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House of Terror (Terror Haza Muzeum)

  
  - darkometer rating:  7 -
 
A kind of modern-approach museum dedicated to Hungary’s, and especially Budapest’s, two darkest periods in its 20th century history: a) the country’s very own episode of Nazi rule, and b) the communist era when Hungary was part of the Eastern Bloc under Soviet dominance.   

>More background info

>What there is to see

>Location

>Access and costs

>Time required

>Combinations with other dark destinations

>Combinations with non-dark destinations

>Photos

    
More background info: for historical background see Budapest. The building that the museum is housed in was actually used as the headquarters of Hungary’s Arrow Cross Nazi party and was later also used by the communists’ secret police, the AVO (until 1956). Countless victims were interrogated, imprisoned and tortured in its basement cells. Thus the building as such has real significance as an original site of the terror that is the theme of the museum.
 
The way this is presented, however, has been received with a good deal of controversy and criticism. There have been accusations of too great an involvement of political interests. The museum’s establishment in 2002 had been helped along by the then Nationalist government’s leader, who the museum’s curator also acted as an advisor for, and it was alleged that the museum deliberately tried to make the current Socialist Party appear in a bad light. Be that as it may, the Terror Haza certainly meets a demand for a place commemorating Budapest’s dark past – and esp. for the foreign visitor any contemporary local political background isn’t so visible anyway and probably not all that important either.  
 
The stark tone and choice of words in the texts accompanying the exhibition is, however, quite noticeable indeed. Other commemorative places of this type appear more reluctant to use explicit value judgement expressions (“thugs”, “terrorists”) to such a degree as is the case in Budapest’s House of Terror. One can also contest the museum’s claim to be the only one of its kind. It depends on how narrow a definition you want to apply. It may indeed be unique in the way it is dedicated to both the Hungarian Nazi-era AND the communist era. However, there are plenty of other museums and memorial centres that deal with issues of Nazi times or communism. Also, the modern, interactive, multi-media approach can be found in other similar places too (such as the Warsaw Uprising Museum).
 
There is no doubt, though, that the House of Terror is an impressive effort, and a must on any dark tourist’s itinerary when in Budapest.
 
 
What there is to see (and hear): The building as such is already quite a sight, now painted in a stark bluish grey and topped by a black overhanging ledge with cut-out letters forming the mirror-inverted word ‘TERROR’ – so that it appears as in normal letters when the sun comes out and projects the image onto the walls. At the bottom of the wall, there is a long line of little plaques commemorating victims of the 1956 uprising. And one interactive computer screen serves to provide background information. All of this is at street level in a public space and thus free, but to see the inside you need to purchase tickets.
 
As you come in and queue for tickets, you can already see the main exhibit in the courtyard of the building: a huge Soviet T-54 tank, which sits in a ‘lagoon’ of oil slowly dripping over the lagoon’s edges, which enhances its eerie appearance even more. The rest of the exhibits are spread out over several rooms on four floors, the circuit walk starting at the top. There’s extra exhibition space on the top floor too, which, when it is in use, you have to pay extra to enter.
 
The nature of the permanent exhibition is very ‘modern’, very visual and ‘multi-media’, and actually quite bizarre in some parts. That’s most notably so in a section dedicated to agriculture under communist rule, where you have to walk through a ‘maze’ of walls of plastic bricks that appear to be blocks of lard (although it looks more like blocks of soap). Other sections are decidedly more gruesome, in particular the basement, where there are some reconstructed prison cells, interrogation chambers and even a gallows.
 
The rest of the exhibition hovers between the educational, the obscure and even the strangely funny – e.g. some of the propaganda and socialist realist art on display. There’s also music piped into the exhibition’s rooms – specially commissioned and composed in a style that is clearly meant to underscore the dark theme and mission of the place. Various video screens are put up as well, often with talking heads (in Hungarian, some subtitled in English, some not) recounting their individual plights. So it’s certainly not the quiet kind of place that most of Budapest’s other, more traditional museums are.
 
Thematically, the exhibition covers everything from the Nazis’ rise to power, esp. Hungary’s very own ‘Arrow Cross’ Nazi Party, the subsequent taking over of communist rule after World War II, the revolution of 1956 that was so brutally crushed by the Soviet Red Army, the way of life during communism, including persecution of critics of the regime, up to the end of communist rule in 1989/90. Justifiably, in as much as it lasted so much longer, the emphasis is on the communist period.
 
The tone of the accompanying texts as well as the display style in the exhibitions is quite condemning and unashamedly anti-communist, in some cases close to mirroring the style of propaganda itself. But that’s perhaps to be expected, given the name of the museum. It is certainly much more mission-driven than, say, the Museum of Communism in Prague, and certainly not as light-hearted as the GDR-Museum in Berlin. People who may crave a bit of communism nostalgia are not catered for in Budapest’s House of Terror – except perhaps in the semi-separate (but free) section in the staircase, where statues, murals etc. in typical socialist realist style are on display, including a few obligatory Stalin busts and statues.
 
Note also that explanatory texts and narration, where there are any accompanying the exhibits at all, are almost exclusively in Hungarian, so if you lack a good grasp of the language all this will be lost on you – unless you hire an audio guide (available in English and German at the ticket counter – where they don't do much to point out the availability of these) – although in many of the rooms there are also boxes with printed sheets in English to pick up. These often recount the general historical background in dry prose rather than providing explanations as to what the various exhibits actually are; in that sense they may not be a substitute for an audio guide or a regular guide. The quality of the English translation is mostly OK, though a bit wooden.
 
There are also temporary exhibitions (for which separate admission charges are levied) that may be more or less related to the general theme of the museum – when I visited in October 2008 there was a) an exhibition on the Prague Spring, and b) one about the 1960s & 1970s sexual revolution (sic!).
 
The museum shop mostly sells books in Hungarian, though there are also a few in other languages, plus the usual collection of communism-related tack such as Stalin-bust candles, little replicas of workers statues, coffee mugs with the museum’s Red Star and Arrow Cross logo on them, and, of course, the unavoidable T-shirts.
 
 
Location: right on Budapest’s main boulevard, 60 Andrassy Ut, just two blocks north-west from Oktogon square. The striking grey exterior of the building makes it hard to miss it in any case.
 
Google maps locator:[47.5068,19.0653]
  
 
Access and costs: very easy to get to; not particularly cheap (for Budapest) but OK.
 
Details: to get there by public transport you can take metro line 1 or tram 4 or 6 to Oktogon, from where it is only a couple of minutes’ walk. Or just walk it all – the location is so central that it's pretty much walkable from anywhere in the inner districts of Budapest, at least from the Pest side of the river.
 
Opening times: Tuesday to Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
 
Admission: 2000 HUF; half price concessions for students (up to 26 years old, EEA citizens only, ID required) and for senior citizens (over 62).
 
Audio guides can be hired and guided tours for groups are also available, though they appear to be mainly tailored towards Hungarian school groups and are not really necessary for individual visitors anyway, especially as you can hire an audio guide for self-guided visits.
 
It can get quite crowded too, so you may want to avoid groups in any case. And most of the rooms are quite uncomfortably hot (and the cloakroom had already reached its capacity when I visited, so I had to carry my coat around with me).
 
 
Time required: This will depend on whether or not you know Hungarian, or hired an audio guide and use it to the full, or read all the text sheets provided – if you do then you can easily spend two or three hours here, if not more. Without a language aid(e) you can be out in as little as an hour. Note that the House of Terror is quite popular, so you may have to queue at the ticket office for quite a bit before you can get in.
 
 
Combinations with other dark destinations: see Budapest.
 
 
Combinations with non-dark destinations: see Budapest.
 
 
 
  • Budapest House of Terror 1Budapest House of Terror 1
  • Budapest House of Terror 2Budapest House of Terror 2
  • Budapest House of Terror 3Budapest House of Terror 3
  • Budapest House of Terror 4Budapest House of Terror 4
  • Budapest House of TerrorBudapest House of Terror
  

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