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The International Writers Magazine: Europe

Hungary - The Hard Country
• Fred C Wilson 111
“This is the generation whose first cry of Life was the Hungarian Uprising.” -Joseph Brodsky-

The Republic of Hungary or Magyarorszag is a world class tourist destination though people know very little about this fascinating country.
Baths Budapest

Hungary is in central Europe. Budapest the nation’s capitol straddles the River Danube; it was once two separate cities Buda and Pest. The Forint or Ft is the national currency. In 2004 Hungary joined the European Union. The republic is made up of a parliament or National Assembly whose 386 members are elected by the voters for four year terms. Their government is based loosely on the American model; Janos Ader is currently President, Viktor Oran Vice President, and Laszlo Kover is Speaker of the National Assembly the Hungarian equivalent of the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Hungary’s natural resources coal, bauxite, natural gas, fertile soil and arable land are in short supply. Native wines are top sellers throughout Europe. The country manufactures machinery for heavy/light industries, chemicals, electronics, and other essential items used in high-tech fields and a leader in manufactured foods.  

The Hungarian nation was established in 896 though human habitation in central Europe predates recorded history. Magyar (Hungarian) the national language was established by the Huns who gave Hungary its’ name. The Hungarian Republic was ruled by a succession of conquerors though the ages; first Attila’s Huns, later medieval monarchs, the Ottomans, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, then a brief republic after World War I, the communists and finally the current republic with the fall of Western communism in 1989.

Hungary has a population of little over 10,000,000 people; 2,000,000 live in Budapest. It’s a small country with a large population competing for a diminishing number of jobs. Though a developed country urban population centers have been hard hit by rising poverty and people are fleeing to greener pastures. The Hungarian population is in a state of constant flux. 83.7% are native Hungarians, 3.1% Roma or Gypsies, 1.3% German, and 14.7% non-documented; most Hungarians speak the common language. 

Hungary boasts an extraordinarily high number of world class celebrities. Here’s some well known people; Goldie Hawn movie actor and past star of the premier 1960’s early 1970’s hit TV sitcom ‘Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In.’ Ms. Hawn is founder of the Hawn Foundation a Children’s philanthropic educational organization. She’s also a direct descendant of Edward Rutledge the youngest signatory of the Declaration of Independence!

The Gabor sisters Zsa Zsa, Ava and Magda all hail from Hungary. These actors/socialites were born in Budapest to Vilmos and Jolie Gabor. Shortly before World War II they relocated to New York City. In time they became household names during the 1950’s and 1960’s. Their primary claim to fame was their serial marriages. The Gabor sisters seized life and milked it for all its worth.

Hungarian-American actor Peter Lorre’s life reads like an adventure novel. Born in the old Austro-Hungarian Empire he served as a prison camp commandant during World War I. He made it big in movies when he stared as a child murderer in Fritz Lang’s classic ‘M.’ During World War II Hitler used excerpts from ‘M’ to espouse Nazism. Lorre’s courageous but unsuccessful struggle with morphine addiction did him in. Peter will long be remembered as a fine human being and a world class actor.     

Hungarians love music. Their musical traditions like their people are varied. For highbrow listeners there’s Franz Liszt, Bella Bartok, and Zoltan Kodaly global greats that need no introductions. Scientific giants Albert Szent-Gyorgyi discovered the existence of Vitamin C. Nobel Laureate Imre Kertesz and Oscar winning movie director Istvan Szabo are Hungarians.

Hero-actor-fund raiser anti-Nazi star of ‘Gone with the Wind’ Leslie Howard was murdered by the Nazis during a routine flight from Portugal to the UK was Hungarian. Don Adams, River and Joaquin Phoenix the latter of ‘The Gladiator’ movie fame, actress and frequent host on TCM or Turner Classic Movies ‘The Essentials’ Drew Barrymore of the famous Barrymore acting clan, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tony Curtis, Mitzi Gaynor, and master of horror Bela Lugosi are of Hungarian descent.

When I was a kid in the 1950’s I used to enjoy watching the weekly antics of the late Ernie Kovacs. The man was an artist. His weekly show helped elevate comedy into a high art form. Don’t take my word go to ‘The Ernie Kovacs Show (Full Episode) – You Tube’ for some funny stuff.  

Hungarian-American luminary Paul Newman has won so many awards it staggers the imagination. Paul’s won the Academy Award several times not counting his 9 Academy Award nominations. He won the coveted Cannes Palme d’Or a number of times along with numerous other national and international film laurels (Go to: Paul Newman (1)-Awards-IMDb). Newman was also a professional racing car driver. Despite his enormous fame and fortune Paul Newman was first and foremost a political activist, entrepreneur and philanthropist. contributed over $370,000,000.00 to global charities; a staggering sum to feed, clothe and educate the world’s poor. When he died of cancer at age 83 Paul couldn’t take a cent of his vast fortune with him; spiritually speaking he sent it on ahead of him. 

Station Hungary is awash with fine art galleries that cater to a wide assortment of artistic tastes. As a practicing artist (multi-media drawing & ceramic sculpture) I can readily appreciate fine art. When you visit Hungary’s numerous art centers don’t skip the Budapest Exhibition Hall in the Szabad Sajto Utica district.

Like its’ North American counterparts this gallery hosts a variety of visually stimulating events for professional artists seeking additional knowledge, those browsing through the hall in search of inspiration to the casual art lover who merely want to gawk at the works on the walls or kill time. 

The Budapest Museum of Applied Arts main attraction is its’ architecture. Though not entirely a white elephant, the big museum has some pretty decent stuff on display.

If I were in Hungary on holiday I’d spend time in the Hungarian National Gallery; comparable to premier North American art institutes its’ where the best stuff’s kept. For a palatial experience the Museum of Fine Arts and Gallery Exhibition House galleries are top of the line. The many sculptural pieces, elegant architecture, and huge modernist paintings will wow you. 

Tired of gawking at the works of long dead artists; the Dorottya Gallery specializes in promoting Budapest’s local artist talent together with works of emerging regional artists. A history buff; the Ernst Galeria features works completed during the 10th century and earlier. Sign up for their guided tours.

National Gallery

Hungarians love meat. How they stay so thin is beyond me. You can count the vegans on one hand. The primary cuisine of Hungary is beef, pork, and other meat laden dishes. I love meat especially pork! Hungary’s cooks have my deep and undying admiration. Like your writer they take their cooking seriously. Reader you got a fight on your hands if you botch a Hungarian meal! Meat stews, juicy steaks, yummy roast pork dinners, poultry dishes, lamb, game, you name it they’ll cook it to perfection. Reader you just gotta’ love a country where every menu a feast every meal a banquet!

I fondly remember Quebec, Canada. There was this Hungarian restaurant (Pam-Pam) off Montreal’s central business district that served the best Chicken Paprika in town! I found it so good I practically camped out at this restaurant during my brief stay in that beautiful city. Last time I checked they still do a brisk business as a Mexican-Hungarian eatery. 

Stuffed cabbage or Fatanyeros, their traditional world famous Goulash, stuffed peppers, mutton, savory meat off the bone soups, winter salami, fresh oven baked breads….you gettin’ hungry…meat drowned in creamy paprika gravy, yummy porkolt and Hungarian stews smothered with savory boneless meats. Reader there are many other delicious Hungarian dishes worth mentioned but not enough space; sorry ‘bout that. Use your search engine to enter the many Hungarian food sites to get a better understanding of what’s served in Magyarorszag.

Organized religion has taken some heavy hits in Hungary. Since its’ inception during the reign of King St. Stephen I around 1000 AD, Catholic-Christianity once the primary Christian denomination has dwindled to 39% according to the  2011 census. Despite this downturn the Christian Church is still the dominant religion. 11.6% of Hungarians are Calvinists, 2.2% Lutherans, 2% adhere to other religions (Islam, Judaism, others), 16.7% are non-religious, and 1.5% are atheists. In the Eurostat-Eurobarometer Poll of 2005 44% of the people believe in God, 31% profess belief in a Higher Power but 19% are non-believers.

The Protestant Reformation trimmed the sails of Hungarian Catholicism. The Catholic Counter Reformation spearheaded by the Society of Jesus or Jesuits enabled Catholicism to remerge as Hungary’s primary Christian denomination during the 1700’s. As a result of past religious upheavals religious sentiments swing back and forth. It’s understandable why Hungarians are ambivalent towards matters of the spirit; through the centuries they’ve endured so much pain. Their suffering reflects their skepticism towards God and religion.

When I was a 5th grader at St. Bernard’s Elementary School on Chicago’s South Side I remember our teacher describe the horrors of Hungary’s uprising (October 23rd thru November 10th, 1956). Blood was being spilt in the streets of Budapest as we listened. I purchased then popular book ‘I’m 15 and I don’t want to die.’ This small book was based on the true story of Christine Arnothy a young girl who lived in Budapest during those tempestuous times when the Nazis, Red Army, and various other special interest killers battled for supremacy among Budapest’s ruins that left little to the imagination in terms of barbarity. Little Christine was among the hapless populace who ducked and dodged bullets and bombs struggling to stay alive.  

I’ve always had an interest in this central European country. My high school freshman term paper was on the Soviet Union’s oppression of Hungary’s people and her religious/ democratic institutions. I could never forget reading about the horrors of underground torture cells. One such agent of Satan the infamous communist tormentor referred only as ‘Major Meatball’ because of her flaming red hair. Her diabolical torture sessions were described in minute detail by the book’s author. I got sick when I read about the suffering that diabolical bitch inflected on her helpless victims. Reader I couldn’t trace that title. I wrote that paper in 1961; its’ been a while.

When I attended Chicago’s Loop now Harold Washington City College before transferring to university I remember a young Hungarian woman and fellow biology student. She was tall, well dressed, friendly, and attractive. When we spoke there was always a note of sadness in her voice. After enduring so much misery and sadness the concept of an All Powerful and loving Deity has became an alien concept among many Hungarians.   

Hungary is a northern country; it's cold during winters. The best time (and the most expensive) to travel is during summer when days are hot but nights slightly cold; ideal sleeping weather. If you want to avoid the hordes of tourists best visit Hungary during April and May. Both are wet months but you’ll beat the crowds. Do yourself a favor; go on line and type: Hungarian weather forecast. This site gives you exact weather conditions for any given area 24/7.  

There’s no US State Department Advisory; Hungary’s relatively safe. Watch out for pick pockets and other petty criminals who prey on tourists. Use common sense at home and abroad. Many airlines serve Hungary. Use your search engine and log in to for moderately priced flights from the United States. There are over 350 hotels in Budapest. Use the Internet; that’s what it’s there for; type in ‘Hotels in Hungary’ which opens the door to many hotels of varying quality and price range to suit your budget. Enjoy Hungary but don’t eat too much.
 © Fred Wilson in Hungary

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