Every metropolis has its share of famous people who live on in statue form. For the most part, it’s the same old, same old: a stern bust stares forward through the march of time, a statesman stands with one hand in his pocket, a strong leader surveys the surroundings from horseback. But some statues break the mould, and Budapest has many that turn our attention to the weird and the wonderful.
Located on Fő tér in Óbuda, the statue of this famous Hungarian writer stands – or rather sits – outside the house where he was born. It was created in 2013, on the 80th anniversary of his death, by artist Péter Szanyi. In fact, it’s not Krúdy himself, but his alter ego, Szindbád, who we see here. (And if you want to get really technical, the model for the statue is actor Zoltán Latinovits, who played the titular character in its film adaptation.) The hero sits at a set table, just waiting for someone to settle down next to him and discuss the finer things in life, the love of a woman or the simple pleasures of eating and drinking.
On Nagymező utca stands a statue honouring one of Hungary’s most famous comedians, Géza Hofi. The statue was created in 2004 along this Broadway of Budapest. It is certainly an eye-catching monument: in a sort of reverse-Hamlet, it’s the figure of death holding Hofi’s head, rather than the human clutching the skull.
And why did Géza Hofi become the symbol of theatre here? TV director Ádám Horváth explained it at the inauguration of the statue:
This man was theatre. He was not a continuation of any kind of tradition, and sadly he will never have any successor. The definition is no exaggeration: he was truly a great dramatic actor. Every really great actor is also a clown, a comic and a tragic hero at the same time. He was able to transform the most tragic events and the most harmful outcomes of human mischief into humour, by laughing, and by making others laugh, with his special talent.
Ferenc Puskás, nicknamed Puskás Öcsi as this statue from 2013 is entitled, can be found on the main pedestrianised promenade in Óbuda. This group of figures captures the moment when Hungary's greatest ever footballer prepares to amaze the onlooking children gathered around. This art installation was created from the original design by Gyula Pauer, who died while it was being made, and then completed by another artist, Dávid Tóth. Located right in the middle of the walkway, the work highlights how friendly and direct this famous personality was – not on a pedestal, but with his feet on the ground. Walkable, touchable, right at home with the people.
The official title of the statue depicting Attila József is At the Danube, because the sculptor was inspired by the poet’s classic line from 1936: “I was sitting on the bottom stone of the loading dock, watching the melon rind float away”. The sculpture even captures the mood of the piece. If you picture it hard enough, you can even see the melon rind on the water in front of the writer.
The sculpture was made in 1980 by László Marton, with the expert assistance of architect György Vadász, and was located at one of the busiest spots in Kossuth tér. In 2013 the statue underwent reconstruction, and was partially moved to a new location. Although still on Kossuth tér, it was moved a little farther away – appropriately, towards the shore of the Danube.
Some residents will tell you that the statue of Miklós Radnóti, located in front of the theatre which also bears his name, is one of the saddest in the city. The poet was chased from Serbia, through Mohács and all the way to Abda, where he was shot dead, and the statue captures him in the midst of his flight, tired to the point of exhaustion, and resting for a moment against a fence. In fact, this sculpture is a copy of the original, made in 1970, which resides in Mohács. The Budapest version was created in 2009, on the centenary of Radnóti’s birth.
Imre Nagy was the Communist politician who served as prime minister, the figurehead of the 1956 Uprising before being executed in 1958. This statue of him, created by Tamás Varga, was originally erected in 1996 at Vértanúk tér, where it stood for 22 years, looking towards Parliament. In 2018, it was moved to Jászai Mari tér, where he stands looking on with diligent eyes.
Quite an abstract work of art, this sculpture has been standing in District XI, where Irinyi József utca meets the street named after Karinthy himself, since 1988. It is an iconic work, which refers to one of the writer’s most famous pieces, The Journey Around My Skull. The statue depicts two Karinthys at the same time: the human-sized figure with his hands in his pockets, and his own bust hovering above his head. The piece perfectly reflects Karinthy’s complex personality and his art, which was witty and thought-provoking.
As in the case of the Krúdy-Szindbád statue in Óbuda (see above), the Hilda Gobbi statue in Bajor Gizi Park near the National Theatre invites the viewer to settle down next to it. This work from 2002 depicts the award-winning Hungarian actress just about to light a cigarette (she was a notorious chain smoker). On either side of this pioneering woman is an empty chair, just waiting for someone to sit down and listen to the great artist tell stories of bygone stage legends.
In 2006, the noted Hungarian writer Ervin Lázár died, and his statue was built a decade later in Ferencváros Park. The storyteller sits in the middle of a large, round stone, with a book open in his lap, ready to tell any who sit next to him what he is reading. The sculpture is the work of Attila Pintér, made in collaboration with András Kontur.