A Glimpse of Hungary’s Terrifying Past

When I read about Memento Park in a poster on my last visit to Budapest, I was incredibly disappointed that I would miss out on visiting it.  I mean who wouldn’t be interested in strolling through a park of giant, concrete communist and cold war relics?  Straight to the top of the list for this trip then.

For 4900HUF (about A$25), you will be picked up from Deac Ferenc Square by a special direct bus transfer and taken to Memento Park (which is about 10km out of the city) – this also includes your entrance fee.  Well this is what usually happens, but today, although the guide is here, the bus does not arrive.  There are only three of us waiting to do the trip, so she ushers us into taxis instead.  For an extra 1200HUF per person, you can get a 40 minute long guided tour.  Of course, you can make your own way here too, but it does involve a few transport changes.

It’s not just a concrete jungle.  Call a commie?  Jump in a trabbie?  Learn how to insert a bug?  You can do all of these things at Memento Park – it’s hard to know where to start!

Inside the gate, you are greeted by 40 something massive concrete statues – heroic poses abound, there’s Lenin, Stalin’s boots and plenty of red army comrades.  Memento Park is clear to point out that this park is not dedicated to Communism, but to the fall of Communism.  The statues here were removed from the streets of Budapest and other places after the fall of communism in 1989.  Although these statues are out in the open, blue sky stretching behind them, standing in quiet solitude – it’s easy to imagine how imposing these statues would have been to see lined along the streets.  Kind of like someone watching you all the time, from wherever you were.

My last brush with a ‘trabbie’ was in Krakow last year when I got to drive (that’s a loose term) one on my Crazy Guides tour.  These little cars (Trabant meaning ‘satellite’ in German) were East Germany’s response to West Germany’s VW Beetle and if you were lucky enough to own one, you could ride around in this little low-maintenance, two-stroke piece of plastic, all day long.  Well until it broke down.  Which was quite a regular occurrence and which caused it to be the laughingstock of the era.  Luckily enough, the purpose of the Trabant was to create an economical, low maintenance, easy to repair vehicle, so most drivers became quite intimate with their ‘trabbies’.  There was no water pump, no radiator, no oil filter, no oil pump, no camshaft, no valves.  No timing belt, no distributor cap for ignition.  No fan belt and no thermostat.  The engine was so light it could be picked up by one person so you could pull it out and overhaul it yourself on your garage bench.

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Its production line ran from 1963 until 1990, which was quite incredible for this pollution-causing, ear-rattling little piece of machinery.  This one’s not for driving, but you can certainly squeeze in and have a look all over it.

There is a telephone booth where you can have a chat to Mao, Lenin or Che, but unfortunately it’s out of service today.

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They have some cool little souvenirs here – mugs, lighters, posters, fake communist passports and little tins containing the last breath of communism.  But each time I think of buying something, I also think about how I have to lug it around in my backpack for another three weeks, so no purchases today.

Outside the main gates you’ll find a barracks, which is split in two sections inside – one half dedicated the story of communism in Hungary and how Memento Park was established and the other a movie theatre showing documentaries on how to insert a bug, secret surveillance methods and how to recruit an agent.

Back in Budapest, Terror House is next on the list.

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Unfortunately you can’t take photos inside, which is a shame because it’s really well done.  As I was entering, I overhear several people saying how glad they were to have visited and what an impact is had on them.

This museum in Andrassy Street (Budapest’s main boulevard), commemorates the victim of both communism and the Nazi party (known as the Arrow Cross party) in Budapest.  In fact, the museum is housed in the former headquarters of these parties.  Hungary was overtaken by the Arrow Cross party towards the end of WWII as a result of trying to ally themselves with Hitler to save themselves.  Arrow Cross tried their best to decimate Budapest’s Jewish population, killing them in the streets or by tying several people together, shooting one of them and then throwing them in the Danube, where they would pull the rest of the people with them.  Hundreds were also executed in the basement of this building.

Then when the communists took over and made it their headquarters, this is where the secret police terrorized and executed anyone they suspected of being an enemy of the state.

It’s a powerful museum and if you want to know the whole history of Budapest, it’s definitely not to be missed.

I arrive back to my room to find it now co-habited.  Checking out the objects around the room from a distance, I try to work out the type of person my room mate could be.  When I spy the slippers, I think it must be an older woman, but I guess I’ll have to wait and see when she (I assume) arrives.

A knock on the door, and Hedy introduces herself with ‘…and I snore’.  I have to admit the prospect doesn’t thrill me and it’s exactly the reason I tried to book a single supplement.  It’s the same reason Hedy also tried to book one.  After the introductions are over, we start chatting about this and that, getting to know each other a bit and I actually think we are going to get along well.

Hedy and I
My new roommate for the next ten days, Hedy.

Soon enough it’s time to head down to the lobby.  After a couple of days discovering Budapest on my own, tonight my Intrepid journey from here through Romania and Bulgaria, into Istanbul, starts.  One by one, everyone starts to nervously gather in the lobby, wondering which of the people milling around might be on our tour.

Turns out four of us are from Melbourne (one from Geelong), two from the UK, two Americans (one of which is Hedy) and one from Perth (and funnily enough, the same suburb as I was from).  Our guide is Marco, born in the Netherlands but now living in Romania.  Formalities out-of-the-way, we head of to dinner at a local restaurant, which most of us attend.  We sit getting to know each other, where we are from, where we’ve been, where we are going.  Ideas are thrown around about what people might like to see tomorrow.  Tomorrow, we have another day to ourselves to explore Budapest before we depart on Tuesday for another Hungarian town called Eger – home to Bull’s Blood wine!

One thought on “A Glimpse of Hungary’s Terrifying Past

  1. Hi, it is very interesting to read about the Memento Park, for I haven’t been there. I grew up in communist Hungary, so those statues and other things you saw there, were everyday objects in our lives… My family had 2 Trabants – in fact, trabbies are quite stable creatures, hardly ever break down.

    I hope you will discover nicer, more glorious parts of Budapest as well 🙂

    Like

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