Tura, in the county of Pest, Hungary is Dad’s childhood town. A large part of Father’s childhood was raised in this small village which is some 35-40 km east of Budapest on the estate of the Schossberger family consisting of 190,000 fold which is about 200,000 acres. Grandfather Joseph was the head of husbandry for the estate.
200,000 acres you say, and that is how big? Well, if you had the acreage square, it would be roughly 27×27 kms. While that’s not huge by Canadian prairie standards, it is by Hungarian standards, where the entire country of today would fit into southern Ontario. Today, the town of Tura, is a sleepy village of eight thousand. The notable asset of the estate was the castle that was commissioned by the owner Baron Sigismund Schossberger in 1872.
The manor Schossberger was constructed from 1873 until its completion in 1883. It was designed by the famous architect Miklós Ybl at the request of Baron Sigismund Schossberger. Once Baron Sigismund Schossberger was knighted by Emperor Franz Joseph, he wanted an estate that equaled his new status and growing family. The mansion was built of brick but plastered to resemble that of cut stone and was poised at the highest point of the grounds to appear even bigger than it was. Miklós Ybl added accents to the exterior of the mansion to resemble French Renaissance castles, with a natural shale French roof, high chimneys, decorative tin ornaments, dormer windows and towers. [Ybl is the architect of the State Opera house.]
The castle was passed down to Sigismund’s son, Victor. Upon Victor’s death his 2 children inherited the castle, all of who struggled to maintain the castle. World War II broke out and German officers used the castle for housing and in 1944, the castle was abandoned at the advancement of the Red Army. It was used as a war hospital in 1945. In 1946, it became a primary school and was named a national monument in 1958. It was a primary school until 1973, after which it was abandoned. It became owned by a public company and has been sold and bought several times since the 1980’s.
The Castle was used as the film setting for Moonacre Manor in the 2007 film, The Secret of Moonacre.
The latest owners, intend to transform Castle Schossberger into a 5 star hotel. They will add a second wing, refurbished park, conference room, luxury restaurant and over 100 rooms. Many hope this will never happen as it should remain a national monument open to the public.
As head of husbandry for the estate, grandfather Joseph and his family, my father, Milti, his brother Leslie, and grandmother Ethel lived in house on the edge of the castle grounds. Grandfather had a staff of some 400 to manage the husbandry affairs of the estate.
A couple of years ago, father went back to Tura to revisit his childhood town. He discovered that the house he grew up in, was turned into a state run kindergarten school. He went in and spoke with the principle and explained his history with the building. He shortly thereafter made a small endowment to the school to benefit the children and his favorite passion, the opera. The arrangement was that the investment proceeds be used to finance annual trips for children of the school to the opera. Hungary has a large opera program targeted to children of all ages. I guess they start the patronage recruiting early. In response the kindergarten arranged a special day for dad with a lunch and performances by the children and a special thanks by the major of the town.
Today, he took us there to see the castle and its grounds including the kindergarten. The tour was hosted by the kindergarten principal who was also a pupil at the school when one of the post Schossberger era uses the castle was a middle school during her teenage years. The kindergarten school was closed for the summer and a major facelift including a new wing addition. The school houses about 125 children. It was particularly noteworthy that the school had all the appearance of a high school in miniature. The desks, chairs, the bathrooms and its paraphernalia all built for gnomes. The one room we were shown was one of revelation. It was a narrow but long room which they called the salt room. Along one wall were stacks of salt block about 1 square foot in size. The top row had some blocks carved into figurines. It was explained to us that children were brought into this room every week for about 20 minutes. I guess the principle could see the perplexed look on our faces as she explained the reasoning. Apparently, breathing the salt laden air of the room was healthy for the children’s respiratory system. Makes sense.
The school principal mentioned to father that there was a lady in town similar age to Dad that was quite upset that she wasn’t invited to the ceremony for father last year. The principal explained that she grew up with Milti and had a crush on him all the while he was trying to woo her sister. She was not invited as the principal did not realize at the time of the celebratory meeting at the kindergarten that Dad and this lady knew each other. So the principal made Dad promise to drop in on her after the tour.
After the castle and kindergarten tour we did drive over to this elderly lady’s house and Dad did go in to visit for about 30 minutes. The initial meeting was indeed an eye opener. They hadn’t seen each other for some 75 years. The joy of this meeting seemed to be more than the 75 year old “crush”, but I couldn’t quite understand this extra ordinary exuberance. Upon parting I could see the pain in this ladies face which was quite perplexing.
Driving on the way home, I was trying to distill the experiences of the day. I just saw a castle representing nearly 140 years of Hungarian history, which is closely tied to my father. Experienced and saw a little bit of the future in the transformation and modernization of the property. Then I experienced something equally rare, extremely insightful and moving. That was the meeting of two super senior citizens, Dad and this lady from Tura.
Here was a lady nearly Dad’s age probably lived her entire life in this town. Lived through a monarchy; one war; a depression; Nazism; a second world war, Communism, the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, the move through to Democracy. Then all the experiences and changes within her personal life and that of her town, all the while to see family, and friends fall away in her life through time. Then all of a sudden someone walks into her life who not only lived through the same period, but the same town and whom she knew as a child. That generational kinship was clearly expressed in her face and exuberance. On the surface the joy she exuded was puzzling. On deeper reflection it became clear to me that what she was really exhibiting was the emotion of seeing, touching and experiencing another human being that can rekindle her past and relate to her own experiences. To see this unfold was almost as a unique as her experience.¬