This year (technically last year) I spent Christmas in Budapest; a city I’ve been keen to visit for many years and having now been find it difficult to fully make sense of. Straddling the Danube, it was brimming with late nineteenth century architecture (both original and recreated), art-deco and art-nouveau (again both original and recreated!), littered with festive markets and the scent of mulled alcohol, and even snow on Christmas eve. Amongst all of this seasonal cheer I visited the less festive House of Terror which helped make sense of this interesting city and its need to restore, rebuild, and indeed remember. The museum focuses on the brutality faced by Hungarians under both the Nazi and Soviet occupations, and also acts as a monument to those who were imprisoned, tortured or killed within the building itself. You are greeted by a tank in an atrium three floors high with black and silver portraits of victims displayed floor to ceiling. The rooms leading away from this atrium outline the fear, chaos and inescapable presence of these regimes by illustrating the propaganda, secret police, uniforms, religious attacks, forced-labour camps and gulags of both the Arrow Cross Party (Hungarian Nazis) and Soviets, as well as a mock polling station when there was a one-party “democracy” in place, and numerous examples of Hungarian resistance. A lift slowly moves visitors down to the basement, at the back of which a plasma screen shows a documentary revealing a variety of execution methods in a manner devoid of emotion. Once in the basement you are faced with a series of cells where prisoners were kept in a cruel, damp, confined conditions – one cell simply has a noose in it. Situated on a main boulevard, this museum provides a bleak and powerful image of life during that period and the horrors that openly took place within the heart of the city.
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