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]