For most people at Budapest’s annual Sziget Festival, this wild scene of nonstop partying and concerts presents a hedonistic escape from everyday concerns like work – yet thousands of folks on the “Island of Freedom” must toil for long hours every day of the weeklong celebration to create the unique atmosphere that draws revelers from around the globe. Here we meet a handful of the workers that keep the beer flowing, the visuals fascinating, and the good times rolling on and on.
Labor of Love: work is a pleasure at the Sziget Festival
Photo : László Balkányi/We Love Budapest
Numerous clothing designers set up stands at the Sziget Festival to sell their colorful wares, but few of them offer goods with such a close connection to Budapest culture as the Budafckn pop-up shop, appearing here for the second year in 2014. This line of urban gear by BP Clothing is emblazoned with subtle scenery of Hungary’s capital, avoiding touristy imagery in favor of genuine aesthetic innovation. “We’re still trying to do something really special, and we’re getting really good feedback from the people here,” says manager László “Lajaaa” Papp, adding that the work of running this booth is tiring but fun. “I’ve been working 15 hours every day, but good feedback is like an energy drink!”
Crowds continually flow along the major pathways that connect Sziget’s variegated venues, yet the enticing sight of Viktória Viksy and her scantily clad colleagues often stopped foot traffic in its tracks. Viki was handing out free temporary tattoos to spread awareness about the B.my.Lake Festival by Lake Balaton that began on the day when Sziget ended, and despite working in the hot sun for hours on end, she and her cohorts enjoyed the task immensely. “We like it because we can meet many people from many nations, and we can enjoy the music and the festival life,” she says, adding that she’ll tirelessly continue to work at B.my.Lake after Sziget concludes. “We’re gonna make the people feel good!”
In the Sziget Art Zone, an intriguing new exhibit of paintings by Szabolcs Králl portrayed factory ruins in the Budapest suburbs, depicting Hungary’s shift from communist-era industrialism to a modern service economy. “Sometimes people who live in the inner city think it’s a romantic thing,” he says about the derelict manufactories. “They don’t know the reality of these places.” While Szabolcs is happy to share his works with the partying crowds, displaying his canvases amid the festival masses presents challenges that he would never encounter in a gallery. “There are a lot of drunk people here, and we’re really close to the Colosseum dance area, so we’re afraid they may fall into the paintings.”
Helping promote a safe environment at Sziget by teaching first-aid techniques and CPR, the National Ambulance Service (“Országos Mentőszolgálat” in Hungarian) presented a booth offering life-saving instructions by professional EMT Zoltán Major, with the assistance of a high-tech dummy named Joszi. “A lot of people want to learn CPR,” Zoltán says. “It’s hard work, but I like it – I like to teach people.” In past years, some students have gotten a little carried away with the lessons, getting frisky with Joszi or trying to take him along to the next concert, but this year Zoltán found that everyone was more respectful toward this silent teacher’s aid. “Some people are afraid of breaking his ribs.”
Among the many esteemed institutions represented at Sziget’s Museum Quarter, one of the most popular organizations this year was the Budapest Street of Photography, operating a tent shared between the Mai Manó Hungarian House of Photography and the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center. Here curator Gabriella Csizek helped festivalgoers dress up in vintage costumes for silly snapshots, and liked the project very much. “It’s interesting – normally I can’t see the photographers when they work,” she says. However, while the Museum Quarter is a chilled-out area of Sziget, working within it is not easy. “Before the concerts, a lot of people are walking here to see everything – it can be busy.”
An iconic destination of this year’s Sziget Festival was the huge square-shaped exhibition space and party place designed from shipping containers to resemble a Rubik’s Cube, and Peter Radnai from AMC Networks oversaw the two-story display area, including a photo series highlighting Hungarian inventions and an area for young Rubik’s Cube champions to teach the public how to solve the world’s most popular tactile puzzle. “In my childhood I could do it, but not anymore” Peter says, “but now I am taking a course from one of the guys.” Peter is proud to honor Ernő Rubik with this venue, and hopes that Rubik Island can serve as a prototype for a permanent building that will serve as a center for Hungarian creativity.
The scene that surrounds Sziget’s temporary taverns can become chaotic when dozens of revelers all want alcohol at once, making the job of serving drinks difficult – yet Dorottya Hámory had a great time offering potent potables to the thirsty. As a veteran of several food festivals, this is the first time Dorottya worked at Sziget, but it probably won’t be the last. “This is the best way to make money, and everyone likes you because you give them drinks… and of course, you don’t have to pay for a ticket,” she says from behind the counter at the Deep Water Bar. “So many Hungarian people want to work here – I think we should do it with pleasure to show that all the people are welcome here.”