I just thought I'd share some thoughts and observations today on why Budapest is like no other place I've ever been, and probably like no place else on earth. The city really is beat to hell in a lot of ways. It is dirty, and run down, and falling apart at the seams. The population has dropped significantly in the past 20 years, as well as shifted to the outskirts, which means that a huge number of giant apartment blocks in the city center are simply vacant. Here's just one of countless:
Often the buildings are just falling down and crumbling away. It is not uncommon to see demolition teams finally getting around to clearing the debris away. Here is a somewhat typical scene:
It is hard to make out with this picture from my camera phone, but in the center is a giant green excavator digging away at the building from the inside. All of this disused space means two things to the local population. First, it means relatively cheap rents (compared to Western Europe). Second, it means a canvas to create upon. Especially in the seventh district where I live, there are tons of what are called ruin bars. These are created when some enterprising entrepreneurs turn an abandoned apartment building into a massive bar or nightclub, including the courtyard and individual apartments, sometimes going up several floors.
These ruin bars are all over, with more opening all the time. They also promote the local art scene, as each place tries to outdo the next with interesting art and design elements hanging on the walls, from the ceilings, or set up in the courtyards. It almost feels like a wild west, anything goes mentality. In many ways, it is liberating. Nobody could get away with this type of thing in the U.S. There are far too many laws and safety codes to prevent it.
Perhaps the most interesting place I've seen is right on a major street, yet completely under the radar. It is sort of an art gallery, created I was told by a group of artist-squatters. Apparently, according to a friend of mine who knows some of them, they simply put their own locks on a vacant building, filled it with their art, and viola. They added a ping-pong table and hang out there whenever they feel like it. To me this epitomizes the spirit of the city. The place is beat up. It is falling apart, but it has character, and a great vibe, and the locals take advantage of all of the opportunities that provides.