The Unusual Road to Kerepesi Cemetery

While in Budapest I really wanted to visit All Saints Church and It had come down to the last minute. The Sunday morning before my flight I took a bus into the hills on the Buda side of the capital. It was early when I arrived at the church but not early enough.

All Saints Church

The church was busy with people coming for the Sunday service, there were already plenty of people inside and seating was quickly filling up. As I stood taking my last photos of the unique building a man approached me and asked if I was from around this area.

He introduced himself as Warren Richardson, an Australian photographer living in Budapest. He told me about the nearby cemetery and pointed out the hills he was heading into to shoot some abandoned Buildings.

I explained that I was tight on time and waiting for the next bus back to town as my flight was leaving in the afternoon. He said not to worry, there was a train station on my bus route back to the city centre and I should get off there and explore a nearby cemetery.

Keleti Station

I found the station easily, the bus stopped right outside. I went inside to admire the architecture and watch as people made their daily commute.

From Keleti Station I followed the instructions as best as I could. They were fairly simple. Outside the station I spotted the small narrow street only for trams, that Warren had told me to look out for, and followed that until I reached the walled perimeter of Kerepesi Cemetery.

Kerepesi Cemetery

The cemetery was vast, with winter in full effect. There wasn’t a single leaf left on the trees that lined the long roads as they stretched off into the distance.

There was a mix of old and new in the cemetery. Many of the older graves and tombstones showed their age, to me these were the most interesting. It was hard to tell if the damage was something that had just happened over time or were signs of Hungary’s troubled past.

One of the reasons Warren had suggested the cemetery to me was there were apparently hidden signs of World War II. He had described a statue to me of a woman with her head bowed and hands drapped over the top of the tombstone. I found what I thought had been described to me  and when I looked closely there were age worn holes that may have been the bullet holes he had mentioned.

Due to my time constraints I was only able to explore a small section of the cemetery but what I saw in that short period of time left a lasting expression on me. Kerepesi Cemetery became a highlight of my weekend in Budapest, not only because of what I saw there but because of the story that took me there in the first place.

Further Reading:

Australian photographer Warren Richardson

A short piece about All Saints Church

Rajamäki and the Molotov Cocktail

During World War II Finland was fighting Russia all down its Eastern border and protecting its country from invasion. The Finns were hopelessly outnumbered and the Russians were a superior force. This period would later be known as The Winter War.

Under the leadership of General Mannerheim the Finns had to resort to clever tactics and guerilla warfare. They relied heavily on regiments of ski troops, sent out world renown sniper Simo Häyhä, but lesser known is the large scale production and use of the Molotov Cocktail.

Hidden amongst the trees in the town of Rajamäki are two identical abandoned towers made of poured concrete used during that period, but for what?

Rajamäki and the Molotov Cocktail

Rajamäki and the Molotov Cocktail

Rajamäki is small industrial town 45km from Finland’s Capital, Helsinki. The town has been home to an alcohol bottling plant since before World War II. During The Winter War this plant was used for another purpose, to produce Molotov Cocktails on an industrial scale.

Though the Molotov Cocktail had been used throughout history it was the Finns that realised its effectiveness in guerilla warfare and against the armoured Russian tanks.

With the Molotov Cocktail factory working flat out and vital to Finland’s success it became a key target on the Russians attack. Two concrete towers were built just outside Rajamäki. These would provide a platform just above the tree line where anti-aircraft guns would be positioned, from here the Finn’s would be able to protect the town and the factory from an aerial assault.

Rajamäki and the Molotov Cocktail

Rajamäki and the Molotov Cocktail Rajamäki and the Molotov Cocktail

Shortly after their completion The Winter War was concluded when Finland ceded a large portion of its Eastern border to Russia. Now, these towers are locked up and abandoned, forgotten and hidden in the Finnish forest. Their history just as mysterious as the structures themselves.

Rajamäki and the Molotov Cocktail

Further reading:

The aftermath of The Winter War and the Germans Scorched Earth.

My visit to Porkkala and discovering its hidden Russian history.

How a Small Force of Finnish Ski Troops Fought Off a Massive Soviet Army

As usual you can see more from my travels on Instagram.

A visit to Porkkala and 1950’s Era Russia

I was lucky enough to accompany Global Degree and Day With A Local on a tour of the Porkkala region in Southern Finland as part of a YouTube series that will be released next year.

After catching an early train from Helsinki we arrived in Kirkkonummi where we were driven to Sjundby Manor. When we pulled up and exited the van an elderly man in uniform approached us speaking only in Russian. With little knowledge of exactly where we were the Global Degree team looked at me and our guide for help but none came. For all they knew we could have actually been in Russia, if this had between 1944- 1956 we would have been.

A visit to Porkkala and 1950's Era Russia

Sjundby Castle

After the conclusion of the Second World War the area of Porkkala was leased to Russia for fifty years but fortunately it was returned after only eleven. The area was of a tactical advantage to Russia as it was the narrowest and shallowest stretch of water between Finland and Estonia, allowing them to closely monitor and secure the passage to St Petersburg.

Once the agreement had been made the whole area had to be evacuated in just nine days, over 7000 residents, 8000 domestic animals, as well as any crops and vegetables. At first not even trains could pass through the newly acquired area, but after 1947 they were finally  permitted but the shutters had to be pulled down to cover the windows.

A visit to Porkkala and 1950's Era Russia

After a brief view of the castle we were directed to a slightly more interesting building in my opinion. Between the road and the river there was a building covered in Russian text preserved for more than fifty years. Our Russian officer, now speaking in English, explained to us about the area and its history before posing for some Soviet era photographs.

A visit to Porkkala and 1950's Era Russia

The landscape of Porkkala had changed, what had once been an agricultural landscape was transformed by the Russians into a heavily fortified military facility. It is thought that 20,000 military personnel and about 10,000 civilians occupied the area during those eleven years.

It was now that we travelled a little further and saw what was remaining of the fortifications that had been built. An entrance to a bunker hidden from the road. It continued meters underground but the roof had collapsed making it now inaccessible. There is thought to be many more in the area, some have been found but others have not so it is difficult to estimate how many exactly were built.

Here it wasn’t only the bunker that was of interest but the area surrounding it that had once been a barracks with a fully operating crematorium, our guide added, “Still no one knows what they were burning there.”

A visit to Porkkala and 1950's Era Russia

As we drove through the region there was little evidence and even less that you would have noticed without being pointed in the right direction. Many of the houses had been left to decay after the residence moved out in 1944, little of who returned, and it was only in recent years that development in the area had really begun.

It was an incredibly interesting area with a history that I had never discovered until now even though it is only 19km from Helsinki. One of the most memorable stories of the day was of two seventeen year old boys that accidentally sailed into the area and were picked up by a Russian patrol and imprisoned.  After a few days they thought they were being released and taken back to Helsinki by train but they ended up in a death camp in Siberia where they were put to work for a number of years.

Next stop, Fiskars Village. Post coming soon!

Further Reading:

I highly recommend the article Seven Years Sailing about the two boys who ended up in Siberia after an innocent sailing trip.

Scorched Earth, World War II in Lapland

Thanks to Porkkala Travel for hosting us, more information about the region and how to visit can be found on their website

Helsinki 1952

After the 1940 Olympics was cancelled due to World War II Helsinki would hold the 1952 Olympics instead, this was the second Olympics to take place since the end of the war. Today in the city you can visit several of the stadiums that held events during the Olympics. In the gallery below you can see Helsinki Olympic Stadium with its viewing tower that is open to the public.

Scorched Earth


Karasjoki, Norway

When World War II was approaching its conclusion Finland asked the Germans, who up to this point had been helping them fight against the Russians, to leave but they refused.  This then led to the Finns fighting against the Germans and pushing them north into Norway. On the way out the Germans used a Scorched Earth Policy and burnt every town they came across, this continued as they moved through Norway. Karasjoki old church was the only building left standing in the Norwegian town of Karasjoki at the end of World War II.