Thursday 18 August 2016

Steamed Up – The Ottomans in Budapest

Two things that make Budapest a destination with a difference are the coffee houses and the thermal baths. However, though the inventive Magyar can claim many things (Vitamin C, Rubik’s cube and the hydrogen bomb amongst others) as their idea, these two tourist attractions most associated with Budapest can both be attributed to the Ottoman Empire. 

However, if you were taught history in a Hungarian school, that’s probably not the way the Turks were depicted. "Decades of disinformation have told only negative aspects of the Ottoman occupation," said Victoria Hill, a dynamic American businesswoman who lives in Hungary and is determined to save the crumbling Turkish baths in Hungary’s capital and see them find their rightful place on the Unesco World Heritage list of outstanding natural and man-made treasures. 

Hill has formed the tentatively titled Friends of the Baths, a cultural group which will meet regularly for lectures and discussions on Ottoman culture and its previously neglected influence on Hungarian life 

"The widely-held belief that Hungary languished for a century and a half during the Ottoman occupation is simply not true," said Hill. There was a thriving economy in Buda during the time, primarily due to its position on the caravan route. 

 Buda, with its remaining architecture and thermal baths offers, a flashback to Ottoman times. Hill hopes that this small collection of living, breathing monuments will be preserved for the enjoyment and fascination of generations to come. 

 The first meeting of the Friends was held in the wine cellar of the Gundel restaurant. "It is difficult to get the Government or the city interested after more than 50 years of de-emphasised, dis-education about foreign cultures. However,from my experience I have found that Hungarians are always interested in their history," said Hill. "This is a part of the cultural heritage of Hungary that has been ignored or neglected." 

 At the initial meeting, Hill gave an overview of the Ottoman Empire which lasted from 1302 to 1924. "The Ottomans are very important to us in the West because they created forms of state administration; the ways in which they operated created the threads for democracy now," said Hill. 

 She illustrated her fascinating talk with slides showing maps, exquisite tiles and paintings which captured the moment as accurately as a camera. There were pictures from the preparation for a circumcision of Mehmed in 1582, when the celebration lasted 52 nights and 52 days, and wrestling performances and tightrope walking revealed in miniature books which acted as a newsreel of the time. A map of the Ottoman Empire at its height showed the rich trade routes and the extent of the power, north to Buda and Vienna, east to Persia and Georgia, south towards Saudi Arabia. Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent brought the Empire to its zenith. As the fourth Ottoman sultan, he presided over the most powerful state in the world, from 1520 to 1566. He was a cunning military strategist and more than doubled the territory inherited from his father. He built elegant mosques, baths, schools, fountains and gardens. Few people know that Süleyman the Magnificent died on Hungarian soil on the way to the attack on Vienna. 

Buda was once home to 26 mosques. Today only the baths remain from Buda’s imarets (inns or hospices). Situated from south to north along the Danube these are the Rudas, pictured right, Rác, Király, Lukács and Császár baths.
In addition to the baths there are two other Ottoman architectural relics that still exist in Buda: The Malomtó gunpowder mill and the Gül Baba Tomb. Only the outer structure of the earlier building at the Malomtó remains. The Gül Baba Tomb, however was completely renovated in 1962 and is preserved as a gift of the Turkish government. 

The first baths on the site of the Rudas date from the late 14th century. The exact date isn’t known, although renovation and expansion work was carried out in 1566. The new building was constructed by the Pasha of Buda in the 16th century and his plaque remains in the main chamber. The original cupola, vaulted corridor and main octagonal pool remain, although heavily restored. 

There are several reasons to believe that this work might have been carried out by Sinan, a Greek architect and contemporary of Michelangelo who designed 30 mosques and lived to the age of 99. He was a maths genius who revolutionized Muslim architecture and created incredible, huge domes. Sinan was the royal architect at the time when Süleyman the Magnificent died. 

The size of the Rudas cupola is unique. It is the largest in Europe and only two of its size exist in Turkey. The type of pillar used in the steam room of the Rudas matches Sinan’s style of work. He was also working on an aqueduct in Belgrade in 1565, only one year before the Rudas reconstruction, and it would have certainly been a much shorter trip to Buda than to travel back to Istanbul. During the 1500s, the Rudas also housed either a Tekke (lodge) or a zaviye (hostel for travellers) run by Dervish monks. Only the ground floor of the former three-story building remains. Bombing during the Second World War destroyed the upper two stories. There has never been sufficient funding to fully restore the building. 

 Hill estimates that between $8 and $15 million are needed to renovate the Rudas Baths. "It has not been touched since 1945 and is waiting for an investor like the Rác has found in Miklós Bornemisza’s Rác Nosztalgia Kft, who plan to enlarge the bath territory, build a hotel and restaurant complex and even create a chair lift leading from the Rác up to the top of Gellért Hill," said Hill. 

The Rác Baths were originally built during the time of King Mátyás. It is believed that an underground passageway connected the baths to the Royal Gardens in the southwest side of the Castle. Later in the 16th century, the Ottomans added the cupola that remains to this day.

 The Király Baths are in a small, beautiful building which possibly predates the work of Sinan. Prior to Sinan, domes or cupolas were placed on top of the outer walls of a building or on broad, squat pillars. Sinan introduced large, graceful cupolas that rested on narrow, towering pillars, but the Király reflects the former style. It has retained more of its original Turkish character than any of the other Buda baths. The Király is also unique because it does not have its own well. Water for the Király is carried via a larchwood conduit system from the Lukács wells. Construction of the Turkish part began in 1566 and was completed by Pasha Sokoli Mustapha in 1570. 

 "The Király Baths also need a great deal of work as it may be sinking on Fô utca. The small volume of water flowing into the Király Baths dictates that the number of customers will never make it profitable, neither is the Rudas. The city operates the Rudas at a loss. But the Pepsi bottling plant is a tenant so there is money flowing in. There is also a day hospital at the Rudas which provides another source of income," said Hill. 

The Császár Baths are among the oldest thermal baths in Buda, having been known in Roman times. In 1178, the Knights Templar of St John established a settlement at the site of the two baths. The Knights built a monastery, church, hospital and bath at each of the two sites. During the time of the Ottomans, the baths were extremely popular and renovated by Buda Pasha Sokollu Mustafa in 1571-72. 

The Rudas and Király are both national monuments. In 1987, the Cultural Ministry planned to register with the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) proposing that the Turkish baths be proposed for inclusion on the World Heritage List. However, in 1989 the Cultural Ministry was split and the plan seems to have fallen by the wayside. 

Hill’s goal is to create a Friends of the Baths movement and show City Hall and the Government that a non-profit or charity organisation can help. 
 First published in The Budapest Sun, 21 March 2002

Monday 17 March 2014

Eating between Cities

Published in 'Wine 'n' Dine - Edited by Lucy Mallows, The Budapest Sun May 11-17 2000 At the beginning of the 20th century, rail travel meant romance: Riding across the European Continent in luxury and style on the Orient Express, taking tea in the dining car, swishing one's crinoline along the corridors. These days, train travel does not always live up to those images, depicted in epic films. Delayed trains, leaves on the line, the 'wrong kind of snow', sitting stationary for fours in the middle of a field with no explanation, squashed up between two salami-eating uncles in grubby second-class carriages while babies scream and teenagers listen to the relentless 'tshk, tshk, tshk' on their not-so-personal headphones. However, on a recent trip back from a healing weekend in the spa resort of Hajdúszoboszló, we discovered that there were no seat reservations left for the over-crowded Sunday (back-to-Budapest) train, despite a first-class return ticket booked and paid for, and the only way of getting aboard and back home to the Hungarian capital would be to camp out in the restaurant car for the duration. Now, I wouldn't recommend this, as signs posted all over state the threatening message that, "You can only stay/consume here for a maximum 45 minutes," and, terrified, we realised that our journey would take just over two hours. What to do? Attempt the world record for the slowest chewing in culinary history? Linger over the soup until the gobbets of fat congealed into a solid carapace? Sup enough beer until the Dutch courage inspired us to stand up to the waitress who looked as if she could take on the entire Welsh rugby team and come out the winner? We girded our loins and decided to go for it. Our carriage this time on the Hortobágy Express was more functional than fancy, with neatness rather than nostalgia the main theme. Clean and painted white, the interior's best features were the giant windows, which afforded a much better view of the flat, endless fields of the Puszta than can normally be seen, even in first class. Framed by the pink curtains, the view of field after field sailed past as we examined the menu. Multi-coloured, checked tablecloths had been placed at diagonals over white linen and artificial cloth flowers were a nice touch. A whole range of nibbles awaited tempted fingers: pistachio nuts, salted almonds or peanuts, there were eight petit fours placed under cling film for those who couldn't bear the wait. The waitress was brusquely efficient, however, bringing each freshly-fried meal within minutes of request. This was not going according to plan...! My companion and I both decided we deserved a bottle of Dreher lager (260 forints), just in case the authorities got bolshy about the time limit, and we studied the menu items. It was encouraging to find a vegetable omelette (350 forints) and scrambled eggs with onions (250 forints) available, but I decided to try the fish fillets (700 forints), which arrived in an instant and were, actually, fish fingers. However, I didn't mind. I was just grateful they weren't from the poor, polluted Tisza river, which we passed over at Szolnok just as I was tucking in. The chips were home-made and oily but quite presentable on a long trip. With a side order of some gherkin pickles (150 forints) to cut through the oil, everything went down nicely, with the main problem being trying not to wolf it down too quickly. My companion was tempted by the humorous item on the menu, described as 'Utasmáj' ('traveller's liver), which conjured up images of unwitting voyagers being butchered in the back carriage by the Hannibal Lecter of the locomotive industry. She settled instead for the turkey breast (700 forints) stuffed with cheese, breaded and fried. This came with chips and she also decided on a side orer of 'csalamádé' (150 forints), a piquant miture of cabbage, peppers and onions in vinegar. Other items on the menu ranged from the usual breaded 'n' fried meats (700 forints) to rice with beef (650 forints). The most expensive offering was lemon chicken breast with stewed fruit (900 forints) and there was also consommé with egg yolk (150 forints) for starters. My companion finished too early and, in a panic, decided to have a pancake with chocolate (120 forint) to delay the arrival of the bill and stern looks. To keep her company, I had some chestnut puree, which was very rich but gave us another half-hour's breathing space as I slowly spooned the dense nutty pudding and created little artistic creations in the glass bowl. This didn't go down too well with the waitress. I have been told off many times for commenting on the frightening aspect of many Hungarian waitresses, but those who criticise are always middle-aged expatriate men, who get quite a different reception and treatment to two young-ish females attempting to dine and communicate in a language not their own. Ms Train Buffet raised her eyebrows in exasperation every time I attempted to order something, as if to say, "I really don't know why you bother." Nevertheless, we managed to stick it out to the bitter end, and after an enjoyable meal in pleasant surroundings, tumbled out on to Nyugati Station platform, replete and relaxed, well, relatively...

Monday 23 September 2013

Home on the hill heals Hungarians' ills

European literature of the 19th century was crammed with sanitariums. The lovelorn heroes of Turgenev’s and Lermontov’s novels were forever creeping up and down the corridors, seducing frail, young countesses. They declared their passion while taking the water cure in Baden-Baden or walking moodily about the garden in the film, ‘Last Year in Marienbad.’ Pale Hollywood heroines would divulge unrequited loves while dying of consumption in the rarefied air of the Swiss Alps as they pined away under a rug on the veranda. Visegrád sanitarium is one of five remaining institutes in Hungary. The others are at Parád, Sopron, Balatonfüred and Kékes, each specialising in treating different parts of the body. Patients come to Visegrád to convalesce after a serious illness or operation, usually connected with the digestive tract, although nervous complaints and psychosomatic problems can also be treated. Some patients return year after year with chronic internal problems and treat the centre like a home away from home. Head nurse Sándorné Rácz says, “We receive patients like a long-lost family member. I see our dear patients returning again and again. Around 35 percent ask specifically to come here.” Bathed in sunlight, Visegrád certainly looks idyllic. It sits on the side of a hill overlooking the Danube Bend, a 200-bed care centre surrounded by a flower garden. In the shade of blossoming chestnut trees patients sit, chatting or reading, or, as Rácz says, they, “Stare out into the big void and contemplate life. It is a peaceful place where people can relax and switch off. Many patients have nervous problems or are chronically depressed.” Inside, the walls are a soothing pale green and there is a smell of boiled potatoes and disinfectant. Patients sit in the corridors, dressed in track suits. Dr. Ferenc Kocsis, senior consultant, says, “It is important that patients take an active part in their own rehabilitation in healing surroundings. Relaxation is an important part, but they should not lie around in bed all day if they can get up.“ The sanitarium stresses the important of complete rehabilitation, both physical and spiritual. There is a psychiatrist to look after the emotional recovery and a mysterious closed door marked “Human Politics Department.” Patients can also visit the on-site hairdresser or dentist for confidence boosting. A little church stands on the sanitarium grounds. It is heated in winter to make praying more comfortable. The Miklós Horthy Sanitarium – as it was then known – opened in 1929. It became a state sanitarium under the control of the Ministry of Health in 1950 before it was taken over by Budapest local government a year later. Patients are sent here from Budapest and the surrounding area. A minibus service ships patients twice a day from Batthyány tér. “Residence and treatment at the sanitarium is free for Hungarian citizens with a blue health insurance card,” says Péter Fodor, the financial director. Patients stay in a three- or four-bed room, but for a daily fee of Ft900 they can have a single or twin room with a separate shower, toilet, colour television and refrigerator. Married couples can even receive treatment together and stay in a twin-bedded, albeit fairly spartan, room. Fodor says, “There are 12 in-hospital doctors and a further eight specialists; X-ray operators, dentists. There are 69 nurses, which is the optimum staff number for 200 patients. The yearly budget is Ft160 million, which comes from the Social Insurance.” In the corridor between the wards stand three huge jars of mineral water – bitter water, alkaline hydrogen carbonate medicinal water and something called Glauber salty water. Underneath is a big urn of chamomile tea. Patients can dip in at leisure. Strangely for a health institute, smoking is allowed outside and many bare chested ‘bácsi’s sit in the sun playing cards in a cloud of ‘Multifilter.’ The sanitarium takes a pragmatic view that many have nervous or psychosomatic problems and they cannot be forced to give up smoking for the period of their three-week stay. Swimming is possible in the Lepence thermal pool nearby, although a pool is also being dug for balneotherapy – physiotherapy in water for those with locomotive and other disorders who are not strong enough to exercise on dry land. Relationships which sometimes develop between patients are not encouraged. Nurse Rácz says, “Unfortunately, although the patients may have stomach problems, their emotions are still working fine.” Matron Rácz is terrifyingly friendly and overenthusiastic. She says, “We get severely depressed people coming here, but they all cheer up and smile back at me after three days and if not, well I just don’t say hello anymore.” She greets everyone as she walks around, saying “Szia!” or “Puszi!” She says, “We are a big family here. There are no barriers, patients can come and go as they like. All we ask is that they are in their rooms for two hours in the morning when the doctors visit. It is like paradise here. We take the patients on day trips to Esztergom and Mogyoróhegy. Next Monday, we are holding a cabaret evening in the social hut. One of our patients can play old nostalgic songs on the piano. We have musical evenings and joke competitions.” At lunch time, most patients are in the spacious canteen. Dr. Kocsis said the average patient age was 45, but most seem to be pensioners. The lunch is tasty and all staff eat there, too, which is reassuring, although there is something ghoulish about eating fried liver in a gastro-intestinal hospital. In the cool dark-green atmosphere of the day-room there is an aquarium, a television showing English-language classes on ceefax and lots of plants. Through the window you can watch middle-aged ladies strolling past in curlers from the 1950s. Two sisters, Bözsi and Rózsika, sit on a bench in the flower garden. Both in their 70s, they have come here many times with a frightening list of complaints. The sanitarium now arranges for them to come at the same time and share a room. Bözsi was on Margit Bridge when it blew up in 1945. The average length of stay is 21 days. Dr. Kocsis says, “Many patients have chronic illnesses and need at least three weeks’ break. We work on the basis that we want to make people fit enough to return to work. As they come back again and again, we need to establish a good relationship between the patient and the sensible doctor.” Many hospitals in the countryside are facing bankruptcy and many resorts, like Hévíz, have had to be privatised. The government intends to overhaul and restructure the health care programme in the autumn and health care institutes will be nervously looking over their shoulder. Kocsis says, “I am an optimist. I am quite old and I have seen many changes. The future now lies in Bokros’s hands.” Home on the hill heals Hungarians’ ills Lucy Mallows visits an oasis of peace where Budapest’s old and sick while away their hours. Published in Budapest Week, June 1 -7 1995 Photographs: Katalin Széphegyi

Saturday 18 May 2013

The Attila József Museum - A poetic genius

The poetry of Attila József is said to be the most beautiful in the Hungarian language and has reached the hearts and minds of many people in Hungary and abroad. It is possible to trace some of the events of his tragically short life at several sites throughout Budapest. József was born on April 11, 1905, in the poor working class district of Ferencváros. The modest two-roomed apartment at Gát utca 3, where he was born, has been transformed into a fascinating museum by Péter Sára of the Petôfi Literature Museum. It is easy to spot the apartment from a plaque, which was erected in 1965 and floral tributes and wreaths. The green door was ajar and a knock alerted Mrs Ferenc Soltész, the curator. "We had a Swedish translator here yesterday. People come from all over the world to pay tribute," she said. Inside the small apartment the walls are lined with black and white photographs. A picture of József’s father, Áron, in a military uniform is striking and a photo of his mother Borbála Pöcze reveals a pretty and delicate-looking woman. In his poem, A Dunánál (By the Danube) József wrote: "My mother was a Kun, my father was half Székely, half Romanian, maybe pure Romanian. From mother’s mouth the food was sweet, From father’s lips the truth was beautiful." József’s father, a soap boiler, abandoned the family when his son was three years old. There is a photo of another house in the same street and a poignant inscription reads: "Papa disappeared from this flat." His departure left his mother to care for József and his two elder sisters Jolán and Etelka on a small income she earned from taking in washing. In 1910, aged five, József was sent away for two years to foster parents, the Gombai’s, in the village of Öcsöd where the young boy worked as a swineherd, like other poor children in the village. At the age of seven, his mother took him back and with three children she again tried to make ends meet. A map by the door shows the 19 different places, all in Ferencváros, where the family lived. "Every time she had trouble with the rent, the landlord kicked them out and they had to move on," said Soltész, who supplemented the exhibition with stories and snippets of interesting information. The writer Zsigmond Móricz once asked József how he had managed to finish school. He expected him to say he sold newspapers to support himself, as many did. However, he said his sister Jolán married Ödön Makai, a lawyer from Hódmezôvásárhely, and they paid his school fees. József’s mother died of cancer in 1919 when he was 14 years old. Makai became József’s legal guardian and sent him to Makó boarding school. The museum shows József’s first volume of poems, Szépség koldusa (Beauty’s Beggar), which he wrote aged 17. The young poet furthered his education at Szeged university, but left after threats from Professor Horger who was disturbed by the publication of his poem Tiszta szívvel (With a Pure Heart) that began: "I have no father, I have no mother, I have no God and no country." József then left for Vienna and Paris where he became a member of the Anarcho-Communist group. When József returned to Budapest two years later he fell in love with Márta Vágó, who came from a very well-to-do family. But the romance failed and he wrote, "Osztálya elragadta tólem" ("Her class tore her away from me.") József’s love life provided fuel for his poetry, as did his political leanings. He became involved in illegal left-wing movements and published his fourth volume of poetry, Döntsd a tôkét, ne siránkozz! (Fight capitalism, don’t whinge!) The work was confiscated and József was charged with "political agitation and obscenity." In 1933, the Fascists were in power in Germany and József continued with his work in the Communist movement. József was very disappointed not to be invited to the Soviet Writers’ First Congress and in 1935, suffering depression, he entered a sanatorium for the second time. When he left the institution a year later he became the co-editor, alongside Pál Ignotus, of the civil humanist periodical Szép Szó (Beautiful Word). He wrote and edited much of the publication in the Japán Coffeehouse, now the Írók Boltja book shop at Andrássy út 45. Despite his work, József became more and more isolated and depressed. His life was occupied by painful love affairs and periods in hospital with depression. The poet’s sisters did their best to care for him, but to no avail - József ended his life in Balatonszárszó, on December 3, 1937. There are many places in Budapest where you can find Attila József. At Kossuth tér, by Parliament, a beautiful, melancholic statue of the poet sits facing the river, his hat in his left hand and coat at his side, as if exhausted after a long walk. An inscription in the style of József’s handwriting, taken from A Dunánál (By the Danube), reads: ”Mintha szivembôl folyt volna tova Zavaros, bölcs és nagy volt a Duna” ”As if it flowed straight from my heart Troubled, wise and great was the Danube” At Mester utca 67, you can see a plaque marking the spot where József attended school between the age of seven and nine. The plaque was erected on May 1, 1957, to mark the 50th anniversary of his birth (actually 52 years earlier in 1905). József was first buried in Balatonszárszó, then moved to Kerepesi Cemetery in 1942 to be united with his mother. József was then claimed by the working classes and given a decorated grave in the Workers’ Pantheon, but finally moved back to be with his mother, sister Jolán and nephew Péter Makai at Kerepesi. Recently add to the gravestone is the name of Attila’s sister Etelka who died in April 2004 aged 101. Former cemetery worker Antal Sinka added a theory to the many that surround the poet’s death. He said József did not commit suicide: "He left his sister’s house in a distracted state to buy two cigarettes. He was impatient for a train to pass and stepped out in front of it," said Sinka. To find the grave, go through the main entrance along the avenue, through the arcade and past the graves of Endre Ady and Mór Jókai. When you reach the next roundabout you will see a mausoleum with the words "Ave Domine" on your left. Turn right towards the Deák mausoleum and you will find Plot 35 where the great poet lies. The author and her hero...

Wednesday 14 March 2012

The Crowman

Budapest's Bird Man of Deák tér
By Lucy Mallows
First published in The Budapest Sun, October 16, 1997

“Louder, Louder”, orders Pisti Bácsi (Uncle Stevie) and four huge black crows squawk on demand, flapping their jet black wings and creating a terrifying spectacle.
Little children giggle nervously and huddle closer to their parents, but they are transfixed, and not only by the birds but by the sweet tiny kittens and mischievous black puppies, dozing in a pile on a deck chair nearby.
The scene comes straight from a 16th century Brueghel painting, as the old man feeds bread from his mouth to a gigantic black crow, named Ügyes (‘Skillful’). The three other birds, Pici (‘Tiny’), Csavargó (‘Vagabond’) and Csöves (‘Tramp’) line up to sit on his head.
He offers the birds to sit on the arms of those brave enough, as, he says, the birds bring good fortune.
Pisti Bácsi, or rather István Ferenc, to give him his official name, is 72 years old and has shared his caravan, parked on Határ út in the twentieth district, for the last ten years since retiring with four giant black crows, two enormous black dogs, nine puppies and five kittens.
Every day he travels to Deák tér, in the heart of Pest, riding the metro with a selection of animals in a cardboard box and cart arrangement, a friend brings the larger dogs in a car. He spends the day at the square opposite the plush Porsche salon, entertaining the crowds of tourists and Hungarians alike with his eccentric, medieval zoo.
A mound of intertwined tiny puppies and kittens of varying brown and black colours are dozing in a heap on a beach deck chair.
Unusually, all the birds, cats and dogs get along together, and the crows occasionally give the puppies a friendly peck.
Pisti’s teenage daughter, Anna-Mária sometimes comes along to help him. She spends her time chasing after the playful puppies who wander off in search of fun or food and one adorable fluffy ginger kitten, who modestly retires to a bush to relieve itself. The tiny animal can barely open its eyes. “His eyes wouldn’t open at all but I have been putting cream on them and they see better now,” says Pisti Bácsi attentively.

Pisti Bácsi has placed a modest message to say he lives with all these animals and needs money to feed them and buy medicine.
He needs a little extra income since he retired from working for Budapest Transport Company, digging up the streets and laying the tramlines. Most people, however, ask if they can buy the crows and the answer is always a firm ‘no’.
A shopper with two small children asks if the puppies are for sale and Pisti Bácsi asks for 1,500 forints each. “What breed are they?” asks the man. “Wait until they grow and you’ll find out then”, answers Pisti Bácsi.
The little kittens may be sold after the winter when they are stronger, he says, but he is not desperate to sell off his family.
The donations from the passers-by are enough to feed everyone.
Two huge black Rottweiler and German Shepherd cross-breeds sit behind like the dogs with eyes as big as soup plates, who guarded the tinder box in Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale. In a more modern touch, one wears plastic sixties sunglasses and looks super cool, lying quietly at the back, no doubt he could well protect his master if there were any trouble.
In the hustle and bustle of the modern world, many stop for a few minutes to gaze at this comically gothic spectacle, the diminutive ancient man with huge black crows on his arm looks more like an animal trainer at the court of an ancient king, offering birds that bring good fortune and money to those who dare to hold them.

Pisti Bácsi kisses two year-old Pici (Tiny) lovingly on the beak, offering the bird bread from his mouth.
The audience is transfixed. “They must be a hundred years old,” says one man and asks if Pisti Bácsi has ever tried making Crow Soup, “I know a recipe if you want to try”, he says.
Pisti bácsi is offended that he should ever try to eat his friends. “The animals are my biggest friends, I know some nice humans, but I also know some really wicked ones. Animals are always honest”.
Pisti bácsi thinks he may also have nine lives, like a cat. On Saint Stephen’s Day, August 20 he fell from a nine metre height in another of his haunts at the Fisherman’s Bastion up in the Castle District. “I lost consciousness, but I did not lose my life”, he says. This was extremely fortunate for all the dependents of this Magyar Doctor Doolittle.
“Why don't the crows fly away?” asks a tourist. Pisti bácsi’s reply says it all, “Because they have never known such love before”.

Sunday 19 June 2011

Flea market heaven

The spring health regime is not complete without a spring wardrobe.
Having decided to take up jogging, tennis, healthy eating and Tai Chi, I knew exactly where I could purchase all the required items in the same location and for a very reasonable price too.
Budapest’s Józsefvárosi piac is known these days as the Chinese Market, from the large quantities of both goods and vendors that hail from the Far East. It is massive, now the biggest of all Budapest's market places.
The market can be found just past Kerepesi cemetery, behind the yard for Józsefvárosi railway station and is easy to reach by tram from Blaha Lujza tér.
If Budapest seems deserted on a Sunday morning, it is because most of the population has relocated to Józsefvárosi's acres of trading country, a mammoth site filled with endless lines of stalls, selling everything under the sun, but mostly trainers and sports wear.
There is no problem guessing which tram stop to alight at, since nearing the destination, a thousand varieties of the plastic super-strong Hong Kong laundry bag or those chemical hold-alls from Finland suddenly form a wall by the exit and petite Chinese grandmothers emerge from underneath and carry the load a few paces to the market's entrance.
The market's busy entrance even has a large sign in Chinese characters and there are also messages warning the visitor what is allowed and what not.
A grumpy security guard, dressed from head to toe in combat gear shows little interest when we pass through the metal detector and the accusatory whine starts up, 'It must be your umbrella' he says with little concern.
No sooner are we inside, than a money changer shouts "Hello, hello, dollar, mark" in my ear and waves a wad of green Bartóks at me.
Józsefvárosi is not the place to come for an antique watch or an undiscovered master.
The vendors here concentrate solely on new stuff, mostly clothing, and in large quantities.
Besides selling to the general public, the traders also provide many Budapest family stall holders with wholesale goods - mostly clothes.
Every sign shows two prices - egy and sok (‘one’ and ‘many’) - price for one unit or bulk buying.
A Vietnamese lady tells us that 'sok' means twenty 'nagyon szép' (‘very beautiful’) t-shirts or more, but unfortunately I reach my limit after ten pairs of black striped sports socks.
Working your way through the market requires strength, endurance and considerable patience.
A slow snake of customers winds its way along the narrow passage between stalls. This is made even more claustrophobic when it rains and sheets of plastic up above turn the passage into a tunnel.
A barrage of traders, dragging sharp, pointy trolleys in their wake continuously come the other way and the cries of ‘Vigyázz, vigyázz’ (‘watch out, watch out’) in a dozen different accents fill the air.
If you make it down to the far end you are rewarded with delicious smells which waft from the many food stalls that provide sustenance for those who spend their entire lives here.

The Gül Baba Turkish büfé makes an enticing meaty kebab for Ft300 - a pitta bread stuffed with meat, salad and a spicy sauce. Next door, a young boy is ladling an assortment of meat chunks, cabbage, noodles, mushrooms and what looks like seaweed into plastic bowls ready for reheating in the Kinai Büfé - Chinese eaterie. The third stall in the row, Nilus offers more Doner kebabs with Egyptian spices.
Diners stand at chin high stalls, trying to eat and not be mown down by traders pushing giant boxes on wheels. Many stand around smoking and chatting in this microcosm of human society.
The sound of Russian, Ukrainian, Slovak, Romanian, Serbian, Turkish, Chinese and Vietnami voices speaking their own languages as well as Hungarian creates a heady, exotic mixture.
Apart from one incident which was reportedly against heavy-handed security techniques, all the different nationalities appear to enjoy each others company and mix peacefully.
The trainers are on offer for ridiculously low prices, but a closer inspection reveals that many of the famous brand names have one or two letters different from the original, you can find tape-recorders by ‘Panasoanic’ and ‘Adiads’ jogging pants.
In the pouring rain, one customer asks the security guy where he bought his elegant long green plastic raincoat, which he wears over the regulation paramilitary outfit.
Between mouthfuls of kebab, the bouncers direct him to a stall nearby.
The market is the place to go for slippers, sports clothing, electrical goods, cheap T-shirts, jeans, pants, socks and sandals so you'll look like a local in the swimming pool.
There are many bargains among the clothes but no antique treasures or holiday souvenirs
We examine some black Adiads running shorts with bright yellow stripes around the leg.
They are only Ft1,000 but miles too big, ‘Nagyon szép, nagyon jó’ (‘very nice, very good’) insists the Chinese trader.
Józsefvárosi market is also a good place to find electrical goods.
Harassed Hungarian parents come here at weekends to buy their children the latest playground craze, the laser pens. ‘Both my sons have to have them,’ says a lady out shopping, ‘They aren't real lasers of course, for Ft1,500, but they are so popular now, I can't say no’.
Besides the pens, there are many versions of pocket computer games and food liquidizers on offer.
For more electrical goods, get back on the number 28 tram and head out to almost the end stop, where you find Kôbányi bazár, which used to be known by many as the Russian market, however it seems that now less traders come from such great distances and many have moved to Budapest.
Anya from Tblisi, Georgia has a stall selling electrical goods.
On offer is a plastic-looking juicer called Nushi. Made in China, it only costs Ft3,500, although it doesn't look like it would stand the strain of pulverizing too many carrots. Exotic looking and friendly, Anya she says she lives in Budapest now but brings the stuff over from Tblisi. When asked if this is legal, she shrugs, looks unconcerned and says, ‘Well, no not really’.
Near the entrance, which is guarded by a building with two-way mirrors and signs in four languages forbidding everything, an extended family of Romanians are having a party. It is Marius’s birthday and his mum Radika known as ‘the boss’, as she oversees many stalls down the right hand side of the market, has bought a big chocolate cake, which she slices up. Many customers are keen to buy a slice, but its only for family and friends. The group came from Nagyvárad but now live here in Budapest.
The birthday celebrations include a lethal plum pálinka, champagne, wine and cola, plus nibbles of pogácsa amongst the knickers and socks on display
The customers here seem quite poor, they stock up on clothes and household products, cleaning products and foods - packet soups, raisins and Turkish soap.
Many come from Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, Croatia, all neighbouring countries by bus every day, it is a hard life and many of the older traders now appear to have given up and stay at home.
At one time, Kôbányai bazár was a good place to find unusual knick-knacks from Russia and Ukraine and resembled the lively market behind the cigarette factory in Debrecen. Nowadays, it seems to be all training shoes and tools. Long rows of covered stalls are regulated and there is no longer the heady excitement of the hunt for a treasure.
In the middle is the food area, the Csülök csarda (‘Pig’s Knuckle Inn’) and the Dudó ételbar offer Hungarian foods, breaded and fried things, and delicious-smelling home-made sausages, washed down with a fröccs (white wine spritzer) or a mulled wine in winter.
Down at the far right hand corner, traders lay out pieces of curtain on the ground and display carved wooden objects, more spare parts and metal clockwork children's toys that have seen better days.
The mixture of languages is more Slavic here, although we also hear Romanian, Romany and some Chinese amongst the Hungarian. The mixture is sometimes charming, ‘Eto nye kisci, eto bolshoi’ (‘this isn’t small, it’s big’) one elderly Russian lady insists when I say the jumper for Ft1,700 looks abit too tight under the arms.
A customer buys a haversack off Irina who comes every day from over the border in Ukraine on the coach. It is a hard life and now she has nothing to carry her goods home in.
She will have to sell everything a little cheaper to get rid of it today, she says.

Treasure hunters usually try the Ecseri market, situated half an hour's bus ride away in a distant suburb of south-east Budapest.
The market is fairly deserted during the week, but comes alive on Saturday when serious collectors mingle with tourists.
At Esceri you are less and less likely to find a bargain, the prices start in the thousands for beautifully-restored gramophone record players, china figurines, paintings and all manner of furniture.
Stalls selling jeans and leather jackets starting at Ft6,000 blend in with heaps of machinery spare parts, where a man with the lowest, smokiest voice in the world holds court and surprises German tourists when he croaks, ‘Tessék’ (‘can I help you?’).
Here, you can still find oddities like communist badges for Ft100, black and white picture postcards showing another, more elegant world.
Pleasures of the modern world are provided by the excellent lángos stall, where the hot doughy frisbees come with sour cream and grated cheese and the garlic liquid is dripped out of a jam jar using a feather strapped to a twig.
The stall in the middle of the covered section is also very popular for its pörkölt (stew) and palacsinta (pancake) selection.
Ecseri has a huge outdoor section where you can find all sorts of furniture, from chests of drawers, cupboards and cookers to bedsteads, chairs and lamp stands.
We even find a 12-inch bronze plaque of the late Lord Rothermere's father. ‘He was a great friend of the Hungarian people,’ says the trader when we inquire about the price.
For a less wallet-punishing Saturday morning, we head for the ‘flea market’ in Petôfi Csarnok (PeCsa), where hobbyists, collectors, traders gather at weekends. Until recently a lot of poor people also gathered outside on the vast concrete space, and sold goods laid out on the ground.
When the rules were tightened, the market shifted back inside the walls of the Petôfi Csarnok and those that couldn't afford the stall rental headed off somewhere where they did not have to pay rent, back to Hunyadi tér or the even more downtrodden Teleki tér.
With the individual traders now inside, both they and the customer have to pay a fee to get in.
PeCsa is a good place to find dinner plates, badges, children's toys and clothes.
On Friday afternoon there is no sign of the group of traders who gather in Hunyádi tér. Ildi néni says ‘I think it's disgusting the way the police kick these poor people out. Some people can't even buy a kilo of bread until they've sold something in the market. But the police don't let them sell here, because they don't pay any tax’.
Behind Oktogon, very poor people, scratching a living selling things scavenged from bins, other flea markets and allegedly a lot of stolen stuff, things taken from mum's sideboard or people's own personal property that they need to hawk for the price of a meal.
People trying to make a living this way, get moved on continually by the police.
The Batthány tér vendors, who mostly appeared to sell prescription drugs: packets of algopyrin (Magyar aspirin), contraceptives and dangerous looking heart pills, were moved on.
They went to the outside free part of PeCsa.
The ones that couldn't afford to move inside then went to Hunyadi tér and the really poor hang out in Teleki tér, where the homeless sit and drink from a communal giant Sprite bottle, oblivious to the lack of customer traffic in this area.
On Monday morning at 9am, a few people, all men stand around.
There are pieces of material on the muddy ground with a few squeezy plastic toys, electric cables and an odd left shoe. One trader Jenô says, ‘I come here most mornings, but don't sell much, mostly stuff that I find hanging around’.
He says he usually gets stopped by the police then gives up for the day, ‘I go to the market get some bread and something to drink then we sit around. That's free at least’.


Józsefvárosi piac - the ‘Chinese market’
Kôbányai út 16
Tram No 28 to one stop past Józsefvárosi station
Open: Mon—Fri 06—18
Sat—Sun 06—16

Kôbányai bazár
Maglódi út 18
Open- Mon—Fri 07—17
Sat—Sun 07—16
Tram no. 37 from Blaha Lujza tér, Népszínház út to Sibrik Miklós út

‘Ecseri’ - Használt cikk piac (‘used articles’ market)
XIX. Nagykôrösi út 156
Bus No. 54 from Boráros tér to Autópiac stop
Open: Mon-Fri 08—16; Sat 06—15; Sun 08—13

Petôfi Csarnok - bolha piac (‘flea market’)
Városliget (City Park)
Saturday and Sunday 07—14

VI. Hunyadi tér
M1 to Vörösmarty utca
not legal, so opening hours vary, mostly early morning.

Novak piac -Versény utca
Open at weekends

Wednesday 13 April 2011

Houdini was Hungarian

“The Genius of Escape who will Startle and Amaze!”

On 24 March 2011, Budapest could have celebrated the 137th anniversary of the birth of one of its most famous sons, except that few people know that the world’s greatest escapologist, Houdini was Hungarian.
Harry Houdini was born Ehrich Weisz in Budapest on March 24, 1874, the third of five children born to Cecilia and her husband Rabbi Mayer Samuel Weisz.
Ehrich Weisz grew up to become Harry Houdini, the greatest escape artist, illusionist, magician and self-promoter in the world. When Ehrich was four, the family emigrated to the United States and settled in Appleton, Wisonsin.
His father became the Rabbi in the town and later Houdini told everyone that he was born in Appleton, hoping that the public would accept him as an American.
However, family life in the new country was not very settled, the family had to move house often and Ehrich and the other children tried to help out financially.
The eight-year-old Ehrich took a paper round and also shined shoes. Ehrich’s passion for magic and showmanship originated from watching the performance of a travelling magician, Dr. Lynn.
In 1883, aged only nine, he first appeared on stage as ‘Ehrich, the Prince of the Air’ performing on the trapeze and also as a contortionist.
Three years later, he ran away to join a travelling circus and tried to build a career as ‘Eric the Great’.
When his family moved to New York, a year later, he moved back home.
After his father’s death in 1892, Ehrich took a number of menial jobs; as a messenger, an electrician’s assistant and as a locksmith’s apprentice, which was to prove invaluable training for his future escapologist profession. He also was very interested in physical fitness and won awards in athletics and swimming.
Aged 15, Ehrich read the autobiography by the French magician Jean-Eugene Robert-Houdin.
The book changed his life.
As a tribute to his hero, he called himself ‘Houdini’ with the Hungarian style adjectival ‘i’ form meaning ‘Houdin-like’, and started performing magic shows for $12 a week.
In 1892, Houdini formed a double act with his brother Ferencz, who had changed his name to Theo and later performed under the name Hardeen. The Houdini Brothers first performed the ‘Metamorphosis Illusion’ at Coney Island, Houdini repeated this trick more than 11,000 times during his career.
In June 1892, while working at Coney Island, in June 1894, Houdini met his future wife, Bess, a singer and dancer with the Floral Sisters.
They were married two weeks later and Bess replaced Theo in the double act, which then became known as The Houdinis.
The couple worked for P.T. Barnum’s museum, for circuses, at fairs and even on Native American reservations.
Houdini did complicated card tricks but mainly concentrated on broadening his repertoire of extraordinary escape stunts. Houdini developed the ‘handcuff challenge’ act, offering $100 to anyone in the audience if they could produce a pair of handcuffs he couldn’t get out of, he never had to pay out.
However, Houdini’s target of fame and fortune still eluded him.
Houdini’s luck changed when he met the top booking agent, Martin Beck. Beck put him as headliner on the vaudeville Orpheum tour, where Houdini concentrated on escapes and illusions, with one attention-grabbing novelty act.
In each city, that the Orpheum vaudeville show visited, Houdini got the police to lock him up in the city jail and then he would escape, with great publicity. His weekly wage packet immediately doubled to $125.
In 1900, the Houdinis sailed to London for their first tour of Europe. Houdini grabbed the public’s attention with daredevil stunts such as escaping from handcuffs in Scotland Yard, jumping into the river Seine with handcuffs on and emerging from the waters without them.
Houdini soon became a star and the highest paid entertainer in Europe.
The couple returned to New York and bought a home there.
Houdini was mentally, as well as physically, very strong.
One of his favourite catchphrases was “My brain is the key that sets me free.”
He devised more and more outlandish stunts and ever more ingenious methods of escaping. He escaped from padded cells, death row cells, coffins, sunken packing crates, a enormous paper bag which remained intact, a roll-top desk, burglar-proof safes, a giant football, an iron boiler, a diving suit, a mail bag, a plate glass box, and one of the most unusual, a preserved giant squid!
Combining his early training in swimming and as a locksmith, Houdini astounded the public by jumping into San Francisco Bay with a 75-pound ball and chain shackled to his ankles plus handcuffs on his wrists.
He emerged unscathed.
In New York he escaped from a weighted packing case dropped into the East River, and repeated the stunt nightly in a huge tank in a theatre in town.
When he went on tour, Houdini knew how to attract attention and draw crowds to his shows. Before the evening performance, he would escape from a straight jacket while suspended by a rope from a high building above the gathering crowd.
Houdini returned to London many times and there, in 1914, created the famous ‘Chinese water torture cell’ act, in which he was dangled upside down by his feet in a locked tank of water.
As Houdini’s fame grew, so did his stunts. One illusion, ‘Jenny the Vanishing Elephant’ was the world’s largest and needed a special gigantic stage at the New York Hippodrome.
An all-round entertainer, Houdini also acted in silent thriller movies, and produced several films with himself as the lead.
In 1926, Houdini began a crusade against spiritualists and mediums, whom he considered charlatans, out to swindle grieving families of their money. He testified before a congressional committee investigating spiritualists.
Houdini performed a series of death-defying stunts such as swallowing needles and threat and then pulling them from his mouth and lying underwater in a sealed casket for 90 minutes, breaking the world record.
However, it was ironic that his untimely death came as the result of a seemingly minor problem, appendicitis.
On October 22, 1926, Houdini was preparing for a show at the Princess Theatre in Montreal when a student from McGill University asked if he was strong enough to withstand a punch in the stomach.
Houdini tightened his stomach muscles and a young man hit him three times, causing his appendix to burst. At the time, Houdini didn’t realise what had happened and continued the tour, despite great pain.
Nine days later, after performing at the Garrick Theatre in Detroit, Houdini collapsed and died from peritonitis aged only 52. The date was October 31 – Halloween.
Despite Houdini’s distaste for spiritualism, to this day people still hold séances in an attempt to contact the great escapologist, and the first international superstar of the 20th century.

(first published in 2004 in The Budapest Sun)

Saturday 5 March 2011

Miksa Róth - genius of stained glass

Walking through the rooms in the apartment where Miksa Róth once lived is a strange experience, as the man who spent his life making stunning stained glass windows and intricate mosaics in a myriad colours, apparently chose to live in surroundings that were entirely in shades of brown.
The bedroom, dining room and living room where the Róth family resided in Nefelejcs utca near Keleti Station have been preserved and restored to show visitors exactly how life was at the turn of the century.
Róth’s work can be seen in other rooms and the vivid colours, patterns and luscious designs of the glasswork and mosaics contrast with his day to day living conditions, the browns and beiges of the flocked wallpaper, tables, chairs, curtains and bed linen.
”After 10 years of expert work and dedication I think we can finally say we have a home worthy of the name of Miksa Róth,” said Mihály Ráday, head of the City Protection Association at the opening of the memorial house and museum.
Zoltán Szabó, Mayor of District VII said the collection contained “unparalleled value” but that more financial support would be needed to achieve the dream of creating a stained glass centre.
Born in 1865, Miksa Róth was 19 years old when he took over his father Zsigmond’s workshop and the craft of glass painting was still in its infancy. In 1855 English glass workers succeeded in creating an "antique glass" effect.
This coloured glass was suitable for the repair and restoration of the windows of medieval churches, as well as for decorating the new romantic, and the historically eclectic designs. By 1880, workshops were sprouting up in the capital, the most significant of which belonged to Miksa Róth, who at the turn of the century was providing work for 10 trainees, working on both public and private building commissions.

Miksa Róth’s first significant work was in 1886 in Máriafalva (Mariasdorf, Austria) where Imre Steindl was leading the reconstruction of the Roman Catholic church.
Earlier Róth had studied the stained glass windows of Gothic cathedrals on a tour of Europe.
During the reconstruction of many other national monuments, Róth designed Gothic stained glass windows at Keszthely for the reconstruction of the Roman Catholic church led by Samu Pecz (architect of the main market hall in Budapest) in 1896.
In Budapest, you can see examples of his beautiful work in the Gresham Palace (now the newly opened Four Seasons hotel), the Agricultural Museum, the Music Academy and the Andrássy Dining
Room amongst many others. The plans for the stained glass windows of the Parliament building were
prepared in 1890. Róth took into account both the staircase’s light source and the building’s interior decoration, and decided to use the Grotesque style originating from the Renaissance period.
Reflecting the multi-coloured nature of Hungarian architecture at the turn of the century, Róth created windows in many styles: Historic, Hungarian Secession, Art Nouveau, Jugenstil and Viennese Secession.

Róth’s craft was given a new inspiration when he saw the "opalescent" and "favril" glass made by Louis Comfort Tiffany, whose display at the 1893 Chicago World Trade Fair, entitled Four Seasons featured shimmering,
iridescent colours and an immediately popular natural marbling effect of the glass.
Róth was also influenced by the work of the English pre-Raphaelite artists, in particular Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris. In 1897, Miksa Róth bought a collection of opalescent glass from the Hamburg
glass painter Karl Engelbrecht, and began to regularly order glass from his factory.
At the 1898 Budapest Museum of Applied Arts’ Christmas Exhibition Róth displayed glass windows prepared using a type of Tiffany glass, seen for the first time in the Austro-Hungarian monarchy.
Róth won the silver medal at the Paris World Exhibition in 1900 with the Pax and Rising Sun mosaics made with opalescent glass.
The Róth workshop then made a large number of stained glass windows with floral designs, whose success could be attributed to the nostalgia felt by people living then in large cities for the lost world of nature.
In Budapest the stairwells and lifts were brightened up with luxuriant gardens in place of the drab partition walls and dark corridors.
Middle class citizens even decorated their parlours with the symbolic motives of flowers: Irises, lilies, sunflowers, poppies and roses, birds such as peacocks and swans, and fauns, nymphs, fairies and female figures frolicking in gardens, arbours and riverbanks to recall the lost period of the Golden Age.
One of Róth’s most significant creations using opalescent glass was for cupola of the Teatro Nacional in Mexico City, which he carried out according to designs by Géza Maróti.With this work he showed details of geometric design of the Jugenstil and Viennese Secession which he also used in windows for Bank Building (1905 Ignác Alpár), the Gresham Palace (1907 Zsigmond Quittner and József Vágó) and the Music Academy (1907 Flóris Korb and Kálmán Giergl) . Róth worked with many of the best architects, builders and designers of the time.

For Ödön Lechner's magnificent Post Office Savings Bank building, Róth created an unusual mosaic, embedded into cement. In 1910, Róth created the gorgeous windows of the Culture Palace in Marosvásárhely (Targu Mures in Romania). In the Hall of Mirrors, scenes from traditional Székely fairy tales, ballads and legends are featured in the 12 stained glass windows which fill the entire length of the long hall. It is worth a visit to Marosvásárhely alone to stand among these magical and colourful designs.
Róth worked for a long time in conjunction with two artists from the Gödöllô artists’ settlement, Sándor Nagy and Aladár Kriesch Körösfôi. Together they created the Hungarian Secession style windows for the National Salon and the windows and mosaics for the Hungarian House in Venice. For the
Marosvásárhely Culture House triptych, also based on Nagy’s designs, Róth used a special medieval technique, employing thick leading and strong lines. From the 1920s Róth mainly received commissions from the Church and State.
He died in 1944 after a lifetime of bringing joy and colour to the world with his beautiful creations.

Miksa Róth’s apartment/museum- Róth Miksa Emlékház
VII. Nefelejc utca 26
Open: Tues-Sun 2pm-6pm
Tel: 341 6789

Tuesday 23 November 2010

Kiss Tel Aviv

Pozsonyi út

Pozsonyi út cover story (first published in 1998)
By Lucy Mallows

Pozsonyi út – or ‘Bratislava Street’ to give it its vaguely anglicised equivalent - runs through the XIII district of Újlipótváros (New Leopold Town) leading north parallel with Margit Sziget on the Pest bank of the Danube
It is now known as Kiss Tel Aviv (Little Tel Aviv), as a large Jewish community is gradually moving back into the rather upmarket district, recreating the pre-war environment - a cultural, educated community of politicians, writers, actors and the small traders and menders who give it an unmistakable atmosphere.
Shops along the acacia-lined street offer flowers, jewels, fur coats and beauty products, blending in with the old style shoe repairers, zip menders and dingy borozós (wine bars). There is an abundance of hostelries with terraces on the pavements, squeezed in between parked cars.
Shop-keepers all stand on their doorsteps, gazing out at the traffic and greeting passers-by by name. “Csók életem,” (Kisses, my life) says furrier Ica Nagy, with time on her hands, since the fur trade is stagnant in the heat of summer.
Her red neon Szûcs sign has beamed out from No. 13 for 45 years.
She has seen many changes in her 65 years of living in Pozsonyi út, which she says had a tram running along it and cobblestones, and must have resembled a thinner version of today's Bartók Béla út in Buda, until 1958.
In 1956, the peaceful scene was rudely interrupted in the autumn by Russian tanks. Nagy stayed in the street throughout the revolution and witnessed much fighting from her doorway. There are bullet marks on the walls above the shop and Nagy says, "I was even shot at when I hurried across the road to a café opposite to buy biscuits."
István Nagy opened his furriers (szûcs) in 1932, when many of the buildings were newly built. He died twenty years ago, but his seventy-year-old wife has continued the fur business on these premises with her son helping.
She says life was better in the old days, "The old style of rich people were very different from the new style rich."
She says the area was typified by gentle folk, actors and politicians. Now she lives in fear of burglars, as robbers are working their way down the street.

Much of Pozsonyi út's elegant buildings were erected in the thirties, and the style is inimitably square, solid, with the flats' interiors cavernous and spacious. Real estate prices in the area are soaring and the only reason Ica Nagy is not squeezed out is because she now owns the premises.
Another couple feeling the pinch are János and Éva Víg who have run the Víg-Vino Borkimérés at No. 5 (wine off-licence and specialty wine shop) for five years.
Before that, they sold spare parts, but like many of the small businesses which open and close every day on Pozsonyi út, they tried something different. It seems to be going well, on a Monday afternoon business is brisk, as customers pass under a beautiful claret and gold sign, which recalls past trading outlets.
The sign, Éva says is "Bordeaux for the wine and gold because gold comes from wine." János says he has over 300 hundred wines from all over Hungary, the best region he says is Villányi. "There is no better wine in the world than Hungarian," he says proudly.
Éva is not so enthusiastic, "If I could do it all over again, I would not open a shop here," she says, "People open businesses on this street every day because they think there's money in it, but we don't get so many customers passing through here and many close down soon. Only old people live here."
Besides specialist wines from private vineyards, they also measure out cheaper wine for pensioners who bring along recyclable bottles. "This used to be a very high class area in the past, but it's gone downhill lately," sighs Éva.
A sign engraved in stone above the door reveals that Ginczler Herman designed the building in 1939.
Pozsonyi út has a coffee pot mender, a watch mender, shoe mender, scores of bars and restaurants, you could live your whole life here and never have to leave.
Ágnes Asbóth, out walking her fox terrier, Samu has lived here all her 37 years, and has no desire to leave. She continues the literary traditions by proof-reading novels from her flat overlooking the park.
A walk down Pozsonyi út continually reminds us of the rich literary heritage, starting at Jászai Mari tér, named after great Hungarian tragedy actress, Mari Jászai, who played many Shakespearean roles in the now demolished National Theatre.
The street then crosses over Katona József utca, a plaque describes how he wrote Bank Ban.
Radnóti Miklós utca commemorates one of Hungary's best loved poets, a Jewish writer who died on his way back from a Hungarian labor camp. Some of his most moving poetry was found sewn into the lining of his jacket.
Not only Hungarian authors are credited. French writers Balzac and Viktor Hugo are also remembered in streets, as is Russian writer Nikolai Gogol.
Pozsonyi út begins in earnest after the Budai Nagy Antal utca where the two trolleys 76 & 79 have their termini, although in reality the route merely continues in a ring cycle all day long, leading along a back route over the Nyugati railway line to Baross tér and Keleti station.
On the corner at No. 3 is the Szamovár presszó (cafe), redecorated recently, and changed from the tradition brown presszó style into a hideous shade of kingfisher blue.
On the pavement outside is a little flower stall, one of the many flower vendors of Pozsonyi út, which while enjoying its fair share of busy traffic, can also claim to be one of Budapest's most green streets.
A little further on, the Piccolo Sörbár (beer bar) has a little terrace outside, where you can enjoy a cool korsó (half-litre mug) on plastic garden chairs under the trees. Many squeeze into its tiny premises, which still retains its sixties decor.
If you walked the length of Pozsonyi út and sunk a korsó at each of the many watering holes, you'd certainly not be able to walk straight back.
Over the road at No 4 is the Kandinszky bar. Inyenc ('taste treat') at No. 7 offers specialty teas and coffees and things in mayonnaise to take away.
Virágért ('For Flowers') recalls the socialist days when shops simply stated what you could buy - if it was in stock -virágért (for flowers), bútorért (for furniture), közért (for general goods).
Opposite at No. 10 is Villért (for lighting), still displaying the old, much the worse for wear, neon sign, where ‘lighting technology’ can be bought.
To illustrate Mrs Víg's statements, we next pass some empty show fronts, gathering dust, while opposite, a new, very chi-chi jeweller’s Grén offers special gold jewelry for graduation ceremonies.
Over the road at No. 10, the Kiskakkuk étterem (Little cuckoo restaurant) a famous old style Hungarian restaurant appears to be also in a state of transition and dust gathers in the windows.
Further along, István Gödör and György Takács run a hairdresser, where, to my horror, they once managed to tease my very short hair into a towering sixties beehive, which, no doubt took a certain skill and whimsy.

We are now on the corner of Raoul Wallenberg utca where an elaborate and tasteful plaque and bust conglomeration commemorates the Swedish diplomat whose heroic acts saved thousands of Jewish people from the gas chambers. Many of the houses on the street, for example No. 14, were used as 'safe houses' under diplomatic protection for Jewish to hide in during WWII.
A TV Shop showroom sits next to Novaglobus, which is worth visiting to see its window display of sinister equipment and spare parts. One can barely imagine what the plastic tubing and oddly-shaped creations are used for. Over the road, the Pozsonyi Kisvendéglô offers a good list of soups and meaty dishes.
On the corner with Radnóti Miklós utca is a little patch of green in front of the Herman Ottó primary school.
A statue of a young girl in white marble sits outside the red brick school building.
Opposite at Number 26, a very beautiful building with elegant balustrades and wrought iron work sits among the rather square thirties' blocks.
The Ipoly Café, named after a river that rises in Slovakia, at Pozsonyi út 28 always has a crowd of shifty-looking men in sunglasses, sitting outside on the pavement enjoying Segafredo coffee and gossip, while their radio phones lie dormant, lined up on the metal tables.
At Pozsonyi út 31 we are approximately half way along the street, at the corner of Gergely Gyôzô utca. There is a strong wine smell from the mulberry tree and its overripe fruit lying crushed on the concrete pavement.
On the corner with Balzac utca, the Cipôjávító szalon (shoe mender's salon) is an excellent shoe repairer which also mends shoes, cuts keys, un-snags zips, lifts skirts and reattaches all manner of attachments.
Opposite is a beautiful old fashioned borozó sign featuring a bunch of grapes of the Móri borozó. The sign says the wine comes from grapes produced on a state farm. Inside, little square tables are covered with green checked tablecloths in a very atmospheric modest bar.

Next door, a real estate agents offers a roof terrace on Balzac utca with 110 square meters, two and a half rooms and balcony for Ft120,000 per month rent. You can have a 55 square meter cellar on Szent István Park for 25 thousand forints a month
The traffic whizzes past in both directions and you have to pick your way gingerly through the cars parked all over the pavements too.
On Herzen utca, a beautiful building, designed by Hugo Gregersen in 1937, is decorated by a woman's face in stone watching over the door in the company of lions and griffins.
Crossing over Herzen utca, the Bébi Cukrászda (Baby Patisserie) has the traditional neon sign and some wonderful cakes and dolls made from icing in the window.
Szent István Park looks like a building site these days, which is basically what it has become. Hundreds of workmen bustle around, driving buzzing dumper trucks or shovelling earth mounds.
While restoration work trundles on, sad residents dolefully walk their dogs. Bereft of the once beautiful walking area, they wander over mounds of earth and rolls of wire.
Sándor Fegyverneky, chief builder for the XIII local government says the original style of the spacious, bushy park will not be changed. "The park will keep the original style, the pool, paths and bushes will all be renovated and replanted and it should be completed on September 1st." Fortunately, he says, the two empty temple stone buildings will not be removed. "The atmosphere of a park comes not only from its vegetation but from the buildings, so nothing will be taken away," says Fegyverneky.
Around the corner of the park, at Újpesti rakpart, a modest doorway leads to the ex-residence of ex-Prime Minister Gyula Horn. Just after he became PM, a dubious looking caravan tried to blend in with the bushy scenery in Szent István Park, and burly chaps in sunglasses sat all day watching something, while cables and wires lead to the apartment block.
On the left hand side overlooking the park, is a beautiful thirties block in white marble with arched doorways at Pozsonyi út 38. The Dunapark café used to be on the ground floor. Its modern, split-level interior is still visible through giant windows.
2010 Update: The Dunapark cafe has since reopened and its elegant Art Deco interior has been tastefully restored to its former glory. The cafe is very popular, especially in summer, when the tables and chairs spills out onto the pavement and almost into the bushes of neighbouring Szent István Park, also now renovated and restored (

At the junction with Viktor Hugo utca and Wahrmann Mór an amazing triangular shaped building with six sunny yellow balconies (see main photo at the top) looks like it must have been where they filmed the advertisement for Crepto toilet paper - the scene when each resident comes out onto the balcony and simultaneously cuts a slice of toilet paper.
However, in the Cosmax beauty salon underneath, receptionist Ilona Csányi says its not the building featured, "Although many people come in and ask whether it is," she says, adding that she thinks the area is still very high class, judging from the clientele of actresses and politicians' wives who come in for expensive treatments.
2010 Update: The Cosmax beauty salon is now the Sarki Fuszeres (Corner Spicey), an elegant new cafe and delicatessen. On my most recent visit, I spotted the writer, Budapest-authority and self-confessed Pest 'egghead' Andras Torok, sitting outside, drinking coffee and reading a novel. No doubt by Peter Esterhazy or Frigyes Karinthy...
It's worth peeping in the hall of this building, a little further along the street, as it has a famous Art Deco hallway and staircase.
Pozsonyi út 40's hallway is featured in this blog

At Pozsonyi út 53 is the most beautiful doorway in the street. Peasant scenes are carved in stone above the door and the window frames are old brown wood offset by the dark green leaves of succulent pot plants in the lobby. Inside a rounded staircase leads up from an elegant hallway, lined with brown marble columns. It is the home of Mozsolits and Associates legal offices.
A smell of lecsó (Hungarian-style ratatouille) cooking pervades the heavy summer atmosphere, the paprika aroma is unmistakable. This is very much a lived-in street, despite all the offices and shops.
The Cheers sörözô at Pozsonyi út 52 is dusty and empty - it probably couldn't compete with the Tiszakecske Solohov borozó at No 48 where a korsó of draught beer costs only Ft95.
Further along, some of the housing estate apartment buildings are not so easy on the eye but at Pozsonyi út 63, the mood is brightened by a sign on the Hand in Hand (Kéz a kézben) delicatessen announcing “the sheep's cheese has arrived!”
On the left side of the road is the very blue, modern ÁPV Rt building, which looks out across the river to Margit Sziget. Next to the material is the spiritual.
The Pozsonyi út Reform church, where Bible classes, Sunday school and services all take place in the modern building, which looks marginally better from the river side. A separate Bauhaus-style tower recalls those in Pasaréti tér and Csaba utca.
Pozsonyi út started with a computer equipment shop and now ends with ABN Amro bank headquarters, within the high-tech commercial bookends lies a wealth of literary history.

Friday 24 September 2010

Katalin Karády - actress of action

In this age of great cinematic ideas but scarce financial backing, Hungarian film makers often look back with wistful nostalgia to the 1940s - a golden age of Magyar cinema when such charismatic stars as Pál Jávor, Klári Tolnay and Zita Perczel graced the screen.
One star who shone particularly brightly was Katalin Karády, a brilliant actress whose life matched many of her roles for drama and intensity.
In 2001, director Péter Bacsó, maker of the wonderful satire 'A Tanú' (the Witness), shot the film, 'Hamvadó cigarettavég' (The Smoldering Cigarette End) in Budapest about the life of Karády and the interest in her career and life is as alive as ever. ‘It’s not a documentary, but a fictive work with history, tragedy and comedy. In fact, everything is in it,’ Bacsó said.
Karády is remembered fondly in the winter months. Her birthday falls in early December and her name day on November 25. On both days, wreaths are placed beneath a plaque outside her flat on District V’s Nyáry Pál utca. During the 1956 Revolution, a fan placed a wreath of fresh fir branches and red carnations with a message which read, ‘Your soul lives forever’.
Karády is remembered not only for her considerable thespian talent but also for her tremendous courage in standing up to oppressors.
The plaque placed by the local government in 1991 on the wall of the now-faded Art Deco building reads, ‘In this building lived Katalin Karády (1912-1990), popular actress in many Hungarian films and protector of those persecuted in 1944’.
During the Second World War, Karády owned three flats in and around Budapest and she used these places as refuges for Jewish friends to hide and escape the Nazi terror and deportation to death camps. In her autobiographical paperback, ‘Hogyan lettem színésznô?’ (How did I become an Actress?), Karády wrote, ‘My frail constitution could not bear the fact that tens of thousands were being taken away in wagons to their deaths’. If they were arrested, she would go out to the detention centre at Kistarcsa and attempt to bring them back.
Bacsó’s film honours her bravery and ends with a scene depicting how Karády was arrested in 1944 by the Gestapo while singing on the radio in her inimitable smoky voice. She was incarcerated, beaten and questioned for three months, but never gave in.
During the 1940s, Karády made some 20 classic films, from period costume dramas like ‘Erzsébet királyné’ (Queen Elizabeth) to brooding mysteries such as ‘Valamit visz a víz’ (The Water Brings Something) in which the role gave opportunity for her to display her dangerous, sensual intensity. Karády was compared to everyone from Rita Hayworth to Barbara Stanwick, Jane Russell to Greta Garbo, although she had a personality all her own and with her square jawline and determined character, could compete with Hollywood’s best.
It seemed there was no role she couldn’t play, from the suicidal rejected lover in ‘Ne kérdezd, ki voltam’ (Don’t Ask Who I Was) to the spoiled, disturbed maiden in ‘A szûz és a gödölye’ (the Virgin and the Kid Goat) or the faithful wife who turns vivacious vamp in ‘Alkalom’ (Occasion).
Karády’s humble childhood in the capital’s outer district of Kôbánya hardly gave clues as to the stage and screen actress of stature she was to become. Her strict father often used his belt or his fists on Karády and her six older siblings and forbade visits to the cinema or theatre.
Karády’s early appearance also gave little hints of the stunning, smouldering beauty which would emerge from the chrysalis. ‘How was I? Like all premature babies: Puny, weak, sickly in appearance, stunted in growth,’ wrote Karády . One aunt took a look at her and said cruelly, ‘Well, it will sure be difficult to find a husband for Kati without paying’.
However, by her teens Karády had blossomed with a natural, compelling charisma which never faded, even after she emigrated to Brazil in 1951 and from there to New York in 1977, where she made hats and lived until her death in 1990.
By the age of 14, Karády had developed a passion for clothes and with her slim, big-boned figure could wear them with panache.
A decisive moment came when she recited the ‘Little Cripple’ verse in front of her first significant audience and it was a success.
She wrote, ‘I felt this was my chosen path. They listened to me, they watched me, I am the centre’.
Karády dropped out of her second year of high school at 16 and married a much older man, but the marriage quickly floundered.
However, she appeared on the Vígszínház theatre stage in Budapest and soon attracted a host of admirers, for her personality as well as her acting abilities.
In 1939, Karády made her first film, ‘Halálos tavasz’ (Lethal Spring), and became an overnight star.
She attracted attention with her alternative lifestyle, threw great parties and was rarely seen without a cigarette between her full lips. The title of ‘Hamvadó cigarettavég’, with Eszter Nagy Kállóczy in the leading role, is taken from one of Karády’s songs, performed in her husky voice.
The Gestapo arrested Karády on April 18, 1944, allegedly for her relationships with Colonel Újszászy, played in the new film by popular actor György Cserhalmi. Karády had been attacked in the press for her ‘liberalism’ and she even wondered if the authorities had confused her with one of her roles - she played a Magyar Mata Hari in the 1943 film ‘Machita’.
In prison, Karády was beaten severely and was not released until late summer.
After the war, Karády made only one more film, ‘Forró mezôk’ (Hot Meadows), in 1948 and, three years later, she left Hungary. Katalin Karády died on 8 February 1990 and her ashes were brought back to Budapest a year later.
She lies in the artists’ plot in Farkasréti cemetery.
In 2004, Katalin Karády received the posthumour Righteous medal from the Yad Vashem Institute in recognition of her courageous acts during World War II.
Karády’s films are often shown on Hungarian television and videos of her work can be rented from Odeon film outlets in Budapest.
Bacsó’s docu-drama, which showed in cinemas in 2001, introduced a new generation to her electrifying presence: A consummate actress, a powerful personality and a very brave human being.

Tuesday 4 May 2010

Dob utca history


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.