My first sight when arriving at Memento Park, a short bus ride from the centre of Budapest, was Stalin. Or more specifically, his footwear. These huge boots are a replica of the original statue that once stood on the edge of Városliget, the city park of Budapest. The original imposing bronze of the Soviet leader stood 8 metres tall on a 4 metre high base – a ‘gift’ to the Hungarian people to celebrate Stalin’s seventieth birthday. The statue met it’s end in 1956 on October 23, 1956 during Hungary’s October Revolution when one hundred thousand anti Soviet revolutionaries gathered and tore it down. All that remained were the boots in which a Hungarian flag was placed. It’s unknown where many of the fragments of the statue ended up but it’s said that some Hungarians still have a little fragment of Stalin in their homes. The replica boots in the park stand as an homage to this moment of political change.
Throughout Hungary’s Communist period (1949–1989) 42 statues of Lenin, Marx, and Engels, as well as several Hungarian Communist leaders such as Béla Kun, Endre Ságvári, and Árpád Szakasits were scattered throughout the city. These sculpted figures were immediately removed following the fall of Communism in 1989 and now form the basis of the park’s collection. These statues could easily have been destroyed or buried as they were in many other former Soviet countries, and as many in Hungary wanted to, but fortunately they were saved as historical curiosities. In 1991, Momento Park was opened to the public.
“This park is about dictatorship. And at the same time, because it can be talked about, described, built, this park is about democracy. After all, only democracy is able to give the opportunity to let us think freely about dictatorship.”
Ákos Eleőd, the Hungarian architect and designer of the park
The park was blanketed in a fine dusting of snow and the exhibits were all silhouetted by an encroaching fog. As I approached the entrance the figures of Friedrich Engels, Karl Marx and Lenin – The 3 most recognisable communist leaders – appeared out of the mist. A peculiar welcome party that seems oddly fitting for this peculiar place.
As I wandered around the park, I was virtually alone – not many other tourists had chosen to brave the weather – and the mix of silence, mist and snow gave the park an eerie feel. Ahead of me I could only make out the outline of these now defunct instruments of propaganda, each one appearing a little clearer as I approached.
The main area of Memento Park is Statue Park, officially named “A Sentence About Tyranny” Park after a poem of the same name by Gyula Ilyés. It contains a series of oval lawns surrounded by statues of the most famous (or infamous) communist leaders and statues representing the ideals of communism. The most well known of these is The Republic of Councils Monument, a colossal bronze of a sailor based on an image from 1919 revolutionary poster that once stood proud in Városliget city park but now dominates the exhibition in Memento Park.
It is hard to imagine what how it would have felt to have been a Hungarian living through the communist period, seeing this statues scattered around the city or on street corners, silently pushing their ideology on the citizens of Budapest. There would be a quiet menace to seeing these everywhere you looked. However, in the context of Memento Park, this menace is somehow lost. Seeing them together in this setting they seem more sterile, just an exhibition or curiosity like any other. This wasn’t an accident, as explained by the architect behind the parks design:
“This park is not about the statues or the sculptors, but a critique of the ideology that used these statues as symbols of authority. I realised that if I made this park with more direct, drastic and real tools, as many thought I should, I would create an anti-propaganda park from these propaganda statues and in doing this, I would be faithfully following the same recipe and mentality that we inherited from dictatorship.”— Ákos Eleőd, Architect
Towards the back of the park lies an area named ‘The Unending Promenade of Worker’s Movement Concepts’. This had a little more of an effect on me. There is nothing inherently evil or menacing about the pieces themselves but the sheer scale and size of them gives an insight in to how their creators used them to quietly try to influence and indoctrinate the people of Hungary to follow their ideals. For this reason you can’t help but feel a little uneasy when wandering between them. An example of this is the Hungarian-Soviet Friendship Memorial in which a Hungarian worker is welcoming the Soviet ‘liberators’ with a handshake – the reserved and imposing soldier holding out his hand while the Hungarian clasps it with both palms with a genuine hope of friendship.
Although the park is a 30-60 minute schlep from the centre of the city, it is totally worth the journey even for the short visit that I had, especially if you have an interest in the history of the City. I had taken the Budapest Communism tour with Free Budapest Tours the previous day and the two experiences complement each other perfectly. In many Eastern European countries these kinds of monuments have been lost to time, quickly destroyed or disposed of as soon as the iron curtain fell in an attempt to dismiss and forget the past. Hungary has done the opposite, memorialising these totalitarian images so that future generations can have an insight in to the past, hear it’s stories and learn of a time in living memory when Hungary was a very different place to what it is today. .
The park is open every day from 10am until dusk.
Adults: 1.500 HUF
Students: 1.000 HUF
The entrance is free with a valid Budapest card.
It’s possible to get a guided tour (in English) of the park for 1200HUF if you’d like more insight in to the meaning/people behind the statues. The tours start at 11:45 each day and last 50 minutes.
Getting to Momento Park is fairly simple and cheap. Some people choose to take a taxi but if you have a little more time, it is worth saving money and visiting by public transport. Take the M4 tram from outside Mercado Central for around 10 minutes to the Kelenföld vasútállomás stop and from here you can hop on the number 101 or 150 bus which will drop you off around 100m away from the entrance. The bus driver will probably assume that you are heading to the park so will let you know when to alight. This part of the journey takes around 15-20 minutes.
The bus runs Mon-Fri every 10 minutes or every 30 minutes on Saturday and Sunday. The bus ticket will set you back 350HUF if you pay in advance or 450HUF if you pay direct to the driver. I highly recommend picking up a Budapest card in order to travel on the city’s public transport for free (including the number 150 and 101 buses) as this also gives you free entry in to the park.
To access Kelenfold vasutallomas take one of the following metro stations:
– Keleti palyaudvar (Keleti Railway Station, Metro No.2)
– Rakoczi ter (the grand boulevard, tram No.4 and 6.)
– Kalvin ter (National Museum, tram No.47 and 49, Metro No.3)
– Fovam ter (the Grand Market Hall, tram No.2)
– Gellert ter (Gellert Bath, tram No.18, 19, 41)
– Moricz Zsigmond ter (tram No.61 from Szell Kalman ter)
– Ujbuda Kozpont (Allee Shopping Center)
There is also a Memento Park Direct Bus transfer from Deak ter, in the centre of Budapest. The bus departs from the stop bearing a “Memento Park” timetable every day, (1stNov-31stMarch only Sat-Sun-Mon, and every day 26thDec-6thJan) at 11am with the return bus leaving the park at at 1pm.
Have you ever visited Momento Park? What do you think? Hit me up in the comments below.
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