We were waiting for the opening of the first McDonald’s in Budapest like Christmas Day. In the legendary movie, Time Stands Still, the main characters claim they feel a little high after drinking Coca Cola, not because of the taste, but because of the freedom it represented. I know exactly what they meant. As for opening McDonald’s – or McDönci as for its Hungarian nickname – Budapest was the first in Central and Eastern Europe. The golden arches were raised here even before the hammer and sickle came down.
On April 29th, 1988, at the age of 13 and after waiting in what seemed like the longest line ever, we got to taste a McDonald’s hamburger with “real” Coke. It was – just like the first Adidas store –the symbol of the West and freedom. It was an early, very personal experience with the change of regime. Just have a look at the amazing turnover in the first day. In one, 14-hour day, 10 thousand served. In one hour, 714, and in a single minute, more than ten Hungarians experienced their first McDonalds food. That first franchise, the Bábolna-McDonald’s Fast Food Restaurant Inc., was founded with 120 million forints, and paid 50 percent of the shares to each partner. The Americans came up with a million dollars and kitchen equipment, and the Hungarian partner provided the choice, downtown location. The most expensive item on the menu was the Big Mac at 43 forints. The double cheeseburger went for 42.
Sure, we had our version of the hamburger before, the Hungarian way, with sauerkraut mixed salad, mustard and ketchup, and of course a big leaf of lettuce. You could buy a burger for 22 forints, too, and we had a franchise chain called City Grill, which was not bad at all. But it wasn’t serving freedom on the side and couldn’t stand the competition for long. McDonald’s won the burger market and the Marxist thesis we were taught at school – “the big fish eats the small fish” –came true right before our eyes. And then, Burger King arrived in the early 90s with great ads of a windsurfer and the slogan saying, “This is big, but not a Whopper.” We had no clue what a whopper was.
By today we have the second most beautiful Mcdonald’s of the world, and the only one, which is in a defended monument, Nyugati Railway Station.