"1914-1922 - A New World Was Born" exhibition
I haven’t been able to track down much background information about how this particular exhibition came about, except that it first opened in 2015 and seems to be curated by the same person (Mária Schmidt) who is also Director General of the House of Terror
(also Director General of the Institute of the Twentieth Century and a member of the First World War Centenary Memorial Committee).
The strong focus on Hungarian victimhood in parts of the exhibition as well as the clear anti-communist
/Bolshevik stance in others are in line with a similar orientation in the House of Terror. Nevertheless, the exhibition achieves its international angle as well, especially with regard to the role of the USA
I had seen many photos online before I went to see the exhibition in person, yet I had also read about a no-photography rule being in place. Moreover, the associated website said that journalists and researchers wanting to write about the exhibition would get admission at half price and would be given a photo permit. So I wrote to the institution enquiring about such a permit, but I never had a reply.
On the day I was there I went in anyway, and to my mild surprise found that in the ground floor part of the exhibition I was free to take photos unhindered. I also never saw any no-photography signs in that section. But as soon as I entered the second part on the first floor, a museum warden came up to me and made it clear: “No photos!”. And now there were also signs to the same effect dotted around. Throughout the remainder of the exhibition there were several “security guards” keeping a close eye on visitors. So I had to pack my big camera away. This explains the rather unbalanced and two-thirds unrepresentative photo gallery
What there is to see:
quite a lot! The WW1
-theme scene is set, as it were, outside the building with three pairs of oversized sculptures on plinths made of replica piles of sandbags. Two of the pairs involve a wounded soldier being propped up by the other figure. The third pair is “guarding” the entrance. They are quite drastic as well as sizeable.
Inside you get your ticket from the museum shop and are given a leaflet that includes short thematic introduction texts and, more importantly, maps of the layout of the exhibition, which is spread out over three floors beginning on the ground floor. These maps are vital for orientation! I had to refer to them a lot to avoid getting confused and lost. So do make sure you use those maps!
The exhibition kicks off with a brief look at the period immediately before the outbreak of WW1, with the end of the Belle Époque and increasing militarization. The largest exhibits here are two life-size dummies of men on horseback, one clad in the type of colourful soldier’s uniform in use up to WW1, and the other in greenish monochrome garb and wearing a gas mask (like his horse!), representing the change to soldiers’ appearance due to WW1
Also in the first room is an interactive touchscreen where you can punch up additional information about subthemes (e.g. about the home front, new roles for women, etc.) of the first part of the exhibition. More such screens also appear in later parts of the exhibition. The information is available in Hungarian and English. The rest of the exhibition, its texts and labels, are also bilingual, with decent translation quality.
In general, though, this exhibition isn’t very textual. There are few longer text panels, more often you just get short snippets, mostly quotes from a variety of sources. The focus is instead on large installations involving all manner of artefacts and mock-ups, plus display cabinets with smaller exhibits.
The next section is a bit strange, with gasses bubbling away from what looks like a fake swamp-come-battlefield. This is probably to represent gas warfare but remains rather abstract. It does add a slight olfactory element too, though.
More war aspects follow, including the medical side, prosthetics included, as well as the role of animals in warfare, from horses to dogs and from carrier pigeons to trench canaries (presumably to detect gas, as in mines).
A side section focuses on the changes to the roles of women due to the war, with more and more formerly male domains being taken over by women, in industry, armaments factories and even on the front lines (though mostly still as nurses only). The subsequent calls for more democratic rights for women are covered too.
There follows another idiosyncratic large-scale installation, called ‘mobilization’, which has large floor-to-ceiling blow-up photos on the walls of soldiers in trains en route to the front lines and on the floor in front of this a dozen and a half or so grounded church bells (or replicas thereof) … why the bells I have no idea.
Adjacent to this is a short stretch of a trench reconstruction, not especially realistic but with interesting details (such as weathered photos of wives/girlfriends).
The most predictable part, I presume, is the one coming up next, where a row of different-sized pieces of artillery are on display together with yet more floor-to-ceiling blow-ups of photos from the front with yet more artillery, tanks and soldiers, some wearing gas masks, others already lying dead in shell craters.
Smaller-scale items on display here are various helmets, some so rusty you can see through them, and various personal belongings, as well as some war kitsch, such as porcelain figurines, plates, cups and so on decorated with the heads of the various kings and emperors of the countries involved in the war. Some war souvenirs made from cartridges and shells feature as well.
One circular room follows that is plastered with war propaganda of the day, some drastically racist and demeaning, with depictions of “the Hun” as ravaging wild beasts or the British Empire as a kraken dragging the globe down with it. But it really was a time when such us-versus-them propaganda truly came into its own.
One side room contains a mock-up of a typical Commonwealth war cemetery, with its masses of identical white headstones – its mass enhanced here by means of mirrored walls, giving the impression of a much larger space.
The exhibition then continues on the first floor – or ‘mezzanine’, as it is labelled here. It was here that I first encountered a strict no-photography rule, unlike on the ground floor. Up here it was enforced by museum staff too, so the photo gallery below
doesn’t cover most of what follows in the description here.
The exhibition on this floor focuses on the “big players”, i.e. powerful and important individuals. This begins with Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria
and his assassin in Sarajevo
in June 1914 (see also Vienna Military Museum
), Gavrilo Princip. They are followed by some Hungarians who, I admit, were previously unknown to me, István Tisza and Mihály Károlyi, apparently two political enemies who even went as far as duelling each other, which is depicted with life-size dummies.
Austrian emperor Franz Joseph is given a whole room to himself where his dummy sits dutifully at a large desk surrounded by his study (Franz Joseph is said to have been a proper workaholic).
Other “big players” individually portrayed here include Memed V of Turkey
/the Ottoman Empire, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia
King George V, French
prime minister Clemenceau, Germany
’s Wilhelm II and US
president Woodrow Wilson.
The final third of the exhibition is on the second floor and this focuses entirely on the changes to the world in the wake of WW1
. This began with the homecoming of millions of surviving soldiers, many of them damaged either physically and/or psychologically.
The peace treaty of Versailles is given an exhibition room of its own, and the consequences of the treaty are outlined, not least the emergence of Hitler
and the Nazis
The next room is dedicated to one big winner of the war: the USA
, emerging as a world superpower outside the old formerly established European powers and soon to outshine them all, not least economically.
Another large-scale installation takes up a huge space and is to represent the Spanish flu pandemic that broke out at the end of WW1
and claimed twice as many lives globally than the war had. The installation consists of dozens of mock hospital beds, some slowly moving up and down on wires above a ground that has rows of open graves in it. The undersides of several of the hospital beds feature statistics of the dead per country. All this is solemnly “overseen” by a couple of dummy nurses.
The next section is about the newly founded League of Nations (the precursor of the United Nations
), which is represented here by an oversized house-of-cards installation.
After that the exhibition turns to a depiction of Bolshevism as “Red Terror”, both in the Soviet Union
, but then also in Hungary
. In fact all the remaining sections of the exhibition are exclusively about Hungary, from the short-lived independent republic of 1918-19, the 133-days brutal rule of the Hungarian communist, and Bolshevik ally, Béla Kun (a personal friend of Vladimir Lenin
’s), which was ended by an intervention by Romania
, and eventually the break-up of Hungary under the Treaty of Trianon. Through this treaty Hungary
ended up losing more than half its territory, and two thirds of its population, to neighbouring countries like Romania, the new Czech
. There’s also a small add-on section in this part of the exhibition that is about Hungary today.
In addition to the static exhibition there are also two cinema rooms, showing some documentary material, but I did not sit down to watch any of this, as I was unfortunate with my timing. The half-hour film is screened in Hungarian on the hour and in English every half an hour. When I arrived it was just as the English finished and I didn’t want to just hang around idly for half an hour so I moved on. Hence I cannot say anything about what this film material is like.
All in all
, the exhibition is certainly very visual indeed. In fact the visual aspects are clearly in the foreground of the whole museum concept. The informational side is kept to a rather bare minimum. Some basic background information is provided through texts, and more so through the interactive screens, but it’s all those big and dramatic installations and reconstructions that impress the most. Some of the narrative is rather heavy-handedly anti-communist and some parts put a rather disproportionate emphasis on Hungarian victimhood, so that sometimes there is a certain nationalistic air about (cf. also the House of Terror
, which is closely connected with this exhibition – see above
). Nevertheless, the exhibition is a notable addition to Budapest
’s portfolio of dark-tourism attractions and should not be missed.
at the so-called Várkert Bazár, or Castle Garden Bazaar, an ornate landscaped garden and Neo-Renaissance building complex including the grand 19th century edifice the exhibition is housed in. It’s at the foot of Castle Hill, to its south-east, close to the Danube, on the Buda side of Budapest
. The address is 6 Ybl Miklós tér.
Access and costs: fairly easy to get to; not cheap by Budapest standards, but adequately priced.
Details: Bus line 105 has a stop, called Várkert Bazár, just outside the entrance. A tram stop of the same name is nearby, served by the two lines 19 and 41 that run up and down the western bank of the Danube. Useful for connections with the Pest part of Budapest is also bus line 5, which has stops a short walk south of Várkert Bazár on Attila utca. Coming from Pest (where it connects e.g. with Astoria, Blaha Lujza tér and Keleti train station), you have to get off at the stop Szarvaz tér. To get the same bus back to Pest you have to walk a bit longer, cross the tram line and get on at Döbrentei tér, which is also a stop on the tram lines 56 and 56A. These are useful for connections to other parts of Buda, both to the north and south of Castle Hill.
Opening times: Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed Mondays.
Admission: 4000 HUF (students and retirees pay half).
Time required: about an hour and a half
Combinations with other dark destinations:
in general see under Budapest
Right next door is the Semmelweis Museum
, an old-school medical museum which couldn’t provide a starker contrast to the 1914-1922 exhibition if it tried, but very educational (for those into the history of medicine).
Also within walkable reach is the Hospital in the Rock & Nuclear Bunker
on the western side of Buda Castle Hill (you can also get bus line 5 from Szarvaz tér for one stop to shorten the walk).
Combinations with non-dark destinations: The nearest non-dark attraction would be the rest of the Várkert Bazár complex and its gardens – and of course the whole of Buda Castle Hill.
- A New World Was Born 01 - soldier sculptures outside
- A New World Was Born 02 - entrance
- A New World Was Born 03 - the olden days of the colourful soldier ended
- A New World Was Born 04 - in comes the monoshrome look of WW1
- A New World Was Born 05 - bubbling gas
- A New World Was Born 06 - animals in war
- A New World Was Born 07 - the medical side
- A New World Was Born 08 - artificial limbs
- A New World Was Born 09 - gas mask girl
- A New World Was Born 10 - mobilization and church bells
- A New World Was Born 11 - trench reconstruction
- A New World Was Born 12 - weapons and loved ones missed
- A New World Was Born 13 - industrialized warfare
- A New World Was Born 14 - rusty Pickelhaube
- A New World Was Born 15 - rusty French helmet and pistol
- A New World Was Born 16 - more rusty relics
- A New World Was Born 17 - war in the mountains
- A New World Was Born 18 - war souvenirs
- A New World Was Born 19 - war heads on porcelain
- A New World Was Born 20 - war cemetery reconstruction
- A New World Was Born 21 - Spanish flu installation
- A New World Was Born 22 - empress Sissy with impressively huge dog