- 19 Jun 2023 4:38 PM
Huge statues dotted the city, depictions of Socialist figures in heroic poses, so imposing they had become landmarks in their own right.
Rather than simply destroy them, as some were demanding, the authorities decided to banish them to the suburbs in one single gathering: Memento Park.
What is Memento Park in Budapest?
Lenin gestures to the workers, Karl Marx and Engels look ahead sternly, and a Soviet soldier stands defiantly beneath the flag of the USSR. This is Memento Park, a collection of 42 of Budapest’s most notable statues of the Communist era, grouped together in one place in the distant 22nd District south-west of town.
Originally just the statues, this popular attraction was expanded in 2007 to include an exhibition hall like a former barracks, a display of photos illustrating the era and a documentary on how spies operated in everyday society. ‘The Life of an Agent’ is shown on a loop, in Hungarian with English subtitles.
Top tips for Memento Park
The most unusual of the statues is one used on posters and postcards to promote the museum: an exact replica of Stalin’s giant boots. The originals were once filled by an eight-metre tall statue of the Soviet leader that towered over what was then called Felvonulási tér, the open square between Dózsa György út and City Park on the route of the huge May Day parades.
In one of the bravest acts of the Uprising against their Soviet overlords, on 23 October 1956, Hungarians gathered beneath it and pulled it down, leaving only the boots.
While the revolution was soon crushed and parades restored to the roster of Communist celebrations, as a symbol of the destroyed statue, Memento Park decided to create their own life-sized replica of the boots. Visitors can also imagine just how big the rest of Stalin would have been.
Who created Memento Park in Budapest and when?
Once the decision was taken to create such a park in 1991, architects applied to the Budapest General Assembly for the right to design it. The winning entry came from Budapest-born Ákos Eleőd, then 30 years old, who would later design Művészetek Völgye, the Valley of the Arts, in Kapolcs near Lake Balaton.
The main area, the outdoor museum, opened on 29 June 1993, the second anniversary of the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Hungarian soil. The other elements, the cinema and exhibition space, were unveiled nearly 25 years later.
Where in Budapest is Memento Park?
It is quite a way from the city centre, at 1223 Budapest, Balatoni út/Szabadkai utca. Three buses run there from Kelenföld station at the southern terminus of green metro line 4. The 101B, 101E and 150 take ten to 15 minutes to reach Memento Park. Services run every 10-30 minutes.
Standard transport tickets (HUF 350) and passes are valid.
Cars may park free of charge during opening hours.
Alternatively, up to three of you can ride to Memento Park by Trabant, the tiny East-German car with a two-stroke engine that came to symbolise the Communist era. See details here.
What else should I know about Memento Park?
Some statues still live on in everyday parlance, most notably that of Ostapenko, named after the Soviet soldier who fell during the Siege of Budapest in early 1945 and singled out as a hero by the Communist authorities.
This figure once marked the boundary of Budapest, beside the M7 motorway to Lake Balaton, his flag waving drivers on to wish them a happy holiday at Hungary’s prime getaway destination, or greeting them as they return to Budapest.
While the statue now stands at Memento Park, the location is still referred to by many Hungarians as ‘Osztapenkó’.
A more shadowy figure is that of Béla Kun, depicted here on three different memorials. A Communist revolutionary, Kun led the short-lived and disastrous Hungarian Soviet Republic in the chaotic aftermath of World War I.
After its collapse, he fled to the Soviet Union, where he was one of many to be executed in the Stalinist purges of 1938. He was then rehabilitated by Khrushchëv in 1956.
Why visit Memento Park in Budapest?
Every year, some 40,000 people visit Memento Park, both an unusual attraction and an excursion from town. For anyone born from 1989 onwards, the statues provide a grim reminder that the Communist era was real, and not just something seen in spy films.
Click here to virtually visit Memento Park
Words by Peterjon Cresswell for Xpatloop.com
Peterjon has been researching the byways of Budapest for 30 years, extending his expertise across Europe to produce guidebooks for Time Out and his own website liberoguide.com