Project Bedepuszta, part 1

Project Bedepuszta, part 1

vrijdag, 15 november 2019 / Elroy Thümmler / 0 comments.

My first encounter with Bedepuszta was in 2002. Some Hungarian friends took me there with the idea that we would all buy a house here as a group of friends. The place was enchanting, but the village itself and the road leading to it were in terrible condition. It took us a full twenty minutes to cover the one and a half kilometres up into the valley by car. Potholes, stones on the road … but meanwhile the view was gradually becoming more breathtaking by the minute and the excitement was rising: where in God’s name am I?

The village is completely isolated in a long, high valley: like a ghost town. I could see it from afar, about twenty little white houses in a sea of green. At that time the village was already in decline. Romani families had taken over the farmhouses left behind in the 1980s and did not take care of the maintenance. The huge fruit orchards were cut down and used as firewood, and vacant houses were robbed of their roofs and used as firewood. Because everything, heating and cooking, was done with wood. The old houses were built out of clay: great material, insulates, regulates climate and it’s inexpensive. But, when exposed to the elements, without a roof, houses built from clay are soon swallowed up by the earth, leaving only the brick chimney as a reminder of the fact that it was once a house.

I used my savings to buy a farm from an elderly Hungarian lady. A beautiful house with a yard full of chickens, with no toilet facilities or running water. After signing the contract I discovered that I hadn’t in fact bought that house, but the next door neighbour’s house. Apparently my elementary Hungarian language skills had led to a misunderstanding on my part and she had only shown me her house because it was identical. It was actually a blessing in disguise, because this house also had a beautiful orchard and grape vines.

My Hungarian friends decided not to buy a house. The village was very difficult to reach and the local Romani community didn’t really welcome us. It went from bad to worse when, every time I returned, it turned out that my (empty) house had been broken into to grab a few old tiles from the floor.

A low point. In 2003 I was already considering giving up when two Dutch friends, experienced globetrotters who were interested by my enthusiastic tales about Hungary, came to take a look. They were immediately sold and their positivity was rubbed off on me.

The next morning, returning from the nearest village with bread under our arms, we came face to face with the head of the Romani community. A large man with a moustache wearing a dirty white shirt, who wasn’t doing his best to hide his anger. “What are you doing in our village?” We replied saying “Holiday” and “It’s beautiful here!” and we invited him in for a glass of pálinka. It was a smart move. An hour and some pálinkas later and we were the best of friends and he invited us to into his home. Apparently, the mother and daughter had already been notified because the house was spotless. Mother and daughter were sat waiting together on the clean bed. Behind them were two posters on a red wall: a picture of the Virgin Mary and a folded out sex poster. The good man had already let go of his anger and led us around his former orchard, where he had cut down almost all of the trees and used them as firewood. The two hundred-metre walk into the forest was apparently too much to ask. They showed us the stables. We asked him if he also had animals, he replied with a sad shake of the head to say no. “But at least you have a lot of flies!”, I joked. For a moment it seemed as if the joke had overstepped the mark, but the smile back from underneath the moustache suggested I was OK and with a firm pat on the shoulder, I was now officially accepted as a real local Bedepuszta-ian.

Over the years, we improved the house little by little. The relationship with most of the Romani community was good, there were no more burglaries, but it still caused some inconvenience and the decay unfortunately continued. The two remaining Hungarians in the village had enclosed themselves behind high fences and tried to shut themselves off from the rest of the village. First I tried to see whether the Romani community was interested in creating something beautiful out of the village. However, my attempts fell on deaf ears. If I wanted to restore the village, I would have to do it myself.

With the earnings from the success of the Sziget Festival, I had enough financial muscle to buy an empty Palóc farm elsewhere in the village. My Dutch friends had regularly returned to Bedepuszta since 2003 and decided to buy another house that had become vacant. This presented us with opportunities! We now had the north side of the village, the conquest of Bedepuszta had begun!

Things went well with the Hungarian festivals, but buying property in Bedepuszta was not as easy as you might think. One of the original Hungarian friends who had brought me here, moved into my old house and looked after my interests in the property. He came up with the plan not to buy the houses, but to exchange them. This to prevent the ‘head of the house’ from spending all the money in one go and leaving the families homeless. We found a good house nearby in a village with a school which we exchanged for a house in the village. One goes and more follow, but in our case, it wasn’t always that easy. Some houses held three families, which meant that we sometimes had to buy three houses to acquire one building. Little by little, step by step, we were closing in on our goal: buying property and land in the central and southern part of the village.

Then a miracle happened! The mayor of Kisbárkány applied for a subsidy for the renewal of the road to Bedepuszta. And yes! After a few months of insecurity there was suddenly a beautiful asphalt road. Furthermore, suddenly, plans to convert the old country highway 21, the connection to the M3 (the highway to Budapest), into a beautiful two-lane motorway, were accelerated. Accessibility, one of the major obstacles, had now been completely solved.

In the end the Hungarians were also willing to sell: the goal had been achieved! The east side of the village was flanked by four private properties: the old house that belonged to a Hungarian beekeeper, the weekend house of a hunter and the houses of the ‘Hollandok’. But the rest of the village was now wide open for grand plans.

The next chapter involved a huge renovation. The houses had to be refurbished, there was a lack of facilities such as bathrooms, toilets and heating and the south side of the village had to be transformed into an events area.

In addition to the renovations, a number of new houses were also built. In traditional style, by local workers. The interior design, as much as possible, included traditional Hungarian furniture and accessories. In the middle of the village, in an old field, a campsite was built, complete with lighting, toilets, showers, laundry room and an open-air kitchen.

The development of the events/recreation area started with converting one of the buildings into the village living room: the Yonderbar. A huge kemence (a stone oven/wood stove) was built in the bar, a sturdy bar counter was installed and with all sorts of antiques and knick-knacks found in the village, the Yonderbar became one of the nicest bars in the Hungarian province. An artist from Budapest took care of emptying our pálinka stock and a beautiful mural of the view of Bedepuszta was the finishing touch. Hungarian summers are hot, a swimming pool was not simply a luxury, a luxury completed by the fact that we had it put in next to the Yonderbar. The bar was made even better with the addition of a terrace and a stage.

In 2013 the first event took place in Bedepuszta: Sziget Detox. This event was a kind of after-party for visitors of the Sziget Festival in Budapest. The idea behind this was that after a week of partying, people could relax in nature for a couple of days to exchange experiences and have a little after party. In the first edition, author Jaap Scholten read aloud from his book ‘Heer en Meester’ and a number of artists including Douwe Bob played on stage. Douwe Bob and Jaap Scholten were also present in 2015, when Sziget Detox was expanded with a number of Hungarian bands, such as Qualitons and WH, a Shakespeare-on-music project by the singer of Irie Maffia. The main headliner was a musicians collective known as Jam de la Creme, including Marcel Veenendaal and Coco Jones, who treated us and themselves on the small stage of Bedepuszta, to one of the most memorable and longest concerts I can remember, and this is true for many who were there that day. However, it also became apparent that many who had just spent a week at Sziget were more in need of rest and sleep than even more concerts. That is why Sziget Detox was renamed Sziget Retreat and we scheduled less or no bands in subsequent editions. In 2015, a rainy edition of Sziget Retreat, top Dutch band My Baby stopped by.

Naturally, there also has to be somewhere to eat. A colossal pavilion was therefore built between the pool and the bar, an indoor 200-square metre wooden building of, with 140 seats and a summer kitchen with traditional wood oven opposite it, big enough to cook a whole pig.

Up the hill a lit pathway was constructed with hammocks in the old fruit trees alongside traditional Hungarian games in the meadow leading to the Terem building, a multifunctional space for artists that is also used as a games room, with a ping pong table, shuffleboard, darts and table football. In the barn of Terem, a small laboratory has been established for the production of natural soaps and the distillation of pálinka. Further up the hill, the light path leads to Iskola, the former school building. A nice large space suitable for meetings, yoga classes, film nights, training and, in the future, even a restaurant.

Bedepuszta won’t be ‘ready’ until 2019, but the village has already been rented privately in its entirety. In 2016, we had the Wicked Wedding, an amazing wedding party organised by the people of Amsterdam Roest and in 2017, WeTransfer held a three-day company retreat with all the staff. WeTransfer is a download and upload service. The fact that the village was not finished was no problem for them, but a good internet connection was vital. That is why, thanks to them, we installed optical fibre through a kilometre-long ditch, and we are now fully connected to the rest of the world in our hidden valley.

We’re bracing ourselves for the final steps. Furnishing the houses, the construction of the gardens and courtyards and the final facility matters. The village will never be completely finished. We have big plans with regard to circularity and special events, more about that in 2019, but for now we look forward to August 2018, when we will be able to celebrate the ‘launch’ of the village with a modest party.

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Elroy Thümmler

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