthias Church, The Citadel on top of Gellert Hill with its beautiful views overlooking the city, Heroes Square, The Opera and St. Stephen's Basilica. I then walked around the city for a couple of hours taking plenty of photographs and had supper at the sidewalk Bistro Jardin at the new and very posh Hotel Kempinski. It included
Riesling wine, mixed salad, rabbit in paprika sauce, Esterhazy Tort and coffee. It was expensive but excellent. Then I went to a concert at the beautiful Duna Palota (Danube Palace) where an excellent orchestra played Liszt, Brahms, Strauss, Lehar, Bartok and Berlioz ending with the popular Radetzky March where the audience claps on cue with the music. The taxi driver who drove me the 2 km back to the Hotel Art wanted $25 but I was outraged and gave him $10 which he was apparently happy to get.

Day 11, Sunday, Aug. 23, 1998:

Weather cloudy, clearing in afternoon, 80 degrees F. I drove to Varoslod in Veszprem County by way of the Pannonhalma Monastery where I got some good photos. In Varoslod I visited Dr. Michael Roth, a correspondent of mine for 15 years whom I had not yet met. We had a bottle of good white wine and lots of good German conversation which I needed to improve my language skills. Michael has written two books about the village Varoslod. The first is a history of this German settlement which is very interesting to me because many of my ancestors lived there. The second is an 800-page as yet unpublished, computerized list in alphabetical order containing all of the baptisms and deaths of the original German settlers of Varoslod including findings from the earlier books at Kislod, Veszprem City and the Spessart villages in Germany where many of the settlers came from. Michael has accomplished a great deal of important work concerning the history and genealogy of Varoslod and has established a partnership between Varoslod and Wiesthal-Krommenthal in Bavaria, Germany where many of the surnames are still the same as those of Varoslod. The people of both villages have visited each other with singing and dancing groups and have celebrated their relationships together. Michael is a retired chemist who lives in Germany but spends a lot of time running his ceramics factory in Varoslod. He gave me a tour of the facilities showing me the processes from forming the raw clay, drying, baking in electric ovens, hand painting and glazing. He produces beautiful hand-painted dishes and various other pottery. We also toured the archaeological dig ongoing at St. Michael's Roman Catholic church. It is the most important archaeological site in Hungary and the excavated foundations and floors of the former Cartesian Monastery are over 600 years old. When the German people settled here in the early to mid 18th century they used the stone blocks from the ruined Cartesian Monastery to build their new Catholic church. At 5 o'clock I left Varoslod and drove 2 hours back to Budapest and took an evening stroll along the Danube River for some photographs. There was a bazaar with hundreds of small white tent stalls displaying all kinds of merchandise for sale and thousands of people strolling along the sidewalks and streets closed to traffic. There were many sidewalk cafes and many groups of musicians playing along the way. The bridges, Royal Castle, hotels and other buildings are lighted at night and graceful tour boats glide along the Danube River for a spectacular scene. At a sidewalk bistro I had tender veal goulash Bakony style and wine while I watched the people strolling by with strains of Gypsy music in the background.

Day 12, Monday, Aug. 24, 1998:

Weather clear, 75 degrees F. Checked out of Hotel Art and drove to Budapest Airport to turn in rented car which I had driven a total of 2,530 km or about 1,500 miles. My flight to Paris took off almost an hour late so I had to scramble in Paris to make the connecting flight. They had to hold the airplane for me, and for my stressful troubles Air France put on First Class. It was a great trip home and I got my money's worth with champagne, hors d'oeuvres single-malt scotch, salad, a lamb chop, a great Bordeaux wine, plenty of room to spread out, a personal TV screen and instantaneous service from the flight attendants. Somewhere over the North Atlantic Ocean I began to think about my next journey to Austria which will be better planned to utilize the records at the Eisenstadt archives and to make appointments with local parish priests.

End Of Trip Report.

Original publication in the THE BURGENLAND BUNCH NEWS -No. 44A, September 30, 1998


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