What was life like behind the Iron Curtain? In 1991, we went to find out...

If they were going to visit eastern Europe before the tidal wave of capitalism hit, Mick O'Hare and his wife had to act quickly – but nothing could have prepared them for what they found

Tuesday 23 November 2021 15:04
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<p>A festival in Bardejov, where Mick narrowly avoided being assaulted by offering to buy his attacker some beer</p>

A festival in Bardejov, where Mick narrowly avoided being assaulted by offering to buy his attacker some beer

When Boris Yeltsin stood on a tank in Moscow in August 1991 and denounced the coup attempting to overthrow president Mikhail Gorbachev and reinstate one-party communist rule in the Soviet Union, he not only saved his nation (albeit briefly), he also saved my proverbial trip of a lifetime.

After the Berlin Wall fell in late 1989 and communist governments throughout eastern Europe tumbled domino-like, my partner and I hatched half a plan. If we were going to visit eastern Europe and see how life had been lived behind the Iron Curtain, we had to go pretty quickly. Capitalism was going to hit like a tidal wave sweeping away the ordinary lives of half a continent in a deluge of consumerism. Thirty years ago, in the autumn of 1991, Sally had qualified as a physiotherapist and I jacked in my job on a motorsport magazine. We had the visas and travellers’ cheques. And then Gorbachev was placed under house arrest, tanks rumbled onto the streets of Moscow and the citizens of eastern Europe peered nervously over their shoulders. Were the old days returning?

Trains, buses and trams in Budapest were old but serviceable and ran pretty much on time

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