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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great to see this blog, Lucy. Look forward to reading more.