What do you do with all your iconic communist statues when they’re no longer welcome in the squares and parks of central Budapest? At Memento Park they’ve found a great solution – banish them to the outskirts of the city and make them into a prime tourist attraction.
We visited Memento Park after our first day in Budapest on the way to Lake Balaton – there is a bus that goes there from Deák Square once a day but it’s much easier to reach by car. After the fall of communism in Hungary in 1990, the city council agreed that the statues of the communist era ahould be moved to a statue park and a design competition was held that was won by a young architect, Ákos Eleőd. His design encapsulated a philosophical message about the Communist era in an imposing brick facade with little substance behind it and ending in a wall, symbolising a road that leads to nowhere.
We decided to take an English guided tour which was well worth it to hear all the little stories behind each statue – it’s easy to forget that young Hungarians now in their 20s grew up under communism and were ‘little drummers’ and ‘pioneers’ as school children, enjoying summer camps and groups activities while soaking up the communist ideaology. The flag carrying Soviet soldier once stood on Gellert Hill on the Buda side, overlooking the whole city, guarding the female figure with a palm branch that stood above it, symbolising Hungarian liberty, which obviously could not do without her Soviet protector. In 1990 the Soviet soldier and the communist star above him were removed and the guide joked that the girl was quite pleased to get rid of her overprotective boyfriend.
Our guide pointed out the symbolism of other statues such as the memorial of Hungarian-Soviet friendship, where the sculptor managed to encapsulate the inequal relationship between the two parties – the military Russian figure more imposing and reserved, extending only one hand, while the civilian dressed Hungarian figure is offering two hands in a more genuine hope of friendship. At the entrance you’ll find the statue of Engels standing behind his mentor, Marx and in the park the statue of Lenin, with hand outstetched that once stood at the entrace to a factory, exhorting the workers to do their best. The sculpure of hands are containing the fragile ball of communism, offering it to everyone and the red communist star that was once found everywhere is now only seen in the flower bed at the centre of the park.
At the entrance to the park there were some entertaining exhibits in a phone box where you could get a ‘hot line’ to listen to the voices of various communist leaders and an old Trabant car that you could pose by to have your photo taken, for nostalgia value. The only leader that has been banished completely is Stalin who was so reviled after his death that his enormous statue was pulled down, leaving only his boots that now sit on top of the plinth opposite the entrance to the park. We also sat and watched an extremely spooky communist training film for secret agents, showing you how to covertly film suspects or follow them unobserved. I’ll be highly suspicious of people who place their large bag or briefcase on a cafe table near me in future. in case it contains a hidden camera.
If you’d like to see more of the statues at Memento park, do take a look at the slide show below.
I’d highly recommend a visit to Memento path and our children really enjoyed it too, especially hearing on the guided tour about the history of communism that stood behind the statues, and watching the secret agent film. May be they’d have rather enjoyed being Pioneers and Little Drummers too.
The entrance cost was 1000 HUF (aprox £3, €3.50, $4.50) per adult and the guided tour was 1200 HUF per person but look out for discount vouchers in your hotel or you can also use the Budapest card for a 30% discount.
While visiting Budapest we stayed at Art’Otel Budapest
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