Ready. Set. Nuclear KA-BOOM!
This was the scenario the Hungarians were preparing for during the Cold War. A very dark and powerful side of the history of Budapest is hidden in the rocks and caves under the Buda hill. Located a mere 5 minute walk from the Matthias Church, a place that is crawling with tourists 24/7, is a relatively new and still unknown museum appropriately called ‘The Hospital in the Rock’. Since the museum’s no-photo policy is very strict, I am really sad to inform you that there won’t be any photos on this blog post, but I urge you to go through my confessions of a travelholic, because this was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. However, there are some links to websites with photos at the end of the post.
We were pretty skeptical about going into a museum that wasn’t even located on our outdated map, especially when we saw the empty entrance and the price. 3,600 forints or about 12 euros for a probable disaster seemed like a waste of money, but since we had our student cards and the tour guide who spoke fluent English (which, in Hungary, was like seeing a leprechaun wearing a pink suit) persuaded us we went in. One of the best decisions ever!
Entering into a mix of modern history, medicine, nuclear war and Nazis this seemed like a low-budget horror movie. Did I mention that everything is happening underground in caves? Well it is. But since the beginning the tour was exciting and absorbing.
The first part of the tour was about the Red Cross hospital that was hidden inside the caves during the Second World War. The machinery from the 40s was original and the rooms were in their original shape along with life-sized guards, doctors and patients made of wax. This was interesting even for me, and the only medical term I know, and I want to know, is ‘aspirin’. As the group walked through narrow corridors, side room revealed well reconstructed scenes from the waiting rooms, operating rooms and intensive care. The guide explained us how people got there and how crowded the hospital was during the war because it was understaffed. The conditions were unimaginable.
Just as you get the feeling that the tour is becoming monotonous with all the medicine equipment and stories from the WWII everything changes. The room that was used for taking care of more than 100 patients at a time was converted into a helicopter parking. I didn’t see that one coming… A giant military helicopter is assembled here in honor to Hungarian special forces. And don’t forget that we were still in the underground caves. My mind was blown.
After a shocking tour around the chopper, during which we were totally speechless (I mean a helicopter in a cave? No comment needed) we continued going after our guide into the second important historical period of the ‘Hospital in the Rock’ – The Cold War.
During the Cold War there was a real threat that Budapest was going to be nuked. So what would be the perfect place for a bunker that could survive a nuclear attack on the city, you might ask? Ah yes, our top secret cave/hospital hybrid located in the center of a city populated with 1.7 million people. I think that would be the most obvious answer. So, part II of our tour explained how in the 60s the doctors and nurses from the local hospital had monthly preparation drills in case an atom bomb was dropped on Budapest (that is a serious extra-curricular activity). The guide explained what measures were taken for decontamination and treating the patients. This was very interesting with all the retro signs and instructions hanging from the walls.
After the Cold War the hospital was still kept a secret by the government. What were they expecting next? Aliens? There was actually a family that lived here until 2002., a mechanical engineer, who took care of all the facilities around the caves, and a nurse, who kept the hospital beds and equipment in shape. The museum was opened to the public in 2008.
I strongly recommend this sight to anyone visiting Budapest because it is just awesome, there is no better word for it. In case you can’t find the entrance here is a map of the area:
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