Goulash Communism Tour
Curious about what’s behind the curtains of those monstrous residential blocs you can see from the windows of your train or taxi? Experience for yourself how we lived our everyday lives under Communism and understand why there is still some nostalgia among a large proportion of the Hungarian population for the Kádár regime.
Western images of Communism are mainly influenced by media sources and images that project an unflattering view of the Communist Bloc, that is, the Soviet Union and its satellites. However, in reality, Poles, Russians, Romanians, Czechs, Slovaks or East Germans experienced Communism in a very different way from Hungarians due to their specific cultures and historical precedents. The Hungarian version of Communism, which we always called ‘socialism’, was coined Goulash Communism by the British press. Rightfully so, since another nickname, “the happiest barracks in the camp” also suggests life in Hungary was a bit better than in the other countries, mainly due to the reform policies of the regime that evolved in the wake of the unsuccessful 1956 Revolution. The Kádár era – named after János Kádár who ruled the country for 36 years – was a soft dictatorship compared to other countries: here there were no food queues, and even travel to the West was allowed (albeit with some restrictions).
In reality, Hungary was quite sealed off from the West where it always craved to be. Having no choice after the trauma of 1956, Hungarians unwillingly had to accommodate to the system forced upon them and develop survival strategies.
The purpose of this leisurely tour is to give you a fascinating overview of what life was like under a soft dictatorship which people then considered a natural state of affairs.
- Authentic retro café with unique atmosphere
- Home visit to a prefab housing estate apartment
- Lunch at a retro self-service restaurant
- Communist times artifacts, products and household items
- Gifts from our Communist Bazaar
WHAT YOU CAN EXPECT
We will start our tour at Bambi Presszó, an iconic retro café from the early 1960s, located in a bloc known locally as the Lottóház (lottery house). Here you can taste a retro gombás melegszendvics (a grilled open sandwich with mushroom sauce topping) while sipping your coffee in a retro coffee glass – we’ll talk about the historical reasons for how the Kádár ‘welfare socialism’ era evolved.
From here we’ll continue our journey by HÉV (suburban train) to the Békásmegyer housing estate built in the early 1970s as a part of the Party’s grand plan to solve the housing shortage in the city. Here Erika, a former teacher of Russian, who has been living in her minuscule prefabricated flat where she raised her three children, will host us. Apart from listening to her stories, you can also peep into the life of such a typical bloc and experience what everyday community living is like here.
We’ll then proceed to Pajtás Étterem (‘Comrade Pioneer’ self-service restaurant) preserved intact from those times and still popular among locals. While having a typical ‘working-class’ set meal, you can familiarize yourself with the welfare policy of the Kádár regime and what life was like for children.
We will end our tour on the Pest side in the 8th District which was infamous as the city’s red light district. Though the urban gentrification process has reached this area, it still has the charm of bygone socialist times. After a short stroll, you will visit Rákóczi tér 10 where you can see a mini exhibition of Communist era memorabilia including household items and Communist awards of all kinds, whilst listening to the Best of Communism music album.
Included: two free drinks, light lunch, a handout and a retro souvenir.
Related to this 3.5-hour tour, we can offer optional additional programs:
- One-hour Trabant ride to Gellért Hill with a tour guide (learning how to drive this funny East-German product). Price: EUR 210/car – up to three people
- Visit to the Memento Park (Statue Park) by public transport. Length: 2.5 hours. Price: EUR 50/person, including tour guiding, entrance ticket and a communist souvenir.
- Pioneers’ Railway Tour. Now renamed as the Children’s Railway, the 2.5-hour trip includes getting to this hilltop narrow-gauge train line by cogwheel railway, learning about the history of the Pioneer Railway, and ending the tour by taking the chairlift back to the city from the Buda Hills. Price: EUR 70/person including two entrance tickets and a snack
- Guided tour to the communist part of the Kerepesi Cemetery, including the Working Class Movement Pantheon, the grave of János Kádár, and the memorial grave of the victims of the 1956 Revolution, including the memorial to Prime Minister Imre Nagy, the martyr of 1956. Price: EUR 40/person.
- Meeting with Marion Merrick, a British teacher and writer, who moved to live in communist Hungary in 1981 with her musicologist husband. She summed up her view of the Kádár era in her personal memoirs, titled Now You See It, Now You Don’t. A signed copy of the book can be purchased from the author. Price: EUR 30/person including a coffee.
”I’m an American who landed in Budapest recently to live and work for 4 months. My keen interest in 19th century Russian lit, music, etc, coupled with my deep fascination with how the first true Communist Revolution played out, morphed into a 50 year Cold War and prevented several European countries from enjoying 20th Century Western culture-especially my country’s biggest contribution, pop culture-no Pet Sounds, no McCabe and Mrs. Miller, hell, no All in The Family, made me seek out as much info as I could from someone who could explain life back then in Eastern Europe in a passionate, stirring, cogent and fascinating manner. So when I realized I’d be living behind the former Iron Curtain for 4 months, I was obviously keen to speak with as many of the folks who experienced the Soviet Occupation, and all that it entailed, as well as what they thought of Western, mostly pop culture at the time, and now. Well let me assure you that there’s not a more intelligent, clever, knowledgeable, and downright interesting individual in all of Budapest than Miklos, of the Fungarian outfit. He is just the sort of fellow I was looking for, wildly opinionated, immediately unafraid to challenge my preconceptions of how Hungary functioned under the Occupation, and thrilled to answer my sometimes inane questions about the history and culture of Hungary. But most of all, Miklos is a true Hungarian Patriot, a man who unabashedly loves his country and his hometown, and I can assure you, you’ll never forget the hours spent with him. He’s one of a kind. Fungarian tours are the single greatest things anyone can do in Budapest.”