A Glimpse of Communism

In the footsteps of Communism and the Cold War

A Glimpse of Communism
In front of the House of Terror Museum
photo by Zsuzsa Bakonyi
A product of the former East German auto making industry
 On Gellért Hill

"The Happiest Barrack"

Today, Budapest is a modern city that embraces most of the amenities of other European capitals. But Hungary - though it used to be referred to as "The Happiest Barrack" within the Eastern bloc - was not always so free, and reminders of its former Communist regime are scattered throughout Budapest, providing tourists with a unique understanding of the history of Communist government. Stroll through Statue Park and see formerly revered relics of Hungary's Communist tyranny, visit the House of Terror for a glimpse of the former headquarters of the State Security (Hungarian version of KGB) or learn more about Cold War history at the Hospital in the Rock Museum, a former secret emergency hospital and nuclear bunker.

Communist Past

After World War II, in 1949, Hungary was declared a People's Republic. There was a Communist government and Socialism was declared as the main goal of the nation. A new coat-of-arms was adopted with Communist symbols like the red star, hammer and sickle. By 1950, the state controlled most of the economy, as all large and mid-sized industrial companies, plants, mines, banks of all kind as well as all companies of retail and foreign trade were nationalized without any compensation. Hungarian leaders had close ties to high-ranking Soviet leaders. Government became increasingly unpopular, leading finally to the 1956 Revolution.

From the 1960s to the late 1980s, much of the wartime damage to the city was finally repaired. New economic reforms were introduced, and a special form of Communism, the so-called "Goulash Communism", was born. The name stemmed from the idea that the ingredients for Communism were different in Hungary. As Hungary enjoyed many amenities not available to other communist countries, it was often satirically referred to as "The Happiest Barrack" within the Eastern bloc. With elements of free market and improved human rights record, it represented a deviation from the purely communist principles. Finally, this led to free elections and a democratic government in 1989. Hungary's transition to a Western-style democracy was one of the smoothest among the former Soviet bloc.

Reminders of an Era

Mementos of the former regime provide a unique experience. Some are exhibited (visit Memento Park or the House of Terror Museum), many can be viewed in their original form, and others simply live on. For example, trolley buses are numbered starting from 70 because the first route began operations on Stalin's 70th birthday in 1949.

Also, there was a great deal of construction in Budapest during the Communist era. The Moscow Square (Moszkva tér, today Széll Kálmán tér) subway station stands out as a good example of the so called socialist-realist style. This subway station was and continues to be a popular meeting place. It also has somewhat of a symbolic meaning of an era gone by. (Currently, renovations are underway).

Budapest's Statue of Liberty, on top of Gellért Hill, is another example. The statue was erected during the Communist era, commemorating Hungary's liberation from the Nazi rule. As Liberty had already become a symbol of the city, she was not removed unlike other Communist icons, such as the Red Army soldier who used to stand at her feet, allowing us to see her in her original surroundings.

Retro-hip has never been cooler in Budapest, especially to a younger generation that didn't have to endure the repression of the socialist regime. Twenty years after the fall of Communism, and some of its 'achievements' have found their way back in vogue. Such as “Tisza”, Hungary's biggest state-owned shoe manufacturer in the 60s and 70s, famous for their running shoes. The brand has been recently rediscovered and the legend of Tisza lives on with a trendy retro design.

Insider Tip: For more insights read our post on Retro Budapest. Take UniqueBudapest's Retro Tour or Rent-A-Trabants Trabant Tour for a fun way to explore the city's retro hot-spots and Fungarian's Life Under Communism Tour to learn about Hungary's recent past.

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tags: history retro