My Budapest: Attila, Budapest Flow
The Budapest street art scene is booming, with quirky creations bringing life to the bare brick walls of the city’s streets. So we went on a tour with Attila of Budapest flow, to uncover the hidden street art of Budapest that is ordinarily overlooked. Not only this, but we also wanted to find out more about his story, and how the streets of Budapest became both his profession and obsession.
I found Attila waiting for me at My Little Melbourne coffee shop in the Madach Square and before I could even say the words low fat espresso macchiato, I was whisked out through the door to go pound the pavement. For who needs caffeine when you have Attila?
Attila is originally from Szombathely, a small city in the north-west of Hungary by the Austrian border. Despite being the 10th largest city in the country he told us that, “growing up there was like being in a countryside village. And wow, coming to Budapest was a whole different world. When I first came I lived in the 7th District at the turn of the millennium as a University student I instantly fell in love because it was crazy, dodgy and cheap.”
21 years later he is just as passionate about Budapest as he has ever been. Though the streets of District VII have transformed quite a bit, Attila tells me that he is amazed at how cosmopolitan Budapest has become over the past two decades.
He pauses for a moment to bring out his iPad for the first time – a tool that will be used repeatedly throughout our street art stroll – and slides his right index finger determinedly across the screen. After 20 second his eyes light up and he shows me the fruits of his labour. It’s the famous Gozsdu udvar – but instead of bright lights, tourist-packed restaurants and Karaoke bars, the corridor looks like a battle-scarred ghost town. Snow drifts fill its pockmarked sidewalk and you get the feeling of abandonment and neglect just from looking at it.
“It’s been an incredible evolution, you should have seen what these streets looked like when I first arrived…”
Attila’s relationship with the evolution of the streets in Budapest is part of his broader obsession with culture and creativity. He told us about his time as a student and how it spurred his passion for the arts. “I studied at the Pázmány university and my subjects were Hungarian Literature, Art History and Film Aesthetics and I was pretty much just always interested in anything artistic and creative,” he chuckled before adding, “I am not very artistic myself, but I love appreciating art and showing it to others.”
These earlier interests and passions combined with Attila’s natural charisma and social nature, led him to start organizing film clubs in the Fogas Ház ruin bar. Attila points out that back then the ruin pubs were a little bit different:
“I go to the ruin pubs less often than I used to. They used to be these amazing and authentic places for culture, but now they have become packed with tourists and stag parties, and seem to have lost their original charm. But they are still fascinating from a cultural and historical perspective.”
When Attila visits the ruin pubs on his Budapest Flow tours it is to see them from a cultural perspective in the daylight. Rather than indulging in the hedonistic debauchery that is so commonplace nowadays.
This intense and authentic cultural perspective is something that has separated Attila and Budapest Flow apart from other tour operators in what has become an increasingly saturated Hungarian market.
The ruin pub tours were how Budapest Flow found its feet and gained popularity four years ago, but the true success occurred when street art was added to his tour.
“The walls come to life in Budapest and it is probably the part of the city that I love the most. All of the cultural references that these artists add in – whether it’s Miss KK, 0036Mark, Rapa and the others – is really astonishing.”
I ask Attila is he is comfortable being known as ‘the’ Budapest Street Art guy. He laughs and answers happily:
“Of course, I love that. The tourists that come with me are always so interested in the art of the city, and it is something that we sometimes don’t always appreciate. Murals are constantly being knocked down and replaced with apartments. To be honest, street art in Budapest is great – but I can’t say that it is a great street art city.”
Attila is a lexicon of information about street art in Hungary. It is his lens of cultural appreciation.
As we walk around the streets of Erzsébetváros I walk past the large murals that many have become captivated with. But Attila breezes past these large and unmissable pieces to instead take me on an adventure through Budapest’s smaller works of art instead:
He tells us, “Yeah – I think that’s probably one of the reasons we’ve had so much success. Of course, we show the tourists the big murals – I love them! But the smaller pieces are where you really find the great stuff. Film references, cultural references, political messages!”
But Budapest Flow is far from being just a street art company. Attila lived in Jószefvaros for years and Budapest Flow’s underground cultural vibes tour takes you around the offbeat spots, in what he claims is Budapest’s most underrated district.
“Unfortunately we haven’t gotten as many people to come on that tour yet. But I really feel like it is something that everybody should see. District VIII has a bad reputation – it is filled with so much diversity, from the palace district to the really authentic streets of Pest. I love that neighbourhood there is so much life there.”
I can tell from our conversation that Attila is just as passionate about the bars and coffee shops of Budapest as he is about street art, so I ask him to give us some of his favourite spots:
“There are so many places in Budapest it’s like you are spoiled for choice. A new one is opening up all the time. My favourite bar in district 7 is probably Fekete Kutya. There’s such a nice vibe there – but I also love some of the summers only bars like Fellini out in Romai and Kértem in the Varosliget.”
“As far as coffee houses go I really am a big fan of Massolit Books on the Nagy Diofa utca. It is a great place run by a friendly Hungarian woman named Judit where you can buy tons of unusual books.”
“Favourite restaurant is more difficult but I’d say Kőleves is a true success story with a great artistic vibe. The food there is really good as well. But I’m also always trying the smaller spots too.”
Our ask Attila what is his favourite part about being a tour guide in Budapest. He says “Definitely all the interesting people that you meet. Like I said before Budapest has become such a cosmopolitan place – more and more every year. Of course, there are bad parts of this growth, but the transformation is simply incredible.”
My time with Attila is almost over and in one day I have learned more about Hungarian culture than I ever thought possible. His connection to the walls of the city is unparalleled. From our short time together is easy to see why in four quick years Budapest Flow has become one of Budapest’s biggest success stories as far as tour operators go.
He says, “I’m really lucky, to be honest. I started these tours at the right time four years ago. Not the market has become so saturated. But to tell you the truth my biggest regret is that I didn’t start the tours four years earlier!”
If you want to learn more about street art that is shown in this article, check out our Hidden District VII Street Art Guide. Or if you fancy getting the full street art experience with to Attila, check out Budapest Flow for some more information. Also if you find yourself in Budapest searching for unique places to see, be sure to download the Like Locals App. Available for free on both iOS and Android devices.