Most people have their thing. Before your mind starts to wander, I don’t mean anything kinky. I mean an interest or hobby that makes others look at you in a slightly strange way. I find the notion of fishing completely unappealing for instance, but alas, each person is entitled to their oddities.
My little curio is that I am a huge fan of most things Soviet. Not the regime and the decades of crap my parents had to endure, but the stuff that filled my childhood home. When I mention this to my parents, they laugh at me and I’m pretty sure they are considering my involuntary admission to a mental institution.
While those may have been simpler times in a way, they were much more difficult in others. And as we know, time and nostalgia can put a pink(er) shade on one’s outlook on the past. Not that I remember this era, I was born at the end of it.
If you’re lucky, you will find people of the same odd persuasion, and if you look hard enough, you will be able to dedicate some time to your peculiar interest.
Retro and Design
Fortunately for me, Szentendre offers an absolute gem in this regard. It’s called Retro Design Center, and it is an entire house filled to the brim with crap left over from the socialist era.
Tickets are really cheap, even at full price. (I MUST point out that while I’m a child of the 80s, I was taken for a student by the receptionist during my last visit which was just a few days ago, so old stuff AND a confidence boost! Best.Weekend.Ever.).
As you walk into the first room, an ocean of children’s toys and games greets you. If you are of my age, you will immediately start pointing out items that you remember having as a kid. Despite the poor quality of the plastic toys and the creepily distorted faces of stuffed animals, you will feel a rush of nostalgia. Those were the days indeed.
It still baffles me how anyone thought it was acceptable to make teddy bears with faces that look like perverts who would not be allowed within 100m of a school. The fact that we played with these bears without a second thought is also beyond me. At least we know why I turned out so messed up. Ha! One mystery solved.
To the left, we find a room full of old-time gadgets, from cassette tape players, to coffee machines, cameras to TV sets. This I think is worth showing to your kids so they know how good they have it. Also, you should look at their faces when you point out what a TV used to look like.
As a person who runs on caffeine, I must note that those coffee makers burn the hell out of the coffee but damn, the ritual is the sweetest! (Ever wonder why so many Hungarians have diabetes? Gather round children, and observe as Mom and Dad sweeten their burnt-ass coffee with spoonfuls of sugar just to make it drinkable.)
Various shades of brown
If you proceed from the first room into another that is decorated as a living room, you will be greeted by an old TV set showing some of my childhood’s TV commercials (in utterly shit quality) as well as the reality of how our parents used to furnish their homes. Too many pieces of furniture and all of it in various shades of brown.
The color choice I’m sure was out of necessity (you worked with what you had, it’s not like you could pick your favorite color from the Ikea website). The hoarding thing I believe sprang from nobody having any money. So whatever you had, you kept and repaired until it literally turned into dust. Nobody threw anything away. Ever.
Summers at grandma’s
From here, you will proceed to the kitchen. It’s hard to describe, but this room feels like summers spent at grandma’s, her cooking and yelling at you when you got underfoot. You can also peek into the pantry. It’s sealed off though, much like it used to be by Nana’s stern looks.
Now comes the best part! The backyard. But, I strongly recommend that you save the best for last and go into the basement first. There, you will see a bunch of old motorcycles, tricycles, manuals for cars, tools and can also view some educational material that I guess aired decades ago, warning drivers to get proper insurance. It’s cheesy and charming in its own way.
Cars with souls
(drumroll) And now… as you reemerge from the basement into the backyard… lay thine eyes upon the finest selection of motorized vehicles the Soviet Union had to offer. Just look at them! Look at them and weep! At this point, I must confess that I love, nay, adore… nay, worship old cars, especially ones made in the Eastern Bloc. I’m not much of a gearhead – sadly – but these babies have souls! The museum allows you to sit inside a select few of the cars. Needless to say, I tried to get inside each and every one, and took my sweet time in those that I could get into.
If your family used to own a Trabant, which mine did, let me tell you, they still smell the same! Like old carpeting and long, sweaty drives down to Balaton (or for the richer folks, the much fancier Yugoslavia).
As I, to my great dismay, do not own a Soviet gas-guzzling monster, it is always worth the drive to Szentendre. For the cobble-stoned streets, the walks along the river bank, and of course, the blast from the past that is Retro Design Center.
Photo credits: Andrea Tamas, Fortepan