MEMENTO PARK IS A UNIQUE OPEN-AIR MUSEUM OF DISCARDED COLD WAR COMMUNIST STATUES
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Welcome to the Cold War! The Communist regime fell in Hungary in 1989. When the Soviet troops finally departed Hungary on 19 June 1991, they took their broken ideology along with them. However, their massive Communist monuments remained. Many statues were immediately removed and melted down for scrap. Meanwhile, an unknown bureaucrat in the Budapest city government had the foresight to preserve 42 of these Cold War relics.
A SOCIALIST DISNEYLAND
In 1993, government officials decided they needed to display the statues as a reminder of what not to do. So… they took the statues out of storage and dusted them off. Memento Park boasts a unique collection of proletariat themed Cold War statues. Today, this often overlooked Communist roadside attraction is a true socialist Disneyland.
Hungarian architect Ákos Eleőd won the design competition for the project and thus Szoborpark (Memento Park) was born. In describing his concept, Eleőd stated the following:
Memento Park is about dictatorship. And at the same time, because it can be talked about, described, built, this park is about democracy. After all, only democracy is able to give the opportunity to let us think freely about dictatorship.
Located on the outskirts of Budapest, Memento Park is an open-air museum chock full of Cold War statues and plaques dedicated to Hungary’s Communist period (1949-1989). Vladimir I. Lenin, Karl Marx, and Friedrich Engels, other heroes of the Communist world, and soldiers of the Red Army are all there. A crowd favorite, the Liberation Army Soldier, proudly clutches a hammer-and-sickle flag in one hand and has a machine pistol dangling from his neck. This intense 20-foot (6 meters) tall statue once stood on top of Gellért Hill in central Budapest and could be seen from every direction.
Of special note, is a replica of Stalin’s Boots which became of a symbol of the Hungarian October Revolution of 1956. Presented to Stalin as a gift from the Hungarian people on his 70th birthday, enraged anti-Soviet crowds pulled the statue down from its pedestal and only the boots remained.
COLD WAR EXHIBITION
In 2007, Memento Park opened a new exhibition hall and a small movie theater. The photo exhibition called Stalin’s Boots takes viewers through the history of the 1956 revolution, the political changes of 1989–1990, changes in Hungarian culture since 1989, and the creation of Memento Park. The theater features an eery English subtitled film, The Life of an Agent, a documentary with footage from former state security training films for the State Protection Authority (ÁVH). Join ÁVH security service trainees as they are taught how to clandestinely collect information on “subversives.” Also on display is an East German-manufactured Trabant 601 — the ultimate Communist family vacation mobile.
After a brief family debate over whether we should stop and explore this odd Communist roadside attraction or continue driving to Budapest, I convinced my wife and teenage son that the Cold War statues of Memento Park were must-see. After all, Memento Park checked several boxes: it was educational, cultural, historical, and most importantly, it was weird. In fact, Memento Park was all this and much, much more.
We spent a solid hour in the Memento Statue Park studying each of the massive statues in detail and then spent another hour in the new Cold War exhibition hall. Memento Park provided great fodder for us to discuss the Cold War with our teenage son. Although the fingerprints of Communism can be found throughout Central and Eastern Europe, believe it or not — there are few in your face exhibits directly addressing the Cold War.
Our teenage son enjoyed getting up close and taking photographs of the monuments. We had a clear blue sky and relatively few people (Memento Park only has 40,000 visitors annually.). The Cold War souvenir shop featured, well… just about every tacky item you can think of except with the benefit of a Cold War theme. Our son spent a good ten minutes trying to convince us why we needed to buy a reproduced Hungarian communist-era passport.
Memento Park has just the right mix of flair, credibility, and cheesiness to make it well worth stopping the car. Where else are you going to find massive Communist statues on the side of the road?
PRO TIPS FOR VISITING THE COLD WAR STATUES OF MEMENTO PARK
PRO TIP – VERY IMPORTANT. Don’t get lost. On public transport, diagrams, and other maps the Memento Park is also referred to as Memorial Park. Taking a bus could be, well… confusing. I would recommend driving a vehicle as there is ample parking.
PRO TIP 2. Although incredibly tacky, the Souvenir Shop has several items that will prompt discussion and certainly provide a good laugh.
PRO TIP 3. Next to the Souvenir Shop is a phone box (a time travel machine) where you can listen to the voices of Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, Che Guevara, and other Hungarian Communist Party officials. Not sure why you would want to take a call from Stalin, but this bizarre phone booth is pretty intriguing.
PRO TIP 4. Memento Park is completely flat with easy walking on paved pathways. Bathrooms are available. Pack a lunch and other Cold War-themed snacks (brown bread and borscht?) as food is not readily available.
PRO TIP 5. Holders of the Budapest Card receive FREE admission (just like the good old Communist days).
NEAR THIS PLACE
MEMORIAL OF THE IRON CURTAIN. One of the only remaining intact sections of the extensive Cold War fencing separating East from West has been preserved at the Memorial of the Iron Curtain. Located in the small village of Cizov along the border between Austria-Czech Republic.
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