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Reinventing Budapest

Of the nearly 600 photos I took in Budapest, one third were of alternately stoic, colorful and crumbling façades. Chipped amber paint, ash-tinged concrete and vintage curtains billowing in lifeless windows composed the skeletal remnants of a bygone era. Such raw beauty is a rare occurrence; nowhere else have I seen such a purity that is inherently contradictory. These walls, fought over and seemingly left unattended, are both a testament to the trials of the Hungarian people and a symbol of their resilience.

During a tour of the Jewish Quarter, my twenty-something-year-old guide explained, that the vibrant 40-foot-high mural before us was a part of something called the “Façade Rehab Project.” Envisioned by a group of local street artists, the movement aims to repurpose old walls, while retaining a sense of the building’s original purpose, and oftentimes, making bold humanitarian statements. A mural of a man hawking fresh produce fronts a grocery store, while the wall outside a daycare center features a hauntingly beautiful young girl with the call to action: “1 family torn apart by war is too many,” sponsored by the UN Refugee Agency. Undertakings like these show that regardless of economic limitations, Budapest citizens take pride in their city’s varied appearance, and see beauty not in a shiny paint of coat or a gilded façade, but in honoring the past and in working for a better future.

Bits and pieces of the city hint at what once was; the Matthias Church—with colored tiles and stark white walls—is so shockingly stunning that it comes as no surprise that the monument, built in 1015, was renovated in the late 19th-century. Brilliant and vibrant, it is an unmissable landmark, but the contrast with the city’s other smoke-stained buildings is jarring. In reconstructing, history is preserved for future generations, but each lick of paint and reinforced beam modernizes, widening the void between now and then even further—a necessary, but unfortunate consequence of the passage of time.

Moving forward as a global community is a give-and-take; the past is omnipresent, but the future is unstoppable. And as citizens of the world, we have a responsibility to honor and preserve, whether it be through restoration or reinvention, or a combination of the two—which is brilliantly on display in a city like Budapest.

Budapest Highlights

Combining Vienna and Budapest
  • The Railjet high-speed train is fast, efficient and affordable (tickets available for purchase through Rail Europe). Trains depart from Vienna’s Wein Westbanhof (a 20-minute taxi from the Historic Center), and arrive at Kelenfor station in Budapest (just ten minutes by taxi from the city center). The trip duration is two-and-a-half hours.
  • Alternatively, there are daily 50-minute flights operated by Austrian Air

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