House of Terror

Andrássy út 60 [map]
Pest Centre, VI, Oktogon (M1, T4/6), 2 min

Recent Hungarian history doesn’t get a great deal of press, so a museum that really examines its brutal, fractured past has the potential to be of enormous value. The House of Terror, though, sounds more like a fairground ride. I wonder whether that’s just a translational blip or whether there’s some serious wrong-headed thinking afoot...

From the word go, imagery does most of the talking. In the entrance hall, two symbolic gravestones are dedicated to those who suffered at the hands of the Arrowcross (Hungarian fascists) and the AVH (Soviet secret police), both of whom used 60, Andrássy út as their headquarters. A little further in, a tank sits in a pool of water, surrounded by victims' faces. Then, in the first room of the exhibition, photographs of a forlorn Budapest flash before your eyes, as the city finds itself caught in the cross-fire of World War II. A specially composed soundtrack confirms that we're in Spielberg territory and therefore may not be getting the most balanced reading of history here.

Despite this, for the uninitiated there's a lot to glean about Hungary's past: the evaporation of much of her territory; the sense that history was under someone else's control; the replacement of one regime with another and with it the requirement to be a fascist one minute and a communist the next. Many of the issues facing modern Hungary can be traced back to these events.

Substance however comes a definite second to style. It’s no coincidence that Orwell’s 1984 springs to mind: there are flatscreen TVs everywhere, but only two carry English subtitles. As the museum unfolds along its predetermined route, the images just keep piling up, while the information never quite materialises. Certainly there are A4 pieces of paper that you can read along the way but they rarely reference the exhibits.

Design continues to outstrip appropriateness. The deliberately sluggish three-minute journey down to the basement, accompanied by the description of a hanging is presumably supposed to be touching. In reality it’s in pretty bad taste and, in a lift crammed with people, is close on ridiculous.
Finally we arrive at the prison cells in the basement, which should make me feel something, since the brutality really happened here. But it's too late. Perhaps if I hadn’t known that they were reconstructed, perhaps if the rest of the museum had been a little more balanced, a little less slick...

The House of Terror has often been accused of being a politically motivated project, an attempt to discredit the Socialist party, having been commissioned by the old Fidesz government. Of course, others say that the Socialists would rather pretend that none of it ever happened. Where the truth lies is hard to say, but certainly, a wall of photos of victims of the AVH, followed by a wall of Communist Party members does seem a lot like finger-pointing and, as with the rest of the museum, doesn't do much for impartiality.

Walk up Andrássy út from Oktogon and the House of Terror is on the left after two blocks: a normal looking building painted entirely in pale blue and framed with the word TERROR.
Terrorhaza, Terror Háza, Terrorháza, Terrorhouse
Andy Sz.



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