Tuesday 25 November 2008

The Pioneers and the Children's Railway

ÚTTÖRÔ = (literally) path-breaking, trail blazing, pioneering out into unknown territory.

This year the Hungarian Pioneer is 62 years old and thinking more about claiming his/her pension than playing with trains in the forest.
There is hardly a family photo album in Hungary that doesn’t contain a picture of a child in a red nylon neckerchief over a white shirt and aluminum belt buckle, standing proudly to attention at a ceremony to mark April 4, March 15, May 1, November 7, or other Socialist holidays.
Many people believe the Pioneers disappeared like most organizations of the socialist state under the ideological rubble of the Berlin wall.
However children are still lighting camp fires and singing songs, albeit with less political lyrics, up in the Buda hills, at one of Hungary’s biggest Pioneer camps at Csillebérc.
Most socialist state organizations disbanded or changed their names and identity, but somehow the Pioneers survived. After radical changes, the youth group still has an impressive membership of 76,000, making it the largest youth group in Hungary.
Today, there are no uniforms, no red neckerchiefs, no pledges of loyalty to the socialist state and no military ranks. But the spirit of the pioneers lives on and provides a very necessary function.
“There is a parallel between the freedom kids have today and the rise in juvenile delinquency.
In the past, the Pioneers taught children a kind of behavior, although there was not much freedom of choice. However today, children have no feeling of community.
In the early 1990’s there was a huge vacuum, but now more and more people are turning to us.” says Péter Rácz, leader of the Magyar Úttörôk Szövetsége - the Association of Hungarian Pioneers which this year celebrated its 50th anniversary on June 2 1996.
From 1946 to 1988, the Pioneers were a mass movement.
They were present in schools, sports clubs and housing estates.
Children could join at 7 and become a Kisdobos -Little Drummer, then progressing to úttörô -pioneer until 15 when it was hoped he or she would join the Communist Youth Association, (KISZ)
Today, there are 450 local Pioneer groups in every county in Hungary, involving kids aged 6 to 14, and Rácz expects the numbers to continue to grow.
After 1956 the Pioneers became an all-inclusive youth club as part of the state party, “Ninety-nine percent of children were members,” says Rácz.
In the second half of the sixties not all children were members, leading up to now when it is voluntary.
Csillebérc is the only Pioneer camp left of the more than 40 once operated in Hungary.
Most of them were sold off, some under dubious circumstances, during the previous government of the Democratic Forum.
Rácz acknowledges it is difficult to shake off the old reputation. “We kept the name because the movement itself developed through the years.
In the seventies the leaders were those who like being with children, not those in it for political gain.”
The Pioneers gave all kinds of benefits to children.
Rácz says, “The summer camps, which still exist were a typical kind of socialist idea, providing a way for poor children to escape the smog in the long break.”
The strong central leadership of the Pioneers has now evolved into one of many children’s group organizations. “We do not try to force the kids to do anything and there is a strong appreciation of local autonomy in groups.”
The children decide their own names, symbols and under what conditions their local group will operate.
They can wear a uniform if they want and many chose a different colored necktie.
Some stick with the traditional red tie, others go for brown, white or Hungarian flag colors.
However, the new slogan is “Pioneers for the friendly third millennium” which still rings of Socialist propaganda.
Four major events have been organized this year, a Pioneer Olympics, a Magyar Settlement commemoration, Environmental protection and the anniversary celebrations.
The Pioneers are members of the International Falcon Movement (IFM) involving 60 countries.
Rácz explains, “Before there was a rigid order, now the emphasis is on free time. We try to stay away from politics. Our duty is to help the children’s personalities develop into responsible adults in the democratic world.”
One thing they still try to maintain is the “Left wing sensibility” of solidarity and responsibility to society, but Rácz says, “Tradition is not so important, we don’t want to live in the past..”
The member ship card is a striking example of the inner change.
Before, every Pioneer had a little book, like a junior Communist party membership card with the twelve rules of conduct. Now the membership card resembles a credit card for children.
It is plastic with a cartoon squirrel.
Rácz says, “The difference is that now we are more playful, more jolly. We stress that adults and children are partners. It is grown-ups and kids together, with the adults helping in the background, rather than the old way of adults demonstrating and children listening.”
In the Csillebérc camp high in the Buda hills almost all traces of the old Socialist order have been removed. Only a circle of flag poles remains in the center, while alone in the undergrowth stands the statue of a pioneer boy, holding aloft a flag with the motto, “Elôre” (‘Forward!’) and flowers in his strangely huge hands.
He is ignored by the hundreds of children coming for class at the American school which shares the building with the Pioneer’s Csillebérc headquarters.

The Star Seeking Game.

A young pioneer in the eighties, László Sáfrány was brought up in Rózsadomb, where the richest families lived and where there was the greatest opposition to the Communist system.
Even so, these parents did not stop their children from signing up to be a Pioneer. “No one told their child not to join, it would have made things awkward at school.”
At summer camp, Pioneers had to wear the itchy uniform on the first day when the flag was raised and on the last when the flag came down.
It was seen as another form of oppression.
Sáfrány says, “The scarf was 100 percent nylon, we wanted to wear our own clothes. In the eighties, everyone wanted to have the best sports shoes from abroad and we wanted to be different.”
However, others did not want to be different and enjoyed the sense of community that the Pioneers created.
University student Krisztina Farkas, 22, said, “At the beginning of the year, every pioneer had to fill in a form saying both parents were members of the communist party, but mine never were.
There was no concrete discrimination but I felt some vague threat.
As a child I did not want to stand out. I wanted to be part of the group, so I was very proud they let me be a Pioneer and I organized lots of competitions and games.
One day the whole group went into the forest and we hid little red stars and pictures of Lenin in the trees, grass, everywhere and if you found five you got a chocolate.
The Soviet presence in the camp confused some children.
November 7 was the big celebration to celebrate the Russian Revolution.
Computer programmer Mihály Sándor, 25, says, “But even as children, we knew that the stories we heard at Pioneer camp were different from what our grandparents told us about Russians.
We heard tales of rape, robbery and gulags- it was disturbing for a child.”
Bank assistant Edit Somodi, 25 remembers the initiation ceremony when an older Pioneer removed the red scarf which had been hanging from a shoulder strap on her shirt and tied it proudly around her neck.
The knot has to be tied in a specific way with the lump at the front and Somodi loved the pomp and ceremony and still remembers how to tie the knot.
Some children enjoyed the rousing patriotic songs, others said, “Why do we have to sing this rubbish every morning?” One thing they all agree on is the summer camp was a great opportunity to go on holiday with their school friends.
Parents on low incomes were glad they could send their kids out of the city for two weeks at a minimal fee.
In the early fifties, the aim was to find loyal workers for the Communist cause, but after 1956 it became more of a youth club, organizing sports, cultural and educational activities.
Authorities may have hoped it would be breeding ground for young communists, the first step on the ladder to full party membership.
Some became group leaders for KISZ (Communist Youth Association) and they were they most enthusiastic and knowledgeable at political quizzes. Others were not so interested.
Anikó Somsits is now a lawyer. In 1976 she was a Little Drummer and remembers struggling with the political questions.
The group leaders asked, ‘Who is János Kádár?’ and if the child answered correctly, points could be collected towards a little piece of chocolate or some other reward. “I was eight and had no idea who they were talking about.
One of my companions said, “Oh, Jáncsi bácsi” and we were worried that she would be punished but the teacher only said, “It’s so good that you have a family relationship with our leader .”
Somsits also has rose-tinted memories of her time at Pioneer camp, “I remember singing all the time,” she said. Though at some times the life was not for the faint-hearted.
The alarm sounded at six every morning, then children had to run three times around the camp without being allowed to visit the bathroom first.
Then a military style bed inspection and a quick wash in freezing cold water before the daily raising of the flag. Only after all that could they have breakfast. Then it was more singing.
The songs ranged from happy Pioneer songs
“Mint a mókus fenn a fán, Az úttörô oly vidám” (“Like the squirrel up in the tree, the Pioneer’s life is just as happy,”) to the more ideological workers’ movement songs, like ‘Red Csepel’ with the lyrics, “More, more, more, never enough for the bourgeois” ‘Amur Partisans’ ‘Lenin the Hero’ and the ‘Internationale.’
The last gave Somsits many problems as she did not understand the words, “In ‘A Nemzetközivé’ I thought it was ‘Nemzetközi V’ and couldn’t find out what the ‘V’ stood for.
Like most of the songs it was not explained.” It was just a subtle form of information about the Socialist cause that dripped into the young child’s consciousness.
“I did not sense a big political influence as a child, but now looking back, I can see that the songs and the games were quite a subtle way of preaching the party line.”
The intention was to introduce politics with singing and games and hopefully stimulate an interest in later life.
Like almost every ex-pioneer, Somsits looks back on the two weeks spent in the country with friends with great affection. It was a time of childhood innocence when the biggest worry was whether the campfire would light or how to remember all twelve points in the Pioneer’s Rules for Life membership book.
However, one summer camp was not such a haven, and Somsits caused a big scandal by leaving a week before the end. “It wasn’t the usual camp with my school friends, but a specialist bird-watching Pioneer camp in Tatabánya. It was very regimental and the food was diabolical.
I had to go on night watch patrol at four in the morning and I could not stay awake.” After a week, Somsits could bear it no longer and secretly wrote a letter, pleading her parents to come and collect her. “My parents had to invent an excuse that we had to visit a dying relative. It caused a big confrontation with the group leaders, who said I had cut myself off from the group and could never go on such a Pioneer camp again.”

The Pioneer’s 12 points for life were seen as guides to teach the child how to live correctly.
The was a strong emphasis on learning how to be a responsible member of society.
Somsits says, “If anything happened at the camp, the leaders informed the school. Naughty children did not get to go to fun camps at the Balaton and there was much community work, giving us a sense of discipline.”
Discipline is something that teacher Erika Csikós, 25, says is now missing in the lives of her students today. “When we were Pioneer, there was always a goal to be reached, today’s children do not have any aim or motivation.” She says the children have no sense of patriotism for their country and many cannot recite the National Anthem. “At the Pioneer camp we learnt to respect our elders and contribute to the community.
Patriotism was mixed in with Communism, of course, but when we said we were working ‘for the homeland’ it was for Hungary, not for the Soviet Union.
Csikós tells of a friend who had to go to compulsory Pioneer meetings, because, although her father was in the Communist party, her mother was from an aristocratic family, and so had been banned from higher education. (The authorities feared the next revolution would come from those who were intellectuals or thinkers and so denied further education).
The authorities worried that the young girl would not get a proper Communist upbringing and so she had to attend extra meetings, so that her mother would not be fired from her job.
Mária Völgyesi teaches at a secondary school in the twentieth district. In the fifties, she was one of the first Pioneers, then a youth leader and then a full leader.
She became a teacher as a result of good experiences at the Pioneer camps and still keeps the illustrated diary that the children compiled on the tours around some of the most picturesque parts of Hungary. “We walked 150 kilometers in 10 days and there was a wonderful group atmosphere, sitting around the campfire and sleeping in tents.
We prepared all year for the summer camp.” She says the self-discipline and initiative fostered in the camps is missing today, but hopes the Pioneer will re-establish itself again in the future as the nationwide network. “The Pioneers gave the child a backbone and a community. Now you see so many out on the streets in the evening with no sense of purpose.”
She says that, these days, no political party bothers with the children of high school age, “Not even FIDESZ which is supposedly a youth party.”

All aboard the Socialist Ghost train
Young Pioneers built the 12 kilometre narrow-gauge rail line in the Buda hills in 1950. It was built and run by people too young to get a driving license.
The museum at Hûvösvölgy station has a charming collection of memorabilia – socialist realist posters, cups and trophies, awards from youth movements in other Socialist countries, uniforms and old photos of Pioneers at work show the railway’s past.
In 1995, the railway celebrated 45 years of chugging through the hills and a nostalgia train ride visited different exhibitions at each of the eight stations
Pioneers no longer run it but a diligent group of child ticket collectors and conductors still takes tickets and salute as the train pulls out of the station from Hûvösvölgy to Széchenyi hegy about half and hour later.
On an autumn weekday morning, the train chugs along solitary with only one passenger. An adult driver negotiates the bends and tunnels and one child in an oversized uniform collects tickets. His hands are invisible under the huge navy blue sleeves, but he politely takes and punches the 60 forint ticket and bids a good journey.
The children’s enthusiasm and civility bears little resemblance to adult MÁV workers. A girl guard gives a half wave-half salute as we pull out of the next station, this is repeated along the track.
The mountain railway has two tiny carriages with wooden slatted seats and a stove in the back. Black and white pictures of Budapest sights decorate the walls.
Virágvölgy (which once bore the name “Elôre” -forward!) station has a weather beaten plaster plaque with three pioneers standing proudly pointing toward a brighter socialist future.
The Csillebérc station has two tiling tableaus on either side of the station building wall. One shows pioneers at play, the other shows pioneers raising the flag at the beginning of another day at summer camp, a ceremony that lasts to this day.

The 6 points- the law of the little drummer’s life.

1. The Little drummer is a faithful child of our Hungarian homeland.
2. The Little Drummer loves and respects his/her parents, teachers.
3. The Little Drummer studies diligently and helps his/her companions.
4. The Little Drummer always tells the truth.
5. The Little Drummer is clean, tidy and punctual.
6. The Little Drummer lives so as to be worthy of the Pioneers’ red neckerchief.


“For the working people, for the homeland, forward -steadfastly!”
The 12 points - the Pioneer life law

1. The Pioneer is a faithful child of the homeland, the Hungarian People’s Republic
2. The Pioneer fortifies the friendship of the People, protects the honor of the red neckerchief.
3. The Pioneer develops knowledge without rest, faithfully completes his/her duty.
4. The Pioneer, where he/she can, helps.
5. The Pioneer works with a good spirit.
6. The Pioneer always speaks the truth and acts fairly.
7. The Pioneer loves and honors his/her parents, teachers and respects his/her elders.
8. The Pioneer is a true and faithful friend.
9. The Pioneer is brave and disciplined.
10. The Pioneer exercises his/her body and preserves his/her health.
11. The Pioneer loves and protects nature.
12. The Pioneer lives so as to be worthy of the Communist Youth Association membership. (KISZ)

Tuesday 16 September 2008

Art Nouveau architecture in Budapest


Art Nouveau as a style always provokes a reaction and it is impossible to remain indifferent.
The style is considered by many to be stunningly beautiful, with shimmering colours and imaginative forms, while others find it the height of bad taste.
Architecturally it radically altered the face of many cities of North America and Europe - with Budapest being a leading example - at the beginning of the 20th century and left an indelible mark on our collective cultural consciousness.
Emerging more than 100 years ago, the Art Nouveau movement was an attempt to create a modern, international style based on decoration.
It spread rapidly and could be found everywhere from public buildings to biscuit tins.
The sinuous coiling forms and elaborate features brought colour and verve to brighten up drab pre-war European streets.
The late 19th century on was a time of social change and political ferment.
A restless mercantile class pushed out the old aristocracy.
The revolution left its mark on many European capitals, as it spawned a building style that swept across the continent.
It was called Art Nouveau in Glasgow, Paris and Brussels, Jugendstil in Riga, Berlin and Munich, and Secession (Szecesziós) in Budapest, Vienna and Prague.
Today, Budapest is home to buildings that are some of the best examples of this ornate style.
At the end of the 19th century, Budapest grew from a small town to a great metropolis with a burgeoning middle class.
After the Compromise (Ausgleich in German, Kiegyezés in Hungarian) of 1867, which secured a degree of autonomy for Hungary within the Dual Monarchy, many artists, architects and designers wanted to form a cultural identity and embraced the Art Nouveau movement.
The “father” of modern Hungarian architecture, Ödön Lechner, wanted to “Shape a new age in art, to give birth to a new style.”
Art Nouveau became a force for liberation from the Viennese allegiances and pressures and Lechner gave buildings such as the Post Office Savings Bank and the Applied Arts Museum a singular Magyar identity.
Budapest's architecture provides a lasting and vibrant record of Art Nouveau and there are many places where exotic facades by Lechner still brighten up the dusty back streets.
Architects used playful ornamentation on their buildings in reaction to the stultifying restraints of Historicism, the previously popular style in which grand buildings from the past were copied.
Structures often were organic in form, with curving facades, a dramatic departure from the austere, classical regularity.
During this fertile period, applied arts took on added importance.
Architecture and interior design were blended to create buildings of a consistent whole, or Gesamtkunstwerk (complete work of art). Art Nouveau forms appeared not only in architecture but in the organic furniture of Ödön Faragó, Miksa Róth’s gorgeous stained glass, Béla Lajta’s fabulous mosaics and József Rippl Rónai’s Oriental-inspired multi-coloured paintings. Hungarians created their own distinctive Secession style.
They resented the Germanic influence of the Habsburg¹s domination in bilingual Budapest. They feared their Hungarian identity was in danger of being submerged by the growing population of ethnic minorities - Serb, Croat, Slovak, Greek – in the expanding capital. They wanted to make a political statement through art.
Lechner, the most famous Secession architect, led the way “We shall not rediscover a Hungarian form. We shall make one!” he declared.
Although the style Lechner developed was not without contradictions or critics, his influence over a generation of young architects starting out around 1900 was very strong.
Throughout his career he displayed a practical interest in new building materials and techniques as well as historical languages of form.
His early commissions such as the Town Hall in Szeged (1881-1883) drew heavily on the French Renaissance revival style. Lechner acknowledged at the time that he wanted to “harmonise” the “primitive crudeness of Magyar folk art and the refinement of French culture”.
Lechner imagined that he could conceive of a properly Hungarian style by fusing suitable languages of form.
After seeing the Calcutta railway station, he claimed that the archetypal model of this kind of synthesis was to be found in the way imperial British architecture had accommodated Indian architectural forms.
Lechner’s reputation was made by the buildings he designed from the early 1890s.
The Applied Arts Museum and the Geological Institute are credited as being the first examples of Art Nouveau in Hungary.
The Applied Arts Museum was built between 1893 and 1896, in line with plans prepared by Ödön Lechner and Gyula Pártos. The steel structure above the main hall is stuccoed, and the stuccos follow and demonstrate the logic of the structure while making it more graceful.
The unconventional, exotic appearance of the Applied Arts Museum was enhanced by glazed tiles, wrought ironwork, richly coloured pyrogranite tiles and Orientalist figures by the Zsolnay factory in Pécs and majolica bricks covering the street-facing facade and wings.
Lechner was well informed about the roots of Hungarian culture.
He knew the work of József Huszka, a pioneer of ethnography and he adapted peasant art designs such as the elaborately decorated felt cloak (cifraszûr) worn by men in the villages on special occasions, wooden dowry chests, tables and chairs hand-painted with tulip motifs and embroidered pillow cases.
Lechner preferred as natural motifs the flora and fauna of the Hungarian “peasant countryside”, including tulips and bees over the more exotic and literary orchids and Medusas found in many West European Art Nouveau buildings and interiors.
The tulip design, seen on the Geological Institute and the Postal Savings Bank, went on to become a symbol of Hungarian identity, with its roots in the countryside.
The Zsolnay factory chemists had perfected a lustrous eosin glaze that could withstand the effects of rain, snow and extreme cold. Lechner and others eagerly adopted the ceramics, using them extensively for decorative emphasis.
The blue tile roof of the Geological Institute, the yellow and green roof of the Postal Savings Bank and its exterior tulip design, the underwater vision of the Applied Arts Museum and Róth’s mosaic “painting” at the top of Szervita tér 3 show off the best of the creations.
Lechner’s disciples, christened the Fiatalok continued the Hungarian style, but varied the form. Károly Kós reached back to Transylvanian peasant architecture for inspiration, evident in the bird and pheasant houses at the Budapest Zoo.
Stained glass windows also enhanced many buildings during the Secession, most of them crafted in Miksa Róth’s workshop, in Nefelejcs utca near Keleti station.
The colourful circular window that frames the dome of the Applied Arts Museum displays Róth’s expertise and artistic acumen. Béla Lajta, another student of Lechner at the Budapest Technical University, employed the latest construction methods, using reinforced concrete with floral and geometric designs incised on the facades.
The beautiful, yet crumbling mausoleum that Lajta designed for the Schmidl family in the Kozma utca Izraelita cemetery in District X is a good example of his work.
The Budapest Zoo and Botanical Gardens opened in 1866.
Tens of thousands of animals and plants originating from all over the world are on display here in romantic artificial lakes, among the rocks, in aquariums and glasshouses, and buildings that bear an exotic, eastern influence.
The planners aimed to create living spaces for the animals that correspond to their original environment, and hence established an "international open-air architectural museum", which is significant in itself, even without the dwellers. The elephant house, whose roof is decorated with Zsolnay majolica, is a fine example of sensitive reconstruction.
The ornamental gateway to the zoo, featuring elephants gives a sense of exotic fun to Art Nouveau.

14 (+2) places to find Art Nouveau:

1. Gellért Spa Hotel, XI. Gellért tér.
2. Geological Institute, XIV. Stefánia út 14, Open Mon-Fri 9am-4pm
3. Hungarian Institute for the Blind, XIV Hermina út 74
4. The School for the Blind, XIV Ajtósi Dürer sor 39
5. Academy of Music, VI Liszt Ferenc tér 8
6. Four Seasons Gresham Palace Hotel (Gresham Insurance Co), V. Roosevelt tér
7. Párizsi Nagyáruház (Grand Parisian Department Store), VI. Andrássy út 39.
8. Church of the Philanthropic Foundation, X. Cserkesz utca 7
9. Primary school, mosaics by Zsigmond Vajda, VII. Dob utca 85
10. Philantia Flower Shop, V. Váci utca 9
11. Róth Memorial Museum, VII. Nefelejcs utca 26
12. Post Office Savings Bank, V. Hold utca 4
13. Szent László church, Kőbánya
14. The Schmidl family mausoleum, Kozma utca Izraelita cemetery, Kőbánya

And a little further afield, check out
15. The ‘Little Blue Church’ of Saint Elizabeth in Bratislava, Slovakia by Ödön Lechner 1910-1913
16. Also in Bratislava, the high school at Grösslingova ulica 18 by Ödön Lechner also in 1906-08

Wednesday 25 June 2008

Kerepesi Cemetery, Budapest's garden of history

Kerepesi temető - my favourite

Kerepesi temető

In the warm spring sunshine, plum and nut trees burst into blossom and the grass grows long and lush in verdant green meadows. A striking lime green woodpecker with a crimson head searches for ants. He potters, undisturbed across the lawn. Fifty -four hectares of beautiful park land are criss-crossed by paths, running on compass lines. Geometrically ordered in the style of a French garden, there are also 400 different types of trees, dotted all over, in the haphazard English style.
One-hundred year old chestnut avenues offer a silent haven and the crisp April morning becomes suddenly cold and dark.
A Transylvanian long-eared owl awakes from his doze in the branches overhead and directs one eye at the people below, dressed in black and moving slowly in procession.
We are only 600 meters away from the polluted bustle of Budapest's Keleti station but we could be on the other side of the world. Kerepesi cemetery is a nature reserve, a botanical garden and a history museum - the perfect place to escape for a moment of peace and reflection when the city hysteria becomes overwhelming.
In 1841, Count István Széchenyi decided that there should be a Hungarian national pantheon. Eight years later, burial began in Kerepesi. Until then several smaller cemeteries had been used to bury the dead. In 1885, it was declared a decorative cemetery and Rákoskeresztúr public cemetery was opened to relieve the burden.
Antal Sinka is now retired, but worked for many years as a guide and knows the stories behind every grave.
Acrid smoke comes from Fiumei út over the high surrounding wall. We go down into a crypt while a stone mason examines the damage. Images spring to mind of spirits lurking in the shadows or vampires waiting to pounce, but in broad daylight no self-respecting vampire would leap forth, only three stone sarcophagi sit in a state of dust and decay.
Grave robbers, like pollution, continually threaten the tombs.
Sinka says, "Lajos Batthány was executed in the revolution in 1849 with three bullets. His body was hidden in the church on Rákóczi út and he could not rest in peace until 1867. He was disturbed again in 1993, when grave robbers stole his Ft 22 million sword. They overlooked his wife's Ft 11 million earrings, which have now been placed in the National Museum for safekeeping."
This cemetery has witnessed many funerals of historic importance.
On 6 October 1956, the reburial of László Rajk took place. Rajk (1909 -1949) was an underground communist leader in the 1930's who fought in the Spanish Civil war.
After World War II he was Hungary's Minister of the Interior, and later foreign minister.
Falsely accused of "Titoism," he was arrested and executed in 1949, becoming the most famous victim of the Hungarian purges. In the thaw that followed Stalin's death, he was posthumously rehabilitated and re-interred in Kerepesi cemetery.
The reburial became a mass demonstration, giving a hint of the Uprising which would break out 17 days later.
The most recent major burial in Kerepesi was that of Democratic Forum (MDF) Prime Minister József Antal who died in office in 1993.
His funeral took place on a bitterly cold Saturday evening in December 1993, thousands holding candles and singing mournful hymns in the floodlit dusk.
The grave looks different now, alone in the middle of a bright, sunny meadow.
A modest wooden cross, covered in flower tributes, contrasts with the resting place nearby of a statesman of another time, Ferenc Deák, honored by an ostentatious mausoleum.
The greatest statesman, Lajos Kossuth (1802-1894) has an immense mausoleum currently being restored. Fenced off, the bronze statues of Genius, the Hungarian crest and several white marble lions by the architect and designer Alajos Strobl sit in the grass, instead of on the roof.
Situated in a corner, away from the statesmen and nobility is the workers' pantheon, designed by József Körner in 1958, and fast becoming a museum piece. It is one of the few places in Budapest where you can see the word "Communism" written out in bold letters.
The slogan "A KOMMUNIZMUSÉRT A NÉPÉRT ÉLTEK" (They lived for Communism and for the people") dominates the spacious white stone piazza.
Giant statues of two young men and a woman holding hands in Socialist Realist style gaze out boldly into the future. Six massive white blocks of stone bear reliefs of workers in the field or at war, and remembrance plaques testify to the bravery of socialist workers.
The cavernous two-level crypt underneath can be visited if the unpredictable attendants are on duty. Here, the ashes of politicians and artists find eternal peace. Leo Frankel, Gyula Derkovits and Ferenc Rózsa are just some of many names, recognizable from Budapest street names.
Black ceramic urns stand on shelves carved from Austrian red limestone. One of the urns contains the ashes of a certain Éva Braun. Sinka says, "It was often pointed out to visiting officials to test if they were paying attention. She really lived and, ironically, was a young Jewish member of the partisans.
The name and dates, 1917-1945 are identical to Hitler's mistress."
Behind the Worker's Pantheon is a plot for the heroes of the 1956 uprising. The plot for the "upholders of the system" in 1956 - the secret police or ÁVO - is also in Kerepesi, but Sinka explains, "The two groups were buried on opposite sides because if there was a memorial service for both groups on the same day, there would be fights."
In the workers' movement plot, crimson rose bushes grow on black marble tombs decorated with a gold star. Former Hungarian President János Kádár and his wife, Mária Tamáska, share a modest red marble gravestone in the middle.
Kádár and Antal represented diametrically opposed political systems, but they both share equal amounts of floral tributes and are the two most visited graves in Kerepesi.
Fossilized ammonites can be seen in the polished stone on Kádár's grave. Nearby are some unusual tombstones from the baroque period 1600-1700, featuring skulls and crossbones.
Many of the stones have bullet holes where, "Our Russian brothers" as Sinka adds ironically, were taking pot shots from the steps of Deák's mausoleum, or trying to destroy landmarks to make it difficult for German troops to parachute in.
Poet Endre Ady has what looks like a bandage around his arm but it is a stone plaster, covering a real bullet wound from a Russian gun.
Kerepesi workers' monument
The Arcade is two walls of elaborate graves and statues bought for posterity by wealthy families. One such resident of this eternal avenue of Hungarian elite is the Gundel family, "The kocsma (pub) brothers," as Sinka calls them.
At the four corners are stunning frescos on the ceilings, depicting Biblical scenes interwoven with Transylvanian -style buildings.
Russian soldiers are fenced off in a separate plot. Those who died in 1945, "Saving Hungary from the German fascists," and those who were killed in 1956, "Saving our land from the attacking anti-revolution" as the plaques say. It is one of the few places in Budapest where you can still see a red star.
Two tiny black wild kittens play on the graves, showing a healthy disrespect for death.
Poet János Arany worked under an oak tree on Margit Island and wanted to be buried there, but the authorities forbade it. Instead, he lies on an island of grass. In 1886, the gardener Emil Fuchs planted two acorns from Margit Island next to Arany's grave.
The writer Albert Pákh had a star above his name. This does not always mean a communist worker, Sinka says it also signifies the Hungarian symbol for death. Gyula Baghy, an Esperanto poet, has an "E" in a star on his headstone.
The sculpture Géza Maroti (1875-1941) designed his own gravestone, which is unique in Hungary.
A white marble slab depicts the back view of a naked woman, surrounded by lots of cavorting and canoodling folk and was considered very brazen at the time.
The grave site is situated in the undergrowth, the untended wild land towards the top right-hand corner of the cemetery.
The neighboring Jewish cemetery (entrance 600 meters down Salgótarjáni út) has some very old but impressive large tombs, it has suffered from neglect for many years and is currently undergoing restoration. It is not possible to enter, two giant black dogs as terrifying as Cerberus, guard the gates.

People are warned against going down toward the wall dividing the main cemetery with the Jewish cemetery. In the top right hand corner the grave yard is overgrown, and neglected graves crumble. Dodgy types lurk in the bushes, so women would be best advised to avoid this part.
The writer Mór Jókai (1825-1904) lies in a very simple grave, as he wished, surrounded by a circular colonnade, covered in ivy. On the inside of the ring, sculptures of doves sit as if in the rafters, and round the outside run Jókai's words, "The spirit within me goes with you, it will be there among you all, you will always find me among your flowers, when they wither, you will find me in the leaves, when they fall down, you will hear me in the evening peal of bells, when they die away and when you remember me, I will always be standing by you face to face."
A pair of adult owls live in the tree nearby, keeping watch over the colony of poets. Endre Ady (1877-1919) has a simple stone in the shade of chestnut trees opposite Jókai.
Actress Lujza Blaha (1850-1926) lies just across the way.
A crowd of mourning cherubs and a balladeer surround her death bed.
Lujza Blaha having a lie down
Mihály Károly, the first president of the Hungarian republic in 1918, is sheltered by a tent-like structure with incredible acoustics.. Like an open whispering gallery, you can send secret messages from one corner to the other. Sinka says, "Károly's daughter, an aged countess came to visit the grave but left in a huff, saying she would only return when all the cobwebs have been removed."
Poet Attila József (1905-1937) lies in a modest grave with his mother and sister, not far from statesman Ferenc Deák's imposing mausoleum. The authorities said it was suicide, and Hungarian law states that a body must be buried in the same town or area as the death. However, the Kisfaludy Society saved money and brought the body to Budapest. In 1955, József was first buried in the Workers' Pantheon section then moved to his present resting place, where a simple white stone marks what is, hopefully, the final resting place of Hungary's best-loved poets.
Near the Russian memorial is the grave of teenager Mária Csizmarovits who died in the 1849 revolution. She disguised herself as a man to get into the army.
The prima donna Mari Jászai bought stone form the first Hungarian theater when it was demolished, to use as her grave stone. The theater stood on the corner of Múzeum körút and Rákóczi út where there is now a business center.
Adam Clark, the Scottish supervisor of the Lánchíd construction is buried in a family tomb. He married the widow Aldasy from a German family. The wording on the tomb is in German.
Nearby is a grave that just says "Léda" She was Adél Brüll, "Léda" in reverse, a married woman who was poet Ady's lover and muse. Their love affair was public knowledge and caused a scandal. When they split up in 1913, Ady wrote a famous farewell letter. She died of syphilis in 1934.
The artists' plot is full of imaginative graves, pianos, theatrical masks and handwritten signatures. Writer Zsigmond Móricz is buried with one of his daughters, the other is about ten meters away. They quarreled and now remain forever not on speaking terms.
Weeping willows hang over the grave of Vilma Hugonai who became the first female doctor in 1903. János Pásztor , a sculptor, used his wife as a model. You can see her likeness in statues on his and many other graves.
She had a particularly beautiful naked figure with rounded buttocks.
An important man was to be buried in the same plot, just behind, but his widow threw a tantrum, complaining that the grave could not face such a peach-like bum. She would not allow his body to share the same graveyard and he was moved to Rákoskeresztúr cemetery in the 17th district.
Coming out of the main gates, you are hit by a blast of smoke and fumes from the lorries thundering along Fiumei út.
It is quite a contrast from the quiet, cool green seclusion of the graveyard.
Kerepesi is a peaceful sanctuary in the heart of the city and one of the best parks for walking and quiet contemplation in Budapest. It is a good place to spend an afternoon or maybe eternity.

Thursday 22 May 2008

Angyalföld, the (working class) Land of Angels

Angyalföld (Angel Land) in District XIII is one of those parts of Budapest always referred to by name rather than number.
As with other working class districts such as Csepel or Ferencváros, people living there have a strong sense of identity and community.
District XIII only became an independent administrative unit 65 years ago on June 1, 1938, and was first called Magdolnaváros (literally 'Magdolna Town') after the wife of Governor Miklós Horthy.
The territory changed in shape and size over the decades.
In 1949 the northern side of Szent István körút was added, plus Újlipótváros and Margitsziget.
The territory has been occupied on and off since the time of the Avars, remains of whom have been found.
Archeologists have also discovered fortresses from Roman times and remains of medieval mills and walls.
At the turn of the 19th century, Budapest developed and expanded rapidly.
Angyalföld ('Angel Land/field'), Ujlipótváros ('New Leopold Town') and Vizafogó ('Sturgeon Catcher') became colourful, crowded living quarters on the outskirts of town, with timber yards, factories, scrap metal yards, ploughed fields and gardens.
Theses alternated with poor cottages, lower middle class dwellings and overcrowded tenements.
A degree of modernization began in 1910 and smaller individual houses were built in one story rows.
During the 19th century, all the undesirable city facilities were moved out to the outskirts, of which Angyalföld was a significant constituent.
The district became the location for the cemetery, madhouse, night shelter, powder mill, barracks and other military institutes.
By the 1920s it was the largest industrial district in Budapest. Many people moved into the there from all parts of Hungary. German, Polish and Slovak immigrants came to find employment, giving the district an eclectic, cosmopolitan, yet hard-working character.
From the beginning of 1900, the area known as Újlipótváros started to transform, as it was the closest to the up-and-coming centre.
Reconstruction began and it became an elegant middle-class living quarter by the 1940s.
Vizafogó was so-called because it was the area of District XIII by the Danube where fish were caught.
'Sturgeon used to swim up this far from the Black Sea and in the 18th century there was local Hungarian caviar production',
explained Attila Molnár, owner of the Arany Kaviár restaurant.
It was filled with country cottages and lodgings, but these disappeared in the 1980s with the construction of high-rise housing districts.
Váci út cuts right through the middle of District XIII.
The first horse-drawn tram route travelled along here, between the-then Széna tér (now Kálvin tér) and and Újpesti Indóház.
It took just 37 minutes to reach the First Hungarian Pest-Fiume Shipyard Company Works.
All along Váci út the factories have been replaced by modern buildings, office blocks and fancy showrooms for cars and mobile telephones providers.
The swanky Duna Plaza shopping mall hunches on a site where the Ganz Ship and Crane Factory once stood.
The 100-year-old office and store buildings were painted red and called the Vas gerenda (Iron beam) by workers.
From the 1950s and 1960s along streets called Béke, Tahi and Fiastyúk, there were ancient factories, which have now been replaced by modern office blocks and houses with gardens.
The Rákos patak (stream) runs along beside Vizafogó utca from Váci út leading towards the river.
The Ördögmalom (Devil Mill) used to stand here, but now the housing estate of Béke-Tahi-Fiastyúk rises up.
Much of Angyalfold was once a marshy bog on the banks of the Danube.
It was a spooky wasteland and there was a rumour that the revolutionary poet Sándor Petôfi's lover was buried under the earth where Lehel tér market now stands.
The land frequently flooded and Város (Town) magazine noted in December, 1931, 'It was not unusual to find a
block of houses completely barricaded off by knee-high water, that the only way to get there was by raft'.
When the land was drained and building work began, Angyalföld rapidly became the centre of the mid-19th century industrial revolution that swept into Hungary.
Workers and peasants arrived to take up jobs in new factories opened by entrepreneurs from across Europe.
One of the first was a Herr Engel and the area was renamed Engelfeld in his honour.
Other names are also synonymous with the area: Láng, Ganz and Schlik.
László Láng, born in Bratislava/Pressburg/Pozsony in 1868, opened a factory making parts for the mill industry in 1925.
The site is now used by a company making electronic products.
The area around the site of the First Hungarian Screw Factory, now the venue for a shopping mall, was a rough and tumble part of town.
The newspaper Népszava warned in January 1910, 'There are no honourable, negotiable streets to be found here, and there is not enough lighting, so that you don't dare venture out into the street in the evening without a revolver or a big stick'.
Angyalföld developed in a pattern similar to working class communities across Europe, but after the First World War, the peaceful evolution was shattered.
In 1919, Béla Kun's Council of Republics was set up, workers' committees took control of the factories and the Party of Hungarian Communists began organizing in Angyalföld.
The defeat of the short-lived Republic and the White Terror which followed, drove many leaders of the workers' movements underground or away from Hungary.
Repression and poverty became particularly bad in the area of Angyalfold around Gyöngyösi utca which became nicknamed Tripolisz.
The area remained notorious and poverty-stricken until the slums were cleared after the Second World War.
A certain young János Kádár worked as a machinist in an Angyalföld umbrella factory and his first project in the then-illegal Communist Party was to distribute leaflets outside a local textile factory.
After the Second World War, Kádár became leader of the district party (and later ruler of the country) and was officially the area's MP for nearly 25 years.
Kádár called Angyalföld, 'the beating heart of the working class movement' and returned to his old textile factory to meet the workers every year until his death.
Ironically, it was the Kádár-led government that started to change the character of Angyalföld.
The community was broken up, the slums of Tripolisz were cleared and the workers shifted out to Békásmegyer on the Buda side and new residents moved in from other parts of town.
Workers arrived from the countryside and stayed in hostels around Fay utca.
The area which is now a center for the Chinese community with a market and many wholesale shops, was notorious for drunken parties on Friday nights when the workers drank away their wages.
József Tóth, once district secretary of the Communist Youth League, now Socialist Party mayor of Angyalföld is positive about the future of the area.
He says that many Western companies were interested in the district because of good communications and the vacant space left by the old State factories.
Walking along Váci út, the impression is of a constantly developing part of town which has successfully attracted significant foreign investment.
The socialist workers may have gone, but the drones of the free market economy have taken their place. District XIII is a place of regeneration and renewal.
[First published May 2003]

Tuesday 22 April 2008

Budapest's Szent Lukács gyógyfürdô & uszoda


The Szent Lukács gyógyfürdô

The Szent Lukács gyógyfürdô is the most beautiful medicinal thermal bath complex in Budapest.
The Széchenyi has history and all the chess-playing bácsis (crusty old uncles) for the tourists, the Gellért has fin-de-siecle glamour and that wave pool (keep away from the wandering hands of crusty old uncles here!) and the Király and Rudas have their daring, quasi homo-erotic, steamy sense of danger (after all, think of all those verrucas you could catch).
The frumpy old Lukács isn’t a tourist destination, it’s a place for locals to kick off their papucs (slippers), soak their creaking joints and have a right old gossip within the crumbling, yellowing Baroque walls of the most atmospheric spa facilities in Central Europe.
The medicinal thermal bath recently opened its doors to show off a brand new ivócsarnok - drinking hall, where visitors can buy a korsó (half-litre stein) of mineral and salt-rich water to refresh their palates and help them live longer.
The building resembles a Greek temple and in pride of place is a pink marble fountain, from where gushes forth water, strangely labelled ‘not drinking water’.
However, to the right is a dark grey marble basin and patrons can fill up jugs from a golden dragon tap.
For five forints you can drink a korsó, filled with the warm, slightly eggy-tasting water and go away feeling you have done something good for your system.
Half a litre is considered the optimum daily intake, needed for the minerals and salts to be effective.
‘Budapest is really the capital of spas, and we hope the Szent Lukács will be a symbol of better times’, said Budapest deputy mayor Pál Vajda at the opening.
Renovation started in November 1997, at a cost of Ft25 million, mainly financed by revenue from tourism.
Gábor Horváth, CEO of Budapest's Thermal Baths and Spas Rt said the drinking hall was originally opened in 1937 when the first conference of the International Bathing Association was held in Budapest, acknowledging the thermal bath potential of the Hungarian capital. ‘This was really a peak in Budapest thermal bath life’, said Horváth.
However, since the turn of the century, thermal water has been bottled in green glass bottles and distributed around the world.
By the time the drinking hall was opened, more that five million bottles per year were being produced and exported to many counties around the world. Szent Lukács water can be bought in Buenos Aires, Mexico, Hong Kong and Sydney.
The bath suffered severe damage during the Second World War and a lack of funds prevented refurbishment.
Now the hall has been reconstructed according to original plans, ‘and there will be more opportunities to drink the healthy water on the spot’, said Horváth.
The Lukács thermal water contains calcium, magnesium and hydrogen carbonate, a significant amount of fluoride and the eggy, sulphurous compounds.
Drinking the water is good for stomach and intestinal problems, gallbladder, kidney stones and lung airway disorders.
Bathing in the water, in one of the many facilities: mud baths, medicinal weight baths, underwater jet stream massage or just relaxing in the warm water is effective in the treatment of degenerative joint diseases, spinal problems or for rehabilitation treatment after an accident.
If you go further into the main courtyard of Szent Lukács, you are confronted with what must be the most beautiful courtyard in a city blessed with many stunning courtyards.
The crumbling, yellow Baroque walls surround a shaded place where tall century-old maples rise up through the tiles and succulent lilies create an oasis of cool calm health and relaxation.
On the walls, stone tablets thank the saint in many languages.
‘Stubborn lumbago tortured me for years, Saint Lukács cured me immediately’, wrote Benô Sághy in 1899.
There is a tablet in Serbian deciated by Militsza Jankovitseva in 1906, one from Viennese Carl Horak in 1902, and one offering thanks from a Romanian lawyer Petru Caliunariu.
The earliest appears to be from 1898.
When it opened in 1894, the Szent Lukács was the biggest at 1,800m2, and the most popular spa in Budapest.
Besides those coming for cures, the Szent Lukács was also a favourite wallowing hole for writers and artists and it still remains popular in literary circles.
It was an informal literary salon, more recently with a dissident flavor from the 1950’s to the mid-1980’s.
The stone sunbathing terrace on top of the building is particularly atmospheric.
During the Turkish occupation, the Lukács territory held a four-towered castle which had been adapted into a medieval gunpowder mill.
The Turks called it Barutháné and the Buda Pasha Arszlan redecorated the building in 1565-66.
West of the mill building, a warm spring rose up from the hillside and the resulting millpond water drove the wheels to grind powder.
The building was also used in the manufacture of felt material, the mill still operated in the winter, because the warm water did not freeze over.
In the 1686 struggle to regain territory the place was returned unharmed to the possession of the Emperor, although they still used it as a gunpowder mill for long after.
Given the Turks’ fondness for hot baths, the hot waters surrounding the millpond were used for the creation of a pool, and in the vicinity of Barutháné were several other hot baths.
In the 1850's the Lukács baths functioned in the courtyard of the Emperor Mill ‘in whose tubs agricultural workers from the country bath as a curative method’, read a periodical of the time.
In 1863 the baths’ territory was enlarged, and in 1884 Rezsô Palotay bought the baths from the state treasury. The Emperor mill was demolished, one of the towers was used to build a new pool.
In 1893 Palotay took over the running of services in the Szent Lukács and built mud baths, steam baths, a sanatorium and swimming pools.
The Szent Lukács medicinal and thermal pool opened its doors to the public in 1894.
In 1946, the Lukács united with the Császár Baths, which has also reopened its pools and excellent sun-bathing terraces recently on the banks of the Danube.
Water of a temperature of 17 -65 degrees comes from natural sources and drilled wells.
The calcareous, hydrogen sulfuric water is good for rheumatics, muscle and nerve illnesses and joint. problems.
The Lukács is one of the few thermal baths in Budapest which offers mud treatments.
Trained attendants will slap on revitalizing mud, rich in minerals, salts and massage away you aches and illnesses as you sit among Budapest¹s literary society, who come here to gossip and heal.

Saint Lukács gyógyfürdô & uszoda (thermal 'health' bath & pool)
District II. Budapest,
Frankel Leó utca 25-29.
Tel 326-1695
Open daily 06.00—19.00
Day ticket with locker (2006) Ft1,500 – leave within 2hrs you get Ft400 back, within 2-3hrs Ft200
Day ticket with changing cabin (2006) Ft1,700 – leave within 2hrs you get Ft400 back, within 2-3hrs Ft200.
Hang on to your tickets!

Facilities include
Steam baths
Pool (06.00—19.00)
Underwater jetstream massage
Doctor's massage
Mud and weight baths

Drinking fountain ivókút open 06.00—18.00 Mon-Fri, 06.00—12.00 Sat/Sun.
You can drink korsós of healthy water full of minerals on the spot.
Half a liter costs Ft5…..yum, yum

Monday 17 March 2008

Trabant - the little car that could

The Tale of the Trabi

The image of Hungary's most popular, populist car, the noisy, blue-smoke belching Trabant was so linked with the system that many now see it as a symbol of the Communist era in Eastern Europe.
However, although the Trabant and Communism shared many similarities: clumsy, smelly, uncomfortable, and some say unattractive, there is one major difference.
Communism collapsed with the Berlin wall in 1989, but the Trabi is still rolling along. In 1997 enthusiasts, nostalgists and those who use their Trabi every day as a trusty method of going to work, celebrated the fortieth birthday of the beloved Trabi.
The Trabant turned 50 in 2007, and although a brief mid-life crisis threatened its existence, it continues to cough and splutter through the streets of Budapest.
Love it or loath it, the Trabi won't go away. Budapest mayor Gábor Demszky tried unsuccessfully in 1995 to rid the capital of the Trabant. The Green program offered two years' free BKV transport pass, worth Ft30,000 for those who traded in their Trabi's.

Demszky did not bargain on three things:
people with small businesses needed their Trabants,
a painter and decorator could not take his equipment on the metro,
you can pack the contents of a small flat into a Trabant.

Despite the low fuel-mileage ratio, Trabants are relatively cheap to buy and workers could not afford anything else and thirdly, people loved their 'soap-dish' Trabis.
The company that won the tender to clear the Trabants from the streets of Budapest, allegedly recycled the cars as spare parts and out of 200 Trabants that were traded in, 120 were back on the streets in some shape or form.
Gábor Muczán runs the Trabant-Wartburg club from his home behind Farkasréti cemetery.
It started in 1994 with a few auto-enthusiasts and has grown to a membership of nearly 400 Trabant and Wartburg fans, who meet five times a year, and make annual pilgrimages to the Trabant factory in Zwickau.
He says although the Trabants were made in the former NDK -East Germany, "Out of all the Communist countries, Hungary had the most, other countries like then Czechoslovakia had the Skoda, Romania the Dacia, the Soviet Union the Lada and East Germany also had the Wartburg.
In Hungary, there are still 300,000 Trabants on the road, it seems like there are less because there are so many other brands too, but the Trabants are not disappearing."
Muczán's car collection at present stands at 14 automobiles, crowding his garage and the road in front of his house. Muczán often visits Germany, where he can, "Buy a Trabi for the price of a burger," because the German environmental tax on the Trabi makes it now as expensive to run as a Mercedes.
Fortunately, his wife Kriszti shares his love for Trabants and when they married in 1993, they drove off in a decorated P601, "There is no limit to the silliness, " says Kriszti, showing off her trophy she collected in the 1997 Trabant and Wartburg slalom race, for first place in the "remodeled" category.
She used to work in an environmental protection agency, and said it's true the Trabi smells bad, "But look at all the other cars on the road, a 20-year old Zhiguli is much worse, it's just the Trabi's blue smelly smoke is so obvious."
The Muczáns' kitchen is decorated with number plates of cars, mostly Trabants that Gábor has owned or renovated.
A brown bottle, once filled with Trabant beer, produced in Zwickau-home of the Trabi, sits on the table.
Many people use the Trabant-Wartburg club as an information service, as members try to get the original spare parts. "Not everybody treats their Trabi as a hobby, for many it is a useful tool, taking them to work and back," says Muczán.
The Trabant is not as beautiful as an Italian car, not as fast as a Japanese, not as road-worthy as a Swedish or filled with character like a French model, but it is reliable.
No car starts in the cold like a Trabi and once going, it just keeps rolling along.
The Trabant may appear boring to some, but riding in it involves an element of danger, "If you crash, it's the end," says Muczán.
The panels were made from Duroplast, a compressed mixture of resin and polyester, which was light, easily available, rust-proof and cheap. However, on impact it would crumble.
Only the equally tiny and tinny Polski Fiat has such a high-risk impact factor. Interestingly, early American Pontiacs also used Duroplast. However, from an environmental point of view, the Duroplast is totally non-recyclable and although a crash may reduce it to smithereens, those little mosaic tiles of blue, beige and olive green will never disappear.
Because it was so light, it only required a two-stroke engine, 26 horsepower, giving the Trabi its unique cough and splutter, similar to a Budapest pensioner after 50 years of Munkás cigarettes.
All cars in the 50's were large and heavy. "The Trabant was an innovation, a world class car then," says Muczán.
The life and times of the Trabi make interesting reading.
It had an imperfect birth, in fact it was never meant to be a car, but a rain-proof motorcycle with a boot, thus cheap transport for all the family.
The name Trabant derives from the German word for satellite or escort henchman, the verb 'trab' means to trot along.
Trabant production ceased in 1990, because the hand made cars suited the socialist system, where everybody had a job and labour was subsidized by the State.
"Now everything is automated, the Trabant would be too expensive to make," says Muczán.
Communism ran according to "Plan economics - nothing like what people actually want," says Muczcán, and he calls it a miracle that the Trabant, a product of plan economics actually works.
Trabant engineers were some of the most talented in the business, but their creativity was often stifled by the system. In the early days, the car's shape was considered both innovative and beautiful, and it was one of the first of its type to have the engine in the front.
In 1972, Trabant engineers designed a super Trabi like a future Renault 5, but East German president Honnecker didn't allow anything special, he said the people only needed the most basic car to get them from A to B, to work and back every night, not something to go gallivanting across borders in. "Communism did not allow fancy models in anything, although some special Trabants were built, they were locked in museums and their blue-prints burnt," says Muczán.
There were Trabants that resembled the modern Fiat Uno, although no record of them exists.
The normal type was the P601, in 1969 the talented Trabant engineers designed a 603 model, but after a resounding "No" from Honnecker, the engineers left the country.
Story has it, that they began work for Volkswagon and turned the Trabi 603 into what is now the highly successful VW Golf 1.
It is said that they developed a special fuel additive so that Trabants and Wartburgs appeared to run faster in East Germany. There are reports that the Trabant know-how and machinery has been sold to Egypt, Ecuador and India.
Trabants were first used in East Germany as a military vehicle, and one of many Trabant jokes says the Trabants are great for attack because of the terrifying noise they make, but you cannot escape in one as they are too loud.
In 1991, the Trabant 601 was fitted with a four-stroke, 50 horsepower engine, originally used in the VW Polo, the result was a shaky and unmanageable bomb.
The Trabi has had its moments. Recently VW Golf conducted a Reindeer Test (so called because it simulates the swerving necessary if a reindeer jumped out in front of the car on an icy road) as a marketing ploy.
Several makes of car were tested, the Mercedes turned over.
German journalists took a two-stroke Trabant to Sweden and it passed the reindeer test at 75 kmph, the Mercedes turned over at 60 kmph. This was the greatest humiliation for the supercilious western engineers.
On November 9, 1989, the Berlin wall came down, and unforgettable images were seen throughout the world media.
A cacophony of honking echoed down Berlin's Ku'damm.
Described by some as a "horn concerto," it was the sound of hundreds of Trabants. For months a trickle of these had escaped to the West with their East German owners, when the then Hungarian foreign minister Gyula Horn allowed them an exit route through the more liberated Hungarian territory.
The tiny hole in the wall turned the trickle into a flood, and the Trabant, the most rickety vehicle known to man became a symbol of freedom.
However, when consumerism took hold, Trabis were out, Audis, Fiats and Renaults were in.
The star of the liberation reverted to the sad epitome of socialism, inefficient, slow, dog-eared and dull and nobody wanted it.
Then, the Trabant production line at the Zwickau Automobile factory was nearing its three millionth car, but it never made it. Work faltered and then stopped. Outside, rows of new vehicles waited for thier owners tocome to pick them up, but they waited in vain.
At that time you could barely give a Trabi away. So shattered was the market that there were even small ads in local papers, offering to swap cars for packets of cigarettes.
However, in the West, the Trabi's cult status spread as museums, galleries and even rock groups picked up cars for a song. In the early 1990's, U2 took a fleet on tour as part of their Achtung Baby set.
Bono has his own light blue P601.
In the sixties and seventies, at the height of Trabi-mania, the car still had a fuel tank perched on top of the engine, with a dipstick instead of a fuel guage.
It had, however, developed a mystique based on a huge waiting list. For most families, getting a Trabant was a far, far longer process than having children.
To be sure of having a car in your thirties, you had to put in your application as soon as you turned 18.
After 13-15 years, customers would receive a letter announcing that their P601 was ready. If they then had any particular requests - a radio, go-faster stripes - these were then put in the pre-contract, and would add a further six months to delivery.
Even then, your Trabant wasn't ready to drive away.
The body had to be sealed, and you were advised to tighten all the screws you could see, as well as grease and oil all the working parts.
The Trabi traditionally has only one item on the dashboard, under the flat windscreen, a combination speedometer and odometer.
It was precisely the Trabant's "primitivity" that made it the people's car, "It is easy to drive, easy to mend, you just get in it and go," says Muczán.
Prospective car owners would pray they were not alloted a P601 in beige.
The choice of colours was limited to beige, bathroom tile light blue and olive green which was used by the German army border patrol.
Muczán shows off one of his collector's items, an early model that was considered quite racey as the side panels were beige, but the roof was light blue!
When, in the early 1970's the average salary of a Hungarian worker stood at around Ft 3,500 a month, a Trabant was selling for Ft48,000. In the 1980's you could get one for Ft100,000, a relative increase much smaller than that of other Eastern cars. For your money, you received a 500cc, 620-kilo sticking plaster bomb, or soap dish, which did 0-80 kmph in little more than 20 seconds.
It had all the acceleration of an overweight slug and might be capable of reaching 100kmph going downhill with a strong wind behind.
The engine itself was so light, that it could be lifted out by one man and rally-racing Trabants often carried a spare one in the boot.
Muczán raced Trabis for years and says Trabants and Wartburgs raced in the Monte Carlo rally, a Wartburg even won in its category.
In Germany now there are Trabant clubs all over the country and a huge Trabant sculpture is planned as a symbol of the past regime. The last Trabi was made in 1992 and the factory was transformed into a modern plant for Opel.
However, Zwickau remains a place of pilgrimage for the annual Trabi rally, last year attended by 10,000 people from across Europe.
The Trabant in its proud ugliness has outlived the system and the factory's demise and rolls along, remaining the most communist car of all, a true car for the people.

Trabant jokes
How do you double the value of a Trabi ?
Fill it with petrol.

Why does a Trabi have safety belts?
So that you can use it as a rucksack if it breaks down.

What does a Trabi owner do about potholes?
Park in them

What does the P601 stand for?
600 order it, but only one gets it.

April 2004
Those who trade in their two-stroke Trabis for one with a catalytic converter will now receive Ft200,000 incentive. After May 1 and entering the EU, only cars with catalytic converters will be considered road-worthy. Old-style Trabi lovers have until July 15 2004 to swap their beloved set of wheels, or at least update their mechanics. Disabled Trabi owners can get either Ft200,000 cash back or a Ft400,000 loan from the Environment and Nature Protection, Water Authority. (Orszagos Kornyezetvedelmi, Termeszetvedelmi es Vizugyi Foigazgatosaghoz). The financial reward will only go to those who promise to take their smelly, smoky Trabis out of circulation and buy a car, younger than ten years old, four-stroke, catalytic converter fitted set of wheels. Pensioners who refuse to give up their tried and trusted Trabis will be able to buy the catalytic equipment for Ft20,000.
Information from the KvVM department Tel 477-7400. or on the website http://sansz.ngo.hu/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=2362

Monday 3 March 2008

New York Palace history

When it opened in 1894, the New York Palace was home to a coffeehouse reputed to be ‘the most beautiful cafe in the world’ and a renowned centre for Budapest literary life. Fast-forward a century or so, and the building was a sorry sight, devastated by war and regimes not interested in aesthetics.
The Boscolo Group acquired the building in 2001 for €2.5 million and has invested a further €80 million in extensive renovation.
In May 2007, after a five-year restoration effort, overseen by Maurizio Papiri, Ádám Tihány and the lighting designer Ingo Maurer, the Boscolo Group, a small yet sophisticated Italian hotel chain, reopened the ‘palace’ as Budapest's latest luxury lodgings: a clear attempt at unseating the five-star monarch, the Four Seasons Gresham Palace.
Writers, artists and intellectuals flooded in and gazed around at the opulence, hoping for literary inspiration.
At the re-opening of the legendary watering hole, Pest district VII mayor György Hunvald said it signified a 'turning point' for the district.
Those with an interest in architecture, Hungarian history or literary coffee houses can sit, sip a coffee in the legendary kávéház (coffee house) and admire the sensitive restoration work on the ceiling murals, and the freshly gilded marble columns of the historic coffee house.
The ceiling tableaux, depicting muses, have been carefully restored to their former glory while respecting the original colours and technology of the period. In the ‘ladies room’ the gilding of the stucco is a sight worth powdering one's nose for.
The gorgeous 112-year-old building, which was a legendary meeting place for the Pest artistic world, later functioned as a sports equipment shop and an Ibusz office.
The investors, the Italian Boscolo group hoped to recreate the turn-of-the-century ambience with a luxury, five-star, 180-room hotel and coffee house.
The new building occupies the site of New York Palace and the demolished former Athenaeum Nyomda (Printing House) on Osvát utca behind the New York Palace.
At the turn of the last century, Budapest was known as the ‘City of 500 Cafes’One of the grandest of these was the New York Kávéház (Coffee House) standing at Erzsébet körút 9-11, near Blaha Lujza tér in the heart of Pest.
The New York Palace was built in 1894, to plans by Alajos Hauszmann, as a showcase for the New York Insurance Company. The Gresham Palace (soon to open as the Four Seasons Gresham Palace) and the Adria Palace (now Le Meridian Budapest Hotel) were also built for insurance companies.
It's interesting how the dullest jobs get the most gorgeous locations.
The building was designed by Alajos Hauszmann, and built by Flóris Korb and Kálmán Giergl in an Italian Renaissance style with eclectic ornate elements.
The frescos in the corridors and rooms were created by Gusztáv Magyar-Mannheimer, Ferenc Eisenhut and the celebrated artist Károly Lotz.Locals were struck by the interior’s resemblance to the Bayern King Lajos II’s palace.
Inside were the insurance company’s offices (their motto at the end of the 19th century was ‘the best of everything’), and the ground floor was rented out as the New York Cafe.
The New York was concocted in a spectacular melange of styles with curly gilded marble columns, bronze details, colourful murals and ornate chandeliers.
It immediately attracted Budapest’s literary society; authors, poets, journalists, intellectuals and Bohemians all filled its tables.
The artists and intellectuals would sit at their appointed alcove tables while visitors were relegated to the ‘deep end’ (the mélyvíz), a lower floor surrounded by galleries on the ground floor, thus resembling an indoor swimming pool.
Impoverished writers could linger all day over the special ‘writers’ dish’ a bargain-priced plate of bread, cheese and salami. Regulars were even provided with pens, paper and unlimited ‘fekete leves’ (‘black soup’ the local term for coffee) and spend entire days within the inspirational walls, ruminating over a manuscript.
The maitre d’ during the period, Gyula Reisz, known to all as the ‘literary head waiter’ gave endless credit for his select literary guests.
Like Gyôzô Mészáros at the Centrál Coffee House in Pest's district V, he was not a great businessman, but he earned his place in Hungarian literary history.
Dr Miksa Arányi was the Hungarian representative of the New York Insurance Company. The first leaser of the coffee house was Sándor Steuer, who was a member of a large cafe house family dynasty.
The grand opening was held on October 23, 1894 in time for the excitement of the Millennium celebrations in 1896.The coffee house’s literary scene really blossomed when the Harsányi brothers took over the management.
Lajos Nagy remembered the literary atmosphere in his work ‘Budapest nagykávéház’. He wrote, “There are some guests who do their books here, some who write verse, some sell their books, look for a job or churn out articles”.
It must have been pleasant to while away the afternoon in the spacious rooms, among the curly columns, winding staircases, and statues.
There were two game rooms, one decorated in Rococo style, the other in Renaissance. The gigantic glass separating walls were painted by Gedeon Walther in different styles; with Japanese, Turkish, Baroque, Pompeii and Renaissance elements.
The tables and chairs were bronze and the game rooms’ furniture was made from wood. The tasteful light fittings were a special attraction and unique to the New York.
The New York can be considered the birthplace of modern Hungarian literature. Almost immediately after opening in 1894, the Pesti Napló editorial moved in.
Writers Sándor Bródy, Endre Nagy and Simon Kemény set up their regular tables alongside luminaries from the film world, including the young Sándor Korda and his associates.
Actors, journalists and aspiring writers all gathered to soak up the atmosphere and browse through the impressive collection of some 400 periodicals and papers which arrived regularly.In 1908, the legendary literary journal ‘Nyugat’ set up home here, and Magyar Hírlap also operated from one of the offices on the floors above.
Regular visitors were Kálmán Mikszáth, Endre Ady, Gyula Krúdy.Zsigmond Móricz came here to seek out the editor of Nyugat, Ernő Osvát, always to be found at his table in the gallery.
Dezső Kosztolányi even immortalised the literary venue in a poem, which began,

“Newyork, you are the coffee house,
where I sat so often,
Let me open your door,
and maybe I can sit down for a while,
Just like a beggar who rests on a bench,
And look around at what remains within me and all around...”

Ferenc Molnár wrote most of his great work ‘Liliom’ here.
Soon after the coffee house opened, legend states that Molnár hurled the main door key to the New York Café into the Danube saying that it should never close.
However, one day it was forced to close for renovations. The cafe flourished until the First World War, enjoyed a brief revival in the thirties, and then went into decline.
It suffered significant bomb damage during the Second World War and was ignominiously rammed by a Russian tank during the 1956 Uprising. In the 1950s, the New York was turned into a sports equipment shop and an Ibusz office, then, after closing in the late 1990’s, its blackened exterior was shrouded in protective sheets and wooden scaffolding for years, with only the spire soaring unhindered skywards.
During the Socialist period, the café was renamed the Hungária kávéház, and was famous for the slowest and most surly staff in town.
Now it sits on the regenerating Nagykörút (Grand Boulevard), just along from the newly-refurbished Corinthia Grand Royal Hotel, and urges the progress of the great revival.

New York Palace Kávéház (and hotel)
Budapest - District VII
Erzsébet körút 9-11
Getting there: Metro 2 (red line), tram 4, 6 to Blaha Lujza tér
Tel (+36 1) 886-6111
New York Palace website

Friday 25 January 2008

Fő utca story

©LRM2007 Szent Anna templom

Fô utca, or Main Street, cuts through the Water Town district of Buda, running in a long straight line from Clark Ádám tér north to Bem József tér.
Fô utca was previously called Alsó Fô utca (Lower Main Street) in 1874, before 1695 it was Ország út (Land Strasse) and before that, around 1440, it was called Duna utca.
The busy traffic-crammed street begins at the nearly permanently blocked roundabout at Clark Ádám tér. The gaping hole where Miklós Ybl’s Budai Savings Bank building once stood is soon to be developed into an ultra-modern office complex.
Fô utca 1 on the right-hand side belongs to the Central Court of the Buda District.
It was designed by Ybl in 1867-69.
On the left-hand side at Fô utca 2 is a three-sided Romantic building designed by Hugó Máltás (1860-61).
It was built for the widow of Dutch shipbuilder J A Majson who came to Hungary at the invitation of Count István Széchenyi.
Fô utca 3 was also designed by Máltás in 1861-66, in a neo-Classical style.
The premises are now occupied by the Ferenczy István Visual Workshop, named after a well-known 19th century sculptor who had a studio here until 1834.
The next stretch of the street is well-supplied with food and drink. A sörözô, the new Belgian Abbey restaurant, Korean food at the Seoul House and the Ping Chinese restaurant all share a 50-meter length.
The laundromat at number 10 has an atmospheric old-style neon column advertising Patyolat (laundry) in blue and white letters contrasting with the yellowing tower on this elegant building.
The District I Cultural Center (Mûvelôdési ház) stands at Fô utca 11-13.
A plaque on the wall reads that a Polish team of doctors occupied this house and many were killed on March 19, 1944.
The building was designed by István Lánzbauer and built in 1880 for Count Gyula Andrássy.
At Fô utca 14-18 you can see an old portion of wall in front of a modern, all-glass building.
These are the remains of a medieval house which was reconstructed in the 17th century.
The French Institute, designed by Frenchman George Maurios and opened in 1992, stands at Fô utca 17, opposite the Jardin de Paris restaurant which is situated in the most beautiful building on the street, the historic Kapisztory House, built in 1811 for a Greek merchant.
György Békesy (1899-1972), the Nobel Prize-winning scientist and experimental physicist, worked and lived at number 19 until 1946, commemorated by a black marble plaque on the wall.
The Horgász Tanya at number 27 is a good place to enjoy fish dishes and opposite, at number 25, is a new coffee shop, the Soho Coffee Company (see cafe review on page 2).
Fô utca then opens out into the bare and muddy Corvin tér.
The church on the south side was formerly a Capuchine monastery in the 18th century and, prior to that, the original medieval church on this site was used as a mosque by the occupying Ottomans.
You can see a Turkish door on the southern wall.
At the north of the square is the Buda Vigadó building, built by Mór Kallina and Aladár Árkay in 1900.
This is the home of the Hungarian State Folk Ensemble and Civil Rádió.
Along the right-hand side of Corvin tér is the back of the Art’otel, occupying four fishermen’s cottages in custard, pink, pale green and sun yellow.
If you’re getting thirsty by now you can pop into the Ampelos Kisvendéglô at Corvin tér 6. Fô utca emerges for a few paces then disappears immediately into Szilágyi Dezsô tér.
The Hungarian-Indian artist Amrita Sher-Gil (1913-1941) was born at Szilágyi Dezsô tér 4.
Another plaque reveals the interesting detail that composer Béla Bartók lived in the same building from 1922-28.
Opposite stands the red-brick neo-Gothic Calvinist church whose roof is adorned with ceramic Zsolnay tiles from the Pécs factory.
The church was designed and built in 1893-96 by Sámuel Pecz, who created the Main Market Hall, also with Zsolnay tiles. There is a tiny statue by Béla Berán of Pecz dressed in medieval master builder’s clothes on a drinking fountain in the tiny park surrounding the church.
The building suffered bomb damage in the Second World War and was restored in the 1980s. Outside the church on the river bank is a memorial to the March 15, 1848 revolution with the message 'Hazádnak rendületlenül' (steadfastly for your homeland).
Fô utca leads onward to Batthyány tér and on the right is one of Budapest’s important Baroque monuments, the Szent Anna Church (1740-62). It was built for Jesuits by Kristóf Hamon, Máté Nepauer and Mihály Hamm.
Lack of funds and an earthquake in 1763 hampered the building work and consecration only occurred in 1805.
Batthyány tér was once called Bomba tér because a cannon and ammunition depot was situated here. In the 18th century it was the site of a market and thus called Upper Market Square.
Batthyány refers to Count Lajos Batthyány, the Prime Minister of the 1848 Hungarian Government.
On the left is Market No VI, now occupied by a modern supermarket.
Next door is Nagyi Palacsintázója where you can eat pancakes with dozens of assorted savoury or sweet fillings. (2004 -San Marzano, the Hungarian version of English pizza chain Pizza Express, have just opened their third Budapest venue next door)
Next to the pancake shop is a beautiful Baroque building with Rococco ornamentation at the lower level, marred somewhat by a neon "Casanova" sign.
Two hundred years ago it was the White Cross Inn, a popular place of entertainment to which a marble plaque in the bar testifies. According to legend, the serial seducer Giovanni Jacopo Casanova once stayed there when he came to Buda to take the water cure after many years languishing in prison.
Casanova is also famous as the place where high-pitched pop singer Jimmy Zámbó (who accidentally shot and killed himself at a New Year’s party at his Csepel home on January 2, 2001) began his musical career.
In 1795 stonemason Hikisch Kristóf built the house next door at Batthyány tér 3 for himself. This is also a three-story Louis XVI-style house.
On Batthyány tér the big red building on the north side was once a Franciscan Monastery, then a hospital run by nuns. It was built in the 18th century.
Outside it is a statue of Ferenc Kölcsey created in 1939 by the sculptor Ede Kallós. Kölcsey (1790-1838) wrote the Himnusz, the Hungarian national anthem.
Carrying on along Fô utca on the right, renovation is taking place on the pastel blue Wounds of Saint Francis church. Deemed a national monument, the church was built in Baroque style by Hans Jakab 1731-1757.
Fô utca crosses over Csalogány utca and there is a wonderful, leafy florist’s shop on the corner.
Opposite at Fô utca 68, a socialist constructivist relief shows three stonemasons struggling with a block of stone.
The street then reaches Nagy Imre tér where the Foreign Ministry stands facing the river.
The square was previously called Bolgár Elek tér, and one old sign is still in place.
The forbidding building on the north side of the square is a prison.
A gold-coloured plaque on the wall reads, "In this building operated the Buda uprising groups and the organizers of the new democratic, national revolutionary forces."
At the northwest corner another plaque commemorates the martyrs and heroes. On June 15, 1958, Imre Nagy and other martyrs were sentenced to death in this building.
In July 1999, Attila Ambrus, the "Whiskey Robber", escaped from an upper story window using bed sheets tied together.
Back on Fô utca the upmarket Kacsa Vendéglô, specializing in duck dishes, stands opposite the faded green peeling walls of the Király Thermal Baths, also situated down some cobbled steps at a lower level.
At Fô utca 88 stands an egg yolk-yellow church built in 1759-1760. Churches are this colour because it was Maria Theresa’s favourite colour. It was built with money from Antal Christ and given to the Greek Catholics. The church was found to be sinking and in 1937 it was raised by 1.40 meters by Fridrich Lajos.
Fô utca ends at Bem József tér.
The Polish General "Papa" Bem fought with the Hungarians in the 1848 Revolution against the Habsburgs, scoring victories over the Austrian and Russian armies in Transylvania.
The statue commemorates the Battle of Piski.
When the uprising collapsed, Bem fled to Turkey and died in 1854 bearing the name of Amarut Pasha after converting to Islam. In 1956, students rallied by Bem’s statue.
Article filed April 2002.