Hungary

  
A country in Eastern Europe which earns its place on the dark tourism map through its role in the communist era when it was part of the Eastern Bloc, which it crucially helped to end. It was Hungary that first opened the Iron Curtain, heralding the end of the Cold War.
 
In addition to this, Hungary also had a less heroic role in WWII and the Holocaust, which hit the country late and particularly tragically.
 
Dark sites to visit – at least as far as I am currently aware of – are all concentrated in the capital city:
  
 
 
Since Hungary was the first of the Eastern Bloc countries to open the Iron Curtain, it may be interesting to try and find traces of this infamous construction. In fact, I've heard of something like a border museum (cf. under Germany!) – but that was years ago and have been unable to find any information on it since. If anybody can enlighten me about the fate of that museum, and its exact location, I'd be very grateful (contact me).
 
I admit that my knowledge of Hungary is limited to Budapest and some of the regions near the border with Austria – I've been to Szombathely and once circumnavigated Fertö to, or Lake Neusiedl ('Neusiedler See' in German). So I haven't seen much of the rest of the country with my own eyes. But what I do know is that it is an exquisitely interesting country in terms of wine and food. The former is a bit underrated in the West, which is a shame, because they can be exceptionally good – and not necessarily the sweet Tokaji varieties that are the most famous. It's worth exploring – and you don't have to go into the country for that: Budapest has a range of well-stocked wine bars and shops offering varieties from around the country.
 
Hungarian food is mostly associated with paprika and its use in goulash and has a somewhat erroneous reputation for being fiery hot and spicy. In fact, Hungarian paprika, i.e. dried and powdered red peppers, and most of the dishes containing it tend to be rather mild – though good paprika can be very delicate and flavoursome indeed! And it's not just used in goulash. The Hungarian original of this global standard is quite different from most versions in the rest of the world too (the Hungarians would rather refer to those much thicker varieties as 'pörkölt', whereas the real thing is rather like soupy stew). Another prime use of the red powder is in fish soup, which is also a premier classic of the country's cuisine and is made with a variety of river fish (naturally, since Hungary is a landlocked country). In general vegetarians will have it a bit harder finding anything edible in Hungary, however – like the neighbouring countries it's quite carnivorous.
 
Getting to Hungary, other than by flying into Budapest, is easiest by train. The main line from Vienna, Austria to Belgrade, Serbia, and on to Bucharest, Romania, or even Istanbul, Turkey, runs right through the length of Hungary, and branch lines connect much of the rest of the country. Driving yourself is also a perfectly feasible option.   
 
One more aspect has to be mentioned here, I'm afraid: namely the fact that politically, Hungary has become a bit of a pariah in recent years since its right-wing government introduced drastic limitations of civil rights, especially of the freedom of the press, and infringements of the rule of law in general. For these policies (and some straying off the prescribed economic path too, it appears) the country is currently under heavy pressure from the EU, and it may indeed be risking its EU membership! We'll see how this pans out in the end – but some travellers may currently be inclined to rather boycott Hungary until its government has changed for something better or has seen sense again. For the time being the situation will continue to have to be monitored …
 
These recent developments are hard to understand – why should a country that was once the most progressive within the Eastern Bloc suddenly turn so right-wing? Especially given how much the country suffered under the Nazis right up to the end of WWII! (I often ask myself the same about contemporary Poland, where there is a totally incomprehensible resurgence of neo-Nazism, though thankfully so far not at government level.)
 
I find all this so sad because generally I have quite a soft spot for Hungary – the place certainly has plenty of soul … and dark soul at that. There is a certain overarching sentimentality pervading the country and its people which I can quite associate with (though not to the point of the high suicide rate in Hungary, which is another, more sinister side of the same coin). I do hope it finds its feet again – and that I can one day explore the country a bit more.
 
  

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