As Sam Cooke crooned, [I] don’t know much about history. I remember memorizing a bunch of names, dates, and locations, but I was missing context. Nothing came alive for me amidst those dry facts.
Traveling brings context. And over the years, I have gained a much better appreciation for history. Living in Hungary certainly drives homes the importance of history.
Don’t worry—this won’t be a history lesson. I would be one of the last people to lecture on this topic. But after traveling to a number of Hungarian cities, even I can tell you many of the big names in Hungarian history. It’s not hard to catch on when every city and town has Deák Ferenc, Batthány Lajos, and Kossuth Lajos streets or squares (and sometimes both). These are all major thoroughfares or central locations. Then there are, of course, the statues and other means of memorializing.
This doesn’t exist in the States. Not every city or town has an Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, or George Washington street (although he is the most widespread). We do have their massive memorials, along with many others, throughout Washington (!), DC.
Deák, Batthány, and Kossuth have similar memorials—their actual burial sites with massive mausoleums—in an obscure cemetery near the Budapest Keleti train station (not the best area of town). Kerepesi Cemetery is the final resting place of a mixed bag of historical icons, politicians, artists, celebrities, and every day people.
There’s even a section honoring fallen Soviet soldiers. The section is quite different than the rest of the cemetery—its layout is uniform, precise, and immaculate.
Kerepesi’s 56 acres feel almost park-like, with tree-lined avenues and abundant foliage. But very few people either know or think about the cemetery. The mausoleums proclaim the icons’ greatness, but who’s around to receive the message?
I think the streets and squares are a more fitting tribute. They are everywhere. There’s no need to visit just one place—people all over Hungary are constantly reminded of those who provided leadership throughout the country’s history. There’s context everywhere. History is alive in Hungary.