Many traces of the communist dictatorship can be found in today’s modern and thriving Hungary. The most visited ones, like Memento Park or Terror Haza in capital city Budapest, tell about the inhumane and pervasive aspect of propaganda and political repression. However, the history of this country in the second half of the 20th century is closely bound to the Soviet-backed communist seizure of power, and this has left traces also elsewhere, especially in terms of military leftovers. As a matter of fact, the Soviet Red Army was directly present in Hungary, to keep the status quo and to to be closer to the border with the West in case of an attack – and this of course left traces.
You can find a significant deal of material concerning more urbex-connected destinations in Hungary in another post.
In this one, you will find a mainly pictorial portrait of some of the best known attractions related to the Cold War period in Hungary, as well as some well accessible but less known ones, especially considering the general public visiting from abroad. As usual on this website, a good share of these sites is aviation-themed!
Photographs were taken in August 2020.
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- Iron Curtain Museum, Felsocsatar
- Military Park. Zanka
- Komarom Monostor Fort
- Papa Airbase
- Komo-Sky 51 Air Museum, Dunavarsány (Budapest)
- Komo-Sky Bunker, Dunavarsány (Budapest)
- Museum of Military History, House of Terror, Memento Park, Houses of Parliament, Budapest
- Secrets of a Soviet Airbase, Berekfurdo
- RepTar Szolnok Aviation Museum, Szolnok
- Emlekpont, Hódmezővásárhely
- Pinter Works Military Park, Kecel
- Taszar Airbase Museum, Taszar
The Iron Curtain Museum has been created soon after the collapse of the Iron Curtain in 1989 on the sight of a former small sector of the state border between communist Hungary and free Austria.
The site is mainly the result of the effort of a man, Sandor Gojak, a former border guard in the 1960s, who dedicated this permanent exhibition to those who attempted escaping the repressive communist regime in Hungary towards Austria and the West – both those who succeeded and those who did not, hence facing arrest or losing their lives due to the minefields prepared along the border line.
The site features three examples of the border line placed in the area over the years. They are look less impenetrable than those created between Eastern and Western Germany (see this post), yet they were similarly deadly in scope and facts.
The first is basically a simple line of barbed wire with wooden poles, and it was put in place soon after WWII. Mines were placed in close vicinity to the line. After wooden poles started to rot around the mid-1950s, mines were removed, a dangerous job which cost the health of some border guards, who were severely injured due to accidental explosions.
For a short while at that time, the border was free of mines, and about 300’000 people managed to leave the ‘paradise of workers’!
Soon after the anti-communist uprising in 1956, suffocated with violence by the Soviets, the border was further fortified with concrete poles, and the mine strip was increased in width.
Only at the end of the 1960s the mines were removed, after multiple accidents involving Austrian citizens, when the mines slipped into a creek near the border due to a flood, injuring many who touched them incautiously. This time the border security system was strongly potentiated, with the adoption of an electrified system for the immediate detection of proximity, linked to signal collection centers dislocated along the line. This system had been implemented by the USSR on the Pakistani border. Something similar can be found also on the border between Czechoslovakia and West Germany (see here).
The exhibition is completed by an example of a wooden turret, as well as a more modern fence – a specimen of the one put in place in 2015 between today’s Hungary and neighbor Serbia and Croatia, when a wave of migrants from the Middle East swept the Balkans.
The museum is full of vivid testimonies, thanks to the many historical pictures and artifacts on display, and to the fact that the founder is actually the man who runs the museum! – he is totally available to answer your questions.
Getting there and visiting
The museum can be reached here: 47.20376801287036, 16.429799972912328, on the border between Hungary and Austria, not far from Szombathely. The coordinates point to a convenient parking. The site is operated as an open-air museum, with opening times and an entrance fee. Moderate climbing is required, as the museum area is on the slope of a nice hill. Only cash accepted. Visiting may take about 45 minutes. Website here.
This small military park is a nice and cared for exhibition of Soviet-made weapons, located ahead of a resort which used to be an exclusive destination for vacation on the coast of Lake Balaton.
You can find here a couple of Mil helicopters – including the legendary Mil-24 in all its ‘beauty’! – in the colors of the Hungarian Air Force.
There is a MiG-21, also formerly of the Hungarian Air Force, a T-64 tank, a howitzer, a military snow blower, an amphibious truck and more light trailers.
Perhaps the most striking sight in this collection is the surface-to-air missile (SAM) SA-2, aka S-75 Dvina in the Soviet codification. A rather basic but powerful – and successful – missile from the 1950s, sold by the Soviets to many satellite Countries and clients over the world.
A revolving antenna can be seen on top of a truck. This is an example of the target acquisition antenna for the SA-2 system, code-named Spoon Rest by NATO, and known as P18 in Soviet codification. This radar system had a range of approximately 170 miles, and was an improvement of the previous P12 design. The launch site of SA-2 SAMs was always complemented by a set of antennas, including a Spoon Rest system. Actually, P18 could be coupled with the launch system of more advanced SAMs too.
All items in the collection here are pretty well preserved, making the visit an enjoyable stop along the exploration of the Balaton coastline.
Getting there and moving around
The park can be found here: 46.881838498667996, 17.7098619193198. The site can be visited in 10-30 minutes depending on your level of interest. This is an open-air museum, with ticket and opening times. Website (referral) with some information here.
An incredible, perfectly preserved military fort from the years of the Austrian Empire, Monostor Fort in Komarom can be found on the Danube, marking the border with Slovakia. At the time of construction, the two nations were united in the Austrian Empire, and the fort was erected between 1850-71 as a part of a defense line extending also north in today’s Slovakia.
Despite being extremely interesting for its articulated and complex construction – a brilliant example of military engineering from the time – the fort saw no action in its intended purpose. It was used for training for most of its life, then briefly as a prisoner’s camp in the years of Hitler’s administration, and finally as an immense weapons storage during the Cold War years, when it saw tenancy by the Soviets.
Today, the fort is open as a museum, duly centered on the interesting original construction from the 19th century.
One cellar has been left as it was in Soviet times, when weapons of all sorts were stored here, moved by means of a dedicated short-gauge railway.
In a corner of the immense apron, you can find a small collection of Soviet weapons, mainly anti-tank and anti-aircraft cannons. There are also a couple of truck-transported antennas, including a very effective early warning Flat Face radar, aka P19 Danube according to the soviet classification, as well as a PRW-9 Thin Skin target altitude detection radar. Similar platforms are still in use today, and can be coupled with modern SAM launching systems.
Getting there and moving around
The fort is a major attraction in the area. It features a large parking ahead of the entrance, address: 2900 Komárom Duna-part 1. Visiting is on a self-guided basis, with a short paper guide in English distributed at the entrance, and the visit will be extremely interesting for anybody interested in history, military engineering, etc. – not only Cold-War-minded subjects.
Visiting may take 1.5 hours, due to the size of the fort. The place is also used as a venue for theater performances and concerts, so timetables may vary. Some info in English can be found on this website.
Papa is today an active base of the Air Force, hence it cannot be accessed. However, with a short adventure drive along an unpaved road, you may reach a part of the former premises of the base – from Soviet times – now lying outside the perimeter.
There you can find a pretty unique array of old abandoned aircraft of Soviet make, in the colors of the Hungarian Air Force.
They are MiG-21 of many types, and also massive Sukhoi Su-22.
The state of conservation is not so bad – you can find airframes in worse condition in some museums – but some aircraft are missing some parts, possibly due to spare recycling, or vandalism, even though the place is really secluded, and the proximity with privately owned land and a military base is not ideal for vandals and idiot spoilers.
Of course, a few more years without any attention to these birds and little will remain of this improvised fleet. Hopefully, at least a share of this mighty force will find a due place in some museum or collection over the next years.
By the way, the former military area where these planes are sitting was perhaps a place for SAMs, put for protection of the base in the Cold War years.
Getting there and moving around
This is the only item on this post which is not a museum. It’s hard to tell whether these aircraft are lying on private land or not. However, to reach this strange flock of aircraft, you can move with a standard city car to this crossroads: 47.33966571405878, 17.550239693088113.
From here, you need to take north, until you reach this other waypoint: 47.35812676567956, 17.530436267329513. At some point along this path, the road turns unpaved, but the condition is generally manageable. On the latter waypoint you need to turn sharp left. You may notice old concrete posts, from the original soviet fence of the base.
You will finally land here: 47.35812676567956, 17.530436267329513, where you find an asphalted road, in the middle of a former peripheral area of the base. Driving towards the base along this road, you will find the aircraft here: 47.3541655146187, 17.514827811942904.
Visiting is not a long business, cause you should not move around the aircraft, as they are likely on the border of a private lot (fenced). Totally recommended for Cold War aircraft enthusiasts however.
This wonderful military exhibition is the based on the collection of a Hungarian military pilot, Zoltán Néhai Komócsi, nicknamed ‘Komo’, from which came the name of the museum. Unfortunately, the man passed away years ago in a crash. The collection was publicly put on display only more recently.
Items on display include military aircraft and helicopters, military trucks, trucks from the firefighting squad, engines, and more! Some of the exhibit can be boarded, and reportedly some vehicles are still operative.
Most of the exhibits are in very good condition, a few are still awaiting light refurbishment. An old Mil-2 helicopter can be boarded, revealing an old-fashioned cockpit, made more exotic by the Russian inscriptions.
Also an attack Mil-8 helicopter in Hungarian colors can be checked inside. A Mil-24 is undergoing restoration (as of 2020).
The ‘MiG alley’ includes MiG-15, 21 – in various versions – and 23, all in very good condition, refurbished for display.
Also some trucks can be boarded, revealing once more the excellent state of preservation, as well as abundant Russian signs.
To the far end of the collection, an Antonov An-2 utility biplane, an ubiquitous workhorse of the Soviet empire, can be boarded up to the cockpit.
You can sit in the pilot’s seat, getting a nice view from the cockpit of this bird.
Three deployable radar antennas can be seen on their trailers – apparently a not complete P80 Back Net system from the 1960s is the largest one.
Finally, a MiG-21 in the colors of the Hungarian national flag can be boarded. This is extremely interesting, as it provides a look in the cockpit of this high-performance and successful fighter/interceptor from the Cold War years, when ‘high-performance’ implied ‘high-complexity’ analog cockpits!
Getting there and moving around
The museum can be found at these coordinates, 47.292057190313706, 19.029565655926707, corresponding to a convenient parking. The site is about 30 minutes driving south of central Budapest. It is an open-air museum, with timetables and ticket. Information on their website (in Hungarian). Time required for visiting may range between 30 minutes to 1.5 hours for an interested subject, taking all the pictures.
A recent addition by the current managers of the Komo-Sky 51 Air Museum is this fully refurbished Soviet bunker, once used for air traffic control. The place is actually in the vicinity of the former Soviet airbase of Tokol, one of the largest in Hungary in its heyday (see this post).
Today the bunker has been partly restored in look, with some rooms changed into ambiances for interactive experiences, including shooting!
Some rooms host interesting collections of artifacts from the everyday life of communist Hungary.
Military memorabilia from the Red Army, with conspicuous Russian writings, are scattered everywhere.
A room of special interest hosts a collection of militaria from the Eastern Bloc, with artifacts ranging from weapons to flight suits, military decorations to aircraft parts. Really something for everybody!
Getting there and moving around
The bunker is a recent (as of 2020) addition to the Komo-Sky 51 Air Museum. No dedicated website available at the time of writing. The place can be reached at the coordinates 47.297663350792774, 19.0351554512774, about 3 minutes driving north of the Air Museum. I visited by invitation of the owner, hence I don’t know about the actual timetable. A website of a hotel nearby – actually on the very same lot of the bunker – is here, with some information on the bunker in Hungarian.
Budapest is rightly famous for a history spanning many centuries, for its art collections, incredible architectures, thermal baths and many other enjoyable features. However, having been the capital of a communist country in the Eastern Bloc, it also hosted a ‘state security service’, i.e. an agency of the government attempting to control the minds of Hungarian citizens, and keeping everybody’s behavior under strict surveillance. The palace chosen as the seat for this service is named ‘House of Terror’ (‘Terror Haza’ in the local idiom). Here many were kept under arrest, interrogated, and in some instances secretly murdered in the basement.
The place is among the most visited museums in Hungary, and can be found right in the city center. Comprehensibly, no photo is allowed in the most sensitive areas of this sad building. Website here.
Another place of Cold War interest, making for a rather popular touristic attraction, is Memento Park. In this small park about 15 minutes driving south of the city center most of the statues and monuments once adorning the capital’s downtown have been collected and put on display.
Some from older times, celebrating the friendship of the Soviet and Hungarian peoples, are unbearably rhetoric.
Others are more artistically interesting, in the context of official artistic currents authorized by the Communist Party.
Lenin is of course a favorite subject.
By the entrance, Marx, Engels and Lenin are kind of ‘gate guardians’.
In front of the entrance, you can find a reproduction of the base of a statue of Stalin put in place at some point and surviving in pictures, and later dismantled after the death of Stalin. In the basement of the same construction, you can find a weird set of official busts of Lenin and Stalin, as well as a once popular image of Lenin as a child.
Close by, a small deposit of statues still waiting to be put on display can be found. Website here.
A less visited museum covering the military history of Hungary over the ages, but especially the 19th and 20th centuries, can be found right in the old district of Buda. The display is rather classical and didactic, but for more military-minded people, or those interested in the recent history of Hungary, it is for sure worth a stop when visiting uptown. Website here.
Finally, in the gorgeous building of the Houses of Parliament, you can find interesting info about the changes implemented to the architecture of the building during the communist period.
A unique artifact is the big red star once standing on top of the building, emulating the famous ruby stars placed on top of the towers of the Kremlin in Moscow. Website here.
This museum is located in the small town of Berekfurdo, in the eastern region of Hungary, just a few minutes from the former airbase of Kunmadaras, which used to be operated by the Soviets in the Cold War era (see this post for the nuclear storage bunker to be found there).
Unfortunately, I could not visit the museum – it is open only rarely, on a very limited timetable. However, in the courtyard you can easily spot a Mil-24 attack helicopter, as well as a MiG-21. Both have been vividly and freshly refurbished – ready for take-off!
Getting there and moving around
The website of the museum provides good information, and the folks there appear pretty reactive in case you are writing to get more info. It is really a pity they have a timetable so limited. The place can be reached at these coordinates: 47.38366735314769, 20.84155882970934. The museum is made of a small hangar and an outside apron. Considering the size, I guess visiting might take about 1 hour.
This is probably the ‘official’ aviation museum in Hungary, at least concerning the military field. It is clearly a well-financed endeavor, with a remarkable collection of aircraft from various ages, helicopters, engines and missiles. Most of the aircraft are preserved outside in an open-air exhibition, the oldest ones having found a place inside a modern and well-designed building. Everything on display has been recently refurbished, hence the collection looks fresh and well cared for.
Two aircraft will likely capture your attention in the main hall, namely a Spitfire in the colors of a Polish squadron fighting with the RAF, facing a Bf 109 in German Luftwaffe colors. The two opponents are displayed besides one another, allowing also for a configuration and size comparison.