Heartbreaking pictures: the last wooden stilt house is demolished on Lake Fertő

Local people, Hungarian and Austrian environmentalists, as well as UNESCO and the EU, are protesting against the government’s gigantic project by Lake Fertő. The construction and demolition continues: now the last wooden house on stilts has been dismantled, thus ending a whole era. Friends of Lake Fertő, a local NGO approached the site by water with a photographer who took some heartbreaking pictures.

Earlier we reported on how the owners of the stilt houses – a unique feature of the Lake Fertő area – were ordered to demolish their properties. Several owners immediately agreed to do as they were told because they did not want to go to court with the Hungarian state. For the demolition work the homeowners received an offer of €100,000 (about HUF 36 million) from a Hungarian company through the developer, but some of them settled with another company for €30,000 (about HUF 10.8 million).

Lake Fertő closed for construction – locals protest the tourism megaproject in the protected area

Hungary is going to spend HUF 23 billion (70.7 million EUR) on the construction of a new visitor center on the Hungarian shore of Lake Fertő (Neusiedlersee) on the Austrian-Hungarian border. The beach is already closed at Fertőrákos, restaurants and boat companies have been kicked out.

The houses were originally built as company holiday homes, and they included the post office, waterworks and police station, but some of the houses belonged to Austrian and Hungarian private owners. The lake is owned by the Hungarian state, so owners paid a substantial rent for the use of the lake, yet they owned the houses, in which they invested huge sums over the years.

Depending on size and condition, a stilt house can be worth between 100 000 and 300 000 euros. However, there is no question of the owners receiving any compensation from the state. Because of what has been described as a destructive development project, the Fertőrákos lakeshore has long since been closed, making it impossible to see from the mainland what is happening on the site . However, an NGO (Friends of Lake Fertő) which has been campaigning against the project from the start,  now approached the area by water with a photographer who documented the events.

The last stilt house was being demolished at the time of their visit,  and only the skeleton of the property was still standing. The building at the end of the pier used to be the Austrian-owned Haus im See restaurant, which was still in full operation when we filmed in 2019, with customers coming and going. According to photographer Martin Pap, the demolition work was being carried out by workers in a boat without a registration number, who waved cheerfully at the camera – while a security guard kept a close eye on any unwanted visitors from the shore.

Pap also took an aerial photo of the former cruise port, where now only traces of the old pier remain. In the lower left corner of the picture you can see the new piles that have been knocked down by the project, in the upper left the pier without piles and behind it the demolished surroundings.

The old sailing harbour, where Lőrinc Mészáros’s company is building a new one at a cost of HUF 9 billion, looks no better.

In early June, the director of the UN’s World Heritage Centre, Mechtild Rössler, told the Hungarian government that the project’s plans should be cancelled and its implementation stopped immediately. And in mid-June, the European Commission launched a consultation process to avoid EU infringement procedures as a “prelude” to the destruction of nature.

Apparently, the Hungarian government is not affected by neither this nor the protests of NGOs and environmentalists, and will not stop the project. On the contrary, according to photographer Martin Pap, workers are still working on weekends, as if the project were in a hurry. Pap also told Atlatszo.hu that during their visit they saw oil in the lake, which means that pollution could have occurred during construction.

Politically connected construction projects are destroying Hungary’s lakesides – NGOs fight back

Nearly 13 hectares of grass and reed will be covered with concrete and paving stones if the hotel, apartment building and sports complex planned for the shores of Lake Fertő are built.

Written by Katalin Erdélyi, translated by Gabriella Horn. The longer Hungarian version of this article is available here. Pictures by Martin Pap.

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