Nostalgia, Rubik’s Cube, woolly pigs: 5 things to know about Hungary

Hungary's premier natural attraction is the opaline Lake Balaton, central Europe's largest, whose shallow waters guarantee warm swimming for the holidaymakers who flock to its shores every summer
AFP

Budapest (AFP) – Hungary is heading to the polls on Sunday but aside from its politics — and its goulash, of course — many may not know that the country is home to the man who discovered Vitamin C and a type of pig that looks like a sheep.

Here are five things to know about the central European country.

– The good old days –

Nostalgia is everywhere in Hungary, whether it be harking back to the glorious exploits of the Magical Magyars football team under captain Ferenc Puskas, to the days of Greater Hungary, when the country was three times its current size, or even to the era of communist dictator Janos Kadar.

The rich past that fills Hungarians with pride sometimes also colours political life.

Hungarian leaders, in particular Prime Minister Viktor Orban, like to paint themselves as the “defenders of Europe”, an allusion to interminable clashes with Ottoman forces such as the siege of Nandorfehervar (modern-day Belgrade) in 1456. Janos Hunyadi’s victory in that battle still resonates in Hungary today.

Then there is Attila the Hun. Although the link between Huns and Hungarians is still debated, the conqueror of the steppes still inspires countless myths, particularly in nationalist circles.

– Lake Balaton and the ‘sheep-pig’-

Hungary’s premier natural attraction is the opaline Lake Balaton, central Europe’s largest at 600 square kilometres (230 square miles), whose shallow waters guarantee warm swimming for the holidaymakers who flock to its shores every summer.

In the past they included many German families split by the East-West divide, as Hungary was relatively easy for nationals of both sides to visit.

The hidden treasure among Hungary’s fauna meanwhile is undoubtedly the mangalica, a breed of pig covered in thick sheep-like wool. Its delicious marbled meat, high in fat content, is prized by connoisseurs around the world.

– Budapest, party capital –

Far from the sweeping plains that the mangalica call home, the Hungarian capital has in recent years become one of Europe’s hotspots for rowdy tourists on a budget, lured by dozens of low-cost flights, pints of beer for 1.50 euros ($1.80) and flats to let for 30 euros a night. 

The city’s historic Jewish quarter is now home to nearly 800 bars, nightclubs and restaurants packed into less than two square kilometres. But just as in Barcelona, Berlin and Amsterdam, residents are growing increasingly fed up of living amongst it all.

– Tongue twister –

Spot the odd one out: aeroport, airport, aeropuerto, repuloter… Similarly, fussball, futbol and futebol are all easy enough to guess in other countries, but labdarugas for the beautiful game? Hungarian is undoubtedly one of Europe’s toughest languages for outsiders to learn, as it is totally unrelated to any of its neighbours, has a 42-letter alphabet as well as 35 verb endings and a bewildering array of noun cases. One word it has adopted though, usefully enough, is “Hello!”

– Hungarian ingenuity –

The modern world has a lot to thank the Hungarians for, whether it’s Laszlo Biro, who gave his name to the ubiquitous ballpoint pen; Janos Irinyi, who invented the non-explosive match; or Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, credited with discovering Vitamin C. And the man who oversaw the creation of the Microsoft Word and Excel computer programmes is none other than Charles Simonyi, born Karoly Simonyi in Budapest in 1948.

But the Hungarian invention that’s taken up most of the world’s time is probably Erno Rubik’s eponymous cube, millions of which have been sold across the world and which celebrated its 40th birthday in 2014.

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