Small beanbag creatures and a big heart – from Zákány to Berlin
• Why Robert Békési had little time to get ready to exhibit at this year’s fair
• Bazaar Berlin takes place from 18 to 22 November 2015
Berlin, 20 November 2015 – The white-haired man with the bushy moustache smiles. “You want to take a picture of me? No problem.” Robert Békési is used to those kinds of requests from visitors to Bazaar Berlin. Being tall, with a delicately furrowed face, white hair, and an impressive moustache, he knows that he is photogenic. Somehow, that is how one imagines a Hungarian farmer should be, advertising salami in a TV commercial. However, Robert Békési has neither Hungarian salami nor wine to offer on the Berlin Exhibition Grounds. Instead, he is selling beanbag toys. Those are the little cuddly creatures whose legs can be seen dangling from the shelves of children’s rooms, or perched on an office computer screen where they are supposed to ward off stress.
Robert Békési and his wife, the Hungarian designer Elisabeth Bajkó, are selling these toys on their small stand at Bazaar Berlin, and have been doing so since 1992. In those days they sold three different toys: a dog, a tomcat and a rat. This year the stand is populated by around 8,000 funny beanbag toys. “Over the years my wife has created around 800 different designs“, says Robert Békési. “Most are based on animal species, both living and extinct. However, there are fantasy creatures too.” Thus, their sales charts, headed by armadillos and komodo dragons, also list the “happiness hormone“, an as yet undiscovered species in the wild. “Visitors to the bazaar have inspired us on many occasions“, recalls Békési. “A lady once asked if we had an Andalusian horse, which was something we didn’t have at the time. A year later it was on our stand in Berlin.”
Helping out between Budapest and the Croatian border
Békési has a degree in Design and has worked successfully in commercial art. This time preparations for the fair were not the same as in previous years. He and his wife were hardly ever at home to pack boxes for Berlin. Robert Békési: “I spent 90 days along with other volunteers at Budapest’s eastern railway station where we gave out food and drinks to refugees. Then they closed the border to Serbia and the refugees tried to make their way to Hungary through Croatia, and then on to Austria.“ The 75 year-old decided to offer his help elsewhere. In Budapest he loaded up his van with food donations, bottles of water and winter clothes and drove to the border town of Zákány, where volunteers handed out aid supplies to refugees who had made it across the border through gaps in the fence. “We organised our effort by communicating as a Facebook group“, says Békési. “Any other way would have made it more difficult to help.“
Dramatic scenes unfolded at Zákány. With Hungary sealing off its border refugee numbers on the Croatian side began to swell. In between lies the River Drau, a tributary of the Danube. After weeks of rainfall the flat grassy areas on the banks had turned into a sea of mud. Time and again, volunteers crossed over illegally into Croatia to bring back refugees across the river in small groups.
“People waded through the mud in temperatures of between five and ten degrees“, recalls Békési in a faltering voice. Some of them had no shoes on. There were women shaking from the cold, and children were crying.“ His voice begins to crack: “At one point I held a child in my arm who was very ill. I offered to take it to hospital, but the mother refused to be separated from her child and got on board of the train.” Then he smiles again: “There were other moments too. I transported a woman who was nine months pregnant to hospital where she gave birth to a baby daughter, whose name is Hena.“ Békési smiles: “She is my daughter from eastern Afghanistan, so to speak.“
Almost in passing, the 75 year-old says he knows what it is like to be a refugee. Asked as to why, he recalls how, as a Jewish child, he was able to flee with his family from a nazi concentration camp in Vienna. Followers of the Hungarian Arrow Cross Party had shot and killed his father on the banks of the Danube. Only 12 years later his uncle had to come and help him to safety from Budapest. He had been living with his aunt next to the radio broadcasting building, exactly where Russian tanks arrived and heavy fighting took place.
Robert Békési has to get back to his stand at Bazaar Berlin, where he talks to customers and visitors about funny beanbag creatures and their magical powers. A man with a story to tell, as well as 75 years of history, and the story of one man.
In reaction to current events Elisabeth Bajkó and her husband have designed and produced more than 5000 coloured patchwork armadillos. Proceeds from the sale go to Migration Aid Hungary.
About Bazaar Berlin
Launched in 1962 as Partners for Progress, the international consumer exhibition for handicrafts, jewellery, textiles and home accessoires changed its name to Bazaar Berlin in 2014. Every year in November around 40,000 visitors come to the Berlin Exhibition Grounds to purchase exotic articles from around the world, either to keep or to give away as gifts. Last year the new Fair Trade Market made its successful debut. Bazaar Berlin is organised by Messe Berlin GmbH. More information can be found here www.bazaar-berlin.de.