I’ve recently been in Budapest. The city was stinking hot and full of abandoned construction projects, and the Danube was over its banks, flooding the tramway tunnels beneath the approaches of the Chain Bridge, closing the roads on the riverside.
There were a remarkable number of people sleeping in the streets, although at 35 degrees’ heat, you might have thought they were doing it by choice. Until the incredible assortment of biting insects sailing down the river got to you; I’m still scratching. There weren’t many more than in London or Leeds 15 years ago; in the integrated core of the Euro-Atlantic community, we arrange these things more efficiently. Thatcher never attained a one-year decline of 8% of GDP, which implies that the UK achieved a much greater return of misery per unit of economic recession.
On Erzsebet tel., there’s an abandoned tube station, brand new, empty. The huge stairwell into the ticket hall has been unofficially taken over and used as a nightclub; it’s invisible from street level. I suppose it’s the Big Society, but this doesn’t work as well for cardiac surgery as it does for hipsterism.
All over there are monuments to the era of EU enlargement and forex loans; huge, crystalline investment ruins in the city centre, shockingly cheap mall developments in the airport suburbs. I stay in the Kempinski, a postmodernist battleship of Zizek’s Happy 90s decorated to please a German privatisation consultant. It’s the architecture of plunk!, not relieved by the cod-jugendstil detailing on the roofline God knows how far above the street, and it has a giant circular glass atrium that renders everything under it intolerably hot.
It’s just possible to make out the outlines of the hopeful era of revolution and accession; you can just about see it, if you screw your eyes up. Back then, the privatisations and shutdowns were justified with the better times to come. And now? The dead malls are often next door to the equivalent buildings of the Communist attempt at a consumer society. There are a lot of people visibly working the streets.