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The grand capital city of Hungary is of interest to the dark tourist due to the grim parts of its history especially during the Nazi and communist periods. The commemoration of these periods is done by a few really quite outstanding dark attractions, as listed below

>More background info

>What there is to see


>Access and costs

>Time required

>Combinations with other dark destinations

>Combinations with non-dark destinations


More background info: Like other Eastern European countries, Hungary, and thus its capital Budapest in particular, had its share of the darkest chapters of 20th century history – badly battered in World War I and World War II and then subjected to communist rule as one of the Soviet Union’s satellite states of the Eastern Bloc during the times of the Cold War, which, however, it crucially helped to overcome eventually.
At the end of World War I the country had lost a significant proportion of its former territory, which, as in Germany, caused lasting resentment and provided a breeding ground for resurgent nationalism. During World War II the country sided with Nazi Germany, though it wasn’t until 1944 that the full force of Nazi terror took over. Before that Hungary’s government had tried to ‘hang in the middle’, as it were, siding officially, and militarily, with Germany but not pursuing the full-scale Holocaust against the Jews (who until then were comparatively safe in Hungary at a time when esp. Poland’s Jewry had already been all but exterminated).
Hitler eventually lost patience, invaded Hungary in March 1944 and subsequently allowed Hungary’s own extreme Nazi party, the Arrow Cross, to take over and begin their most brutal regime, in particular, of course, against the Jews ... of whom many survived only thanks to the heroic help of individuals such as Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg or Swiss consul Carl Lutz – see esp. Holocaust Memorial Center. The Arrow Cross movement/party's name, incidentally, derives from its logo: a cross with arrow ends pointing in all four directions, which was understood as a symbol for national purity and superiority in a similar way to the swastika used by Germany’s Nazis.
The Arrow Cross rule didn’t last long, however; it was ended by the advancing Red Army from December 1944. After WWII, Hungary thus fell into the Soviet sphere in the beginning Cold War confrontation with the West and became a communist People’s Republic.
In 1956 a revolt turned into revolution against the regime – and what followed was the bloodiest crushing of such a development in the Eastern Bloc when the Soviet Red Army went in and eventually reinstated a loyal communist regime. (Other such episodes were the uprising in the GDR in 1953 and the crushing of the Prague Spring of 1968; see also Poland for that country’s part in uprisings against communism.)
While the events of 1956 left one of the worst stains on communism’s history, it was again Hungary which played a pivotal role in the loosening of orthodox communist rule and eventually contributed significantly to its complete downfall. First Hungary developed what was somewhat humorously referred to as “goulash communism” (after the country’s national dish), which involved various reforms (and an amnesty for detainees from the 1956 revolution), elements of market economy and a generally more lenient, liberal attitude towards the country’s citizens (including tolerance of some degree of dissent).
Finally, in 1989, Hungary became crucially instrumental in ending the communist era altogether, first through radical reforms within the country itself, then by being the first country to begin physically dismantling the Iron Curtain installations along its border with Austria, thus allowing GDR citizens fleeing their country to use Hungary as a loophole out into the West. This in turn accelerated the collapse of the GDR and Germany’s subsequent reunification, thus inspiring the abolition of communism in Hungary itself and in the other Eastern Bloc countries too (some achieving it in the “velvet” form of revolution such as the CSSR, others more violently, like Romania).
What there is to see: There are three prime attractions for the dark tourist, which are thus given separate entries here:
- ‘Memento Park’, formerly ‘Szoborpark’, socialist realism sculpture collection
Apart from these dark sites there’s also the old Jewish quarter with Europe's largest synagogue. Adjacent to that is a museum which also includes a section on the Holocaust (as does Budapest's general History Museum). Outside the synagogue and museum is an impressive Holocaust sculpture in the form of a metal tree and various other memorials.
Of the many other monuments in Budapest, one to point out in particular is the subtle shoe monument on the banks of the River Danube a short walk south of the Parliament building. The metal shoes, looking like they were randomly left behind, represent the shootings of Jews by the Hungarian Nazis of the Arrow Cross which frequently took place right by the Danube (so that the bodies would be washed away by the river). Nearby, a bit north of the Parliament building one of the monuments in honour of Raoul Wallenberg can be found.
Of marginal interest to the (medically inclined) dark tourist may be the Semmelweis Museum of Medical History on Aprod utca between Gellert Hill and Castle Hill on the Buda side.
On top of Gellert Hill there's a citadel, which today also features a somewhat dodgy waxworks collection on the theme of the Nazi use of the citadel during the German occupation. Outside there's also various military artefacts on display. And at the far end overlooking the Danube and the city stands the statue of liberty (which originally wasn't actually intended to serve that peaceful symbolism at all but was only reworked and reassigned to this function after World War II).
The cemeteries of Budapest may be of (marginal) interest to the dark tourist too, esp. the Kerepesi cemetery a short walk south of Keleti train station. It includes a very socialist realist monument to 'hero workers', now a strange relic from the communist era. Several huge mausoleums impress too. At the far end, an old Jewish cemetery is adjacent to the Kerepesi Christian cemetery – but is not accessible from it! Instead you'd have to walk all the way back to the main entrance and then along Salgotarjani utca to be able to take a look inside. It features several impressive, overgrown mausoleums.
Another noteworthy cemetery is the New Municipal Cemetery on Kozma utca further outside in the Ratoskereztur suburb of Budapest. Apart from another Jewish section featuring some unusual mausoleums, the main point of dark interest is section 301 at the far end of the huge cemetery – this is the spot where Imre Nagy, Hungary's Prime Minister at the time of the 1956 revolution and later executed by the Soviets, was buried alongside other 1956 "traitors" in an unmarked grave (face down!). In 1989 he was exhumed and reburied here – every 23rd of October a special memorial service is held at this spot.
Location: Pretty much in the centre of Hungary (OK, a bit off centre to the north-west), and being the country's only large-scale conurbation it's also THE transport hub in it. So most road and rail connections lead to (and through it) as does the whole region's dominant waterway, the River Danube, coming from Austria and Slovakia and carrying on towards Serbia and Romania.
Google maps locator: [47.49,19.05]
Access and costs: fairly easy to get to, and not too expensive.
Details: the best way of reaching the city is probably by train. There are very regular (and cheap, if you're flexible) train connections from Vienna, Austria, taking only ca. three hours, to the north-west, and from Belgrade in Serbia to the south-east (taking somewhat longer). The River Danube also provides for rather more scenic (albeit slower) connections from Vienna and Bratislava, Slovakia. As a capital city, there are obviously various airlines serving the city's Ferihegy Airport, including, obviously the national carrier Malev, but also several budget airlines; traditional airlines often offer competitive rates too.
Budapest has become a bit of an alternative destination to compete with Prague for city breaks in the New Eastern Europe, so new connections are likely to open up. Going by car is also a possibility, but traffic within the city is pretty bad, so in that case you'd probably want accommodation a bit outside the centre.
The range of accommodation is vast, ranging from budget to top-class luxury (some at prices still below the levels you have to pay in other capital cities).
Time required: In order to see the main dark sights, three days or a long weekend may just about do. But note that some museums are closed on Mondays and Jewish sites are always closed on the Sabbath (Saturdays), better allow a couple of days more if you want to take it all in in one go.
Combinations with other dark destinations: None really. At least not in the nearer vicinity. Hungary is very centralist and that certainly applies even more to sights developed for dark tourism, so Budapest is pretty much the sole destination for the dark tourist in Hungary. On a wider ranging dark-tourism itinerary, a trip to Budapest could of course be combined with visiting neighbouring countries, esp. Austria and Romania. Sarajevo in nearby Bosnia-Herzegovina isn't too far either, nor is the Czech Republic or Italy.
Combinations with non-dark destinations: Budapest is a prime mainstream tourism destination too, a grand capital with some stunning architecture, and one of the few large cities on the River Danube that actually makes good use of that setting (unlike, e.g. Vienna). The river also cuts the city into two quite distinct parts, Buda and Pest (which in fact only became one city as late as 1873), connected by a series of landmark bridges, most notably the iconic Chain Bridge.
Buda is the hilly bit, with Castle Hill being the main tourist draw, leaving Gellert Hill with its citadel a distant second. The Pest side is the flat bit and much more sprawling. On the Pest side of the River Danube, however, lie the shopping and hotel districts, many museums, the central boulevard of Andrassy ut and, last but not least, Budapest's most iconic sight, the majestic neo-gothic Parliament building.
Budapest is also well-known for its spas, of which the Gellert, just south of Gellert Hill is the most famous. Outside the most central touristy areas, the city may still appear a little run down, but having been spared the wholesale destruction in World War II that other Central and Eastern European cities suffered, there are loads of original little architectural gems to be discovered. And compared to ultra-popular and by now pretty much westernized Prague, it retains a somewhat more authentic feel. It is most certainly worth a mini-break or two (or three …) for the non-dark tourist too.
Further afield, the Hungarian countryside beckons, including the famous Puzsta, though that may be a bit more special interest than is the case for the more scenic landscapes of some of the neighbouring countries. A particular draw, however, are the various wine-growing regions of the country (see Hungary).
  • Budapest 1 - Chain Bridge from Buda HillBudapest 1 - Chain Bridge from Buda Hill
  • Budapest 2 - Chain Bridge by nightBudapest 2 - Chain Bridge by night
  • Budapest 3 - market hallBudapest 3 - market hall
  • Budapest 4 - dead pig and dead pig productsBudapest 4 - dead pig and dead pig products
  • Budapest Carl Lutz memorialBudapest Carl Lutz memorial
  • Budapest Kerepesi cemetery 1Budapest Kerepesi cemetery 1
  • Budapest Kerepesi cemetery 2Budapest Kerepesi cemetery 2
  • Budapest Kerepesi cemetery 3 - communist era memorialBudapest Kerepesi cemetery 3 - communist era memorial
  • Budapest Kerepesi cemetery 4 - communist era memorialBudapest Kerepesi cemetery 4 - communist era memorial
  • Budapest Kerepesi cemetery 5Budapest Kerepesi cemetery 5
  • Budapest Kerepesi cemetery 6Budapest Kerepesi cemetery 6
  • Budapest Kerepesi cemetery 7Budapest Kerepesi cemetery 7
  • Budapest Kerepesi cemetery 8 - bye-byeBudapest Kerepesi cemetery 8 - bye-bye
  • Budapest Kerepesi cemeteryBudapest Kerepesi cemetery
  • Budapest Raoul Wallenberg memorialBudapest Raoul Wallenberg memorial
  • Budapest synagogue 1Budapest synagogue 1
  • Budapest synagogue 2Budapest synagogue 2
  • Budapest synagogue 3Budapest synagogue 3
  • Budapest synagogueBudapest synagogue
  • BudapestBudapest

©, Peter Hohenhaus 2010-2019

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