Where time stops and full immersion into culture starts: Massolit book café in Budapest.
Many of us travel to tick off bucket lists and aim not to miss out on any major tourist spot. However, a good few holidaymakers are more interested in the human dimension aiming to learn more about themselves and the world via the medium of books as well as personal encounters. Roaming the streets of the Jewish quarter where people in the winter of 1944/45 lived (and died) on 900 calories a day in the ghetto, now you can find a number of galleries and eateries in a variety of styles. From ruined buildings to postmodern design shops, you’re unlikely to find my favourite one in Nagy Diófa utca (Big Walnut Tree street), so I thought I’d take you on a short journey and introduce it to you.
Entering the plain-looking block of flats we are greeted by the friendly bilingual staff and can make a choice to sit down in one of the comfy armchairs or plunge into browsing the bookshelves and boxes for treasures for the intellect, be it classical or modern literature. The walls call for detailed discovery.
From spring to autumn a secret garden awaits you with simple wooden benches, a fig tree and a small fishpond a couple of steps away. An island of serenity in the buzz of the city, it’s unbeatable for private language lessons or a long-desired talk with friends. Even strangers strike up conversations off the cuff, inspired by the friendly atmosphere and the genius loci (the local spirit, as the Romans had put it).
’Take it easy, no rush’ – this advice definitely applies to those wanting to make the most of their time here.
It indeed feels as if time has ground to a halt – no one will urge you to buy another drink if you happen to get absorbed in your book. Cakes and quiches are made with care and the quality coffee is also worth waiting for. Even concerts and rehearsed readings take place on a regular basis in term time.
Nevertheless, if you want to delve deeper into the Hungarian psyche, an abundance of translations of Hungarian literature awaits you ranging from One Minute Stories (by István Örkény) to novels overarching generations (like the Book of Fathers by Miklós Vámos). You may as well move in!
If you feel like giving a go to writing poetry or pursue any form of art and then wish to share it with the wide world, you could utilise this space – there’s a tiny room adjoining the café ideal for small exhibitions and lectures/discussions.
And if you feel like surprising a loved one with a gift, apart from books you’ll also find old postcards at the counter. They depict Budapest and its inhabitants, capturing moments of significance at a personal/cultural level.
All in all, I always leave this place with refreshed notions and enhanced creativity, recognising that travellers, locals and expats can all coexist peacefully in the Babel of the modern world – come and share this experience!