"The village of Bildein can be found in the northeastern
part of the district of Güssing. Because of its secluded and peaceful location
on the border of Hungary, the unspoiled landscape, the local traditions, the
uncomplicated and friendly nature of the people have remained intact. The
riverside landscape with its meadows and lush vegetation provide an ideal
setting for rest and relaxation. Extensive forests and tranquil paths through
fields beckon for leisurely walks. The young community of Bildein advocates
quality of life and progress.” www.bildein.at
This past summer,
my family and I spent a few days in and around Bildein and we can vouch for the
accuracy of the description above. I would like to first acquaint my readers
with this beautiful spot on earth, the village itself and the nice people that
live there. My second purpose for writing this article is to highlight an event
in the history of Bildein that was of great significance to my family and me 55
During four long decades, the Iron Curtain divided the
Pinka Valley that had been home to German, Hungarian and Croatian speaking
people for hundreds of years. Bildein is one of the German-speaking villages in
this valley. Since the removal of that infamous barrier, the people of Bildein
have made it their goal to remove all barriers that exist in the mind. In 1993,
Oberbildein and Unterbildein were merged into one single community. As a single
community, they have dedicated themselves to the concept of “the village
without borders.” They are resolved to strive for open-mindedness towards
everything new, for openness towards guests and tourists of all ages, and for
tolerance towards different ethnic groups, religions and languages. At the same
time, Bildein wishes to draw attention to the history of the border, to life on
the border, and to life with its Hungarian neighbors. Much has happened in this
regard in Bildein, which distinguishes it from its neighbors.
From the events of the last few months alone, it is perfectly evident that the
people of Bildein take their motto seriously and do not consider it merely an
From August 11–13 of this year, 2,500 rock music fans
met once again on the grounds of the village center of Bildein for the annual
“limitless” music festival Picture On. This spectacle of music is organized
by the Kulturverein Grenzgänger of Bildein with the cooperation of KuKuK of
Bildein, Novamusic Entertainment and Grandisce of Szentpéterfa, Hungary. The
entire community is also actively engaged in the successful running of this huge
event. Since the first concert in 2000, the festival has been expanded each year
so that now there are two open-air bandstands and the number of attendees has
grown tenfold. In the meantime, the festival has become part of a much wider EU
project (see www.pictureon.at
Exactly one month later, on September 11, the
Grenzerfahrungsweg—the border experience walk—was officially opened. This
path, which is about five kilometers long, has a number of stations that bring
to life the history of the village and the region since World War II and invites
guests to actively participate in the experience. It is a singular tourist
attraction, conceived and designed by the artist Andreas Lehner.
The first station is a giant labyrinth located in front
of the Oberbildein cemetery. The Bildein website, www.bildein.at
, describes it by saying, “With its convoluted paths it stands as a symbol to
life’s journey. It invites adults to a meditative walk. For children it is a
Only a short distance west from it is the
second station, with an original bunker from World War II and a panzer from the
same war. This, and the next two stations, the pontoon bridge/walk over the old
frog pond of Oberbildein and the station called Spiel ohne Grenzen—play
without limits—offer lots of fun for children and young people.
From this point
on, a new path, constructed with the help of the Austrian army, takes the
visitors north along the Pinka River to the Austrian-Hungarian border, where a
beautiful new bridge spans the river with views into Hungary. On the other side,
the path returns south to the village and to a final station featuring a replica
of a Hungarian border watchtower and a section of the old Iron Curtain. The walk
offers much more than what I have described and I recommend a visit to Bildein
if, for no other reason, than to experience this unique tourist attraction.
The Grenzerfahrungsweg is but the newest addition to
Bildein; however, it is quite extraordinary how much more has been accomplished
in the last 20 years. These things didn’t just happen by themselves, of
course. They were made possible with financial support from the EU, the vision
of a very capable and charismatic young mayor and Bundesrat delegate, Walter
Temmel, the efforts of the man behind the scene who makes things happen,
Emmerich Zax, and the dedicated determination of the people of Bildein.
In the center of Unterbildein is the Burgenländische Geschichte(n)haus—the
history house/museum of Burgenland—that recounts and illustrates the history
of Bildein as well as personal stories from the various phases of the border. A
visit to this museum would be the perfect introduction, or even conclusion, to a
walk along the Grenzerfahrungsweg.
Oberbildein and Unterbildein, there is a bio-fuel heating plant that provides
heat, by burning woodchips, for every household in the village. The experts of
Bildein freely shared their expertise when their Hungarian neighbors in Pernau
built a similar plant.
Next to the village church is the most visible and most important achievement of
Bildein’s renewal effort, the WeinKulturHaus, the village center. The former
rectory is now the home of the wine repository, where the best wines of the
local vintners are stored. The old parish barn was first remodeled into a
performance and communications center then expanded to include a hall for
events, a restaurant (Rosemaries Gasthaus) and a store (Kaufhaus Lendl) with a
section for local products. To catch all these facets of this center in one
word, the locals settled on WeinKulturHaus. My American family learned to
appreciate the fine southern Burgenland cuisine in this Gasthaus and we can
recommend it to all visitors to Bildein.
Fifty-five years ago, no one could have envisioned such
a picture of Bildein. Back then, my family and I encountered a village that wasn’t
all that different from ours on the other side of the border... except for some
nicer barns, more farm animals, better farming equipment and a few individually
owned tractors. The boot prints of the Russians, who had left Burgenland just a
year before, were barely erased.
When the first Hungarian refugees crossed the border on
November 4, 1956, the tolerant people of Bildein became concerned, fearing the
Russians would come back. A nice man, who greeted and welcomed me at the border,
urged me to move on as fast as possible because the Russians would appear with
their tanks at the Pernau-Steinamanger road at any moment. However, from the
radio reports on the Hungarian side, we knew that the Russians were too busy
killing freedom fighters in Budapest to stop some poor refugees from escaping to
Austria. The Hungarian border guards that we met on our way out of the country
were contemplating their own escape and had no desire to stop us either.
In the following weeks, 200,000 people crossed the border and, in spite of some
reservations, fear for their own security or concern about what to do with so
many refugees, Austria welcomed every Hungarian in those unforgettable weeks
with a spirit of generosity and treated each with dignity. What played out on a
big scale all over Austria played out very tangibly for my family and other
refugee families in Bildein.
With bundles slung over our shoulders and carrying
whatever we could in our hands, we arrived at the first house of Oberbildein
desperate and homeless. Behind us came other families who were also seeking
refuge in Bildein. As we were directed towards the Zollhaus by the Austrian
border police, the people came out of their houses and looked at us with pity.
My father’s cousin, Godmother Luisser, hurried toward us and greeted us like
long lost relatives, expressed her delight that we chose to come to Bildein and
assured us that the Luisser/Eberhardt family had enough work for all: Father,
Mother and seven children.
After almost a week in Graz, where we were processed and registered, we returned
to Bildein to begin our new life. Father and Mother hoped to be able to return
home very soon. However, conditions in Hungary only became worse in the coming
years and the dream of returning home was never to be fulfilled.
Our first year in Bildein was a struggle
for survival. Without the help of the Luisser and Eberhardt families, life would
have been much more difficult. They saved us from the worst consequences of our
situation and were always very generous to us. For four years, they let us stay
in their spare house, for example, and never asked a penny for it.
were not the only ones in the village who stood by us and all other refugees
with words and deeds. During that first winter of 1956-57, the local school
children went from house to house to collect food in a wheelbarrow for the
refugees. The mayor found odd jobs for my father so he could earn some money. My
youngest sister, my brother and I were still in grade school but, from the first
day, our new classmates accepted us and looked at us not as children from a
foreign country but merely from the neighboring village.
The one setback was our Hianzish dialect
that was somewhat inadequate for the German used in the classroom. Within the
first year, my brother and I were put on the list of altar servers and the
parishioners honored my father with the request that he collect the offertory
contributions at Sunday masses. At their urging, he also opened a shoemaker
shop. The people of Bildein accepted us, incorporated us into their village, and
looked upon us as relatives and friends from the other side of the barbed wire
I would like to take this opportunity to publicly thank the
community of Bildein for what they did for me personally, for my entire family
and for all other refugees during a very difficult time 55 years ago.
In the hearts and minds of the people of
Bildein, there never existed any borders.
A more detailed description of the above events may be found in Emmerich Koller’s
memoir: Good Dogs Do Stray or its German version: Über die Grenzen. For
purchasing details, check the author’s website: www.emmerichkoller.com