Line 4 was designed not to measure up to Budapest’s past glories but to break with them. “We didn’t want to be faithful to the historic architecture of Budapest,” explained Zoltan Ero, whose firm, Palatium,
supervised the new subway’s overall look. We were descending beneath a geodesic glass canopy into the Bikas Park station, which, though finished, retains a theoretical quality, like being inside a blueprint. “It wasn’t about heritage. It was about making a new world?’ Many of the city’s young entrepreneurs share Ero’s attitude. One is Adam Somlai-Fischer, who studied art in Sweden and exhibited internationally before returning in 2008 to co-found the tech start-up Prezi. Today, the company, which makes cloud-based presentation software used in corporate boardrooms and TED Talks, has 65 million users, a satellite office in San Francisco, and over US $70 million in venture-capital funding. “Everything is still forming here,” Somlai-Fischer said. “So there’s a real opportunity to do things on the cutting edge.”
Prezi employs staffers from 26 countries at its office in Merkur Palace, an ornate, century-old municipal building where the city’s telephone switchboard operators once worked. Recruiting them to Budapest is easy, according to Somlai-Fischer. “People love moving here,” he said. “And it’s not only because they can actually afford to go to a Michelin-starred restaurant. There’s a humble hospitality that you see in Budapest.
People don’t brag, but they’re happy about the things that are good about this city, and are excited to share them with you?’ Internet companies aren’t the only ones breaking through here. Nanushka, a fashion label begun by the elfin, London-trained designer Szandra Sandor, opened as a tiny pop-up shop in the Fifth District in 2011. Sandor hired architecture students to build her shop on a budget of less than $3,000. They hoisted canvas sheets, creating a kind of womblike tent, and made a floor out of slices of firewood. She couldn’t make rent, so the landlord just took a percentage of whatever she sold.