Soviet Budapest

First a tiny bit of history, so don’t run away!

Everyone knows that the major axis powers during WWII were Germany, Italy and Japan. But we tend to get a little fuzzy when it comes to the minor players. Hungary, along with Bulgaria, Romania, Yugoslavia, and Thailand were the minor axis powers. Finland and Iraq were co-belligerents (fighting against allies), but never formally joined the axis cause.

When the allies won WWII, the axis countries were placed under supervision of the US or USSR, except for Germany, which was split in half. Hungary was occupied by the USSR, and the Soviets left their mark on Budapest.

Without exception, all of the Hungarians we met were friendly and very pleased to interact with Americans. They had awful things to say about the Soviets and the Soviet occupation. One lady told us that after the Iron Curtain fell, all of the Soviet statues (which used to be everywhere!) were gathered up and put in a museum that “no one ever visits”.

[ June 2016, Budapest, Hungary, The Hungarian Parliament Building, lit at night from the Danube River. The building is in the Gothic Revival style; it is symmetrical with a central dome.]

This is the Hungarian Parliament Building, one of the most beautiful buildings in Budapest, especially at night. This was the beginning scene of the Hungarian Uprising of 1956, a nationwide attempt to revolt against Soviet occupation. It sounds like the Hungarians were sick and tired of a Soviet presence dating back to the close of WWII. For about three weeks the Hungarians thought they might break loose, but the Soviets regained control through trickery, and Hungary remained in the fold. However, 200,000 Hungarians immigrated after the failed revolt AND the Soviet Union alienated many of their Marxist allies to boot.

[ June 2016, Budapest, Hungary. 1950’s era housing project in orange and cream, overlooking a park and railroad tracks.]

This housing project was built after WWII in Old Buda, during the Soviet occupation; I think they are sterile and communist looking. Not many people want to live there today, though many are trapped by their circumstances, as housing in Budapest is quite expensive relative to the rest of the country.

I think what I find most interesting about these buildings are that they utilize two of the most popular Hungarian building colors, but here I’m going to settle for orange and cream as color descriptors, because anything more fanciful is like putting lipstick on a pig!

[ June 2016, Budapest, Hungary. The photo is of a small 2-story apartment complex, modern in appearance, with concrete elements and small windows. The photo is looking into the breezeway between three apartments buildings. There is an interesting concrete wall and iron gate to access the breezeway.]

Another apartment with that “Soviet” look, though someone has made an attempt to obscure the plain concrete nature of the building. We saw several instances of “layering over” Soviet era construction, so it reinforced to us that the Hungarians disliked the communist architecture.

[June 2016, Budapest, Hungary. The House of Terror, 60 Andrassy Ave, 4-story dark granite, with a unique black, steel frame pengefal that outlines the sides and tops of the building.]

I promised you one of the most intimidating buildings I’ve ever seen, and here it is.

Man, this photo does NOT do it justice. OMG! It even has a scary name, The House of Terror. Notice that the cutout letters spell the shadow word “terror” on the building. The façade is darker and more black than this photo indicates. This building served as headquarters for Nazi Secret Police for a short period of time, and then as headquarters for the Communist regime for 40 years. Architect Attila Kovacs designed the full-scale renovation of the building, including the remarkable exterior façade.

I regret that we didn’t have time to visit this museum. Many, many people were killed in this building by the communist secret police. Most victims were snatched from their homes in the middle of the night, taken down into the basement, interrogated and tortured, and then some or all were killed. It looks like the basement is quite interesting, with reproductions of various torture methods, like being in water all day, being in the dark in a small space, etc. They also have photos and names of the torturers and names of victims.

There has been some controversy about whether this museum overly focuses on the Hungarians as victims of occupiers without dwelling on any other topics from that time period. What do you think? Feel free to add your comments below.