Madame Tussauds: ‘Bold Dream’ Brings Waxwork Magic to Budapest

In Budapest

The real Olympic champion Katinka Hosszú (left) poses alongside her waxwork likeness.

The unveiling of Madame Tussauds in Budapest, which had its official launch on May 25, is more than just establishing another tourist attraction, according to the organizers. The event signifies a “paradigm shift” in the cultural landscape of Hungary’s capital, they insist, helping it on its path toward becoming a cultural hub on par with other leading European cities.

Madame Tussauds is a globally renowned brand specializing in creating lifelike wax figures. The decision to choose Budapest as the site for its 24th and newest exhibit is a testament to the city’s rising international prominence, the company behind the attraction says. “Budapest has stepped into the modern era of edutainment, where education and entertainment blend to create immersive experiences.”

The press launch, just ahead of the official opening, was attended by Chris Scurrah of Merlin Attractions Operations Ltd. (the British entertainment company that operates about a dozen Tussauds museums across the globe, as well as attractions like Legoland and the London Eye), U.K. Ambassador to Hungary Paul Fox, Deputy Mayor Emese Balogh-Madár of the District V Municipality, Gergely Karácsony, Mayor of Budapest, and local franchise partner (and owner of the eponymous winery) József Kreinbacher.

“Madame Tussauds Budapest is unique because it’s the first fully custom-developed and newly built franchise with local partners,” Scurrah told the crowd. “We first met with our franchise partners in London more than five years ago, and from the first day, their enthusiasm to bring this brand to Budapest was evident. The process wasn’t easy due to unexpected external, global factors. Still, the end result is impressive, and the expectations have been met at a high standard,” he added.

“This was a bold dream [...], and finally, the dream has come true,” added Kreinbacher, owner of Dorottya Experience Ltd., the Hungarian organizer of the exhibition.

After the event, and in response to our questions, the Budapest Business Journal was told the project was funded by private investors and the Kisfaludy program of the Hungarian National Youth Foundation. The total project value exceeds HUF 12 billion.

According to the preliminary calculations, Madame Tussauds Budapest will recoup the state subsidy “in just under six-to-seven years through the tax revenues generated by the attraction. In addition to the turnover, the tax paid on the staff employed and the local business tax also generate a significant source of revenue. This subsidy is a return on investment for the State. In addition, the operation of Madame Tussauds generates significant tax revenue for the capital,” we were told. The attraction expects to draw 300,000 visitors per year.

Success Secret

Back at the launch, Budapest Mayor Karácsony wondered in his speech about the secret of the success of Tussauds exhibitions across ages and continents.

“I think it’s primarily because we all want to know the people whose faces we have often seen in the form of pictures or statues as if they were our neighbors. The fact that they are here, in a kind of human proximity to us, gives us the mood, the feeling that we have a common story with these celebrities. The exhibition summarizes well the cosmopolitan character of Budapest,” he said.

The family of the legendary Hungarian singer Jimmy Zámbó was photographed embracing the likeness of the late singer (one of 17 Hungarian celebrities created exclusively for Budapest in the Madame Tussauds’ workshop near London) and seemed genuinely happy with the results.

“It’s a huge honor just to see him here. The clothes he’s wearing, he wore at a previous performance, including the shirt from the BS [Budapest Sportcsarnok] concert,” said Jimmy’s son Krisztián.

“It’s a little strange feeling, but I see my younger brother’s eyes in his; there are many similarities. The jewelry is the same as what Dad used to wear. However, there are a few minor differences. Dad didn’t have such a square chin, and on his earring, he had the names of all three children in birth order. Apart from that, it’s incredibly beautiful. It’s good to see Dad like this; he’ll be here forever now,” he added.

Other Hungarian celebrities include historical rulers such as Hungary’s founding King Saint István I, King Matthias Corvinus and Empress Sissi, and 1848-49 Revolution and War of Independence protagonists István Széchenyi, Lajos Kossuth and the poet Sándor Petőfi. The world of Hungarian emigree entertainment sees Harry Houdini and Béla Lugosi; from the arts, there are composer Franz Liszt and 19th-century painter Mihály Munkácsy. The world of sport is also represented by soccer’s “Galloping Major” Ferenc Puskás, iconic boxing champion László Papp, and the “Iron Lady,” three-time Olympic champion swimmer Katinka Hosszú.

‘A-list’ Attractions

In total, there are 51 waxworks, including celebrities not unknown to Hungary, such as Pope Francis, the late Queen Elizabeth II, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Ronald Reagan, and a clutch of showbusiness “A-listers” such as Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, George Clooney, Tom Hanks, and Steven Spielberg. There are three exclusively made Budapest waxworks of world stars who were always particularly popular here: Bud Spencer, Chuck Norris, and “Columbo” star Peter Falk.

In collaboration with Zsolt Unger of Unger and Partners and visual designer László Erkel (better known as Kentaur), Madame Tussauds Budapest has designed an immersive environment that reflects the iconic local architecture, capturing the city’s essence.

“It still feels a bit strange to look at it, but I think it looks a lot like me. If we look at my foot, even the veins on it are the same as mine. They paid a lot of attention to every detail,” said the real-life Hosszú of her waxwork doppelganger.

“Luckily, I had a say in what the statue looks like, and I like the final result. I really wanted it not just to be a plain swimsuit on me, but something with a more feminine line and a bit more exciting than a regular dress. In the background, there’s a swimming pool, which I think can be associated with me,” she added.

The museum also promises a highly interactive experience, using cutting-edge technology to engage visitors in various ways. From touch screens and VR adventures to audio-visual content and light and sound games, it is set to offer a dynamic and immersive experience that transcends traditional museum visits.

Madame Tussauds Budapest can be found at Palazzo Dorottya, Dorottya u. 6, 1051. Standard tickets are HUF 13,990 at the door (HUF 12,490 online). According to the official website (madametussauds.hu/en), it is open every day from 10 a.m.-6 p.m., with the last admission at 5 p.m. The cost of the tickets has been questioned by some, with napi.hu writing “The price of admission is not to the liking of many, with commentators on social media comparing the prices with similar exhibitions abroad, saying that it is more expensive in Hungary.” According to a search of Madame Tussauds websites around Europe, an online saver ticket costs from EUR 23 (HUF 8,500) in Amsterdam, in Berlin it is EUR 25 (HUF 9,250), in London GBP 36 (HUF 15,400) and it is just CZK 290 (HUF 4,525) in Prague.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of June 2, 2023.

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