Page 97

188

Gellérthegy and The Old City

Kálvin tér and the Eastern City Gate ••• This square was the site of one of the medieval city gates until it was pulled down in 1796. Five buildings here survived World War Two, among them: the Calvinist church (21H, József Hofrichter and József Hild, 1813 – 1851) and the old Two Lions Inn (21I), which operated until 1881 (V. Kálvin tér 9.). You can still see the two lions cowering above the main entrance on the corner of Ráday utca. The gate is also recalled by a site-specific 80 square-meter sculpture made of red limestone from Tardos. It is officially called “In Memoriam Kecskemét City Gate”, but a closer look reveals that it is an anatomically correct oversized female sex organ, which is an attempt to represent the birth of the city (or rather a mother’s lap) symbolically. The sculptor, Gyula Illés, managed to outwit the prudish Communist authorities when it was erected in 1983. I still don’t understand how he managed. For many people who pass here in the summer, it is just an alltoo-convenient public convenience. During the winter, homeless people leave their modest belongings inside for the day. Kálvin tér was a fine and harmonious place before 1944. Then, for decades there were four bomb sites here. The ones between Magyar utca and Üllői út are now being filled with the bold designs of Csaba Virág, who is an innovator of the older generation. He infuriated the preservation-minded Budapest public in 2000 when he and his team were said to have ordered a hasty demolition of one of the buildings facing the National Museum (technically speaking, not in Kálvin tér) whose facade he was supposed to retain. Budapest Public Library (Központi Szabó Ervin Könyvtár) 22C VIII. Szabó Ervin tér 1., open Monday to Friday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., closed for a month during the summer around July when the exam period is over. ••• This former neo-Baroque palace was commissioned for Count Frigyes Wenckheim and his wife Krisztina, who were landowners and philanthropists. Designed by Artúr Meinig, it was completed in 1889 and is Dresden Baroque outside and Louis XV inside. With its 500 person ballroom it was considered “court worthy” and Franz Joseph I attended events here. During the short-lived Communist dictatorship after World War One, the building was confiscated and became the Carpenters’ Union. A “museum of the proletariat” was planned for the space, but

PARK_Budapest_belivek_v065.indd 188-189

189

it never happened. The Budapest Public Library was founded at another location in 1904 by Ervin Szabó, an eminent librarian, social scientist and reformer. In 1927 the city bought the Wenckheim Palace and in 1931 the library moved here. After decades of discussions, no new library was built in the 1990s, but the old one was reconstructed and expanded. In 2002 a thorough reconstruction of the palace was completed, including the addition of two annexes. It has proved to be a real success. City developers have listened to the pulse of Budapest, and combined the old and the new. Enter from the left side of the palace and you’ll arrive in a pretty atrium, which is a covered courtyard. You can sit here and have a coffee in the café in the former stables, or you can register to use the library for a day (you cannot get past the courtyard without registering). When the library first reopened, registration wasn’t necessary, but the homeless and kids hungry for Internet porn overcrowded the ground floor waiting section. To really understand the library complex, look at the model which is in the new staircase to the left of the elevators. The two annexes are a late-19th-century former residential building (to the bottom left) and a newly built eight-storey building (to the bottom right). In the periodicals section in the latter annex, the old spiral staircases from the storage space were ingenuously inserted. The whole complex is a lively labyrinth, worth spending half a day exploring. Don’t miss the glitzy art-reading room or the gold and silver parlours. By the way, this library is just the centre of the Ervin Szabó Budapest Public Library system. It consists of 61 branches throughout Budapest. The 5,000 to 6,000 people who come here annually are likely to sit down and stay for awhile. Most of the patrons are students, who tend to speak English. The terracotta palace facing the library’s main entrance is the music library, which has a special collection and sophisticated music listening facilities.

Walk THREE

Walk THREE

Reformed Church and the street was named for him in 1906. His library is now part of the 150,000 volumes of the Library of the Theological Faculty of Gáspár Károli Reformed Uni­versity, where the Bible Museum is also housed.

Gellérthegy and The Old City

Mikszáth tér and Café Zappa (former Café Trespassers W’) ••• One of the centres of Budapest’s Soho is Mikszáth tér, especially since cars have been banned from it since the late 1990s. Most of the youngsters who flock here on summer evenings haven’t read any of the writings of the stocky, unattractive-looking writer portrayed in the statue in the corner of the square. He struggled much, and even divorced his wife because he was unable to support her. Later, as a successful writer, he re-married her. One of his most successful novels, St. Peter’s Umbrella, was allegedly read by Theodore Roosevelt. At least he praised it when he was in Hungary, and he met the writer.

2011.04.20. 15:49:36

Profile for Andras Török

András Török's Budapest: A Critical Guide  

The Celebrated Insider's Guide, upgraded many times, probably the deepest and funnieast and truest portrait of any major European city. With...

András Török's Budapest: A Critical Guide  

The Celebrated Insider's Guide, upgraded many times, probably the deepest and funnieast and truest portrait of any major European city. With...

Profile for andraas
Advertisement