A country in Eastern Europe which earns its place on the dark-tourism map through its role in WWII
and especially the Holocaust
(which hit the country late and particularly tragically), and subsequently the communist
era, when the country was part of the Eastern Bloc
. A revolution against Soviet domination and repression in 1956 was brutally crushed by the Red Army. Eventually, though, Hungary played a crucial role in ending the communist era. It was Hungary that first opened the Iron Curtain
, heralding the beginning of the end of the Cold War.
Dark sites to visit – at least as far as I am currently aware of – are all concentrated in the capital city:
I admit that my knowledge of Hungary is largely 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). But I haven't yet seen much of the rest of the country with my own eyes.
Since Hungary was the first of the Eastern Bloc countries to open the Iron Curtain
(see below), it may be interesting to try and find traces of this infamous construction, if any exist.I know there is some kind of memorial monument at the spot where the Iron Curtain fence was first cut open, but I haven’t been to the spot yet. I've also 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 this, and its exact location, I'd be very grateful (contact me
A bit of history:
Like other Eastern European countries, Hungary, and thus its capital Budapest
in particular, had its share of the darkest chapters of 20th century history – badly battered in World War I
and World War II
and then subjected to communist
rule as one of the Soviet Union
’s satellite states of the Eastern Bloc
during the times of the Cold War
, which, however, it crucially helped to overcome eventually.
At the end of World War I the country had lost a significant proportion of its former territory, which, as in Germany
, caused lasting resentment and provided a breeding ground for resurgent nationalism. During World War II
the country sided with Nazi Germany
, though it wasn’t until 1944 that the full force of Nazi terror took over. Before that Hungary
’s government had tried to ‘hang in the middle’, as it were, siding officially, and militarily, with Germany but not pursuing the full-scale Holocaust
against the Jews (who until then were comparatively safe in Hungary at a time when especially Poland
’s Jewry had already been all but exterminated).
eventually lost patience, invaded Hungary in March 1944 and subsequently allowed Hungary
’s own extreme Nazi party, the Arrow Cross, to take over and begin their most brutal regime, in particular, of course, against the Jews ... of whom many survived only thanks to the heroic help of individuals such as Swedish
diplomat Raoul Wallenberg
consul Carl Lutz – see in particular Holocaust Memorial Center
. The Arrow Cross movement/party's name, incidentally, derives from its logo: a cross with arrow ends pointing in all four directions, which was understood as a symbol for national purity and superiority in a similar way to the swastika used by Germany
The Arrow Cross rule didn’t last long, however; it was ended by the advancing Red Army from December 1944. After WWII
, Hungary thus fell into the Soviet
sphere in the beginning Cold War
confrontation with the West and became a communist
In 1956 a revolt turned into revolution against the regime – and what followed was the bloodiest crushing of such a development in the Eastern Bloc
when the Soviet Red Army went in and eventually reinstated a loyal communist regime. (Other such episodes were the uprising in the GDR
in 1953 and the crushing of the Prague Spring of 1968
; see also Poland
for that country’s part in uprisings against communism
While the events of 1956 left one of the worst stains on communism’s history, it was again Hungary which played a pivotal role in the loosening of orthodox communist rule and eventually contributed significantly to its complete downfall. First Hungary developed what was somewhat humorously referred to as “Goulash communism” (after the country’s national dish), which involved various reforms (and an amnesty for detainees from the 1956 revolution), elements of market economy and a generally more lenient, liberal attitude towards the country’s citizens (including tolerance of some degree of dissent).
Finally, in 1989, Hungary
became crucially instrumental in ending the communist era altogether, first through radical reforms within the country itself, then by being the first country to begin physically dismantling the Iron Curtain
installations along its border with Austria
, thus allowing GDR
citizens fleeing their country to use Hungary as a loophole out into the West. This in turn accelerated the collapse of the GDR and Germany
’s subsequent reunification, thus inspiring the abolition of communism
in Hungary itself and in the other Eastern Bloc
countries too (some achieving it in the “velvet” form of revolution such as the CSSR
, others more violently, like Romania
The opening up to the West, after the fall of communism and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact
, led to democracy and a market economy. Since 1999, Hungary has been a NATO
member, and in 2004 it joined the EU (but so far not the eurozone, so it still uses its national currency, the forint, abbreviated HUF).
More recently, however, Hungary has become a bit of a thorn in the side of the EU, thanks to the right-wing nationalist government under the semi-authoritarian Viktor Orbán, who’s won four consecutive elections and rules with a two-third majority that enabled constitutional changes. Orbán’s political moves have repeatedly gone against EU-policies and he follows a particularly hard-line anti-migrants position that has caused controversy in other European countries.
Getting to Hungary, other than by flying into Budapest
, is easiest by train. The main line from Vienna
, and on to Bucharest
, 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.
Hungarian is one of the rare breeds of Finno-Ugric languages, a non-Indo-European language group that also includes Finnish and Estonian, but is unrelated to other European national languages. Accordingly, it looks and sounds rather exotic. Since it is a so-called agglutinative language (with strings of grammatical suffixes added to roots) and features vowel-harmony, Hungarian is actually more similar to Turkish than to English, French, German, etc. – moreover its grammar has a whopping 18 cases … so if you want to learn Hungarian prepare for a steep learning curve.
Fortunately, however, Hungarians these days tend to speak very good English, especially the younger generations, so international travellers can get by fine, in particular in touristy cities like Budapest
Food & drink:
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’ or ‘paprikás’, whereas the real Hungarian ‘gulyás’ is rather like a thinner 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).
Vegetarians will probably struggle with Hungarian cuisine, however – like in the neighbouring countries it's quite carnivorous. Meat eaters, on the other hand, can indulge in a range of more or less famous types of sausages, such as Debrecener, and several types of salami.
A common street food snack, lángos
, is however veggie-friendly in most cases. This is a deep-fried flatbread made from a dough containing not just flour but also mashed potato and sometimes yoghurt and/or sour cream, resulting in a fluffy texture of the finished product. This is often topped with sour cream, grated cheese, pickled peppers, rocket or other additions. You can find lángos in other countries too, including Slovakia
and also Austria
, where I live these days, but in my experience the dish is at its best in Hungary!
On the drinks front, Hungary has a long and proud history of winemaking
, and that goes far beyond the world-famous sweet Tokay wines. The dry whites made from local grape varieties like Furmint or Juhfark can be quite distinctive and full of character. Absolutely worth exploring! And of course there are red varieties too, again going far beyond the Kadarka type that is probably best known abroad. In recent years the craft beer
revolution has also reached Hungary, especially the capital Budapest
, and the scene is rapidly catching up with other top-notch countries for craft beer (such as Poland
). There’s also a great coffee
house culture, again especially in Budapest, that has seen a vibrant revival too.
- Hungary 1 - paprika
- Hungary 2 - fin de siecle architecure in Szombathely
- Hungary 3 - brutalist modern architecture in Szombathely
- Hungary 4 - synagogue in Szombathely
- Hungary 5 - pig and pig products
- Hungary 5a - fish soup
- Hungary 5b - fruit soup
- Hungary 6 - fish paprikasz
- Hungary 7 - langos
- Hungary 8 - wine
- Hungary 9 - ancient Tokay wines