Friday 21 December 2007

Andrássy út - a street of dreams

©LRM2007 Kodály körönd

Politician and nobleman Count Gyula Andrássy returned to Hungary in the 1880s after a period in France, with his head full of ideas. Like most visitors to Paris, he was impressed by the grandeur of the Champs Elysées and decided that Budapest also needed a grand boulevard to complement the boom in building, transport and cultural life in the city at the end of the 19th century.

"However, Andrássy út turned out even better, and under its length in 1896 we created the first underground railway on the European continent, three years before Paris," said Éva Tétényi, chief architect for District VI.

Budapest's most elegant boulevard leads north east from Deák Ferenc tér to Hôsök tere, the square of heroes and gateway to the Városliget (City Park). The 2.5km boulevard resembles the Champs Elysées in grandeur, atmosphere and layout. Previously the only route was along Király utca which was narrow and crowded.

When the avenue was renovated in 1995, the candelabra lamps, cobblestones, antiquated phone booths and metro and bus-stop signs were the result of campaigning by the City Protection Office and leader Mihály Ráday.

The street was first called Sugár út (Radial Strasse) in 1883, Andrássy út in 1886, Sztálin út (1950) the Magyar Ifjúság útja (Hungarian Street of Youth) in October 1956, Népköztársaság útja (People's Republic) in 1957, returning to the name of its founder, Andrássy in 1990.

A stroll along the beautiful boulevard is a chance to peer into the city's architectural, musical and literary history. The literary world of the coffee house is well-represented by the Muvész (No 29), the Eckermann (No 24) - formerly the Három Holló, a dirty dive frequented by poet Endre Ady - and the Media Club (No 101) on the terrace of the headquarters of Múosz, the Hungarian Association of Journalists. Others have gone or metamorphosised: The Reitter in the Dreschler Palace is now the Ballet Institute (No 25). After a stormy history the Lukács cukrászda occupies a corner of the CIB Bank (No 70).

The Írokboltja (Writers' Shop) at Liszt Ferenc tér used to be the Japán coffee house, named because of its decorative tiles, and the Abbázia coffee house at Oktogon is now a K & H Bank.

Musical geniuses Ferenc Erkel, Ferenc Liszt and Zoltán Kodály are also well-represented on Andrássy út. Kodály lived at Kodály körönd, where his memorial museum is now, and Liszt started up the original Music Academy in his own apartment at Andrássy út 35, where all three composers are remembered in marble plaques on the wall.

Foreign influences can be felt around the junction with Nagymezô utca, Pest?s Broadway, as the cultural centers of Bulgaria (No 14), Germany (No 24) and Poland (No 32) all have doorways onto the tree-lined avenue. Between Kodály körönd and City Park, the stretch of elegant villas are occupied by the embassies of Russia, South Korea, Turkey and Bulgaria, multi-national advertising agencies and law offices.

The recently-renovated Postal Museum occupies the first floor in a seven-roomed apartment (No 3). Károly Lotz created the frescos in the stair well and on the ceilings.

In 1884, Miklós Ybl designed the Opera House at Andrássy út 22. It took nine years to build and the then 26-year-old sculptor Alajos Strobl carved the marble for the sphinxes that guard the front portals.

The eclectic Dreschler palace (No 25) is now occupied by the Ballet Institute. Soon to be converted into a luxury hotel, a plaque on the wall reads "1893-1966 Ferenc Nádasi ballet master 'Let them love dance the way I loved it all my life'."

One of the most fascinating buildings stands at Andrássy út 39. Párizsi Nagyáruház (Parisian Grand Department Store) opened in 1911 with an imposing Art Nouveau facade. This seven-story building, built in 1882, was formerly the Teréz Town Casino and when textile magnate Sámuel Goldberger bought the premises he kept the ballroom, the Lotz Room, which still exists. The roof terrace even had a skating rink in the winter.

Oktogon, once on the path of a deep stream, has also been through a series of names. In 1936 it was named after Mussolini and from 1950 called November 7 tér after the 1917 Bolshevik revolution. On one of the eight sides is the giant Burger King, situated in a former cafe and restaurant, called the Savoy.

The address Andrássy út 60 has a sinister significance for many older Pest residents. A plaque explains, "Here József Mindszenty was tortured and humiliated by Gábor Péter, Gyula Décsi and other traitorous henchmen serving foreign powers." The building was known as the Green House, from the shirts of the Arrow Cross who detained mainly left-wing activists in 1939.

After the Second World War, the Communist party inherited the building and, with the bitter irony of history, the AVÓ (State security) also held and tortured left-wing activists and Communists. When it was opened recently, people queued to see their records.

On 24 February 2002, the building opened as a museum of dictatorship, called the Terror Háza (House of Terror, see article appearing soon).
The director is Dr Mária Schmidt.
The museum was set up under the former right-wing Fidesz government of Viktor Orbán. In December 2000, the Public Foundation for the Research of Central and East European History and Society had purchased the building with the aim of establishing a museum in order to commemorate these two bloody periods of Hungarian history.

Opposite, at Andrássy 69, the Báb Színház (Puppet Theater) and the Hungarian College of Applied Art occupy a sooty black building, constructed in 1877 to the designs of Adolf Láng, who included as many features of Italian Renaissance as physically possible.

At Andrássy út 73 there is a very impressive tableau by János Zsákosdi Csiszér (1932) commemorating the railway worker heroes of the 1914-1918 world war.

Kodály körönd is possibly the most stunning, atmospheric circle in Budapest, and one in the worst state of repair. Four statues grace each corner park: Poet Bálint Balássi, Miklós Zrinyi, Vak Bottyán, a 17th century general who fought the Turks, and György Szondi, the Drégely castle captain and hero.

After the körönd, the boulevard is lined with grand embassy villas each in separate, fenced off gardens. At Andrássy 103 is the Hopp Ferenc East Asian Art Museum. Ferenc Hopp (1833-1919) used his wife's family money to travel around the world five times and bring back treasures.

The Russian Cultural Center at Andrássy 102 is in a renovated building, designed by Imre Benes in 1915. Exhibitions, concerts and language classes all take place here and excellent pelmenyi (Russian ravioli) is served in the top floor cafe.

Andrássy út winds to a close at No 129 with the Yugoslav Embassy in the former Babócsay villa. In November 1956, Imre Nagy sought asylum here with his colleagues and family members.

The stretch between Liszt Ferenc tér and Hôsök tere has been nominated for the Unesco World Heritage List, a decision which will be made this summer. Andrássy ends at the the statue of Archangel Gabriel, who appeared to King Saint Stephen in a dream and brought him the crown, a fitting finale to a grand boulevard.

Tuesday 4 December 2007

The Tale of the Trams

With the devastating news that the 19, 41, 47 & 49 trams will all be gone by the end of 2007, I have found an article I wrote in 1998 after interview a gentleman at Budapest's Museum of Transport.
For many years, I travelled to work everyday on the 47/49, on those days when I didn't walk, because - in truth - the tram rattling and sudden jerking nearly put my spine right out and I have to admit it wasn't that pleasant being coughed on by alcoholics and homeless (who virtually live on the 47/49) at 8.30am. It's not a great start to the day.
NB. Budapest trams SHOULD always STAY YELLOW!
Confine those nasty orange German Combino-monsters to the depths of Hades. It is impossible to breathe on a Combino, how come they spend huge amounts of money and then bugger up the air-con?

The Tale of the Trams

The yellow tram is a distinctive feature of Budapest's urban landscape.
Visitors to Budapest will undoubtedly have had a ride on the "négyes-hatos" (the 'four and six') and maybe a run-in with the terrifying "ellenôr" who whips out his red armband, causing scores of Magyar youths to suddenly decide they want to stand somewhere else, namely at the other end of the narrow yellow metal snake that winds its way through Budapest streets.
Trams play a vital role in the city's transport system, "Without the four-six tram, Budapest would die," said Miklós Merczi, a research worker at the Transport Museum in Városliget.
This role was recognized 111 years ago, when the first tram line from Nyugati station to Király utca was inaugurated.
"Its operation makes less noise, it's easier and safer to stop quickly than other trains, and it does not pollute the streets, does not produce smoke and does not induce sparks either," said the record of the event.
The "négyes-hatos" no longer bumps and grinds its way around the nagy körút but since the renewal of the tracks in 1994/7, it glides like an Olympic ice-skater.
The "négyes-hatos" is the perfect sightseeing ride for visitors, although like the No. 2 tram, it is plagued with pickpocket gangs in the summer.
These gangs target those who obviously look like tourists or who look too eagerly at the stunning view- difficult to avoid on Margit híd or the Pest embankment.
The view can be seen when "négyes-hatos" circles from Moszkva tér across Margit híd, revealing Parliament, the Castle, the Liberation monument, the Chain Bridge all in one panoramic swoop.
Then the tram traverses the vast arc of the nagy körút with Nyugati, Oktogon, Blaha Lujza tér, Rákóczi tér, Boráros tér, across Petôfi híd.
From there, the six half of the eternal tram pair goes on to Móricz Zsigmond körtér, where you can complete the circle by taking the No. 61 tram back to Moszkva tér, along Villányi út past the bottomless lake.
At present, 30 tram lines operate in Budapest on working days, with 762 tram cars transporting approximately 370 million passengers a year on the 155km long network..
The environmentally-friendly tram was first introduced in Budapest in 1887. The first public trams in the world were introduced only six years earlier in 1881, near Berlin.
"In fact, Budapest was the first city in the world with a permanent town central tram system," said Merczi.
Before electric trams, horses pulled the carriages along the tracks, through Budapest.
Pest's first horse drawn tramway car, which departed from outside the Lutheran church in Deák tér on 30 July 1866, was the third of its kind in Europe.
It connected the two termini at Szénapiac ('haymarket'- today Kálvin tér) and the shipyards of the First Pest-Fiume Shipbuilding Co. in outer Újpest, with stops at the National Museum, the Café Zrínyi (now Astoria), Saint Stephen's Basilica and The Railway Station (today Nyugati-western station).
The horse tramway's first terminus building, the "Hunter's Manor" by the Northern Railway Bridge survives to this day.
The Szénapiac -Újpest line was built by the Pest Street Railway Company, a firm established by Sándor Károlyi & Co., the same entrepreneurs who constructed the Városliget (City Park) and Kôbánya lines two years later, in 1868.
At first, the horse tramway only had single track lines with passing places, but by 1870, traffic had become so busy that parallel tracks had to be built.
At the same time the company opened its Rákospalota route and another running to the Municipal Slaughter House.
In Buda, entrepreneur József Szekrényessy took out a license in 1852 to build a tramway line between the Császár Baths and Zugliget, but the route was not actually constructed until another contractor, the Buda Street Company, realized the project.
This route had several steep rises, where an auxiliary team of horses was needed.
"Over are the days of the battles which cost us so many broken necks, sprained wrists, flattened feet, fractured noses and ribs, battles only fought by those reckless enough to brave the dangers involved in forcefully occupying an omnibus seat," wrote the periodical Magyarország és a nagyvilág, reporting the opening of the new tram line.
The other Buda line, also opened in 1868, connected the Buda side of the Lánchíd and Óbuda's main square.
It was the last horse tramway line to be built in Buda.
Margit Bridge, opened in 1876, provided a connection between the Pest and Buda networks and made changing trams possible.
There were often heated disputes over whether the Pest or the Buda company's cars should cross the bridge and enter the other's territory.
These were only settled when the richer Pest Street Railway Company bought up its Buda counterparts.
The new company was named the Budapest Street Railway Company.
There was a setback during the depression of 1873, but by 1890, the number of journeys by horse tramway had reached 18 million a year.
Initially a first class ticket between Kálvin tér and Újpest cost twenty krajcárs, while a third class ticket cost ten krajcárs (this amount could buy three eggs).
In the 1890's the idea arose that a new street railway equipped with engine -drawn carriages should be installed in Budapest.
The first electric tramway in Budapest ran between Nyugati Station and Király utca and was opened on 28 November 1887.
"Budapest's first tramway had a narrow track and the electric current was supplied from below, since the authorities said overhead lines were too ugly," said Merczi.
Similarly to the system used in today's metro, there was a third rail underneath one of the rails on the which the cars actually ran and this was connected to the 300 volt DC power supply, insulated inside a porcelain holders.
"This device made travel rather unreliable, as mud or snow could get into the power line, upsetting traffic for half a day," said Merczi.
Prompted by the success of the experiment, entrepreneurs decided to build the Podmaniczky utca and Stáció (today Baross ) utca routes as electric tram lines in 1888, even though these were first designed for steam engines.
The route was owned by the first Budapest City Railway Company (BVVV). Its former headquarters in Akácfa utca today houses the head office of the Budapest Public Transport Authority (BKV).
The first central electric generator can still be seen in the courtyard. In 1890 the Budapest electric tramway system had 4.5 million passengers while horse-drawn trams carried 18 million. The builders of the tram system made many masterly technological and architectural innovations.
One of these was the track mounted on iron supports and viaducts, which was built along the promenade on the Pest embankment.
During the period of idyllic peace before the first world war, Budapest experienced rapid growth and became a real metropolis.
Overcrowded trains with "full" signs crawled along with clusters of passengers, hanging on to the bars by the steps.
Writer Andor Gábor wrote the following cabaret song, supposedly sung by a passenger on giving up his soul as he was squashed flat in a tram car.

Two hundred were there in the tram
I couldn't move them with a ram
Pushed and shoved thus in keen fever
Having with me no steel lever
So sighed a man in pain and sore
Your knee in me a hole will bore
Revenge he took with no more sigh
And broke my leg bone in the thigh
I knew not how to heavens cry
Jesus my Lord shall I here die?

The total length of all the tracks in the network had reached 175.5 kilometers by the end of the First World War and the number of passengers carried annually exceeded 300 million.
"Tram routes in those days were always incredibly long, it was quite usual for a journey from terminus to terminus to take well over an hour," saidMerczi.
Under government supervision, all companies were centrally controlled for a while even after a decree to nationalize them, passed by the Revolutionary Government Council on 31 October 1918 was annulled on 10 August 1919.
To improve the deteriorating conditions the Budapest Capital City Transport Co. was formed - known by its Hungarian acronym BSZKRT, pronounced "besscart."
The second World War saw an even greater damage to the transport system than had been experienced in 1914-18.
However, the first post-war tram running between Forgách utca and the Újpest water tower, started very soon , on 7 February, just a few days before the city was liberated from the German occupation.
On 20 August 1946, the first tram links (routes 48, 49 and 63) were reconstructed between the two sides of the river Danube across the reconstructed Szabadság híd. The tracks stretched for 490 km.

The poet László Benjámin wrote about the tram system in his poem
From Vadaskerti út to Kálvin tér
First on the 56
Then on the 63
and on and on
Whichever number....
Doesn't bother me

Fare dodging has been a custom in Budapest, ever since the first trams appeared.
This custom has even left a trace in the language.
The slang term to describe the activity is 'tujázni' from 'hátulja' meaning its rear, or to travel on the tram's rear.
'Tujázni' now means to go by tram and a 'tuja' is an affectionate slang word for a tram.
During the period 1945-1967, people were far-dodging so regularly that the takings of the conductors slumped so it became necessary to simplify the fare system and abolish transfer tickets.
The Budapest Transport Company BKV, founded in 1968, has increased its fares by 2500 percent over the past ten years.
Throughout the world, there are not a lot of real tram cities.
There are cities that have streetcar service, but only a few in which trams are essential, where they are a part of the character of the city.
On the European mainland, Merczi said, "More than one hundred towns have tram services." In pre-Trianon Hungary, more than 20 Hungarian towns had tram services - Sopron, Szombathely, Nyíregyháza, and also Timesoara, Kosice and Zagreb. Nowadays, only four towns in Hungary use trams, Budapest, Miskolc, Debrecen and Szeged.
In Central Europe, three real tram cities are the ones that were the largest settlements of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy: Vienna, Prague and Budapest.
Tram cities have a special atmosphere, because trams are special, and give a sense of rattling through history, taking part in a journey through time with others, witnessing mini-dramas and participating in life, rather than just sitting, isolated in a metal box getting road rage.
Trams themselves defy definition, they are different from buses, as they go on rails. They are different from trains and subways, as they go on the streets.
To travel the tram is a unique feeling; in some ways you are in the flow of traffic and in others you are out of it.
A famous Hungarian poet wrote of the feeling of traveling on streetcars:

O streetcars your yellow
Makes my heart mellow.
From your current collectors sparks fly
With them my soul rises high.
On you let me take a ride,
My spiritual guide.

The trams of Budapest are usually yellow, as is obvious from the poem, but they were not always so.
The yellow color of the Budapest trams had to vie for predominance for a long time with the brown of competing cars, as there were times when tram color or flags enabled passengers to tell one of the innumerable tram company's lines from another's.
Trams run by the Budapest Street Railway Company were brown, patterned ones belonged to BUR Railway Company.
Yellow, although not the same shade as today, was the color of trams owned by the Budapest City Electric Railway Company. "Historians now argue as to whether certain trams were Bordeaux-colored or bottle green, since the only photographic record we have is obviously in black and white," said Merczi.
These days, there are some exceptions to the yellow BKV color.
One of these is the famous pink Barbie-tram, covered by advertisements for the doll, which ran through Budapest in the early nineties, attracting a lot of attention.
Technical University students once persuaded all the passengers to get off at the stop in front of their dormitory and cry out loud: "We all love you Barbie!"
There is now a blue Pepsi tram which chugs slowly along the Danube river bank on the Pest side, on the No. 2 route.
Most trams run in Pest rather than the hilly windy streets of Buda - exceptions - the 56, 61,59, 17.
"The steepest tram route is the number 59 up to Farkasréti cemetery. If it gets any steeper you have to use a cog-wheel railway, like the train that runs up to Szechényi hegy," said Merczi.
He explained that trams are not suitable for the treacherous bends of Buda roads.
The streetcars in Budapest come in four types, although as late as 1980, there were 20 types of tram car.
Type One is the oldest and the dearest to the true tram-lover's heart. It is a Hungarian make, known as a U-V. It is quite slow, very noisy and a bit uncomfortable.
The relays are constantly clicking, and the middle carriages have wooden seats and wooden paneling.
The 'pót kocsi' - auxiliary coach in the middle of the three on the 47,49 route, starting from the middle of the city at Deák tér, and crossing the Szabadság Bridge, is the last surviving example of a much older, fourth type of car.
The middle car "shakes like inhumane danger" said Merczi.
The 19 is another favorite, running by the Danube on the Buda side. It is a good tram for showing visitors a view of Pest, and also fun is the switchback effect when the tram rattles under the Chain Bridge and spins around the corner, dipping down into the curved tunnel, filled with wild techno-acid graffiti.
Line 17 running up to Old Buda gives a bit of the feeling of the heroic age of streetcars. It goes on small streets and some stops have no safety islands.
Sometimes, it has only one carriage and rattles off into the night like a ghost train.
Line 17 tram cars have mostly been renovated, and now feature plastic and material upholstery.
If you long for solitude, try the night tram 49E at around 3am, when you can be alone in the coach running in the cold night.
For a glimpse into infinity, get on line 50 which runs in a straight line, without a bend for kilometers.
The design of the cars also changed much before today's enclosed shape, typified by the Type Two -"négyes-hatos" style evolved.
This style tram was nicknamed the "Stuka" as the engine gave the same whining sound as dive bombers of that name.
Type Two is the pride of the Hungarian transport industry.
Built by the Ganz factory it is known as the 'Ganz csuklós' or articulated. This type was introduced in 1968.
In the rush hour the "négyes-hatos" is packed like a box of sardines.
In the summer, the atmosphere can get quite pungent as the commuters proudly display their sweaty armpits whilst clinging onto the straps.
Some of the cars on the No 2 and No 17 lines have been renovated with wide spaces for push chairs, and buttons to press to announce intention to descend.
The No. 2 has a dot display to announce coming stations and a mysterious recorded voice that announces the connecting lines.
Moszkva tér is the greatest tram junction of the city, with six lines meeting there: numbers 61, 59, 18, 4, 6, 56. The square is not for the faint hearted or the weak-chested as the air quality is one of the worst in town.
However this is not the fault of the environmentally friendly tram -there are at least ten smelly bus routes terminating here or passing through.
Type Three is the newest, the Czechoslovakian Tatra T5 C5. It is used on lines, amongst others: 1, 18, 61, 28, 36, 59 and 56. Until the recent introduction of Prague's new trams, these represented the state-of-the-art in tram technology.
There are 320 trams of this sort in Budapest.
These trams are fast, relatively quiet and the tone of their ring to announce door shutting has a very annoying nasal quality. Tram purists look down on these types.
The only exception is maybe line 56, which goes out to the Buda Hills and in summer takes on a holiday atmosphere as it is full of people going for a picnic in the woods.
In 2002, a new breed of trams arrived from Germany, bought half-price in Hannover, and a very orange series of trams run on route 69 from Mexikói út.
However Budapest residents like their trams yellow.
In November 2003, Budapest Transport Company (BKV-Budapesti Kőzlekedési Vállalat) conducted an Internet survey in which people could vote on the interior and exterior of the new Siemens tram to be introduced in 2006 running along the Nagykörút (Great Boulevard) on the famous “négyes-hatos” (the “four and six”) route.
The internet survey was posted for a week and 12,000 people logged on to state their opinion with 37% in favour of the traditional yellow colour and simple design.
The Nagykörút is one of the busiest thoroughfares in Europe and the 53-meter-long Siemens Combino trams, purchased for 37 billion forints, are the longest on the Continent.
The German company designed these new style trams especially for Budapest.
BKV posted 13 versions of the prospective tram design on the Internet and Hungarians were asked to vote on their favourites.
Most of the votes for the traditional yellow tram came from women, aged over 45 and living on the Buda side. Internet users could also vote on the interior design of the trams with the majority choosing the green seating as the preferred choice.
Although, with the building of the fourth metro line, many tram routes will be discontinued, the future of the tram is still assured.
"We have come the end of the backward trend of closing tram lines, factories are just waiting to build new trams, all we need is more investment," said Merczi.
Although slightly lagging behind city development, the tram network will be extended with several new lines in the future.
A direct tram connection will be established to Káposztásmegyer, the line extension of tram No. 1 will be continued, and the connection of tram lines No. 13 and 62 at the Örs vezér tere terminus will effectively establish the external tram line ring around Budapest.
Then, two tram lines will run rings around Budapest, making any region of town accessible on a pleasant, civilized and environmentally friendly form of transport.

Monday 5 November 2007

The Death of the Presszó

Digital photos ©LucyMallows2007

The Death of the Presszó

By Lucy Mallows ©1997

The presszó or eszpresszó occupies a mysterious limbo link in the types of hostelries in Budapest.
It is a step up from the rough and ready borozó (wine bar, but nothing like a brasserie, this is a dingy, mouldy cellar where cheap rot gut wine is ladled from a metal drum for around 30 forints a shot) or sörözô (beer hall), haunts of men drinking on their own, alcoholics talking to themselves, where women on their own are considered of easy virtue or desperate for a drink.

The eszpresszó hovers between the borozó/sörözô and the more upmarket cukrászda - coffee house, where solitary readers sip a cappuccino; a group of tourists pore over their guide books and soak up the traditional atmosphere. or friends gather for a Sunday afternoon chat.

The eszpresszó is more the local of the working class, ladies in groups eating cakes, gangs of workmen playing dominoes and eating somlói galuska, chocolate and cream pudding with their beer and young teenagers enjoying a moderately priced cappuccino.

However the eszpresszó is an endangered species.
The Fény (Light) presszó on Margit körút has been gutted by workmen and is now a pawn brokers, trading in jewellery.
It used to have one of the first juke boxes in Buda.
One by one, they gradually close as the rent soars and the fast food chains buy up all the best-situated premises.
The style of the presszó is socialist brown.
Outside, there is almost always a neon sign offering such unique - and socially inspiring - names as Terv -the (five year) Plan, Béke –Peace, Haladás –Progress and even the incongruous but somehow strangely comforting Májas -Liver Sausage.

Inside a typical presszó, a washable stone floor is usually adorned with a crazy paving style mosaic or beige linoleum, net curtains, little yellow, brown and green tiling on the walls, fake red leather seats or little gnome stools.
The waitresses still wear the long, white lace up boots with cut away heels and toes.
These look strange but give much support during the long hours of standing.
The standing helps contribute to the attitude which is almost always one of disdain or lethargic surliness.
To be a proper old-style presszo, it must have the original neon squirly writing outside, with a few of the letters hanging off, or missing entirely.
Check out the Alkotás (Creation) or the Pingvin söröző on Bocskai út in the eleventh district.
If the cukrászda is the coffee house, the eszpresszó is more the coffee bar.
The eszpresszó is more homely, friendly, less imposing than the cukrászda whose tradition of writers, poets and now tourists frightens off the locals.
Budapest was once the city of eszpresszó bars. 
In 1937, the Quick in Vigadó utca was the first coffee bar to open; its premises was planned and created by interior and industrial designers. The building is an office now.
From the 1930’s one eszpresszó opened after another and by 1950 many new ones joined the already established café's: The Mocca, American, Parisien, Joker, Intim and the Darling.
After 1956, the social realist architecture began to wane and a younger, fresher generation of enthusiastic interior decorators was given a free hand in the planning of public catering.
Shops reduced to rubble during the uprising were rebuilt in the modern style.
There was a craze for neon, both inside and out.
The trend to use English names gradually died out, in neon lights above the new revolutionary eszpresszós displayed radical slogans - Plan, Prosperity and Spartacus.
The post war eszpresszós still exist, the 1950s style is harder to find.
The red and green neon lights are now fading, some switched off forever, the Traubi (grape) and Márka (cherry) soft drinks are hard to find, the Bambi pop has disappeared, the wheels of progress grind on.
At the Kisposta eszpresszó by Moszkva tér, Friday night is party night, an old guy plays the Casio organ, with built-in drum machine and customers dance when the mood takes them.
The waitress continually arranges the heavy greeny-grey swivel chairs and tells off customers who push them out of line.
The Kisposta is full of elderly couples enjoying the old time songs, singing along, looking wistful and drinking brandy. Romanian and Russian young men, workers from Moszkva tér spend their daily wage on beer.
I say to my companion, ‘I wish a handsome Russian man would ask me to dance,’ and two seconds later one does.
Alexei dances with almost everyone in the bar, even waltzing with a old lady from the cake-eating table.
Alas the Kisposta is now a savings bank, gone the way of so many wonderful presszós, disappearing faster than a Siberian tiger.
The very popular Bambi Eszpresszó on Frankel Leó utca’s semi-pedestrian streets serves ‘warm sandwiches’, omelettes, cakes and coffee.
Also on offer is ‘Soviet’ champagne for only 480 forints a bottle and.
Kadarka red wine, a bargain at 27 forints a deciliter.
The Bambi has one of the few interiors dating back to the sixties, that remain untouched, a fairy tale ceramic city adorns the walls.
Old men play dominoes on a Sunday afternoon, sitting on red leatherette seats.
The mosaic floor has geometric box shapes in yellow, green and brown. 
The Sziget cukrászda is a presszó and cukrászda in one.
It has a varying prices scheme for those who stand at the tables in the presszó part, marked pointedly ‘II osztály’ -second class or move through the heavy plum-colored velvet curtains into the more chi-chi inner sanctum.
At the Sziget you can taste one of the best chestnut purees in town - little brown worms of nutty sweetness covered in whipped cream. The waitresses keep up the aloof grumpiness, required for the job.
The Sziget is now the Europa Coffee House, an anal Austrian style upmarket cafe, with waitresses in push up bras and peasant outfits, a la Mozart (formerly the wonderful Palma on the Nagy Körút).
Nádor utca, the street of philanthropists and learning boasts two presszós.
The Terv Eszpresszó or (five year) Plan has been smartened up recently with white paint and shiny lamps, it almost has pretensions to being a cukrászda, were it not for the clientele, working men in pairs, drinking beer and spirits in the morning, and, of course, the linoleum is still beige and dog-eared. 
The Tulipán, belonging to the group of fifth district flower-christened presszós, the Ibolya (Violet) student favorite on Ferenciek tere and the Muskátli (Geranium) tourist trap on Váci utca.
The outside of the Tulipán is misleading, the white plastic chairs and navy umbrellas give a Mediterranean terrace café feel, but move inside and the back room has a stark, naked beauty.
The gnome high stools surround little mushroom tables and the walls have turned beige from Sopianae cigarette smoke. 
Outside the Mignon eszpresszó, a neon sign at night reveals a girl with a sixties bob about to nibble on a tasty morsel, a mini cabbage roll or one of those little pink cakes bought by the deka.
The eszpresszó occupies a space on that strange incongruous row of one story shops on Károly körút, that have surprisingly still survived the bulldozer of town-planning progress.
On a personal note, the Mignon was the first establishment I entered in Hungary in 1984, coming off the metro from Keleti palyaudvar to Deák tér.
A man sat in the corner playing a Casio organ and the atmosphere was like a wedding party in Transylvania.
Old bácsis danced with little girls, nénis danced together, everyone was off their heads on cheap wine and lethal pálinka. The air was almost impenetrable with the thick white fog of Munkás (worker) cigarettes.
It was heaven.
The Mignon is still very brown and gloomy even during the day. Gloom is important so that artists can compose and drinkers can drink in peace.
The only light comes from a fruit machine which flashes garishly where once the band played. 
The Majakovskij on Király utca has a huge Eszpresszó sign and placards in the windows offering coffee, cakes, soft drinks and ice cream. Enter the bar and you step back in time, two very brown rooms are decorated by pictures of alpine scenes and a five-pronged brown wood fan hangs immobile from the smoke-stained ceiling.
Bright red Christmas lights line the top of the bar and the radio plays ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale.’
Király utca was also called Majakovskij utca after the Soviet Constructivist poet until 1990, and the presszó attracted those of an artistic inclination.
The dour waiter in a black cardigan could be one of the original poets. 
The Mester eszpresszó on Mester utca, the street of craftsmen and artisans, is announced by wonderful tableau signs.
This is a real eszpresszó with wood paneling and old linoleum.
Groups of men sit, drinking fröccs in the afternoon and bustling waitresses take no nonsense from behind the huge sixties counter. The bar is crowded with loud, bright fruit machines and a gigantic beige ceramic stove takes up half the floor.
Whereas the borozó is often the haunt of the solitary drinker, the presszó is much more communal and sociable. 
The Tik Tak on Böszörményi út has a sweet neon cuckoo clock above the doorway.
Refined, silver-haired gentlefolk of the vicinity use to drop in for coffee an cognac.
A piano once stood on a platform at the back and lamps with parchment shades gave an atmosphere of old Hungarian films. Böszörményi út is almost a museum street itself with many of the old neon signs still remaining.
Nearby, the Májas - Liver sausage calls itself a vendéglô now and offers food, but the peppermint green exterior, neon Májas sign and crazy paving stone floor are definitely ‘Espresszó-land’.
There are a few too many coke signs in the window but the whole presszó is redeemed by the wonderful walls inside.
The knobbly walls are like the inside of a sixties recording studio and help the conversation on horse-betting, the lottó and the fortunes or misfortunes of Fradi, to reverberate around the room, increasing in volume and urgency.
After a few pálinkas, you half-close your eyes, drift off and move back in time.
You can imagine Mária Gardonyi (from the heavenly Palma -now revamped as the Mozart) is playing the piano and couples are dancing cheek to cheek while others hum along to the favorites tunes, documenting a more gentle graceful time.
In his homage to the coffee-house, Ferenc Bodor wrote, ‘In the present depopulated, impoverished hamburgerized realm of catering, hostile to customers, those more advanced in years recall the smoke-filled cafés with their yellowed silk lampshades and tinkling pianos with wistful nostalgia.
Coffee houses and cafés have had their day, in present-day Budapest at least.’

Where to sip presszó coffee and pear pálinka, once....long presszó land

UPDATE - this article dates from the late 1990s. Many have now disappeared, gone forever.

Please let me know if you have any news on some of these national treasures, listed below:

1. Kisposta - XII. Krisztina krt 2/4 GONE, NOW SAVINGS BANK, sob

2. Bambi - II. Frankel Leó út 2/4

3. Sziget - V. Szent István krt 7 GONE, NOW the vile 'theme-café' EUROPA CUKRÁSZDA, waitresses in costume

4. Terv - V. Nádor utca 19

5. Tulipán - V. Nádor utca 32

6. Mignon - V. Károly krt 28 GONE – the entire parade has been demolished, a gem is lost forever

7. Majakovskij - VII. Király utca 103 NOW THE INNOCUOUS ‘MAYA’

8. Mester - IX. Mester utca 45, still pretty rough at last glance

9. Tik-Tak - XII. Böszörményi út 17/c, with the wonderful clock on the facade

10. Májas - XII. Tartsay Vilmos utca 21 GONE, NOW ‘ARCADE BISTRO’

11. Naná - V. Királyi Pál utca, very dusty and gloomy but with an 'Another Way' [Egymásra nézve] ambience.

12. Híd cukrászda - IX. Ferenc krt by Mester utca...on the way out

13. No 1. - V. Sas utca

14. Ibolya - V. Ferenciek tere

15. Akadémia - üllõi út opposite med school

16. Gourmand – now the Gourmand Sports Bar (flagging fast)

17. Alkotás – XII Alkotás út - DERELICT

18. Szonáta - XI Bartok Béla út is now Wang’s Chinese Food. It used to be the place where the Magyar Narancs editors gathered to drink beer and play on the solitary pinball machine.
19. Grinzingi borozó – Irányi út, foofed up a bit lately, and not the same dowdy, dusty and very smoky atmosphere…prices went up, students and alcies moved out

20. Angelika - Batthyány tér - renovated, original furnishings dumped, gone are the ladies in hats eating cake, in come techno teenies and horrible loud music. Atmosphere annihilated.

Monday 29 October 2007

Budapest market hall history

©LucyMallows2007 digital photos of Hunyadi tér market hall, taken in June 2007


As Budapest's outer limits become swamped with ever more American style shopping malls, the traditional market halls of the city's heart modestly celebrated their 110th birthday this year.
In 1897, the Nagycsarnok (Big Market) No I, as the Vásárcsarnok was then called, opened its portals onto Fôvám tér the same day as four smaller roofed markets: No. II Rákóczci tér, No. III Klauzál tér, No. IV Hunyadi tér and No.V Hold utca.
These five markets are numbered I-V, and you can see if you look up at the beautiful facades above the 'csarnok' (market hall) sign and the Bejárás-Kijárás (entrance-exit) carved into stone or forged in metalwork.
In 1897, the Royal Health Ministry of the Austro-Hungarian Empire decreed that five markets should be built because until then food was sold from horse wagons along Andrássy út and the banks of the Danube. 'The health authority said food should not be sold on the street and so five markets were built,' said István Horváth, the market supervisor at Hold utca market.
Market No.1 is the showpiece, the Vásárcsarnok where Margaret Thatcher haggled for paprikas and lectured bemused shoppers on the rights and wrongs of a centralized economy in 1984.
When it opened in 1897, Emperor Franz Jozef paid a visit.
Samu Pecz designed the huge iron framework and its 10,000 square meter was originally built as the city's main wholesale market. After war damage and disrepair, Budapest City Council decided to renovate.
The market reopened in 1994 after three years of renovations costing Ft4 billion, and some 30,000 shoppers a day now come to visit 180 different stalls. The roof has tiles by ceramist Vilmos Zsolnay, which beckon local shoppers and tourists alike.
To celebrate the centenary year, stall holders whose stalls had been in the family for many generations were presented with a special diploma. Some were also entered into a competition, judged by experts and local shoppers.
The winner was Attila Tóth for his beautiful presentation.
In an Aladdin's cave of pickles, Tóth's shelves are lined with bottles and jars, filled with peppers, cucumbers, baby melons and green tomatoes in vinegar.
'I like the market better now after the renovation, it is more orderly. I understand how old people liked the previous jungle where they could rummage for bargains,' he said.
Tóth's stall can be found in the basement which was previously a warehouse for the traders upstairs. Tóth's stall is just past the Ázsia oriental food shop which has proved so popular it tripled its floorspace in April 1997.
On the ground floor, the stunning Minôségért Bt. came second in the competition with its displays of dried peppers and corn cobs festooned from the roof. Pensioner Chaim Pucz came back to work after previously working twenty years in the market selling confectionery.
She preferred the market in its pre-renovation state. 'I can't put my finger on it, but it just had a better atmosphere then, now many stallholders have left or died, it's not the same,' said Pucz and complained the new slippery floor tiles were a hazard in winter.
In 1924 Anna Bocsi started the cheese, túró and milk products shop. It has stayed in the family for three generations and is now tended by Ági and Zsuzsa Király.

No II Rákóczi tér.
The Józsefvárosi market hall was designed by the city engineering department and opened in 1897.
After reconstruction following severe fire damage, it reopened in 1992 as a traditional yet modernized market hall.
Rákóczi tér has always traditionally been the center of prostitution in Budapest and although brothels were officially closed down in 1948, the square continues to be the center of a down-market red light district.
This reputation diverts attention from the market which is a shame as it has some great bargains.
The market offers meat, fruit and vegetables. Fish open and close their mouths, jostling in black water. Many of the stall holders are in their teens and stand listlessly smoking behind the butchers' counters. There is also a section at the back for 'ôstermelôk' - the individual farmers who bring in their own produce.
A large eating area is the heart of the market. Shoppers stand at chest-high marble circles, devouring huge plates of blood sausage, fried chicken and fish, all washed down with a refreshing 'nagy fröccs' (white wine and soda spritzer) costing only Ft37.
Imre Farkas has run a fruit and vegetable stall here for twenty years. 'It was good then and it still is now. We are better and more beautiful than the Vásárcsarnok and we have parking space,' he said.

No III Klauzál tér market has now been almost entirely taken over by the Skála supermarket.
Only a few pickled vegetables stall linger on around the back
Katalin Hír is 80 years old and has seen the changes, in the 40 years she has worked here.
She is one of only two individual traders who offer bottled vegetables, 'deadly poisonous hot' chili peppers and apricot preserve at only Ft40 a jar.
'It used to be a gold mine for people shopping here. You could find anything you want here, now people have no money, if they do have money they buy they own land and grow their own,' she says.

Hiding behind the McFridayKing circus at Oktogon is a gem, the last surviving market hall, still in its original, fading condition.
Market Hall No IV on the dilapidated Hunyadi tér was designed by Gyôzô Csigler, and although the outer stone work is crumbling, traces of the unusual masonry work of animal heads remain.
The vegetables are laid out in beautiful colorful designs, corn, grapes and paprikas all jostle for space.
The smells of pickles, smoked meats and the hum of voices bargaining make the market a tantalizing, sensual experience. On Hunyadi tér itself is an open air trading area.
The dusty square has been transformed into a lively flea market full of vegetables at cheaper prices, knick-knacks and odd treasures.
Katalin Kovácsik has been tending the 'savanyúság' (sourness = pickles) stall in the corner for 14 years and her mother worked for 17 years before that. She and her husband run the business which follows the cucumbers, pumpkins and baby melons through from seed to pickle stage.
'We have a piece of land where we grow the vegetables, then we process them at home on the kitchen table, then I sell them here,' she said, ladling huge handfuls of white cabbage from a bucket for a lady who wanted to make Székely káposzta (Transylvanian cabbage).

No. V Hold utca 13 still has the old signs revealing that the street using to be called Rozenberg házaspár utca (Rozenberg married couple executed for spying in USA)
The market was recently renovated and is now very smart.
The packed büfe selling sausage and 'csalamádé' (mixed pickles) and the cupboard-sized early morning wine bar is packed and sits next to an empty upmarket fish stall, offering paella and salmon.
The Hold utca market is good for fish and there is an excellent cheese stall, but upstairs on the new balcony, created in the 1994-96 renovations, are the real treasures.
For anyone working in the Bank center or around Szabadság tér, lunchtimes are now a culinary expedition around the world. The Mexikoi Sarok offers gaspacho, burritos, fajitas and taco salads, next door is the Spagettigyár with all kinds of Italian delicacies, after that comes the Chinese büfe where a chef can been seen chopping a mountain of fresh carrots, cabbage, onions, peppers and mushrooms from the stalls below.
There is also a salad bar in the corner, a 'rétes' (strudel) bar offering something sweet to follow.
For the health conscious, you can buy an ishler biscuit covered with carob rather than chocolate in the Biocentrum Biobolt and Teaház opposite.
On the ground floor amongst all the gleaming metalwork and polished floors, you can still find the traditional Hungarian foods. Huge buckets of white lard, slabs of 'szalonna' -bacon fat, fish and reconstituted chicken in breadcrumbs and mountains of goose crackling.
The stalls were passed down from generation to generation, an old lady recently retired but was working here since 1914 selling 'savanyúság' (pickles).
One stallholder said the new market looked lovely but old stallholders had been squeezed out by the high rent, no place was made for them when renovated, and the whole atmosphere of the traditional market could be lost forever.
She complained that the mall culture was taking over Budapest with another mall going up soon on Csepel island and more along the entire length of Váci út.
'They should build housing instead,' said supervisor András Vámos.
However István Horváth, market supervisor at Hold utca market said he did not fear competition from the malls. 'Fortunately, we still don't have that American tradition of shopping only once a week, we like to buy fresh products every day.'

Friday 26 October 2007

Budapest's Gresham Palace history

Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace

The 179-room Art Nouveau Gresham Palace is an essential part of the city’s effort to bring Budapest’s belle époque back to life


The Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace, which opened again in 2004, started life as a temple to capitalism, created in 1907 for the London Gresham Life Assurance Society.
In 1999, the Canadian-based Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts and Gresco Investments Ltd. signed a development agreement the District V local council to restore the building to its former glory and create a luxury, 179-room (including 14 suites) five-star hotel at a cost of some $84 million.
The site where the Gresham Palace now stands originally housed a neo-classic palace called the Nako House, designed by József Hild and built in 1827 by wholesale merchant Antal Deron.
In 1880, the London Gresham Life Assurance Company bought the Nako House as its foreign headquarters on this site but then, in 1903, decided to demolish the Nako House and build from scratch.
The Gresham Palace was designed by Zsigmond Quittner and the Vágó brothers and took three years to build, finally opening its grand gates in 1907.
The building was conceived as a kind of monument to Sir Thomas Gresham (1519-1579) the 16th century financier to Queen Elizabeth I, founder of London’s Royal Exchange and inventor of Gresham’s Law which states that, “Where legal tender laws exist, bad money drives out good money”.
The time of completion occurred during Hungary’s Golden Age and some of the most famous artists and craftsmen of the time worked to make the Gresham Palace one of the most glamorous buildings in Pest, and one of the finest examples of Art Nouveau architecture in the world.The artist Géza Maróti created many original sculptures for the building.
Sculptor Ede Telcs created the relief of Thomas Gresham looking a bit like a jaunty sea captain at the top of the facade (shown in the picture at the top of this article), staring out at a slight angle to the Danube and across the Chain Bridge towards Buda.
The Gresham Palace was one of the first buildings in Budapest to have its Art Nouveau exterior illuminated at night and no expense was spared on the decor and the embellishments inside either.
Every bathroom and kitchen was fitted with ceramic tiles from the Pécs Zsolnay porcelain factory and Miksa Róth was commissioned to make the gorgeous stained glass windows on every landing.
The wrought iron peacock gates came from the prestigious Gyula Jungfer workshop and furniture maker Endre Thek was commissioned to fill the rooms with his elegant creations.
The Gresham building also featured state-of-the-art technology, full electrical wiring, central heating, two-meter-thick cellar walls to prevent flooding and something known as a ‘central vacuum system’ which was a kind of communal vacuum cleaner which wound its way around the building.
Cleaners only had to connect a tube to a nozzle in the wall of the apartment and there was instant suction.
The ground floor and first floor hosted the Gresham Company’s offices, the Gresham Café and a finishing school for daughters of the aristocracy called “English Young Ladies”.
The second and third floors were comprised of around half a dozen luxury apartments where many of the country’s elite took rooms. Government minister Count Gyula Andrássy took rooms in the Gresham Palace, his brother Géza was conveniently chairman of the board of the Gresham Company’s Hungarian subsidiary.
The fourth floor contained more modest apartments for the company’s traveling insurance salesmen while the fifth floor just under the roof housed the servants’ quarters.
Between the wars, the Gresham Café was the meeting place for the Gresham Circle of artists. The Podium Cabaret in the basement was the place where Bohemian artists rubbed shoulders with fur-clad aristocrats while they watched the risqué and satirical shows.
The cabaret was closed for a time in the twenties for being too ‘daring’ but enjoyed a second lease of life between 1936 and the outbreak of the War.In the Café above, important figures such as István Szőnyei, József Egry, Pál Pátzay and Jenő Barcsay discussed new movements in art.
The radical Nagybánya school gathered here as did writers and artists, all followers of a movement that urged a humanist, respectful approach to art, one that preserved the values of the past.
The Gresham Circle ceased to exist in 1944.
During World War II, the building was hit bombarded from across the river by revolutionaries trying to dislodge the Russians from the Interior Ministry next door.
During the winter of 1944-45 Soviet soldiers occupied the Gresham Palace and burnt much of the furniture to keep warm while the residents huddled in the cellar.
When the Chain Bridge was blown up during the German retreat, the shock waves blew the peacock gates on Mérleg utca right off their hinges.
In 1948 the Hungarian Communist Government nationalized Gresham Palace and scores of new tenants moved in, sub-dividing the palatial apartments into smaller flats.
The Gresham Café managed to keep going through the grim fifties and sixties, and in 1957 even had the first Wurlitzer organ in the country.
Between 1948 and 1990, the building declined into a sad state disrepair.
The café closed and a Chinese restaurant took its place, then a casino moved in.
Small businesses, a hairdresser and a locksmith moved into the arcade but all around the walls were crumbling.
In the seventies, the building was listed as national protected landmark in the late 1970s and in the 1976 list of protected monuments the Gresham is described as being 'of monument character'.
With the change of political system in 1990, the Government transferred ownership of Gresham Palace to the District V Council.
Oberoi, an Indian hotel chain offered to restore the palace in return for permission to turn it into a hotel.
A deal was announced in 1991, however the Council had not considered the 38 remaining tenants of the building.
Much legal wrangling ensued and four years later, Oberoi had lost patience and sold its interests to Fejér & Associates.
In 1997, Gresco entered the picture and arranged for the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts to manage and operate Gresham Palace.
Gresco agreed to the National Board for the Protection of Historic Monuments (OMVH) which had earlier granted license on condition that the exterior, the ceramic decorations, the glass interior arcade and the stained glass windows on every staircase be restored in a sensitive manner.
To see the stunning interior in all its glory, indulge in a calorific chocolate cake at the elegant Gresham Kávéház (coffee house), sip a Martini from a soup tureen-sized glass at the alabaster and black marble bar before dining in style at the superb Páva restaurant where the menu is overseen by Moroccan executive chef, Abdessattar Zitouni.
The Páva restaurant serves a contemporary fusion of Italian and Hungarian cuisine complemented by a list of 140 Hungarian wines, selected monthly by a group of independent wine writers.
The Szepsy Tokaji dessert wine, the 'king of wines and wine of kings', according to Louis XIV, makes a truly aristocratic accompaniment to the house’s foie gras.
Save a tiny wiggle of your digestive tract for the gourmet delight of carpaccio of pineapple for dessert.
Then strut off to bed like the aforementioned peacock.

*Readers in Brussels might be interested to learn that a building in Belgium's capital has a hallway devoted to Thomas Gresham. You can see a relief of and tribute to the insurance salesman par excellence in the café and shop entrance hallway of the Palais des Beaux-Arts on Rue Ravensteinstraat.

Four Seasons Gresham Palace
Budapest - District V
Roosevelt tér 5-6
Getting there: Tram 2 to Roosevelt tér
Tel: (36 1) 268-6000
Fax: (36 (1) 268-5000
Four Seasons Gresham Palace website

Páva (Peacock) Restaurant
Budapest - District V
Roosevelt tér 5-6
Getting there: Tram 2 to Roosevelt tér
Tel: (36 1) 268-6000
Fax: (36 (1) 268-5000
Open for dinner only, 6pm-11pm daily

Décor 9/10
Cuisine 9/10
Service 8/10
Wine List 9/10
Atmosphere 8/10
Overall rating 9/10

Budapest lomtalanítás

October sees the last chance lomtalanítás

No wonder they invented the term and the ritual: ‘spring cleaning’.
Once the sun finally peeps through, it is the best time of year to sweep away the dust accumulated during the winter, throw open the windows, take a deep breath and access the situation.
An essential part of the vernal rejuvenation is the desire to clear out all the unwanted excess baggage surrounding our lives and start again.
Purging the cupboards and chucking out all the junk we’d long forgotten gives an intense feeling of pleasure and rebirth, before it all accumulates again over the coming year.
In North America, the Saturday garage sale is an old tradition and in Britain car-boot sales are an important part of community life.
In Budapest, the 'spring' clear-out lasts from March to October and brings as much joy to the treasure-seeker as to those who throw out.
In Hungary, the ritual is known as lomtalanítás, which is literally the act of liberating oneself from lom - lumber, or unwanted household articles.
'I think all nations like to throw out stuff and start afresh', said sociologist Zsuzsa Éles.
'In Naples at New Year they throw out unwanted furniture from upstairs windows which can be quite dangerous. In Hungary we are more organized with different districts at different times'. Lomtalanítás occurs on prearranged days, notice of which is usually posted by letter boxes in the apartment block.
Residents are advised to put their trash out on the pavement during the evening before collection.
Sometimes these are hasty affairs, finished within a 24-hour period.
If you live in Downtown District V, there is a load of fascinating junk, but this year you have already missed the kukások (rubbish collectors) who arrived on the morning of Saturday 28 February and had everything swept up by 9am.
On Friday evening, 16 April, Bródy Sándor utca in District VIII was completely blocked from the Nagykörút to the Kis (Múzeum) körút with ironmonger’s items bargains blocking access and a wealth of heavy oak furniture for whoever fancied such a thing.
Lomtalanítás cuts across borders and class-divides, uniting everyone with the joy of finding a little nugget of treasure for free.
Even French screen legend Catherine Deneuve entered into the spirit of the event.
Last year, she was reportedly spotted in District V indulging in the traditional Hungarian treasure-hunting sport while in town for the Opera Ball.
She obviously has a keen eye for a bargain and, I heard, she crammed four chairs into the back of her chauffeur-driven Audi in the district V chuck-out, taking a little piece of Hungary back to her Provence farmhouse.
Larger districts can take three to four days to get everything cleared away.
Residents happily put beds, cupboards and mattresses, never mind those rotting fridges and quasi-sputnik washing machines outside without fear of local busybodies accusing them of anti-social behavior.
At first glance most of it appears to be junk.
But within minutes, the mounds become a magnet for antique collectors, scrap metal or cardboard merchants, gangs of traders and curious passers-by.
Teams go around the district in gangs, commandeering the best piles and sitting guarding them, while others seek out more tempting mountains of garbage.
They can be quite intimidating these days.
It seems that trash (scrap metal, possibly an antique chair or picture frame ) is big business, particularly in upmarket neighbourhoods like Rózsadomb (District II) with tasty pickings to be found.
During the lomtalanítás in District V one year, I was kept awake all night by enthusiastic groups of hunters.
People rummaged though the piles and argued over territory.
Peering over the balcony in the early hours, I witnessed an elderly gentleman carefully taking apart an ancient television.
He removed certain pieces meticulously, only he knew which bits were worth keeping.
For many, lomtalanítás represents an essential source of income. Just after the change of political system, I once witnessed evolution, if not revolution, in progress through lomtalanítás in District XIII.
Among a mountainous pile of cupboards, fridges and mattresses were strewn copies of a leather-bound book series entitled Sztálin I - XX, and the owner had decided it was time to relieve himself of all of them.
When I first walked past, the collection was complete.
Later in the afternoon, some issues were missing - obviously the more exciting episodes in the dictator’s life.
Eventually, by evening all the books had been snapped up.
Nearby, two students unfurled what must have been a very luxurious Persian carpet, but now only a few worn threads testified to its once-glorious past.
They seemed quite delighted with the find, however, rolled it up and headed off home. Lomtalanítás used to be quite a gentle pursuit, akin to sorting through dusty old books at a Sunday morning village fete.
Now with the growing gap between rich and poor, an element of desperation has crept in.
'A vaguely-regulated war has broken out in many districts, as groups of organized gangs tour the streets with their Ladas snapping up all the scrap metal and threatening those who converge on their patch', said Éles.
Tortured by incessant banging on those old-style drum washing machines, I wondered if I could make a sociological survey, during the metallic hammering which went on all day in my district’s appointed cathartic weekend.
It seemed that everyone in District XI was chucking out their top-loading East German models en masse, then possibly buying a swanky new brand, to keep up with the Kovácses.
The lomtalanítás ritual is like a giant recycling effort catering to the various needs of the population.
Unlike enforced recycling in Western Europe, based on guilty consciences, lomtalanítás represents a more local, evolutionary method which works just as efficiently as bottle banks. Those who take items home today will probably place them back on the pavement at some future date, nothing is really being thrown away and so the process perpetuates itself.
To the eternal horror of my Hungarian partner, I can never resist a quick look through the piles, which loom high in front of my door.
I shall be on the lookout in September when District XI has its regular purge and now I have the perfect excuse - if a superstar like Madame Deneuve doesn’t mind having a rummage for a bargain, then who are we to be so fastidious!
Go on, chuck out then get stuck in, who knows what you’ll discover.

The website of the Fővárosi Közterület-fenntartó Zártkörűen Működő Részvénytársaság (Zrt)
has a list of what districts chuck out on what dates, with maps and everything!!

The Bridges of Budapest

Digital photo of the Széchenyi Lánchíd lion
by © Lucy Mallows 2006

With all the hoo-ha over the naming of Budapest's latest Northern MO Danube Bridge and faux-political commentator Stephen Colbert's success in getting 17 million people to vote for 'The Stephen Colbert Bridge' as the new híd-moniker, here is the real story of the Bridges of Budapest.

The world’s great cities are almost always graced with great bridges.
London has Tower Bridge, San Fransisco has the Golden Gate, Florence the Ponte Vecchio and Paris the Pont Neuf.
Budapest has the iconic Chain Bridge (Széchenyi Lánchíd), but it also has six more road bridges linking Buda and Pest, each with a fascinating tale to tell.
The mighty Danube flows for 2,850km through Europe from Breg in the Black Forest to the Black Sea and passes through Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania on its journey to the swampy delta at Sulina. It is Europe’s second longest river after the Volga.
In Vienna, however, the Danube doesn’t run through the center of the city.
In Budapest the Kék Duna (Blue Danube) as its known cuts right through the heart of the city, both literally and geographically, dividing the hilly residential Buda from the flat commercial Pest and running right up the middle like a gash across a lover’s chest.
The magnificent panorama surrounding the river is the nerve center of the city, the place every tourist visits and swoons at the sight, justifiably listed as one of Unesco’s World Heritage Sites.
To cross the river from Buda to Pest one could use the red metro line, but most choose the more photogenic method, the bridges.
A common Budapest phrase says, “The best thing about living in Pest is the view of Buda,” and it is the fabulous panorama swinging down from the Liberation Monument, past the fairy tale castle and Fisherman’s Bastion all the way to Margit Bridge that makes the view so special.
There was a bridge across the Danube as early as the C15th.
In King Zsigmond’s time, there is record of a pontoon bridge. Musztafa Szokollo, who ruled during the Turkish occupation, built a pontoon using 70 floating boxes.
Nowadays, each híd (bridge) has a totally different character and style.

Árpád Bridge
We start from the northernmost of the city bridges, Árpád híd (although strictly speaking there is one further up, the Újpest vasúti híd, or Újpest Railway Bridge).
Árpád híd, named after the leader of the seven tribes of Magyars who rode into the Carpathian basin in the 9th century, is the longest of the Budapest bridges and one of the youngest.
The authorities decided in 1939 that workers from Óbuda should be able to move more easily to the Angyalföld district and that a bridge was needed.
However, the work was held up by the war, and the bridge was not finished until 1950 when it was named Stalin híd.

Margit Bridge
Árpád híd also offers access to Margit Island on the other end of which is Margit híd.
I visited Visegrád Sanitorium and while there I met two elderly sisters Bozsi and Rózsika, who spent regular cure sessions there and even had a special room to themselves. Bozsi was on Margit híd when the Germans blew it up in November 1944, “I have had stomach and nervous problems ever since,” she said.
She was one of the few survivors of the dramatic incident, black and white pictures of which can be seen in the Margit Bridge subway on the Pest side.
At the time – a Saturday afternoon – the bridge was full of pedestrians, trams and cars and several hundred people were killed.
In fact the explosion was an accident, the charges exploding while the German engineers were still underneath the bridge, setting them.
For a while, a temporary rope bridge, known by locals by the nickname Manci, led from Szent István Park to the island so stressed out Pest folk could still enjoy a walk amongst the trees.
The bend in the middle, commonly known as the könyök (elbow) had to be so designed to take account of the currents coming from either side of Margit Island.
Margit Bridge was the second permanent structure when it was built between 1872 and 1876 by French engineer Ernest Gouin’s company Societé de Construction des Battignolles.
The statues, which you can see from the lower reaches of Margit Island were designed by Parisian sculptor Thabard.

Kossuth Bridge
If you go to the embankment on Kossuth tér, just past the statue of the seated poet Attila József, you can see the place where Kossuth Bridge set off towards Batthyány tér on the other side. The inscription reads: “In this place stood Kossuth Bridge. Our workers’ heroic and self-sacrificing work in eight months built the bridge as a temporary replacement for all the bridges senselessly blown up by the fascists.
On January 18, 1946, on the first anniversary of the last fascist bombing, it was opened to traffic. Its temporary objective completed, it was taken down in 1960.”
The Kossuth Bridge was designed by Károly Széchy and had nine spans, and because of financial constraints, was constructed mainly of metal girders bolted together, standing on eight iron and concrete supports.

Széchenyi Lánchíd – The Chain Bridge
The famous landmark of Budapest, the Széchenyi Lánchíd – Chain Bridge – was commissioned by Count Istvan Széchenyi and was the first of the eight permanent road bridges in the city. Széchenyi asked Frenchman Marc Isambard Brunel for advice on bridge building and in 1832 he went to see William Tierney Clark’s bridge across the Thames at Marlow, England.
Clark was asked to design a bridge for Budapest and another Clark, no relation, Adam was the contractor.
The bridge was built between 1839-49. The lions guarding each end were designed by János Marschalko and local legend has it that the sculptor forgot the tongues and when this was pointed out by a little boy at the opening ceremony, he was so distraught, he committed suicide by jumping off the bridge.
Some people claim there are tongues, but if they are there, they are nigh on impossible to detect, even if you clamber on the graffiti-covered pedestals at the four corners of the bridge.
Count Széchenyi then decide that a tunnel should be built to link the bridge to the Tabán district, on the other side of the Castle hill, and construction began in 1853.
People used to joke that it was built so that the bridge could be dragged into the tunnel during the rain. The inscription in English on the Pest side of the tunnel reads, “To commemorate the only two surviving bridges designed by William Tierney Clark, the Széchenyi chain bridge over the Danube in Budapest and the suspension bridge over the Thames at Marlow, England.”
It is reported, however, that he used the still-standing Hammersmith Bridge as a model for his design.

Elizabeth Bridge
Erzsébet híd was the fourth bridge built, following the Lánchíd, Margit and Ferenc József (now called the Szabadság híd).
In 1885 the government decided to build a bridge between Eskü tér (Oath Square) now called Március 15 tér and the Rudas Baths on the Buda side.
The original plan was to build the Buda side at a slightly northern spot but that would have involved demolition of the Tabán inner city parish church.
After much discussion with church officials, it was agreed to built it heading towards the base of Gellért hill and that is why the road has such a dangerous swing around to the right when leaving the bridge. It was the longest single span bridge in the world until 1926.
However that is not the bridge you will see today – the original was blown up by the retreating German army in January 1945, along with all seven other Danube bridges.
A modern elegant white suspension bridge was built in 1965 with six lanes of traffic. The view from the bridge toward Saint Gellért on his hill is one of the most spectacular vistas in the city.

Liberty Bridge
The name Szabadság híd means Liberty Bridge. Most bridges in Budapest are named after a person and the Liberty Bridge was at one tie called Ferenc József after the Emperor.
The third of the bridges, it was designed by Aurel Czekelius, according to János Feketeházy’s plans and the Emperor himself hammered in the last rivet.
On the top of each pillar is a Turul – the mythical Hungarian bird standing on a golden ball. Its girders are very easy to climb and that may be a reason why it is one of the most popular bridges from which to commit suicide, although maybe it is for more romantic reasons, since the name ‘Szabadság’ suggests release from the cares of the world.
Other bridges are also quite popular for suicides, including the Chain Bridge, and I have even seen a man on the top of difficult-to-scale Erzsébet Bridge. He had climbed up the service ladder inside one of the columns when its little hatch had accidentally been left unlocked.

Petőfi Bridge
Petőfi híd, named after the revolutionary poet, Sándor Petőfi, is possibly the least inspiring of all the Budapest bridges.
It links with Margit Bridge right round at the other end of the Nagy körút, the grand boulevard which rings Pest. Slightly older than Árpád híd, it dates from 1933-37 and was built by Algyay Hubert. Until 1945, the bridge was named after Miklós Horthy, Hungary’s right wing leader and ‘admiral without a sea.’

Lágymányosi Bridge
Lágymányosi híd, which looks like a kind of red toast rack, is the newest of all the bridges and replaced the összekötő vasúti híd (linking railway bridge).
Lágymányosi híd links up with Árpád híd via the great Hungária ring road, an outer version of the grand boulevard.
It was opened in 1996 and has special giant mirrors which light the road evenly.

…and the bridge that never was
There is one more bridge which never got built, for which some may say thank goodness, but which would indeed have been a dramatic sight.
Towards the end of the last century, engineers were discussing how best to reach the top of Gellért Hill.
Spurred on by the tourist office, people were asked to make suggestions on how to reach the peak.
Some suggested a funicular, others a cogwheel railway in place of what is now Hegyalja út. However the most interesting proposal was put forward by János Ruppenthal, who suggested building a giant steel tower where Irányi utca leads out onto Belgrád rakpart.
From this tower a bridge would lead right to the summit of Gellért Hill.
On the bridge two carriages similar to the Castle District’s Funicular would travel up and down the still relatively steep climb giving a gorgeous, if rather terrifying view to passengers.
On the lower portion of the iron girders, a ramp would be built for pedestrians to make the breath-taking and spine-tingling walk.
A lift would lead up the tower but if people wanted to save money they could stagger up on foot. The design was to be similar to the Ferenc József bridge (Szabadság híd) although lacking its dainty character. It was in fact, positively clumsy.
An article appeared in the Vasárnapi Ujság (Sunday News) and then the storm broke. Experts and laymen all rose up against this “mindless plan” which would “for eternity disfigure our world city, whose glorious sights have so often invigorated visitors from home and abroad.”
Ruppenthal suggested it would be useful for tourists, and mentioned how people had baulked at the Eiffel Tower’s construction. City leaders debated but rejected the idea. The reason given was “that was Paris, this is Budapest,” and the case was closed.