Tuesday, 4 May 2010
Dob utca begins at Károly körút and runs up to Rottenbiller utca along the length of the long narrow seventh district of Erzsebetvaros (Elizabeth Town) which continues up to Dózsa György út and the Városliget - City Park.
Within is long and varied length, a microcosm of Hungarian society and history can be found.
A wide variety of craftsmen still ply their trade.
Gold and silver smiths, engravers, dyers, tailors, watch-menders and stocking repairers all still try to eke out a living in the high-tech world.
The street also offers many different cuisine styles: Jewish, strict Kosher, traditional Hungarian through pizzas and pasta to even Indian curries.
The origin of its name Dob (Drum) utca is a mystery, but the assistant at the Philon Antique Book shop at Dob utca 32 says it has always been called thus.
According to some local historians, the street takes its name from a pub called The Drum, which used to stand on the street.
The entrance to the street starts on Károly körút with what was the Tuborg Viking sörözô at Dob utca 2, a green Danish beer hall and restaurant that has as its most interesting feature a tall, tube shaped lookout tower, plonked on its roof.
The premises was bought in early 2001 by the Wendys Burger Bar chain.
On the right hand side at Dob utca 1 is an IBUSZ travel agent, then we get into craftsman territory with hundreds of tiny shop fronts offering a range of unusual and useful services.
If you need a brush, head straight for Dob utca 3, where Katalin Smulovicsné Winter offers every possible kind. Her name appears like a merging of three cultures – Hungarian, Slav and German, and likewise Dob utca is very cosmopolitan.
Green’s Fôzelék Bar is at Dob utca 5 offers fôzelék, a traditional style of serving vegetables in Hungary. Take spinach, green beans, peas, lentils, carrots, kohl rabi even and boil it up until all the goodness has long gone and it is a mush of thick soupy consistency.
Then add a roux of sour cream and flour to thicken it even more so that the spoon stands upright to attention in the middle of the bowl. Then serve with a fried egg floating on top of the spinach or pea goop, a rudely carved sausage bobbing on the lentils or some frankfurter sausages lolling about on the light green kohl rabi.
It sounds quite terrifying, but in the bitter winter months provides a comforting and affordable lunch.
Opposite sits the Mob pizzeria and further along on the left we find the Arany Pince Vendéglô (Golden Cellar Restaurant).
The nonstop on the corner at Dob utca 7 is well-stocked and always has bread on Sundays
Opposite the Mini Cukrászda at Dob utca 11, where a lady waits for the shop to open and cool her down with ice cream, is the memorial to the Swiss diplomat Carl Lutz, who helped many Jews avoid deportation.
The inscription from the Talmud reads, “He, who saves one single person, could also save the whole world”.
A moving and unusual statue shows a gold angel figure suspended perpendicular to the wall holding out a lifeline - a long piece of cloth to a figure lying prone on a brick mound below.
Jutting out into the narrow street is the Kóser Rothschild supermarket offering matzo flour and kosher products, imported from Israel.
Dob utca 16 is the gateway to another world, the entrance to the Gozsdu udvar, decorated with signs for a
goldsmith, violin repair and engraving, although gold and silver smith György Falk says now only five residents and five workshops remain in the 230-meter-long chain of seven courtyards, built in the early 20th century, linking Dob and Király utca.
“A Romanian lawyer, Manuil Gozsdu had the apartment and craftsmen's workshops built”, says Falk whose workshop is opposite a Greek Orthodox chapel, open on Sundays.
He says until WWII, Romanian students studied here.
Like the Gozsdu udvar, Falk's future is also uncertain.
He says he has heard that the Israeli investors who have promised to turn the courtyard into a shopping leisure complex have now pulled out, and the local government who own the building have not yet offered him a suitable replacement. “I don't want to move to the back of beyond”, he says, “This place is perfect, and customers could park right outside before the guards locked up the courtyard”.
Falk has performed delicate surgery on priceless gold and silver artefacts for 30 years.
Then, there were 80 families living in the thriving old-style shopping centre, but gradually families left or were moved out and tramps moved in.
Classical music plays in the background and the walls are laden with diplomas and awards.
However, Falk was not always appreciated. “The communists didn't approve of my individual trade and called me the derogatory term ‘maszek’ (private sector worker) but I am proud to be a ‘kisiparos’- artisan. I work with my hands”.
Until two years ago, the oldest resident András Szlatki ran the gentleman's hairdresser in the part now demolished by the spread of the Madách center.
Over eighty, Szlatki had stayed in the courtyard throughout the terrible war period, when the Gozsdu formed one wall of the Ghetto. “Local government tried to move him out, but he died and his shop disappeared”, says Falk.
Dob utca is a bustling lively street where the past and present mix almost unnoticeable, new galleries and burger bars appear every day but the sense of history is maintained.
A modest sign at Dob utca 22 heralds one of the street's treasures.
The Fröhlich cukrászda has been producing delicious kosher cakes since 1962, although the establishment dates back to 1917.
Vera Fröhlich and her husband make the pastries in the back, specialties according to kosher rules on eggs, fat and no gelatin.
Vera’s husband has invented some unusual cakes, the Krakkói and the Szerelmes Levél (love letter) and the traditional Jewish Flódni a calorie-laden concoction of apples, poppy seed and nuts made with butter rather than margarine, although some favourites are off the menu at present because of the hot weather.
“An order was passed in the fifties, saying if the temperature stays over thirty degrees for more than three days, we are not allowed to make creamy deserts”, says Vera.
She hopes her children will continue the popular business, although the customers have gradually changed. “Many of our old customers have died, but this is still a friendly place, mainly visited by regulars and everyone talks to everyone else”, says Vera in between scooping out ice cream for workmen in the street and weighing out little cakes on antique red scales.
Fortunately business is booming, and the café doubled in size two years ago, replacing the hard stone floor with white tiles.
Some American Hungarians are visiting and have made this their first call on a tour of old favourites.
Vera's son, Robert Fröhlich, a Rabbi and teacher often holds meetings in the convivial surroundings, “The café's position, tucked away on Dob utca is a disadvantage for the owner, but an advantage for the customer”.
He says it is the only genuine kosher café in Hungary and possibly in Central Europe.
“The face of Dob utca and Klauzál tér has not changed, although in 33 years I have seen many new businesses move in”, he says.
At the corner of Kazinczy look right to see Pest's Orthodox Synagogue, designed by Béla and Sándor Löffler in 1912, serving Budapest's small community of just over 3,000 Orthodox Jews.
The smashed windows look dark and forlorn but the Jewish lettering on the very top of the facade is still in very good condition
It is not normally open to visitors, but you can get a closer look around the corner at Dob utca 35 and through the courtyard by the kosher butchers still functioning since 1914 and the strictly kosher Hanna restaurant you can find the former orthodox school.
The Hanna restaurant has a heavy chocolate brown wooden gate
An Orthodox Jews in a wide-brimmed black hat and ringlets speaks Hebrew on the public telephone outside
Above telephone is the number 5673 carved into the stone.
This number refers to the date in Hebrew and iit also appears on the other side in Hebrew lettering
The wonderful Kiskacsa restaurant at Dob utca 26 offers “one plate home cooking Ft220 daily menu if booked ahead on a Wednesday”.
Opposite Kiskacsa is a walk way that resembles a monastery cloister, covered in unimaginative graffiti tagging. Kiskacsa (Little Duck) is the little sister of the more grand Kacsa (Duck) restaurant in Buda.
There follows a patch of bare ground where car parks utilize the temporarily flattened space, until another office block springs up.
A paper and colored metal recycling business on the corner of Holló utca and Dob utca keeps the spirit of the area with its shop front, which has the same design as the fading, scratched off shop fronts all along the street. A bright green placard reads, “60 kilos of paper equals one tree’s life”.
Looking back along Dob utca towards the river and you suddenly get a perfect view of the Liberation Monument on top of Gellért Hill and unexpectedly see things from a totally different angle.
Then for 200 yards, Dob is transformed into Klauzál tér and the street numbers run backwards, anti clockwise around the square.
At Klauzál tér 16, a traditional neon sign announces Mûhimzô - embroidery for flag making, emblems, tablecloths and sheets.
In the spacious shady park, one man has the unenviable task of shoveling up the dog excrement in the designated dog walking area. In the hot weather, the smell is overwhelming.
Unfortunately right opposite is the Óvoda - kindergarten.
Next-door, the deliciously-named Gasztroker sign offers catering equipment and trade shop
Children play in the park on new climbing frames and the air is filled with shouting and squealing.
In the early morning heat, bácsis in clean white vests are already setting out the dominoes, cards and chess.
It is maybe a little too early to go for refreshment in the Lépcsôs Sörözô although it open at 6am.
A wonderful yellow and purple sign shows the ancient prices: a kisfröccs (small wine and soda) can be édes or savanyú (sweet or sour) and appears to cost Ft10.
Édes nagyfröccs cost Ft25 and a savanyú Ft20.
Running at right angles to Dob utca is Klauzál tér numbers 13-8. At number 11 is one of Pest's five main markets which has virtually all been absorbed into a Kaiser supermarket now.
Just a few small stall holders remain offering limp lettuce wilting in the heat
Klauzál tér 10 is the home of one of the best lunch venues in town, the Kádár étkezde.
From Tuesday to Saturday locals and famous film stars sit side by side stocking up on real home cooking, goose legs and sólet - a hearty bean dish.
Next door a plaque on the wall reminds passers-by that Klauzál tér was also a scene of confrontation in 1956.
A memorial tablet to Attila Gérecz who died, aged 27, reads “Only he who is bigger than his fate can win in the final push”.
The first grave of this poet of the revolution stood in the square and fading flags with the central communist motif burnt out are stuck behind the marble tablet.
By 1939 there were 200,000 Jews, living in Budapest, that number today is only 80,000, although they still constitute the largest community in Central Europe.
Klauzál tér represented the centre of the ghetto in 1944-45. Over 50,000 Jews were crammed together in terrible surroundings.
Local social worker Gábor Rotter says, "Many people died. First the bodies were kept in Klauzál tér market fridges, then when it was very cold they laid the bodies out in the square and buried them there."
Back toward Dob utca a nameless sörözô announces an interesting menu.
Things to eat are categorized as ‘before beer’, ‘with beer’ and ‘after beer’.
No prizes for guessing what is the main attraction.
Around the corner at Dob utca 45, a mini étkezde is more traditional about its offerings, proprietor József Karalyos offers home “home cooking, chilled drinks, speedy service and solid prices”.
The daily menu is mouth-watering - goose leg and cabbage for Ft600, roast duckling and parsley potatoes for Ft470 or stuffed pumpkin with dill sauce for Ft420.
The delicious ‘lucskos káposzta' (‘sloppy cabbage’) comes with a meat rissole and all the meals are typical of the area.
Over the road, above the gynecologist at Dob utca 46/b are six sculptured friezes, one on each floor, representing family life: a man, woman and child and a man gathering wheat to feed his offspring.
Further along, a beautiful old-fashioned sign, announcing Budapest Népruhazati -utility clothing- is covered by a cloth ‘for sale’ sign. Rotter says the interior layout is still intact and the territory is huge.
The district has produced a wealth of talented Hungarians and figures of contemporary Pest life. "The famous musician Gábor Presser was born just around the corner and his father used to have a stall, selling geese and ducks in Klauzál tér market," says Rotter.
Pop singer Szandi still lives around the corner in Akácfa utca and another local resident was the self-taught pianist Rezsô Seress who, in 1927, composed the melody to László Jávor's lyrics for ‘Szomorú Vasárnap, száz fehér virággal’ which became Gloomy Sunday, an international homage to melancholy, recorded by Billie Holiday, Ray Charles and Sinead O'Connor.
“Before the war, this area was 75 percent Jewish, now I would suggest the population is 50 percent Gypsy, with many living in the one-room, no comfort, outside-toilet flats that are so typical of this district”, says Rotter.
Despite the grime, Dob utca is known for its high proportion of restaurants and places of entertainment. At Dob utca 53, the Örökzöld Dallamok - Evergreen melodies restaurant you can listen to old-time music and dance on three levels in traditional surroundings.
On the other side of the road, at Dob utca 52, the Indian restaurant, Shalimar proves the cosmopolitan nature of this street. Next door is the stunning red shop front of the Háztatási Cikkek (Household Goods) shop owned by Éva Horváth. Next door to Örökzöld Dallamok is an ancient fur coat shop with the abrupt sign warning customers not to call.
Dob utca 57 parades the columns and yellowing yet intimidating walls of the Fészek Klub restaurant. Here, at the crossroads with Kertész utca, it is interesting to look around at the four different styles and shades of building in each corner.
A bright pink non-stop supermarket at Dob 61 holds all manner of foods you might need at three in the morning.
At Dob utca 60, György Lengyel operates one of the oldest men's tailors in the district and next door, Ferenc Kádár's decorative leather workshop is virtually a museum piece.
At the corner of Dob utca and Erzsébet körút, a plaque reveals how in the Kör coffee house, now a fast food pizza and hot-dog büfé, Kálmán Teszársz started the socialist teachers' union which in 1918 became the national teachers' union.
Poet Mór Jókai also lived in this house from 1899 to the day he died, May 5 1904. The elegant spiky tower and weather vane that decorate this literary home is rather overlooked amongst the bustle of the ‘Nagy körút’.
Crossing the main boulevard, we pass the Örökmozgó cinema and from here on, according to Róbert Fröhlich, the character of the street changes, “This is not the real Dob utca, the real heart lies between the little and large boulevards. It is like comparing the two halves of Váci utca, only one is real”.
However, the first stretch maintains the mood with small craftsmen's' workshops, offering tailoring, a gargoyle-laden goldsmith and little watch repair shops.
On the left are two rather dodgy-looking bars, at Dob utca 70 the one-room cramped Talléros bar where five stools all face away from the door and stare at the shelves of pálinka. Further along, but also sharing number 70 is the Postakürt étterem, from where a stream of bleary-eyed customers totter out into the bright mid-day sunshine.
Over the road, an eye-catching group of István I and historical figures guard the entrance to the giant post office on the corner of Hársfa utca.
Gábor Boda's statues bearing more than a passing resemblance to mustachioed Aztec warriors. Next door, a philatelist's dream, since Magyar Posta produces the most beautiful stamps in the world, can be found at the Stamp Museum.
The Transport, Communications and Water Ministry building, an ugly concrete and glass mess takes up space next door, before you reach the much more eye-pleasing junior school at Dob utca 83.
The Art Nouveau building has a very colorful turn-of-the-century mosaic frieze by Ármin Hegedus showing children learning and frolicking.
Over the road, at Dob utca 80, the chemist's has original furnishings, including beautiful lamps.
Along this stretch, it is worth risking the wrath of a thousand néni's to peer inside a few doorways and see the hidden life of Pest, continuing in beautiful sunlit, leafy courtyards.
Children play football, harassed housewives beat carpets over specially-designed wooden racks and grannies watch the action from balconies high above. Dob utca 82 courtyard is particularly attractive.
As Dob utca progresses, it crosses Vörösmarty utca, Izabella utca and Rózsa utca, all streets which also cross the grand Andrássy út.
We are now running parallel with the elegant nobleman's street, however downtrodden Dob utca with all its dirt and dust seems to represent the real Pest much more pungently.
Looking left down Rózsa utca you can even see all the way to the hills of Óbuda. Hármashatárhegy appears as a distant mirage, shimmering in the heat and the dusty town centre and countryside are inextricably linked.
Eri néni's non-stop supermarket is at Dob utca 100. "The social level is the same the whole length of Dob utca. I had a non-stop at number 61 and the customers were just the same," she claims, after working here for a year and a half.
But, passing the Hearing Aid repair shop at Dob utca 85, life gets distinctly calmer.
The Erzsébet district Gypsy minority local government offices are located in a quiet courtyard at number 107.
Dob utca finally comes to an abrupt end when it meets Rottenbiller utca running at right angles.
On the left is Holmi Design and on the right, the central laboratories, botanical and zoological departments of the Veterinary University, and in just under a mile, we have completed a journey through Pest's history, culture and cuisine.