Budapest’s centrally located District 8 (aka Józsefváros) used to be known as a soft “ghetto” and slightly dangerous area of the city, especially two decades ago. It was known for having all the marginalized elements of society such as drug addicts, prostitutes, gypsies and low lives thrashing around in filth for as far as your eyes could see. The faded glamour of buildings that used to be astonishing at one time still blazes from the crumbling facades.
I am not, however, here to tell you all the regular bullshit about the beautiful part of the district that is so breathtaking, you’ll get a hard-on from looking at it. What I would prefer is to trigger some kind of awareness about one of the weirdest and the most multifaceted surroundings you can find in the region.
The 8th as gangster ghetto
Since we do not have a real ghetto in Budapest, the US imitator, crappy gangster “rappers” needed to create their own Brooklyn to be able to compete with their bros from overseas.
In the below video you can admire the legendary Dopeman (aka Pityinger László), the Hungarian 50 Cent (Dopeman also lispers) from district 8, of course:
Just like his inspiration, isn’t it?
The 8th as the district of high society of the past
Even though this district still has terrible marketing and a rough reputation, it still has a posh part called the Palace District, where you can find such architectural pearls as the gorgeous Metropolitan Ervin Szabó Library, the Hungarian National Museum and altogether 34 famous palaces where filthy rich tycoons used to grow their asses from exploiting the workers of the outskirts. Buildings in the more centrally located parts were usually equipped with a separate staircase exclusively for the servants’ usage. Nowadays those stairs function as secondary or fire escapes. Few people know that these miraculous buildings are located in the shithole district. The reason for that is the Grand Boulevard (aka Big Ringroad or Nagykörút) literally cuts the nice part off from the shitty one as an imaginary abyss.
The 8th as the embalmed past
There are many of those places where time has mysteriously stopped long ago and you feel like you are stuck in a retro snow globe with no way out. I would like to highlight only one weird spot from the 8th.
Probably one of the weirdest places in the district is the MÁV Colony project with its hermetically closed blocks. You cannot just walk inside from a street, you need to use one of the building’s main entrance to get inside.
Don’t they look like those old industrial brick buildings from England? Or like a real life steampunk building complex? The tower in the middle used to be the inhabitants’ own water tower with common hanging out halls underneath like nursery, laundry and some church room.
The 8th as the target of heavy investments
The sign “Józsefváros (the 8th) is being rebuilt” – the urban development program logo – decorates pretty much every single corner in the district, showing how serious the rehabilitation program is. Many renovated facades have huge signs bragging about the massive investments (from state and EU support money) the city hall has spent on the renovation and rehabilitation of the neighborhood. In the end the coexistence of ruins, grandiose palaces, blocks and freshly rebuilt houses creates a hell of an eclectic mixture.
As a result, the district’s buildings become fruitful investments, thus the marginalized inhabitants are slowly being pushed out from the city center towards more remote locations.
The 8th as a surreal movie
It is easily possible to spend hours, even days wandering around the neighboring streets, gazing at the tremendous amount of absurd (or so called WTF?!) moments waiting for you here. The 8th can always surprise you and fuck you over with used diapers at your entrance door, trashy people wearing pink jogging outfits, gangs of low lives playing cards on the top of a trashcan while smoking right next to a petrol station and so on.
The 8th as the hipster multicultural arts capital
The neighborhood is really diverse and you can meet inhabitants from all over the shittier part of the world. It resembles more and more Berlin’s most hyped borough, the artsy Kreuzberg.
Plenty of cool cafés, bars, socially and politically engaged clubs, LGBTQ foundations and clubs opened during the last few years offering a lot of creative programs on a large scale from charity through culture to self devastation. ..and of course, everyone knows that getting fucked up is the best and one of the cheapest options in town (unless you have a thing for travelling 1,5 hours to go to the deepest outskirts where you can booze with the real proletariat in liars’ bars that have no chairs.)
So if you decide to visit Budapest, please check out the real life with its imperfections instead of only hanging out in the cool city center bars where the only near-life experience is seeing shitfaced British youngsters yelling and urinating on the streets.