The Petőfi Literary Museum – lovingly called PIM – in Budapest is a cool place in both senses of the word. Cool because it’s a good place to spend your time if you are eager to see something interactive and interesting, and also cool temperature-wise if you would like to escape the heat on a sweltering summer day.
What’s in a name?
The museum is named after Sándor Petőfi, Hungary’s iconic poet. He lived a brief but eventful life in a very important part of Hungarian history and became the symbol of the Reform Age and the Freedom War of 1848-49. A permanent Petőfi exhibition commemorates the poet with the title: “Who Am I? I Will Not Say…” – Petőfi’s Choices. The exhibition shows not only the good side of Petőfi but gives an insight into his doubts and failures as well, revealing a complex personality, a talented but not very balanced man behind the stereotypical picture of a national icon. The exhibition is an interactive place. It’s not only for the eyes. Visitors can get involved in the poet’s life events on several levels. They can use their hands and mind to discover an extraordinary person from a very different point of view compared to the traditional picture taught in textbooks in schools.
Petőfi Literary Museum is located in a beautiful neo-Classical building called Károlyi Palace in the centre of Budapest. It’s a two-storey building, with a balcony with iron railing and a courtyard with huge and shady trees. With Károlyi Garden behind the building, the complex represents a real oasis for people longing for culture. From the three-aisle, carriage entrance with wooden-block flooring, you can reach the imposing, three-part stairway with red marble steps. This connects with the Ceremonial Hall and the Ancestors’ Gallery, from where you can proceed to a series of halls with mirrors and original, white marble fireplaces, the neo-Renaissance former Károlyi family chapel with wood panelling, and the library with its mahogany-lined galleries, intimate harmony, and fine old-book smell.
Though quite a number of Károlyis can be linked to the building the best known of them is probably Mihály Károlyi and his wife Katinka Andrássy.
’More than Petőfi, more than literature, more than a museum’
The Petőfi Literary Museum is a public collection that explores and collects the Hungarian literary heritage in the widest possible way. It also presents classical and contemporary Hungarian literature to different audiences in an appealing manner making literature fun for every age group. The museum tries to attract people with various events. It’s usually a lively place and there’s a lot to attend. The motto of the museum and the enthusiastic people working there is an István Örkény quote: ‘The task of a museum is to make the act of asking questions an ingenuous and invincible habit of ours.’ They live up to the task very well. They believe that discovering, investigating, the ability to notice miracles, the joy of understanding correlations, and experiencing the variety of different opinions and ways of thinking are all really important factors of people’s lives. For the museum staff, the museum is a place of constant experimenting and learning. A complex medium which gives new and new perspectives to read texts, artist biographies, personalities, museum and literature in a rather novel way.
To reach these goals they provide museum education for both young and old. Lectures and guided tours through the exhibitions make the interactive exhibitions an even livelier experience. City walks connected to literary figures are organised regularly usually free of charge. The walks help the participants to become familiar with a period, a writer or poet and they demonstrate that literature is not only a dull school subject but can be enjoyable and is part of our everyday life.
What’s going on?
The museum is always an exciting place to visit but June is an especially good time for that. PIM houses the Margó Literary Festival which is a four-day event from 12-16 June. Margó Festival is one of the most significant literary forums in Hungary today. It brings together authors, writers, poets, and a broad variety of audiences offering public readings, panel discussions, debate sessions, lectures, book launches and activities for children. You can meet contemporary Hungarian authors and can also buy their books as festival events run parallel with a book fair. To make the festival even more enjoyable the literary events are supplemented by concerts and theatre shows. The PIM courtyard is an ideal venue for the event with its big green trees and stage. There are so many events going on during the four days that it’s really difficult to choose from them. It’s a real literature fest. Don’t miss it!
by Ágnes Salánki and István Dezsényi