Budapest, the capital of Hungary. A historic city behind the former iron curtain that is quite literally of one two halves, Buda and Pest, separated by the famous Danube river. Buda lying on the Western side and Pest on the Eastern. Now, of course, Budapest is an appealing destination within the European Union for visitors seeking something different than the cliché getaway destinations such as Paris, Rome and London. It’s also quite different to former communist Warsaw, in that it’s not littered with modern skyscrapers.
For those visitors with an interest in the Soviet era though, it’s worth pointing out that although almost all of the communist monuments and statues have vanished from the city, they haven’t been destroyed. Instead, the Hungarians created ‘Memento Park.’
Memento Park consists of, at this time, 42 statues and monuments from the Soviet era. It’s located some distance from the city and public transport to it is awkward to say the least. For that reason I’d recommend booking the transfer service from central Budapest, which includes your entry ticket. As of Dec 2017 it’s 4,500HUF per person.
The journey there takes around half an hour, depending on traffic. The little shuttle bus has a driver and a guide. You have the option of paying extra for the guide to show you around the park. My wife and I opted instead to buy the guide book on arrival, which fully explains each numbered attraction, so we could explore at our own pace.
On arrival, including everyone on our transfer shuttle, there were only around 20-30 people exploring the park. This lends it a quiet, intimate feel. Relatively unknown, this makes it world away from the packed tourist traps in many major cities.
On arrival three things immediately have a significant visual impact.
1. A replica Dias. This is a replica of the Dias that Stalin would make his speeches from. Perched on top are what is left of a Soviet era statue of Stalin, the rest was destroyed in the 1956 revolution.. These boots give an idea of the vast size of most Soviet era statues.
The great thing is visitors are free to explore this, climbing to the top to gain a little insight into what it must have felt like for the dictator to look down on the people below. Inside there are statues of the likes of Lenin and Stalin that have yet to be put on display that it is possible to walk around and photograph.
2. A statue of Vladimir Lenin, father of the Soviet Union.
3. The only cubist statue in the world of Marx & Engels.
If you don’t know who Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin are then I politely suggest you need to study a little history before visiting Memento Park.
Immediately on entering the park sits a little grey East German Trabant car. These cars are symbolic of the communist area, with people paying a small fortune for them and having to wait years to take delivery of them. Made of recycled materials (essentially cotton waste from the Soviet Union) and sporting a tiny 600cc two-stroke engine they were certainly spartan. They lasted well though, on average 28 years. A few of them can still be seen, decades later, driving around the streets of Budapest. At the park, visitors can open this one up and take a seat in it.
There is something to be said for building a car from recycled materials that lasts.
Thereafter my wife and I spent around 45 minutes walking around the rest of the statues and monuments, reading about them in our guide book and taking photographs of them.
Many of the them were visually stunning, conveying a sense of power, strength and awe. Some of them were well loved by the people of Budapest – iconic former symbols of places in the city – and there were fierce debates over their fate when communism fell in 1991.
I for one am glad they opted to relocate them, rather than destroy them.
History if there to be learned from. If history is erased as if it never happened, we cannot learn from it and future generations will forget.
So, if you’re heading to Budapest why not spend a few hours of your time exploring Memento Park? I highly recommend it.
It’s an experience you won’t forget.