Altogether I spent 17 weeks in Hungary, Poland, Romania, Czechoslovakia and the not-quite-ex Soviet Union — experiencing first-hand
The Fall Of Communism and deliberately avoiding the gap-year clichés of London, Paris, Rome or any other part of Western Europe.
The following images and commentary are an informal photo-diary of the visit. For personal vignettes, cultural references (songs and movies), plus a list of relevant books and articles, see also the Notes tab above.
(Sep 1991) • 126.6 KB • GPS: 47:30:09N, 19:02:04E
The "Halászbástya" (Fisherman Bastion ) on the western bank of the Danube, near Budapest Castle. In the last weeks of summer, cafe patrons relax beneath corporate brands.
With the decline of smoking in the west, tobacco companies rushed east to exploit the collapse of The Wall . Just in time to start saving for the Master Settlement Agreement …
Halászbástya + Hilton Hotel, Budapest
(Sep 1991) • 123 KB • GPS: 47:30:10N, 19:02:03E
Halászbástya again, this time with the Budapest Hilton in the background.
This juxtaposition, only 100m apart, is perhaps the world's most aggressive example of Development Über Alles.
Cracked Wall, Szombathely
(Oct 1991) • 101.1 KB • GPS: 47:13:53N, 16:37:34E
The Iron Curtain starts to tear…
Szombathely is a small Hungarian city near the Austrian border . It was where my parents were born and married and also where most of my relatives live.
The photo depicts the cracked wall of the Szent Márton Churchyard, with an airliner's vapour-trail overhead.
Street couple, Budapest
(Oct 1991) • 101.1 KB • GPS: 47:30:17N, 19:04:58E
About mid-way between the Danube and the Museum of Fine Arts, pedestrians stop for a moment to read the signs.
Bekasmegyer housing estate, Budapest
(Oct 1991) • 159.7 KB • GPS: 47:32:51N, 19:02:21E
Bekasmegyer is a vast housing estate to the north of Budapest — a brutal collection of ten storey 1970s apartment blocks, held apart by wind-swept playing fields.
(Sep 1991) • 111.2 KB • GPS: 47:30:10N, 19:02:05E
Halászbástya again, as tourists troop through the interior of one of the conical watchtowers.
Hösök Tere tourists, Budapest
(Sep 1991) • 142.2 KB • GPS: 47:30:56N, 19:04:41E
Hösök Tere ("Heroes' Square" ) in eastern Budapest. Often used for parades and national commemorations, it's also a repository of large bronze statues for tourists to admire.
Hotel Intercontinental window washers, Budapest
(Oct 1991) • 103.4 KB • GPS: 47:29:50N, 19:02:51E
Window washers at the Budapest Hotel Intercontinental , on the eastern bank of the Danube.
Safety last, I was amazed at how incredibly dangerous this was. At the time in Australia it was illegal to wash tall building exteriors without using (at least) a tethered gantry.
School excursion, Budapest
(Oct 1991) • 132.3 KB • GPS: 47:30:48N, 19:04:38E
A kindergarten excursion near the Budapest Museum of Fine Arts .
Teréz Körút, Budapest
(Oct 1991) • 137.9 KB • GPS: 47:30:24N, 19:03:41E
Business as unusual, as one of Budapest's main boulevards reverts to its non Soviet-hero name.
Street quarrel, Budapest
(Sep 1991) • 139.8 KB • GPS: 47:30:24N, 19:03:33E
A few gypsies in the VIII District engage in a heated conversation on a street corner.
Csepel HÉV terminus, Budapest
(Sep 1991) • 151.5 KB • GPS: 47:25:37N, 19:04:02E
The HÉV  terminus on Csepel Island , in Budapest's south.
Prior to deindustrialisation in the 1990s, Csepel was an industrial powerhouse, employing tens of thousands of people in enormous steel-works and car manufacturing plants. Not any more…
Weekly market, Gyöngyös
(Nov 1991) • 118 KB • GPS: 47:46:40N, 19:56:04E
Gyöngyös  is a small city 80km east of Budapest. This was the weekly market held in an open air cinema (the large white wall was actually the projection screen).
Parádsasvár glass factory
(Nov 1991) • 159.4 KB • GPS: 47:54:44N, 19:58:11E
The lead-crystal glass factory at Parádsasvár in the Mátra Hills, approximately 100km east of Budapest. Behold the delights of air-borne lead residues + crops…
Actually the township is more famous for its castle . In the early '90s it was practically in ruins — definitely not the luxurious five star hotel it has since become.
Parádsasvár Matra Hills
(Nov 1991) • 142.2 KB • GPS: 47:54:41N, 19:57:42E
The Mátra Hills forest outside Parádsasvár. Although the forest was (more or less) protected, every week an ex-aparatchik's son-in-law would drive into the woods to cut down trees to sell as firewood.
Derelict farmhouse, Tömörd
(Oct 1991) • 200.2 KB • GPS: 47:22:05N, 16:40:28E
A derelict farmhouse in Tömörd, awaiting re-development by its new Austrian owner.
This is where my maternal great grandparents lived and also where my grandmother was born — bottom storey, second door from right. The two men in the photograph are a first-cousin (taller) and uncle (shorter).
Housing estate, Szombathely
(Oct 1991) • 158.1 KB • GPS: 47:14:16N, 16:36:09E
A typical housing estate, in this case along Szürcsapó Utsa, across the road from the Csónakázó (Rowing) Lake.
About the only difference between Hungarian and other Eastern Bloc housing estates was that the Hungarian versions were usually painted bright colours.
most cheerful barracks in the Lager eh?…
Food relief convoy, Moscow
(Dec 1991) • 141.5 KB • GPS: 55:42:45N, 37:22:56E
December 12th from my window in the Hotel Mozhaisky, the day Russia seceded from the Soviet Union .
Not that I knew it at the time. I was travelling alone and didn't speak any Russian, so all the hoopla on radio and TV didn't register. In fact I only realised I had been "A Witness To History" a week later when I returned to Hungary.
The parked trucks in the photo were part of an E.U. food-aid convoy. Later that morning I discovered a major advantage of lodging in one of the "Sleeping Districts"  at the outskirts of the city: while inner-city tourists had to scratch around for food, we were among the first to be resupplied when the trucks rolled through.
BTW the rocket-shaped building on the horizon is the spire of the Lomonosov MSU .
Matveevskoe housing estate, Moscow
(Dec 1991) • 201.5 KB • GPS: 55:42:28N, 37:23:54E
Birch trees in a housing estate in Moscow's west. If you look at the GPS Location link, you will notice these "Sleeping Districts"  run alongside the Outer Ring Road for dozens of kilometres.
Prospekt Kalinina, Moscow
(Dec 1991) • 162 KB • GPS: 55:45:11N, 37:35:50E
Architectural juxtapositions along the Prospekt Kalinina — in this case a delicate white orthodox church beside a commie concrete slab.
Everyone goes to Arbat Street when in Moscow. I didn't. The joke was on me though, for they renamed Pkt Kalinina to "Ul Novyy Arbat" not long after I left.
Western city limits, Moscow
(Dec 1991) • 164.7 KB • GPS: 55:42:48N, 37:23:20E
Moscow's western outskirts, just outside the "МКАД" , looking east towards the city.
This was the view from my room in the (two star) Hotel Mozhaisky, a few minutes after checking in. BTW as of 2007 it appears the concrete "Mockba" sign no longer exists.
Nemcinovka dacha, near Moscow
(Dec 1991) • 151.5 KB • GPS: 55:43:19N, 37:22:05E
Ever wonder what a
Dacha outside Moscow looks like?…
Ulitsa Gorkogo, Moscow
(Dec 1991) • 137.7 KB • GPS: 55:45:36N, 37:36:41E
Ulitsa Gorkogo (today "Tverskaya-Yamskaya") is a main thoroughfare which leads towards the Kremlin. It was lined with major department and fashion stores — Christian Dior here. Street vendors would set up their stalls outside, hoping to catch a few crumbs from the minority who could afford to shop there.
Park Kultury Metro entrance, Moscow
(Dec 1991) • 119.5 KB • GPS: 55:44:07N, 37:35:37E
The reason Metro entrances looked like massive cold-war nuclear bunkers was because… they were entrances to massive cold-war nuclear bunkers .
The closer you got to the Kremlin, the thicker the blast doors became. Building domes went from brick to reinforced concrete to solid steel. Escalators down to platforms doubled or tripled in length…
Seriously scary stuff. A brutal reminder that when in Moscow, your soft pink body was always in the middle of a nuclear bulls-eye.
Gorky Park protest, Moscow
(Dec 1991) • 118.5 KB • GPS: 55:43:53N, 37:36:13E
Muscovites celebrate the cost of living at the gates of Gorky Park . Apparently the placard says: "Mad Prices From The Mad Government In The White Madhouse!".
Street grocers, Moscow
(Dec 1991) • 124.9 KB • GPS: 55:46:12N, 37:37:56E
Moscow street vendors offer quality produce to an enthusiastic and receptive clientele.
One of the first signs the Iron Curtain  was defunct was the presence of fresh fruit in the dead of winter. Brought in from Africa or Spain , I once even noticed a "fresh" pineapple in a Moscow corner store, placed high on a shelf behind the counter, presumably to discourage Expropriation by the Proletariat.
Family outside G.U.M., Moscow
(Sep 1991) • 142.3 KB • GPS: 55:45:17N, 37:37:12E
A Moscow family wait for things to change outside the ГУМ department store , on the eastern edge of Red Square.
Kujbyse Street, Moscow
(Sep 1991) • 147.8 KB • GPS: 55:45:13N, 37:37:22E
At the southeastern corner of Red Square, a pedestrian is told where to go.
Kremlin hitch-hikers, Moscow
(Dec 1991) • 123.3 KB • GPS: 55:45:28N, 37:36:51E
While freezing my butt off waiting to take the vendors photo , I turned around and shot this image of hitch-hikers trying to get a lift.
One of the big surprises in Moscow were all the hitchers touting for rides on the sides of every major road, either early morning or late in the afternoon.
The Kremlin and State Historical Museum are visible in the background , with Red Square and Saint Basils Cathedral in the LHS distance.
Bread queue, Moscow
(Dec 1991) • 142.7 KB • GPS: 55:43:08N, 37:23:23E
Waiting for a bread kiosk to open in a far western "Sleeping District" .
Note: I am aware the sign in the background says "Beer". The people in the queue were actually lining up for a different kiosk (out of frame).
Church of Ascension, Kolomenskoe Moscow
(Dec 1991) • 115.6 KB • GPS: 55:40:02N, 37:40:14E
The famous Ascension Church inside the Kolomenskoe Museum Preserve , on a bank above the Moskva River (visible in the LHS background).
Kazan Cathedral, Kolomenskoe Moscow
(Dec 1991) • 137.8 KB • GPS: 55:40:07N, 37:40:04E
Although I was critical of what a run-down dump Moscow generally was , I have to admit parts of it could also be beautiful.
Red Gate, Kolomenskoe Moscow
(Dec 1991) • 229.1 KB • GPS: 55:40:04N, 37:40:07E
The Kolomenskoe Museum Preserve  in southeastern Moscow. This is a view of what used to be the main entrance to the estate.
Lomonosov Moscow State University
(Dec 1991) • 109.2 KB • GPS: 55:42:17N, 37:31:47E
Lomonosov Moscow State University , the main campus in Moscow. I went there looking for intelligent young women, but found instead crappy food and worse public toilets.
Inner city street, Moscow
(Dec 1991) • 145.9 KB • GPS: 55:45:52N, 37:37:47E
Welcome to Moscow — a few blocks north of the Kremlin.
"How 'Ya Gonna Keep 'Em Down on the Farm"  once they have sampled the delights of Москва ? No doubt it was scenes like this which finally wiped the smirk off Guy Burgess' face .
Telephone user, Moscow
(Dec 1991) • 123.8 KB • GPS: 55:45:60N, 37:38:03E
Moscow public telephone box with sports-fan graffiti.
Of more interest is the steel mesh visible at the top RHS of the picture. Many buildings had these to protect pedestrians from falling chunks of ice (and/or masonry…)
August Putsch memorials, Moscow
(Dec 1991) • 124.5 KB • GPS: 55:45:08N, 37:34:60E
Impromptu bridge memorials on the Smolenskaya overpass to the August '91 Coup victims .
In early September there were already portraits, hand-written posters, crosses and flowers alongside the railing. I even saw a newly-married couple posing for wedding photos.
By mid-December the temporary monuments had been replaced with a more permanent memorial.
Sennaja Smolenskij Blvd., Moscow
(Dec 1991) • 143.4 KB • GPS: 55:44:56N, 37:34:56E
A few moments of winter sunshine along the Garden Ring Road  in inner Moscow. Notice everyone has shopping bags, "just in case…"
Lenin's Tomb + Red Square, Moscow
(Sep 1991) • 143.1 KB • GPS: 55:45:13N, 37:37:12E
The queue in front of Lenin's Mausoleum  in Moscow's Red Square. At the time there were rumors Vladimir Illyich might be removed and given a proper burial, hence the unusually long queue waiting for a final glimpse.
Notice the red CCCP flag still flying on top of the Kremlin — it was finally taken down on 31st December 1991 .
Red Square militia, Moscow
(Sep 1991) • 121.2 KB • GPS: 55:45:14N, 37:37:14E
Red Square, a few minutes after the Mausoleum photo . We are facing north-west, with the red-painted State Historical Museum on the left , the grey Hotel Москва in the middle  and the dull aqua-coloured ГУМ department store on the right .
A couple of things: Red Square was completely fenced off to pedestrian access (very annoying); secondly, photos of military personnel were strictly prohibited at the time, so I had to live dangerously to get this shot…
Power station, Moscow
(Dec 1991) • 115.9 KB • GPS: 55:41:43N, 37:26:44E
From my Hotel Mozhaisky window again, this time looking at a distant power station — the billowing steam clouds give a rough indication of how cold it was (-27°C the day I arrived).
Street vendor, Moscow
(Dec 1991) • 153.5 KB • GPS: 55:45:47N, 37:36:29E
Art and "biznes" on Ulitsa Gorkogo ("Tverskaya-Yamskaya"), in central Moscow. Street vendors were all over the place, and by now I was thoroughly sick of them.
Of course at the time I was unaware that many of the vendors were desperate to raise cash, to compensate for inflation wiping out their state pensions and wages .
Women street vendors, Moscow
(Dec 1991) • 129.1 KB • GPS: 55:45:31N, 37:36:46E
Women hawk their wares on Ulitsa Gorkogo ("Tverskaya- Yamskaya"), only 200m from the Kremlin. Many were wives of smugglers and truck drivers trying to unload stolen goods, many others were former state employees made redundant by the New Economy .
There was a big crowd blocking my view that day, so I had to wait more than 45 minutes in freezing weather to get this shot. I discovered only later (when safely back in Hungary) that women like these used to routinely beat up anyone who tried to film them…
Inner city businessman, Moscow
(Dec 1991) • 151.6 KB • GPS: 55:45:23N, 37:36:34E
Freed of the shackles of the past, a state(less) employee strides heroically towards a Post Demokratizatsiya Consumer Paradise…
Sunday housing estate, Moscow
(Dec 1991) • 168.8 KB • GPS: 55:42:36N, 37:24:02E
The only way to house ten million people  within a 25km radius, is to do so in large apartment blocks.
Unfortunately many of these 1970's "new constructions" were so hastily built that the construction quality ended up being less than optimal .
Ulitsa Gorkogo, Moscow
(Dec 1991) • 138.3 KB • GPS: 55:45:31N, 37:36:46E
A Day In The Life Of The Neo-Proletariat: Christian Dior in the morning; Yves Rocher in the afternoon; a park bench at night…
Bus queue, Bucharest
(Dec 1991) • 115.7 KB • GPS: 44:26:30N, 26:05:58E
Welcome to sunny Bucharest, queueing on what was still the Boulevard n Bâlcescu.
Produce market, Bucharest
(Dec 1991) • 135.5 KB • GPS: 44:26:56N, 26:06:03E
Optimizing cabbages at an open air market in Bucharest.
Southwestern housing estate, Bucharest
(Dec 1991) • 159.3 KB • GPS: 44:24:43N, 26:03:52E
Belfast '72 = Beirut '85 = Bucharest '91.
Smashed up, half completed housing estates; people lining up at communal water taps; crowds shoving each other when a food-aid truck arrives; children playing among the ruins … Welcome to Eastern Europe.
Older suburbs, Bucharest
(Dec 1991) • 166.3 KB • GPS: 44:26:29N, 26:06:21E
An older part of Bucharest which managed to escape Nicolae's bulldozers. "Paris of the East" eh? As yet there weren't too many street kids or wild dogs …
(Dec 1991) • 140.3 KB • GPS: 44:25:38N, 26:05:30E
Nic 'n Ele's modest townhouse — twelve storeys, 6000 rooms, the third largest building in the world.
Known variously as "The Palace of the Parliament" (Palatul Parlamentului ) or "Palace of the People" (Casa Poporului ), the cars give some idea of its bulk.
Ceausescu Palace + boy skaters, Bucharest
(Dec 1991) • 117.9 KB • GPS: 44:25:39N, 26:05:34E
Another view of the gargantuan Ceausescu Palace, with a couple of boys roller-skating by.
Ceausescu Palace + Dept of Foriegn Affairs, Bucharest
(Dec 1991) • 119 KB • GPS: 44:25:28N, 26:05:30E
The Ceausescu Palace in the background, the Department of Foreign Affairs & Economics on the right. The immediate foreground shows rubble from the late '80s building boom, which ended abruptly with the 1989 revolution.
By amazing luck I befriended a couple of women who worked inside the DoFA&E (Mirela & Monica ). One evening after hours they showed me around. Although it looked neat from the outside, the interior — a functioning office building! — was a chaos of rubble, construction rubbish and ceilings propped up with steel pipes.
Uranus District + Centru Civic, Bucharest
(Dec 1991) • 170.9 KB • GPS: 44:25:34N, 26:05:34E
In order for Ceausescu to build his "first socialist capital for the new socialist man" , hundreds of buildings in the Uranus District had to be bulldozed. Fortunately the revolution in '89 put a halt to the madness.
Thus if you went around to rear of the new apartment blocs on Centru Civic, you could still see some of the original buildings.
Empty fountain, Bucharest
(Dec 1991) • 156.2 KB • GPS: 44:25:37N, 26:06:12E
Centru Civic, a fountain emptied for winter, office and apartment blocks for the élite (security police, commie hacks, aparatchiks etc.)
The monolithic building in the far background is the six-thousand room Ceausescu palace , still unfinished when Nicolae and Elena were given rapid-lead therapy for Christmas 1989 .
Monica Stáiculescu + Mirela Pop
(Dec 1991) • 135.5 KB • GPS: 44:29:44N, 26:05:33E
At the Otopeni International airport , just outside Bucharest.
I befriended M&M towards the end of my five-day visit. Despite well-paying jobs in the Dept. of Economics , they shared a dreary flat in a housing estate, complete with bare concrete floors, light-bulbs swinging from ceiling wires, and a bullet hole in the refrigerator door (!)
They look a little tired here because they just spent the taxi ride to the airport arguing and even yelling at the driver over the fare.
Former Central Commitee Building, Bucharest
(Dec 1991) • 122.1 KB • GPS: 44:26:19N, 26:05:53E
The balcony where Nicolae Ceausescu  made his farewell speech to a warm and appreciative audience, just before the shooting started .
Speaking of which — in '91 most downtown buildings still had their upper levels riddled with bullet holes, from people firing up at the Securitate on the roof.
Pedestrian crossing, Bucharest
(Dec 1991) • 93.7 KB • GPS: 44:26:49N, 26:05:50E
Pedestrians crossing the road outside the Economics faculty.
Union Hotel, Bucharest
(Dec 1991) • 109.9 KB • GPS: 44:26:14N, 26:05:55E
Where I stayed in Bucharest. Pretty good, but had trouble sleeping due to the superabundant Horizontal Collaboration by a couple next door.
I was also surprised by the large number of private businesses run from hotel suites (you can see small posters hanging from their windows) — probably due to the lack of office rental space elsewhere.
WWII ruins, Warsaw
(Oct 1991) • 183.2 KB • GPS: 52:14:32N, 20:59:21E
Warsaw really copped it during World War Two . Thanks to decades of communist neglect, you could still find small pockets of destruction in the early '90s.
Warsaw Palace of Culture + Science
(Oct 1991) • 116.3 KB • GPS: 52:13:55N, 21:00:25E
230m tall and opened July 1955, the "PKiN"  was a Socialist Realist skyscraper  in the middle of the city.
Warsaw natives detested the place, not only for its architectural ugliness, but also for being a reminder of four decades of Communist occupation and rule.
Filharmonia boys queue, Warsaw
(Oct 1991) • 143.8 KB • GPS: 52:14:03N, 21:00:41E
A group of school boys wait enthusiastically to enter the Warsaw Filharmonia.
Marszalkowska Street, Warsaw
(Nov 1991) • 81 KB • GPS: 52:13:56N, 21:00:39E
A young girl waits for a bus on Marszalkowska Street, across the road from the ubiquitous PKiN .
Marszalkowska Street, Warsaw
(Nov 1991) • 102.9 KB • GPS: 52:13:55N, 21:00:39E
A few minutes later, an older lady also waits for the same bus. The buildings in the background were State clothing and department stores.
Cigarette Kiosk, Warsaw
(Nov 1991) • 149.9 KB • GPS: 52:13:58N, 21:00:38E
International corporate brands make their presence felt at a Swietokrzyska Street cigarette kiosk.
Street re-cabling, Warsaw
(Oct 1991) • 154.5 KB • GPS: 52:14:16N, 21:00:54E
Tearing up Warsaw footpaths to lay electrical cables.
Budzynska girl, Warsaw
(Oct 1991) • 99.4 KB • GPS: 52:10:20N, 21:04:14E
One of the highlights of my trip was hanging out with the three-year old daughter of Svavek and Magda Budzyńska. One of a generation of ex-pat children born overseas, she returned to Poland with her parents in early '91. By the time we met she barely knew any English.
She was a bit terrified of me at first, but within a day we were inseparable. The little maniac would climb all over me while I was reading, and this shot was taken during a rare moment when she actually stood still. Then in December we parted and I never saw her again.
Wilanów Housing estate, Warsaw
(Nov 1991) • 47.4 KB • GPS: 52:10:19N, 21:04:11E
The view from the Budzynska  apartment balcony, in southern Warsaw.
Notice the satellite dishes — Communism wasn't defeated so much by MIRVs or Reaganomics , but rather "Dynasty" and "Dallas".
Jewish Ghetto suburbs, Warsaw
(Oct 1991) • 137.9 KB • GPS: 52:14:51N, 20:59:18E
Geometric street patterns in the old Jewish Quarter of Warsaw.
Jewish Ghetto ruins, Warsaw
(Oct 1991) • 154.7 KB • GPS: 52:14:55N, 20:59:22E
After WWII, so much of Warsaw lay in ruins  that it was easier to flatten the rubble and build on top of it, rather than cart away.
This photo depicts some of the 1940's "strata" I saw during a walk around the old Jewish Ghetto.
Plac Konstytucji, Warsaw
(Nov 1991) • 124.2 KB • GPS: 52:13:20N, 21:00:57E
Plac Konstytucji in Warsaw, across the road from the fun-fun-fun retro-Stalinist MDM Hotel , where I stayed.
Also visible are a couple of sidewalk kiosks, of which there were hundreds throughout the city. There was a rental shortage at the time, so if you wanted to open a business you either had to get a kiosk or rent a hotel suite .
(Oct 1991) • 141.2 KB • GPS: 52:14:59N, 20:59:54E
High-tech Warsaw. Contrast the satellite dish on the balcony (third floor from the top) with the window washer dangling from a rope, two balconies to the right.
Tram + PKiN, Warsaw
(Nov 1991) • 89 KB • GPS: 52:13:56N, 21:00:38E
Neo Comecon Globalism. (Clockwise from left) The American Marriott hotel , Russian PKiN  and Hungarian FVV trams …
Entrance Gate, Auschwitz
(Jan 1992) • 174.6 KB • GPS: 50:02:03N, 19:12:36E
Welcome to Europe. The entrance gate to the State Museum of Auschwitz-Birkenau  in Oświecim.
Gas Chamber, Auschwitz
(Jan 1992) • 122.8 KB • GPS: 50:02:01N, 19:12:38E
One bullet fired in Sarajevo in 1914 , passed through millions of Europeans  before ending up here, in the gas chambers of Auschwitz.