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Essence of Hungary | Krisztián Grecsó: Budapest

The secret to Budapest is her young age. Hardly a century ago most of Budapest was dominated by defiant townlets, villages, factory yards and allotments. The secret to Budapest is her old age. Margaret Island was home to the elite a millennium ago, its Turkish baths have been in staredowns with the towers of the Buda Castle and the clumsily floundering riverfront of the Pest side for centuries. 

The spice of Budapest is her backbone of mystery: the allotments behind the tenement buildings with their lighting shafts and winding corridors around their inner courts, the basement windows beckoning from behind the bushes, this realm of intricate cellar mazes, spiral staircases, inner yards, church undercrofts and Hospitals in the Rock. And the unmistakably human way she gives herself to you: it’s so easy to love this bohemian city center with a burning passion. 

Getting to know her – well, that is the challenge. 

To keep digging and delving into the deep the way Gyula Krúdy did, consuming and devouring the minutest detail. We (partly) owe to Krúdy that many of those townlets, factories and bathhouses treasure their past. The best thing about Budapest is that she is not carved out of a single stone: she has a thousand beating hearts, and should she decide to let you get close, you will find that her citizens have kept the fire of their ancestors burning. All those proud locals from Újpest in the north to Budafok in the south who understand the secrets behind their streets, know which basement used to be a wine cellar and which house was the home of the cabbage pickler, where the old tram line and horsecar used to run – all the things that make their district one of a kind and the best. 

Budapest is a teenage girl, beautiful and defiant. Budapest is an old, silver-haired lady, seasoned and generous. This city is the embodiment of the very noble civic virtues of loyalty and honor, the home of Ernő Nemecsek, the prototypical underdog. Budapest is flirtatious and cocky, full of dreams and desires, the dazed capital of the Ulpii. 

Living in Budapest is a philosophy. 

Or, rather, a love that is burning inside right until you draw your last breath.       

Krisztián Grecsó

illustration: Aliz Buzás

The thoughts of Krisztián Grecsó, the Attila József Prize-winning writer and poet, were published in the Essence of Budapest publication, which came to life under the Essence of Hungary project.

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