On July 27, 1986, British rock band Queen performed at Budapest’s Népstadion in front of a crowd of nearly 80,000 spectators – the largest western rock concert staged behind the Iron Curtain.
After two nights in Vienna, British rock band Queen, fronted by their charismatic singer Freddie Mercury, headed across the Iron Curtain to Budapest. While concerts in Czechoslovakia and the USSR were reportedly discussed at one point, the concert in Hungary ended up being the only eastern stop on the band’s 1986 The Magic Tour, which was the last to feature Freddie Mercury.
The concert took place at Budapest’s Népstadion, the “people’s stadium” inaugurated in 1953, where an estimated 80,000 fans gathered to hear Queen perform on the evening of July 27, 1986. Despite the relatively high price of tickets, which ranged from 160 to 300 forints depending on the location, attendance was historically high.
With three years to go before the fall of the Berlin Wall, the concert was in fact the largest by a western band behind the Iron Curtain at the time and is still the largest rock show ever to be staged at the Népstadion to this day.
While some Western rock bands had already been able to perform behind the Iron Curtain – such as Iron Maiden in Bulgaria, Poland and Hungary in August 1984 – Queen’s concert was undoubtedly the most important event of its kind ever organized in the Eastern Bloc.
During the acoustic set, Freddie and guitarist Brian May performed the traditional Hungarian folk song “Tavaszi szél vizet áraszt.” Still remembered today, this touching tribute has made the singer and the band particularly popular in Hungary.
In a brief interview to the Hungarian press, when asked if this was the beginning of the band’s friendship with Hungary, Freddie Mercury replied, “If I’m still alive, I’ll come back.”
The concert held such significance to the Hungarian authorities that an unprecedented collaboration of Hungary’s top film cameraman and technicians were formed to record it. Hungarian state-owned company MaFilm even requisitioned all seventeen 35mm cameras available in the country to film the now historic concert.
Aside from depicting Queen’s live performance, the film includes montages of highlights of the band’s legendary visit and a unique insight into the Hungarian film-making style adapted to western rock music.
A newly remastered video was released to theatres worldwide in September 2012, entitled “Hungarian Rhapsody,” a play on the Hungarian Rhapsodies by Franz Liszt and one of Queen’s most celebrated hits, “Bohemian Rhapsody”.
Freddie never came back to Budapest. He died in 1991 at age 45 due to complications from AIDS.
Find out more about Central European history in our On this Day series.