Head to the 7th District to Feast Your Eyes on Some of The Best Street Art Murals in Budapest.
Street art has become a prevalent fixture in many cities around the world. But no one does it quite as well as the Hungarians. Erzsébetváros or Budapest’s’ 7th district houses some of the most vibrant and incredible murals, which is a pretty big call on my part as I believe Melbourne has some of the finest. We stayed in the heart of the Jewish District and we were constantly confronted with street art in almost every corner. But we wanted to get to know the murals in greater depth and how it became an integral part of this once derelict area. So, in order to get to know some of the best street art murals in Budapest, we asked Attila Höfle from Budapest Flow to take us on journey of colour and creativity.
Once a walled-in ghetto towards the end of World War II, the Jewish District possesses a painful past. Post war, the area became dilapidated with buildings abandoned and left into ruins. A recent gentrification of the area has helped to revive the neighbourhood and it is now one of the coolest places to explore in Budapest. As part of the movement to revitalise this pocket of Erzsébetváros, stark, old and rundown buildings are now adorned with contemporary art transforming the streets into a public gallery. Here are some of the murals that Attila took us to see:
STREET ART MURALS IN BUDAPEST#1
Rubik’s Cube. Unbeknown to me, the Rubik’s Cube was created by Hungarian Erno Rubik, an inventor and architecture professor. It’s only fitting that the Rubik’s Cube be honoured as it is the best-selling toy in the world, selling over 350 million units. As an interesting fact, the current world record for solving the Rubik’s Cube is an amazing 4.59 seconds!
On the bottom left hand corner of the mural is the number 43,252,003,274,489,856,000. This number denotes that there are 43 quintillion ways to scramble the Rubik’s Cube. I didn’t even know such a number existed! The mural is unique as you can only see the 3D effect through a camera lens as the naked eye is unable to process the clever illusion.
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Seamstress/Sewing Love. Tailoring was the most popular Jewish profession and had a significant presence around Akácfa Utca and Kiraly Utca in the 19th century. According to Kinga Frojimovics, author of Jewish Budapest, they traded in second hand clothes of which they would buy used goods, alter or mend them and then sell them at flea markets for a decent profit. A census conducted in the mid-19th century reported the area having 422 Jewish masters and 607 apprentices. This mural is a dedication to a profession that helped to shape the neighbourhood.
It was also at this mural that Attila chose to give us a quick linguistic lesson. At the bottom of the mural is the word “szabómesterek” which means master tailor. In Hungarian, ‘s’ is pronounced “sh” hence Budapest is actually “Bu-da-pesht”, of which I had been pronouncing incorrectly for years! The ‘sz’ sound however is pronounced “s” as per the English language.
Love that the word is also painted in embroidery.
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Budapest Ain’t That Small. This mural is a map of Budapest of which the red patch in the middle is also the shape of Budapest. It is meant to symbolise that Hungary is not just about Budapest and there is so much more to the country. The clouds around the map represent the surrounding areas one can visit in Hungary.
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Green Grocer. This is a 2 dimensional, multi storey painting depicting locals of the nearby Klauzál Square. The mural is an actual representation of the original façade and encompasses some of the residents. The green grocer is the real Aunt Zsuzsa who runs the Lumen Grocery next to the mural. Attila tells us that the black dog on the right was an actual dog that lived nearby and would stop to admire the progress of the mural every day during its daily walk. Over time the artist got to know the friendly black dog and thought to include it as one of the many local characters.
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Playground. This is perhaps one of the more prettier murals. The art provides for an optical illusion that aligns with the natural surround of the actual playground and makes us feel as though it’s extended far beyond its small enclosure. The hot air balloon in the distance creates a fairy tale like image to lighten the harsh deterioration of the building itself.
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Everyone Has a Town. In this case, everyone has a side. There has been a long standing friendly rivalry between the two sides of this great city with the stereotypical jokes of those who live on the Buda side are snobs whilst those residing on the Pest side of the Danube are lazy, working class people. This mural depicts this division through the use of Hungarian folklore and symbols by creating colour on the Buda side whilst using a drab grey to represent the crumbling Pest side.
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Man of the Year. In 1957, Time Magazine’s Man of the Year was not a singular person but rather the all-encompassing Hungarian Freedom Fighter. The man pictured in the mural represented the civilian fighters and heroes of the Hungarian Revolution who fought in the struggle. In 2016, the mural was commission to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the publication.
The uprising of 1956 was a fight against Russian control which they were subjected to since 1945. Upon the death of Stalin in 1953, Hungarians were hopeful of freedom from Russian rule but was not to be. The oppressive situation worsened with fuel shortages, a bad harvest, poverty and a bitterly cold winter. On October 23rd, people took to the streets of Budapest to fight for their rights and their bravery is now forever immortalised.
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Match of the Century. Once the world’s number one ranked football team and Olympic champions, Hungary played an international football match on the 25th of November 1953, against England. As you can see in the mural, the final score of 6:3 in favour of Hungary is forever immortalised and was a great cause for celebration.
I enjoyed this mural not for its artistic prowess but Atilla’s insight into the self-deprecating Hungarian humour. Hungary is known to be the most depressed society in all of Europe and perhaps this has lent itself to resorting to pessimistic and sarcastic behaviours as a coping mechanism. The Match of the Century sparked Attila’s amusement that ever since this match, Hungarians haven’t been great at football. We couldn’t decide if the giant mural was a great reminder of a glorified past that provided hope and encouragement or an eyesore that only fuelled its depressing outlook. E
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Színes Város Festival 2017. The annual festival in the summer attracts talented local and international artists to adorn the walls with giant murals. The theme for 2017 was based on the topics of dichotomy and discourse, extracting inspiration from gastronomy and wine. Here are 4 of the murals, each painted in a courtyard on Kertész Street.
STREET ART MURALS IN BUDAPEST#10
Empress Elisabeth. Empress Elisabeth, the wife of Franz Joseph I, was Hungary’s favourite Queen. The mural has done well to show off her beauty and well maintained long hair. The mural is painted in shades of purple as it was the style of Erzsébetváro in the 1800s.
Franz Joseph fell head over heals for the Viennese Princess and they were married when she was not even 16 years of age. The wedding took place in 1854 and the young Austrian princess had to adapt to court life as an Empress very quickly. It has been documented that she was overwhelmed by her royal position and found life in court very difficult. A life she believed she was not born to live. She portrayed herself to be a fairy-tale Empress who loved to travel, had a deep love for people and culture and loved to write poetry. She was well known for being obsessed with her beauty and spent an inordinate amount of time in front of the mirror.
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Map of Bars. The bar scene in Budapest is so popular that a mural of a map of all the significant bars in the Jewish District was erected. The bars are listed in order, as per the streets on the map. Just in case you had your inebriated goggles on and needed a bigger version to get you from one ruin bar to another. And yes, the fact that its located at a playground was not lost on me.
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Refugee. I will always support a private walking guide when I’m in any city because there are just places that you would perhaps never discover had you been on your own. And one such occurrence was when Attila brought us to Gozsdu Udvar, a complex consisting of seven buildings and a passage formed by six interconnected courtyards. Here, commissioned by the Regional Representation of the United Nations’ Refugee Agency for Central Europe, a firewall was transformed with a mural of a refugee. It represents a little Pakistani girl with the quote, “one family torn apart by war is too many”. Perhaps it was inspired by the famous image of the Afghan refugee that graced the cover of National Geographic’s 1985 with eyes that captivated the world.
Street art is still a fairly young project in this city, establishing credibility only about 8-10 years ago. Backed by the local government, I thoroughly enjoyed the fact that some depicted important historical Hungarian moments whilst others were created as part of the Színes Város project.
Attila was a wealth of information and his love for his city is evident in his sheer enthusiasm and passion. This tour is highly suitable for families with kids of all ages and I have no doubt they would be as fascinated as we all were. I have only covered some of my favourite murals. There is a plethora of others to be discovered whilst the cityscape continues to change over time. It is therefore well worth engaging a local to show you the sights and help you link the old and the new.