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...............is the new East Berlin!

 I only got around to visiting Berlin for the first time last summer (post coming soon) which was 23 years after the wall came down and since then east Berlin has been almost entirely restored. So, annoyingly, I completely missed seeing how that part of the city looked under communism which I gathered would have been pretty intriguing.  

But luckily, my recent trip to Budapest fed that particular hankering as this city is only just beginning to be restored and large parts of it still appear exactly as they were during the many years of communist rule.  Although some of the architectural styles are reminiscent of other European cities, the air of decay and dilapidation coupled with the communist-era design and graphics impart a very different atmosphere which I found utterly fascinating and at times shocking.

The city is divided into two halves by the Danube river. One side - the old town built on a steep hill, is Buda and the other side is Pest where the parliament is situated - shown above.  Yes, it does remind you of the House of Commons in London! Apparently the architect based the design on that edifice.

It's impossible to believe when you walk around the old town of Buda that the majority of the buildings were erected in the early or second half of the last century following the almost total obliteration of what was there previously during many and various years of conflict, latterly during the 2nd world war and the Hungarian revolution of 1956.A large number of the buildings are exact copies of what stood there before, even the 'medieval' streets are only a matter of decades old.  

The Pest half of the city is composed of magnificent, tall, elegant terraces of the 18th, 19th and early 20th century.

The epitome of faded elegance.

Many buildings are still pitted with shrapnel - unbelievable!  It was fascinating to see a house like this, still occupied but utterly down at heel.

It shocking to realize that people simply couldn't afford or didn't have access to the materials needed to get their houses into a reasonable state.

It's even more bizarre to see the juxtaposition of restored and unrestored - you just couldn't see a sight like this in a western European city I don't think.

This is the Chain Bridge which they are very proud of, built by a British engineer in 1849

These guys were very cool - lots of clicking heels and, as you can see, stiff marching legs!

It's fascinating how graphics communicates design styles of a period - I particularly like classic European script with joined letters. And I like anything that looks old-style and well designed - see my post on American Signage

A magnificent and complex facade with references to both western and eastern design, presumably because of the city's geographical location - Budapest borders Romania and the Ukraine in the east and Austria in the west.

With quite a different architectural feel, this lovely little square could have been in Paris or Brussels.  

The language is great from a visual point of view - lots of Zs and unusual accents.

This shot was taken looking down over Buda from the top of the old town. It's a very dense city with buildings piled on buildings up and down the Buda hills.

All these semi-dilapidated buildings are lived in.

Art Nouveau and Secessionist architecture was very strong in Budapest.

And in complete contrast - examples of brutal Modernism. A great range of textures in this fa├žade, including the door.

You glimpse inner courtyards and shadowy hallways everywhere - very 'Third Man' in atmosphere.

The city is just the most wonderful mix of architectural styles and feels like it must have been a rich and sophisticated city in its heyday - which is not to denigrate its atmosphere and people today.  We absolutely loved the city and the Hungarians we met were charm personified - not to mention the unexpectedly delicious cuisine!

These 'onion' domes have a very eastern European flavour and help give the city its special character.

The Buda half of the city climbs up the sides of a very steep hill - above, an ancient funicular and below, one of the many stepped streets which wend their ways to the summit and the castle.

They are beginning to restore the old buildings and this is the surreal site of one apartment block wrapped in green netting in preparation.

Putting aside my fascination with elegant decay, it was a very hard life for many Hungarians under Stalinism and subsequent regimes - (the first free parliamentary elections were held in 1990) and it can't have been pleasant living in crumbling buildings with no means to repair or improve them.  Hungarian history is a pretty bloody one and there are some brilliant museums in the city which record horrific scenes from the nation's past.

Interesting architectural details still shine through the crumbling stone work and render.

I collect equestrian statues! (see my posts on Guillame le Conquerant and Wellington Arch) This one was is right on top of Buda hill in the perfect position to command the city!

These have a real 'Magyar' (Hungarian) look

This house - on a quiet street high on the hill - has been very lovingly restored.  I suppose in 20 years many more houses will look like this.

.....instead of like this.

Couldn't resist this tempting display!

And loved this Hungarian dude!

More de-luxe window dressing.

See how blackened with centuries of pollution some of the buildings are?

Actually I like the black, there's something elemental about it.

Don't let me give the impression that all of Budapest is disintegrating .....

.......just parts of it!  I reckon that restoration of some of the buildings will come just in the nick of time.  This one is on the wonderful main boulevard Andrassy Utca (which is actually a Unesco World Heritage Site) and I couldn't help contrast it with the buildings lining Park Lane in London or the Champs Elysees in Paris. This is the kind of scene I meant when I described some sights in Budapest as quite shocking.

Lots of Baroque style in Budapest - like this fabulous old church.

These last 6 shots are of the main railway station from which we took a train east across the Great Hungarian Plane. A staggeringly wonderful building, without compare in my country!

And the interior, beautifully old-style and understated.


Filigree wrought iron....


It was all great - until we saw the train! And started off on our grindingly slow journey to Debrecen on the Romanian border... but on the plus side, our first class tickets only cost us £15 for a 3 hour journey and we had the whole carriage to ourselves!

Notwithstanding this rather un-alluring final view of Budapest,  I intend to re-visit this exceptional city as soon as I can. I loved absolutely everything about it.

My other visit to an eastern European city, Prague left me rather underwhelmed as it had been more or less transformed into a theme park and so overrun with tourists in the centre that it was impossible to get a real feel for the town and its history - I am hoping, hoping that Budapest doesn't follow their example.


  1. Fascinating post, it looks like a wonderful place to visit. Curious to see those shrapnel splattered buildings. I would love to know how people live in such a place. It looks from the outside a tough place. I imagine it attracts a certain kind of creative spirit too.

  2. We went on the City Tour by open top bus, it's great you can get off at any of the stops and get on another bus later to carry on, it was so good we went round twice on the same tickets! Another day we went to the ends of a couple of metro lines, right into the suburbs and another up the Buda Hills, we stayed in the communist era Hotel Budapest and just outside the mountain railway starts and goes up to the Childrens Railway, a bizarre train ride through hills and woods and all run by uniformed school kids. The Art Deco zoo threw up some moral issues but the buildings are brill and the Giraffes were happy. Your photos really sum it up, think we photographed all similar things but different buildings and streets, even the nutty shop windows. Would love to go again and tempted by your tales of Berlin too, look forward to showing you our photobook of Budapest, smoky bars, enormous red metal doors, peeling buildings and those modernist doors!!


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