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Budapest has a lot of suspended sites — empty buildings and enclosures that now fulfill no practical function, no useful purpose. Commonly cited to tourists are the old Hungarian State Television building and the Ballet House, both grand and beautiful in a haunted way. Both have stood empty for more than a decade but will soon transform — the former into a cultural center and the latter into a luxury hotel.

 

These transformations aren’t unusual. Hungary has faced dramatic recent change and is on a path that we can only (with great hope) describe as transitional still. Spaces and places, making up the material faces of cities and states and nations, are one of the usual ways in which a profound change of organization, institution, and everyday materializes.

To the usual list of sites wasted, neglected or frozen in Budapest-time, I’d like to add another: the Parliament building, the House of the Nation. With gold-washed ceilings and kilometers of decadent stairwells and hallways, domed and glistening on the Pesti bank of the Danube, this grand palace has retained a superficial pretension to being a house of the nation. It houses only one house of legislature, a bitterly weak institution that elects both the president and the prime minister in a system guaranteeing executive-legislative agreement. Embedded in the storm of constitutional change that has removed nearly every other source of restriction and balance in Hungary, this system makes the House of the Nation into a House of the Party. And, currently, Orban’s den.

The Parliament building is comparable to suspended sites that have come about through deliberation or neglect. It surpasses them, actually. Its function is not suspended per se. Rather, it is perverted, crippled, and wasted. Whittled down into an effigy of both what it used to be and what it could be.

If you can catch Fisherman’s Bastion in the off-season without tourist groups, it’s one of the most romantic spots in Budapest at night. Also one of the calmest at sunrise, a serene way to finish a hike from Pest.

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Three of the seven towers, each representing a Magyar founding tribe

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View of the Danube

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Terrace restaurant

 
This popular viewing terrace and Buda landmark took its name from the guild that, during medieval and early modern battles, was responsible for the stretch of land on which it now stands. The Bastion was completed in 1905, destroyed along with much of Budapest during World War II, and restored shortly after.

Especially for today but also for the everyday. Not just for Hungary but for every everywhere.

“No questions of national identity in the present can ever avoid encountering the painful secrets of the past.  In this sense, as long as these questions are alive…there can be no forgetting.”

(Michael Ignatieff)

Nagymező utca is full of great things: the ruin pub Instant, the restaurant Két Szerecsen, a major photography gallery, many many theatres, many many theatre cafes, the sketchy B-City Pub and its friends, a classy tattoo shop, an awesome grocer with a season-defying supply of clementines and apples, and a relic of the past in the form of DVD/CD store where English-speakers are automatically welcomed with gangster rap and Selena albums reign supreme. On top of that, it crosses three other pretty amazing streets in Pest — Bajcsy, Andrassy, and Kiraly. On top of THAT, it’s home to fun statues like this one.

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All that to say that you should take a stroll down its very narrow sidewalks. Just take care to avoid beer bottles and dog poop.

This is what Budapest was like.

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I know the whole world is talking about the weather going crazy, and Ithaca has conditioned me to shrug when all four seasons chase each other through one day, but it really sucks when you pack for spring and then get rained, snowed, and hailed on all the way across Central Europe.

On the plus side, I found that the Ludwig Museum remains wonderful. Pay a visit! Their current exhibitions, found here, feature naked men and universal subsistence allocation.

Budapest is still one of the loveliest cities in the world. And I’m still incredibly nostalgic. Two good answers for all professors and classmates who have questioned my sanity in booking a trip to Budapest two weeks before my senior thesis (fully written, bound, footnoted, and anguished-over) is due. Should I mention that I’ll be making this excursion in the middle of a trek from Stuttgart to Oldenburg and Hamburg?

This time last year, I was trying not to think about leaving Hungary. Classes at CEU were winding down, friends were visiting, demonstrations were blocking Andrassy, and large amounts of turo pastries were being consumed. The usual. If I remember correctly, it was also almost time for the Spring Festival, which means that there’s no better time for a return.

You Budapesters, if there is anything interesting happening in late March, please send me a message to let me know! Likewise if anything new and interesting has opened and can compete with Szimpla and Instant in my heart. And if any of you have an appetite for mulled wine and Pozsonyi kifli, you know where I’ll be.

Post-March 15 is sure to be an interesting time to be in Hungary. Checking the news, I keep seeing reports of the country “stepping away” from democracy. Nuh uh! You don’t say!

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