Tuesday, 23 November 2010
KISS TEL AVIV
Pozsonyi út cover story (first published in 1998)
By Lucy Mallows
Pozsonyi út – or ‘Bratislava Street’ to give it its vaguely anglicised equivalent - runs through the XIII district of Újlipótváros (New Leopold Town) leading north parallel with Margit Sziget on the Pest bank of the Danube
It is now known as Kiss Tel Aviv (Little Tel Aviv), as a large Jewish community is gradually moving back into the rather upmarket district, recreating the pre-war environment - a cultural, educated community of politicians, writers, actors and the small traders and menders who give it an unmistakable atmosphere.
Shops along the acacia-lined street offer flowers, jewels, fur coats and beauty products, blending in with the old style shoe repairers, zip menders and dingy borozós (wine bars). There is an abundance of hostelries with terraces on the pavements, squeezed in between parked cars.
Shop-keepers all stand on their doorsteps, gazing out at the traffic and greeting passers-by by name. “Csók életem,” (Kisses, my life) says furrier Ica Nagy, with time on her hands, since the fur trade is stagnant in the heat of summer.
Her red neon Szûcs sign has beamed out from No. 13 for 45 years.
She has seen many changes in her 65 years of living in Pozsonyi út, which she says had a tram running along it and cobblestones, and must have resembled a thinner version of today's Bartók Béla út in Buda, until 1958.
In 1956, the peaceful scene was rudely interrupted in the autumn by Russian tanks. Nagy stayed in the street throughout the revolution and witnessed much fighting from her doorway. There are bullet marks on the walls above the shop and Nagy says, "I was even shot at when I hurried across the road to a café opposite to buy biscuits."
István Nagy opened his furriers (szûcs) in 1932, when many of the buildings were newly built. He died twenty years ago, but his seventy-year-old wife has continued the fur business on these premises with her son helping.
She says life was better in the old days, "The old style of rich people were very different from the new style rich."
She says the area was typified by gentle folk, actors and politicians. Now she lives in fear of burglars, as robbers are working their way down the street.
Much of Pozsonyi út's elegant buildings were erected in the thirties, and the style is inimitably square, solid, with the flats' interiors cavernous and spacious. Real estate prices in the area are soaring and the only reason Ica Nagy is not squeezed out is because she now owns the premises.
Another couple feeling the pinch are János and Éva Víg who have run the Víg-Vino Borkimérés at No. 5 (wine off-licence and specialty wine shop) for five years.
Before that, they sold spare parts, but like many of the small businesses which open and close every day on Pozsonyi út, they tried something different. It seems to be going well, on a Monday afternoon business is brisk, as customers pass under a beautiful claret and gold sign, which recalls past trading outlets.
The sign, Éva says is "Bordeaux for the wine and gold because gold comes from wine." János says he has over 300 hundred wines from all over Hungary, the best region he says is Villányi. "There is no better wine in the world than Hungarian," he says proudly.
Éva is not so enthusiastic, "If I could do it all over again, I would not open a shop here," she says, "People open businesses on this street every day because they think there's money in it, but we don't get so many customers passing through here and many close down soon. Only old people live here."
Besides specialist wines from private vineyards, they also measure out cheaper wine for pensioners who bring along recyclable bottles. "This used to be a very high class area in the past, but it's gone downhill lately," sighs Éva.
A sign engraved in stone above the door reveals that Ginczler Herman designed the building in 1939.
Pozsonyi út has a coffee pot mender, a watch mender, shoe mender, scores of bars and restaurants, you could live your whole life here and never have to leave.
Ágnes Asbóth, out walking her fox terrier, Samu has lived here all her 37 years, and has no desire to leave. She continues the literary traditions by proof-reading novels from her flat overlooking the park.
A walk down Pozsonyi út continually reminds us of the rich literary heritage, starting at Jászai Mari tér, named after great Hungarian tragedy actress, Mari Jászai, who played many Shakespearean roles in the now demolished National Theatre.
The street then crosses over Katona József utca, a plaque describes how he wrote Bank Ban.
Radnóti Miklós utca commemorates one of Hungary's best loved poets, a Jewish writer who died on his way back from a Hungarian labor camp. Some of his most moving poetry was found sewn into the lining of his jacket.
Not only Hungarian authors are credited. French writers Balzac and Viktor Hugo are also remembered in streets, as is Russian writer Nikolai Gogol.
Pozsonyi út begins in earnest after the Budai Nagy Antal utca where the two trolleys 76 & 79 have their termini, although in reality the route merely continues in a ring cycle all day long, leading along a back route over the Nyugati railway line to Baross tér and Keleti station.
On the corner at No. 3 is the Szamovár presszó (cafe), redecorated recently, and changed from the tradition brown presszó style into a hideous shade of kingfisher blue.
On the pavement outside is a little flower stall, one of the many flower vendors of Pozsonyi út, which while enjoying its fair share of busy traffic, can also claim to be one of Budapest's most green streets.
A little further on, the Piccolo Sörbár (beer bar) has a little terrace outside, where you can enjoy a cool korsó (half-litre mug) on plastic garden chairs under the trees. Many squeeze into its tiny premises, which still retains its sixties decor.
If you walked the length of Pozsonyi út and sunk a korsó at each of the many watering holes, you'd certainly not be able to walk straight back.
Over the road at No 4 is the Kandinszky bar. Inyenc ('taste treat') at No. 7 offers specialty teas and coffees and things in mayonnaise to take away.
Virágért ('For Flowers') recalls the socialist days when shops simply stated what you could buy - if it was in stock -virágért (for flowers), bútorért (for furniture), közért (for general goods).
Opposite at No. 10 is Villért (for lighting), still displaying the old, much the worse for wear, neon sign, where ‘lighting technology’ can be bought.
To illustrate Mrs Víg's statements, we next pass some empty show fronts, gathering dust, while opposite, a new, very chi-chi jeweller’s Grén offers special gold jewelry for graduation ceremonies.
Over the road at No. 10, the Kiskakkuk étterem (Little cuckoo restaurant) a famous old style Hungarian restaurant appears to be also in a state of transition and dust gathers in the windows.
Further along, István Gödör and György Takács run a hairdresser, where, to my horror, they once managed to tease my very short hair into a towering sixties beehive, which, no doubt took a certain skill and whimsy.
We are now on the corner of Raoul Wallenberg utca where an elaborate and tasteful plaque and bust conglomeration commemorates the Swedish diplomat whose heroic acts saved thousands of Jewish people from the gas chambers. Many of the houses on the street, for example No. 14, were used as 'safe houses' under diplomatic protection for Jewish to hide in during WWII.
A TV Shop showroom sits next to Novaglobus, which is worth visiting to see its window display of sinister equipment and spare parts. One can barely imagine what the plastic tubing and oddly-shaped creations are used for. Over the road, the Pozsonyi Kisvendéglô offers a good list of soups and meaty dishes.
On the corner with Radnóti Miklós utca is a little patch of green in front of the Herman Ottó primary school.
A statue of a young girl in white marble sits outside the red brick school building.
Opposite at Number 26, a very beautiful building with elegant balustrades and wrought iron work sits among the rather square thirties' blocks.
The Ipoly Café, named after a river that rises in Slovakia, at Pozsonyi út 28 always has a crowd of shifty-looking men in sunglasses, sitting outside on the pavement enjoying Segafredo coffee and gossip, while their radio phones lie dormant, lined up on the metal tables.
At Pozsonyi út 31 we are approximately half way along the street, at the corner of Gergely Gyôzô utca. There is a strong wine smell from the mulberry tree and its overripe fruit lying crushed on the concrete pavement.
On the corner with Balzac utca, the Cipôjávító szalon (shoe mender's salon) is an excellent shoe repairer which also mends shoes, cuts keys, un-snags zips, lifts skirts and reattaches all manner of attachments.
Opposite is a beautiful old fashioned borozó sign featuring a bunch of grapes of the Móri borozó. The sign says the wine comes from grapes produced on a state farm. Inside, little square tables are covered with green checked tablecloths in a very atmospheric modest bar.
Next door, a real estate agents offers a roof terrace on Balzac utca with 110 square meters, two and a half rooms and balcony for Ft120,000 per month rent. You can have a 55 square meter cellar on Szent István Park for 25 thousand forints a month
The traffic whizzes past in both directions and you have to pick your way gingerly through the cars parked all over the pavements too.
On Herzen utca, a beautiful building, designed by Hugo Gregersen in 1937, is decorated by a woman's face in stone watching over the door in the company of lions and griffins.
Crossing over Herzen utca, the Bébi Cukrászda (Baby Patisserie) has the traditional neon sign and some wonderful cakes and dolls made from icing in the window.
Szent István Park looks like a building site these days, which is basically what it has become. Hundreds of workmen bustle around, driving buzzing dumper trucks or shovelling earth mounds.
While restoration work trundles on, sad residents dolefully walk their dogs. Bereft of the once beautiful walking area, they wander over mounds of earth and rolls of wire.
Sándor Fegyverneky, chief builder for the XIII local government says the original style of the spacious, bushy park will not be changed. "The park will keep the original style, the pool, paths and bushes will all be renovated and replanted and it should be completed on September 1st." Fortunately, he says, the two empty temple stone buildings will not be removed. "The atmosphere of a park comes not only from its vegetation but from the buildings, so nothing will be taken away," says Fegyverneky.
Around the corner of the park, at Újpesti rakpart, a modest doorway leads to the ex-residence of ex-Prime Minister Gyula Horn. Just after he became PM, a dubious looking caravan tried to blend in with the bushy scenery in Szent István Park, and burly chaps in sunglasses sat all day watching something, while cables and wires lead to the apartment block.
On the left hand side overlooking the park, is a beautiful thirties block in white marble with arched doorways at Pozsonyi út 38. The Dunapark café used to be on the ground floor. Its modern, split-level interior is still visible through giant windows.
2010 Update: The Dunapark cafe has since reopened and its elegant Art Deco interior has been tastefully restored to its former glory. The cafe is very popular, especially in summer, when the tables and chairs spills out onto the pavement and almost into the bushes of neighbouring Szent István Park, also now renovated and restored (www.dunapark-kavehaz.hu).
At the junction with Viktor Hugo utca and Wahrmann Mór an amazing triangular shaped building with six sunny yellow balconies (see main photo at the top) looks like it must have been where they filmed the advertisement for Crepto toilet paper - the scene when each resident comes out onto the balcony and simultaneously cuts a slice of toilet paper.
However, in the Cosmax beauty salon underneath, receptionist Ilona Csányi says its not the building featured, "Although many people come in and ask whether it is," she says, adding that she thinks the area is still very high class, judging from the clientele of actresses and politicians' wives who come in for expensive treatments.
2010 Update: The Cosmax beauty salon is now the Sarki Fuszeres (Corner Spicey), an elegant new cafe and delicatessen. On my most recent visit, I spotted the writer, Budapest-authority and self-confessed Pest 'egghead' Andras Torok, sitting outside, drinking coffee and reading a novel. No doubt by Peter Esterhazy or Frigyes Karinthy...
It's worth peeping in the hall of this building, a little further along the street, as it has a famous Art Deco hallway and staircase.
Pozsonyi út 40's hallway is featured in this blog http://csakaszepre.blog.hu/2010/02/25/a_kapukon_tul
At Pozsonyi út 53 is the most beautiful doorway in the street. Peasant scenes are carved in stone above the door and the window frames are old brown wood offset by the dark green leaves of succulent pot plants in the lobby. Inside a rounded staircase leads up from an elegant hallway, lined with brown marble columns. It is the home of Mozsolits and Associates legal offices.
A smell of lecsó (Hungarian-style ratatouille) cooking pervades the heavy summer atmosphere, the paprika aroma is unmistakable. This is very much a lived-in street, despite all the offices and shops.
The Cheers sörözô at Pozsonyi út 52 is dusty and empty - it probably couldn't compete with the Tiszakecske Solohov borozó at No 48 where a korsó of draught beer costs only Ft95.
Further along, some of the housing estate apartment buildings are not so easy on the eye but at Pozsonyi út 63, the mood is brightened by a sign on the Hand in Hand (Kéz a kézben) delicatessen announcing “the sheep's cheese has arrived!”
On the left side of the road is the very blue, modern ÁPV Rt building, which looks out across the river to Margit Sziget. Next to the material is the spiritual.
The Pozsonyi út Reform church, where Bible classes, Sunday school and services all take place in the modern building, which looks marginally better from the river side. A separate Bauhaus-style tower recalls those in Pasaréti tér and Csaba utca.
Pozsonyi út started with a computer equipment shop and now ends with ABN Amro bank headquarters, within the high-tech commercial bookends lies a wealth of literary history.
Friday, 24 September 2010
In this age of great cinematic ideas but scarce financial backing, Hungarian film makers often look back with wistful nostalgia to the 1940s - a golden age of Magyar cinema when such charismatic stars as Pál Jávor, Klári Tolnay and Zita Perczel graced the screen.
One star who shone particularly brightly was Katalin Karády, a brilliant actress whose life matched many of her roles for drama and intensity.
In 2001, director Péter Bacsó, maker of the wonderful satire 'A Tanú' (the Witness), shot the film, 'Hamvadó cigarettavég' (The Smoldering Cigarette End) in Budapest about the life of Karády and the interest in her career and life is as alive as ever. ‘It’s not a documentary, but a fictive work with history, tragedy and comedy. In fact, everything is in it,’ Bacsó said.
Karády is remembered fondly in the winter months. Her birthday falls in early December and her name day on November 25. On both days, wreaths are placed beneath a plaque outside her flat on District V’s Nyáry Pál utca. During the 1956 Revolution, a fan placed a wreath of fresh fir branches and red carnations with a message which read, ‘Your soul lives forever’.
Karády is remembered not only for her considerable thespian talent but also for her tremendous courage in standing up to oppressors.
The plaque placed by the local government in 1991 on the wall of the now-faded Art Deco building reads, ‘In this building lived Katalin Karády (1912-1990), popular actress in many Hungarian films and protector of those persecuted in 1944’.
During the Second World War, Karády owned three flats in and around Budapest and she used these places as refuges for Jewish friends to hide and escape the Nazi terror and deportation to death camps. In her autobiographical paperback, ‘Hogyan lettem színésznô?’ (How did I become an Actress?), Karády wrote, ‘My frail constitution could not bear the fact that tens of thousands were being taken away in wagons to their deaths’. If they were arrested, she would go out to the detention centre at Kistarcsa and attempt to bring them back.
Bacsó’s film honours her bravery and ends with a scene depicting how Karády was arrested in 1944 by the Gestapo while singing on the radio in her inimitable smoky voice. She was incarcerated, beaten and questioned for three months, but never gave in.
During the 1940s, Karády made some 20 classic films, from period costume dramas like ‘Erzsébet királyné’ (Queen Elizabeth) to brooding mysteries such as ‘Valamit visz a víz’ (The Water Brings Something) in which the role gave opportunity for her to display her dangerous, sensual intensity. Karády was compared to everyone from Rita Hayworth to Barbara Stanwick, Jane Russell to Greta Garbo, although she had a personality all her own and with her square jawline and determined character, could compete with Hollywood’s best.
It seemed there was no role she couldn’t play, from the suicidal rejected lover in ‘Ne kérdezd, ki voltam’ (Don’t Ask Who I Was) to the spoiled, disturbed maiden in ‘A szûz és a gödölye’ (the Virgin and the Kid Goat) or the faithful wife who turns vivacious vamp in ‘Alkalom’ (Occasion).
Karády’s humble childhood in the capital’s outer district of Kôbánya hardly gave clues as to the stage and screen actress of stature she was to become. Her strict father often used his belt or his fists on Karády and her six older siblings and forbade visits to the cinema or theatre.
Karády’s early appearance also gave little hints of the stunning, smouldering beauty which would emerge from the chrysalis. ‘How was I? Like all premature babies: Puny, weak, sickly in appearance, stunted in growth,’ wrote Karády . One aunt took a look at her and said cruelly, ‘Well, it will sure be difficult to find a husband for Kati without paying’.
However, by her teens Karády had blossomed with a natural, compelling charisma which never faded, even after she emigrated to Brazil in 1951 and from there to New York in 1977, where she made hats and lived until her death in 1990.
By the age of 14, Karády had developed a passion for clothes and with her slim, big-boned figure could wear them with panache.
A decisive moment came when she recited the ‘Little Cripple’ verse in front of her first significant audience and it was a success.
She wrote, ‘I felt this was my chosen path. They listened to me, they watched me, I am the centre’.
Karády dropped out of her second year of high school at 16 and married a much older man, but the marriage quickly floundered.
However, she appeared on the Vígszínház theatre stage in Budapest and soon attracted a host of admirers, for her personality as well as her acting abilities.
In 1939, Karády made her first film, ‘Halálos tavasz’ (Lethal Spring), and became an overnight star.
She attracted attention with her alternative lifestyle, threw great parties and was rarely seen without a cigarette between her full lips. The title of ‘Hamvadó cigarettavég’, with Eszter Nagy Kállóczy in the leading role, is taken from one of Karády’s songs, performed in her husky voice.
The Gestapo arrested Karády on April 18, 1944, allegedly for her relationships with Colonel Újszászy, played in the new film by popular actor György Cserhalmi. Karády had been attacked in the press for her ‘liberalism’ and she even wondered if the authorities had confused her with one of her roles - she played a Magyar Mata Hari in the 1943 film ‘Machita’.
In prison, Karády was beaten severely and was not released until late summer.
After the war, Karády made only one more film, ‘Forró mezôk’ (Hot Meadows), in 1948 and, three years later, she left Hungary. Katalin Karády died on 8 February 1990 and her ashes were brought back to Budapest a year later.
She lies in the artists’ plot in Farkasréti cemetery.
In 2004, Katalin Karády received the posthumour Righteous medal from the Yad Vashem Institute in recognition of her courageous acts during World War II.
Karády’s films are often shown on Hungarian television and videos of her work can be rented from Odeon film outlets in Budapest.
Bacsó’s docu-drama, which showed in cinemas in 2001, introduced a new generation to her electrifying presence: A consummate actress, a powerful personality and a very brave human being.
Tuesday, 4 May 2010
Dob utca begins at Károly körút and runs up to Rottenbiller utca along the length of the long narrow seventh district of Erzsebetvaros (Elizabeth Town) which continues up to Dózsa György út and the Városliget - City Park.
Within is long and varied length, a microcosm of Hungarian society and history can be found.
A wide variety of craftsmen still ply their trade.
Gold and silver smiths, engravers, dyers, tailors, watch-menders and stocking repairers all still try to eke out a living in the high-tech world.
The street also offers many different cuisine styles: Jewish, strict Kosher, traditional Hungarian through pizzas and pasta to even Indian curries.
The origin of its name Dob (Drum) utca is a mystery, but the assistant at the Philon Antique Book shop at Dob utca 32 says it has always been called thus.
According to some local historians, the street takes its name from a pub called The Drum, which used to stand on the street.
The entrance to the street starts on Károly körút with what was the Tuborg Viking sörözô at Dob utca 2, a green Danish beer hall and restaurant that has as its most interesting feature a tall, tube shaped lookout tower, plonked on its roof.
The premises was bought in early 2001 by the Wendys Burger Bar chain.
On the right hand side at Dob utca 1 is an IBUSZ travel agent, then we get into craftsman territory with hundreds of tiny shop fronts offering a range of unusual and useful services.
If you need a brush, head straight for Dob utca 3, where Katalin Smulovicsné Winter offers every possible kind. Her name appears like a merging of three cultures – Hungarian, Slav and German, and likewise Dob utca is very cosmopolitan.
Green’s Fôzelék Bar is at Dob utca 5 offers fôzelék, a traditional style of serving vegetables in Hungary. Take spinach, green beans, peas, lentils, carrots, kohl rabi even and boil it up until all the goodness has long gone and it is a mush of thick soupy consistency.
Then add a roux of sour cream and flour to thicken it even more so that the spoon stands upright to attention in the middle of the bowl. Then serve with a fried egg floating on top of the spinach or pea goop, a rudely carved sausage bobbing on the lentils or some frankfurter sausages lolling about on the light green kohl rabi.
It sounds quite terrifying, but in the bitter winter months provides a comforting and affordable lunch.
Opposite sits the Mob pizzeria and further along on the left we find the Arany Pince Vendéglô (Golden Cellar Restaurant).
The nonstop on the corner at Dob utca 7 is well-stocked and always has bread on Sundays
Opposite the Mini Cukrászda at Dob utca 11, where a lady waits for the shop to open and cool her down with ice cream, is the memorial to the Swiss diplomat Carl Lutz, who helped many Jews avoid deportation.
The inscription from the Talmud reads, “He, who saves one single person, could also save the whole world”.
A moving and unusual statue shows a gold angel figure suspended perpendicular to the wall holding out a lifeline - a long piece of cloth to a figure lying prone on a brick mound below.
Jutting out into the narrow street is the Kóser Rothschild supermarket offering matzo flour and kosher products, imported from Israel.
Dob utca 16 is the gateway to another world, the entrance to the Gozsdu udvar, decorated with signs for a
goldsmith, violin repair and engraving, although gold and silver smith György Falk says now only five residents and five workshops remain in the 230-meter-long chain of seven courtyards, built in the early 20th century, linking Dob and Király utca.
“A Romanian lawyer, Manuil Gozsdu had the apartment and craftsmen's workshops built”, says Falk whose workshop is opposite a Greek Orthodox chapel, open on Sundays.
He says until WWII, Romanian students studied here.
Like the Gozsdu udvar, Falk's future is also uncertain.
He says he has heard that the Israeli investors who have promised to turn the courtyard into a shopping leisure complex have now pulled out, and the local government who own the building have not yet offered him a suitable replacement. “I don't want to move to the back of beyond”, he says, “This place is perfect, and customers could park right outside before the guards locked up the courtyard”.
Falk has performed delicate surgery on priceless gold and silver artefacts for 30 years.
Then, there were 80 families living in the thriving old-style shopping centre, but gradually families left or were moved out and tramps moved in.
Classical music plays in the background and the walls are laden with diplomas and awards.
However, Falk was not always appreciated. “The communists didn't approve of my individual trade and called me the derogatory term ‘maszek’ (private sector worker) but I am proud to be a ‘kisiparos’- artisan. I work with my hands”.
Until two years ago, the oldest resident András Szlatki ran the gentleman's hairdresser in the part now demolished by the spread of the Madách center.
Over eighty, Szlatki had stayed in the courtyard throughout the terrible war period, when the Gozsdu formed one wall of the Ghetto. “Local government tried to move him out, but he died and his shop disappeared”, says Falk.
Dob utca is a bustling lively street where the past and present mix almost unnoticeable, new galleries and burger bars appear every day but the sense of history is maintained.
A modest sign at Dob utca 22 heralds one of the street's treasures.
The Fröhlich cukrászda has been producing delicious kosher cakes since 1962, although the establishment dates back to 1917.
Vera Fröhlich and her husband make the pastries in the back, specialties according to kosher rules on eggs, fat and no gelatin.
Vera’s husband has invented some unusual cakes, the Krakkói and the Szerelmes Levél (love letter) and the traditional Jewish Flódni a calorie-laden concoction of apples, poppy seed and nuts made with butter rather than margarine, although some favourites are off the menu at present because of the hot weather.
“An order was passed in the fifties, saying if the temperature stays over thirty degrees for more than three days, we are not allowed to make creamy deserts”, says Vera.
She hopes her children will continue the popular business, although the customers have gradually changed. “Many of our old customers have died, but this is still a friendly place, mainly visited by regulars and everyone talks to everyone else”, says Vera in between scooping out ice cream for workmen in the street and weighing out little cakes on antique red scales.
Fortunately business is booming, and the café doubled in size two years ago, replacing the hard stone floor with white tiles.
Some American Hungarians are visiting and have made this their first call on a tour of old favourites.
Vera's son, Robert Fröhlich, a Rabbi and teacher often holds meetings in the convivial surroundings, “The café's position, tucked away on Dob utca is a disadvantage for the owner, but an advantage for the customer”.
He says it is the only genuine kosher café in Hungary and possibly in Central Europe.
“The face of Dob utca and Klauzál tér has not changed, although in 33 years I have seen many new businesses move in”, he says.
At the corner of Kazinczy look right to see Pest's Orthodox Synagogue, designed by Béla and Sándor Löffler in 1912, serving Budapest's small community of just over 3,000 Orthodox Jews.
The smashed windows look dark and forlorn but the Jewish lettering on the very top of the facade is still in very good condition
It is not normally open to visitors, but you can get a closer look around the corner at Dob utca 35 and through the courtyard by the kosher butchers still functioning since 1914 and the strictly kosher Hanna restaurant you can find the former orthodox school.
The Hanna restaurant has a heavy chocolate brown wooden gate
An Orthodox Jews in a wide-brimmed black hat and ringlets speaks Hebrew on the public telephone outside
Above telephone is the number 5673 carved into the stone.
This number refers to the date in Hebrew and iit also appears on the other side in Hebrew lettering
The wonderful Kiskacsa restaurant at Dob utca 26 offers “one plate home cooking Ft220 daily menu if booked ahead on a Wednesday”.
Opposite Kiskacsa is a walk way that resembles a monastery cloister, covered in unimaginative graffiti tagging. Kiskacsa (Little Duck) is the little sister of the more grand Kacsa (Duck) restaurant in Buda.
There follows a patch of bare ground where car parks utilize the temporarily flattened space, until another office block springs up.
A paper and colored metal recycling business on the corner of Holló utca and Dob utca keeps the spirit of the area with its shop front, which has the same design as the fading, scratched off shop fronts all along the street. A bright green placard reads, “60 kilos of paper equals one tree’s life”.
Looking back along Dob utca towards the river and you suddenly get a perfect view of the Liberation Monument on top of Gellért Hill and unexpectedly see things from a totally different angle.
Then for 200 yards, Dob is transformed into Klauzál tér and the street numbers run backwards, anti clockwise around the square.
At Klauzál tér 16, a traditional neon sign announces Mûhimzô - embroidery for flag making, emblems, tablecloths and sheets.
In the spacious shady park, one man has the unenviable task of shoveling up the dog excrement in the designated dog walking area. In the hot weather, the smell is overwhelming.
Unfortunately right opposite is the Óvoda - kindergarten.
Next-door, the deliciously-named Gasztroker sign offers catering equipment and trade shop
Children play in the park on new climbing frames and the air is filled with shouting and squealing.
In the early morning heat, bácsis in clean white vests are already setting out the dominoes, cards and chess.
It is maybe a little too early to go for refreshment in the Lépcsôs Sörözô although it open at 6am.
A wonderful yellow and purple sign shows the ancient prices: a kisfröccs (small wine and soda) can be édes or savanyú (sweet or sour) and appears to cost Ft10.
Édes nagyfröccs cost Ft25 and a savanyú Ft20.
Running at right angles to Dob utca is Klauzál tér numbers 13-8. At number 11 is one of Pest's five main markets which has virtually all been absorbed into a Kaiser supermarket now.
Just a few small stall holders remain offering limp lettuce wilting in the heat
Klauzál tér 10 is the home of one of the best lunch venues in town, the Kádár étkezde.
From Tuesday to Saturday locals and famous film stars sit side by side stocking up on real home cooking, goose legs and sólet - a hearty bean dish.
Next door a plaque on the wall reminds passers-by that Klauzál tér was also a scene of confrontation in 1956.
A memorial tablet to Attila Gérecz who died, aged 27, reads “Only he who is bigger than his fate can win in the final push”.
The first grave of this poet of the revolution stood in the square and fading flags with the central communist motif burnt out are stuck behind the marble tablet.
By 1939 there were 200,000 Jews, living in Budapest, that number today is only 80,000, although they still constitute the largest community in Central Europe.
Klauzál tér represented the centre of the ghetto in 1944-45. Over 50,000 Jews were crammed together in terrible surroundings.
Local social worker Gábor Rotter says, "Many people died. First the bodies were kept in Klauzál tér market fridges, then when it was very cold they laid the bodies out in the square and buried them there."
Back toward Dob utca a nameless sörözô announces an interesting menu.
Things to eat are categorized as ‘before beer’, ‘with beer’ and ‘after beer’.
No prizes for guessing what is the main attraction.
Around the corner at Dob utca 45, a mini étkezde is more traditional about its offerings, proprietor József Karalyos offers home “home cooking, chilled drinks, speedy service and solid prices”.
The daily menu is mouth-watering - goose leg and cabbage for Ft600, roast duckling and parsley potatoes for Ft470 or stuffed pumpkin with dill sauce for Ft420.
The delicious ‘lucskos káposzta' (‘sloppy cabbage’) comes with a meat rissole and all the meals are typical of the area.
Over the road, above the gynecologist at Dob utca 46/b are six sculptured friezes, one on each floor, representing family life: a man, woman and child and a man gathering wheat to feed his offspring.
Further along, a beautiful old-fashioned sign, announcing Budapest Népruhazati -utility clothing- is covered by a cloth ‘for sale’ sign. Rotter says the interior layout is still intact and the territory is huge.
The district has produced a wealth of talented Hungarians and figures of contemporary Pest life. "The famous musician Gábor Presser was born just around the corner and his father used to have a stall, selling geese and ducks in Klauzál tér market," says Rotter.
Pop singer Szandi still lives around the corner in Akácfa utca and another local resident was the self-taught pianist Rezsô Seress who, in 1927, composed the melody to László Jávor's lyrics for ‘Szomorú Vasárnap, száz fehér virággal’ which became Gloomy Sunday, an international homage to melancholy, recorded by Billie Holiday, Ray Charles and Sinead O'Connor.
“Before the war, this area was 75 percent Jewish, now I would suggest the population is 50 percent Gypsy, with many living in the one-room, no comfort, outside-toilet flats that are so typical of this district”, says Rotter.
Despite the grime, Dob utca is known for its high proportion of restaurants and places of entertainment. At Dob utca 53, the Örökzöld Dallamok - Evergreen melodies restaurant you can listen to old-time music and dance on three levels in traditional surroundings.
On the other side of the road, at Dob utca 52, the Indian restaurant, Shalimar proves the cosmopolitan nature of this street. Next door is the stunning red shop front of the Háztatási Cikkek (Household Goods) shop owned by Éva Horváth. Next door to Örökzöld Dallamok is an ancient fur coat shop with the abrupt sign warning customers not to call.
Dob utca 57 parades the columns and yellowing yet intimidating walls of the Fészek Klub restaurant. Here, at the crossroads with Kertész utca, it is interesting to look around at the four different styles and shades of building in each corner.
A bright pink non-stop supermarket at Dob 61 holds all manner of foods you might need at three in the morning.
At Dob utca 60, György Lengyel operates one of the oldest men's tailors in the district and next door, Ferenc Kádár's decorative leather workshop is virtually a museum piece.
At the corner of Dob utca and Erzsébet körút, a plaque reveals how in the Kör coffee house, now a fast food pizza and hot-dog büfé, Kálmán Teszársz started the socialist teachers' union which in 1918 became the national teachers' union.
Poet Mór Jókai also lived in this house from 1899 to the day he died, May 5 1904. The elegant spiky tower and weather vane that decorate this literary home is rather overlooked amongst the bustle of the ‘Nagy körút’.
Crossing the main boulevard, we pass the Örökmozgó cinema and from here on, according to Róbert Fröhlich, the character of the street changes, “This is not the real Dob utca, the real heart lies between the little and large boulevards. It is like comparing the two halves of Váci utca, only one is real”.
However, the first stretch maintains the mood with small craftsmen's' workshops, offering tailoring, a gargoyle-laden goldsmith and little watch repair shops.
On the left are two rather dodgy-looking bars, at Dob utca 70 the one-room cramped Talléros bar where five stools all face away from the door and stare at the shelves of pálinka. Further along, but also sharing number 70 is the Postakürt étterem, from where a stream of bleary-eyed customers totter out into the bright mid-day sunshine.
Over the road, an eye-catching group of István I and historical figures guard the entrance to the giant post office on the corner of Hársfa utca.
Gábor Boda's statues bearing more than a passing resemblance to mustachioed Aztec warriors. Next door, a philatelist's dream, since Magyar Posta produces the most beautiful stamps in the world, can be found at the Stamp Museum.
The Transport, Communications and Water Ministry building, an ugly concrete and glass mess takes up space next door, before you reach the much more eye-pleasing junior school at Dob utca 83.
The Art Nouveau building has a very colorful turn-of-the-century mosaic frieze by Ármin Hegedus showing children learning and frolicking.
Over the road, at Dob utca 80, the chemist's has original furnishings, including beautiful lamps.
Along this stretch, it is worth risking the wrath of a thousand néni's to peer inside a few doorways and see the hidden life of Pest, continuing in beautiful sunlit, leafy courtyards.
Children play football, harassed housewives beat carpets over specially-designed wooden racks and grannies watch the action from balconies high above. Dob utca 82 courtyard is particularly attractive.
As Dob utca progresses, it crosses Vörösmarty utca, Izabella utca and Rózsa utca, all streets which also cross the grand Andrássy út.
We are now running parallel with the elegant nobleman's street, however downtrodden Dob utca with all its dirt and dust seems to represent the real Pest much more pungently.
Looking left down Rózsa utca you can even see all the way to the hills of Óbuda. Hármashatárhegy appears as a distant mirage, shimmering in the heat and the dusty town centre and countryside are inextricably linked.
Eri néni's non-stop supermarket is at Dob utca 100. "The social level is the same the whole length of Dob utca. I had a non-stop at number 61 and the customers were just the same," she claims, after working here for a year and a half.
But, passing the Hearing Aid repair shop at Dob utca 85, life gets distinctly calmer.
The Erzsébet district Gypsy minority local government offices are located in a quiet courtyard at number 107.
Dob utca finally comes to an abrupt end when it meets Rottenbiller utca running at right angles.
On the left is Holmi Design and on the right, the central laboratories, botanical and zoological departments of the Veterinary University, and in just under a mile, we have completed a journey through Pest's history, culture and cuisine.
Monday, 18 January 2010
At the request of a Disappearing Budapest reader, Vanessa, I have added my literal English translations of Szomorú Vasárnap; the lyrics by Jávor László and also composer/pianist Seress Rezső's own war lyrics.
Both translations, along with the original Hungarian, are given at the end of this (long) article.
Written November 15, 2001
In 1927, László Jávor wrote the lyrics to a melody composed by Rezsô Seress, a self-taught pianist who played in restaurants Kulacs and Kispipa in Pest’s District VII.
It was called Szomorú Vasárnap (Gloomy Sunday) and became known as “The Suicides’ Anthem”.
Jávor’s lyrics began,
“Szomorú Vasárnap, száz fehér virággal
Vártalak kedvesem templomi imával”
(Sad Sunday, with 100 white flowers, I waited for you dear with a church prayer).
Seress also wrote his own lyrics, which are even more gloomy and hopeless than Jávor’s;
“Ôsz van és peregnek a sárgult levelek
Meghalt a földön az emberi szeretet”.
(It is autumn and the yellow leaves are whirling, all human affection has died on this Earth).
The world-famous English version has been recorded by many artistis, among them Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Sammy Davis Jr, Paul Robeson, Elvis Costello, Sinead O’Connor, Ray Charles, Acker Bilk, Tom Jones, Oscar Peterson, Maurice Chevalier and Josephine Baker.
It has been recorded in more than 100 languages, including Chinese, Icelandic and Esperanto.
Some of the lines are almost as melancholy as the originals’
“Sunday is gloomy, my hours are slumberless
Dearest, the shadows I live with are numberless
Little white flowers will never awaken you
Not where the black coat of sorrow has taken you”.
The rising and falling melody lines convey first hope, then disappointment, sadness and despair.
The song tells the story of a soul whose will to live has died along with her lover.
It is so full of dejection and misery that it comes as no surprise to learn the original was Hungarian, a people with an ingrained melancholy and alarming propensity for suicide.
In Hungary five people: a young lady Eszter Kis, a young clerk from the country, a young waiter, Margit Kovács a 23-year-old maid and László Ledik a ministry officer, took their own lives soon after the song was published.
The suicides shocked the capital.
Inspired by the song, each decided to end it all on a Sunday.
According to legend, Gloomy Sunday has such a strange, magical atmosphere that those listening become so depressed they feel the urge to leave this world.
Hungary has always had a sad preoccupation with suicide and always featured high on the statistical tables, but the New York Times’ headline:
“Hundreds of Hungarians kill themselves under the influence of a song” was an exaggeration.
The song was published in 1935 when the world was suffering an economic depression on the eve of the Second World War.
Gloomy Sunday, with its mournful c-minor melody, voiced some of the hopelessness of the age.
Sigmund Freud regarded the song as a manifestation of his ‘Sonntagsneurose’ theory.
In the United States, Gloomy Sunday clubs appeared everywhere and one senator in Washington tried to have the song banned.
Coco Channel’s new creation, the pitch black "death costume", became world famous and a "Gloomy Sunday pianino" was built with two huge skulls as decoration.
The song’s composer Rezsô Seress was called the ‘Whistling Musician’ because he couldn’t read music and played piano with only two fingers.
Seress also committed suicide.
Despite a fear of heights, he jumped out of the window of his flat aged nearly 70 in January 1968.
He joined a long list of Hungarian writers, politicians, singers and actors who took their own lives. Count István Széchenyi, ‘the greatest Hungarian’ killed himself in an Austrian mental asylum.
Hungary’s most talented poet, Attila József, threw himself under a train at Balatonszárszó in 1937, aged only 32.
Actor Zoltán Latinovits, who was brought up in a District X flat near one of József’s homes and appeared to feel a link with the sensitive poet, also died in 1976 aged 44 under a train’s wheels at Balatonszemes, only a few kilometres away.
In 1941, Prime Minister Pál Teleki, despairing at the future of Hungary, shot himself in the head in the Sándor Palota in the Castle District.
Actor Artúr Somlay was driven to his death in the Rákósi period when the cultural minister József Révai refused to help him.
The country’s first beauty queen, Csilla Molnár (Miss Hungary 1985), took an overdose of lidocaine.
There are many many more examples.
Hungary’s romance with suicide is long and painful.
Until 1994, Hungarians were top of the list for suicides.
In 1986 the rate was 46 per 100,000.
Now, with the release of figures from the former Soviet Union, the country has dropped significantly in the charts, but this small nation, linguistically isolated with a complex history of occupation and intimidation and a severe alcohol problem, still has a strange fascination with suicide.
The suicides continue to happen, less frequently but still with the same result of shock and dismay.
For the family of 17-year-old Viktoria Éles, her early suicide was more than yet another number on a pile of statistics.
Viki was a fan of Jimmy Zámbó, the pop singer who tragically shot himself in the head in an accident on January 2 this year (2001).
Viki had been a fan since she was 14. For three weeks after the star’s untimely death, she sat in her room with the curtains drawn to keep out the light, playing his records.
Viki had been very upset at the funeral.
She went to Csepel where the star was buried. She said her life was meaningless without Jimmy and that it was particularly distressing that he died on her birthday.
Then on Monday, January 22, she left her room, a candle still burning on a bedroom table. As she left her flat in Káposztásmegyer (a housing district north of Óbuda, known as the “Harlem of Budapest”), Viki pressed a suicide note into a neighbor’s pocket.
‘I write to you all for the first and last time, don’t be sad that I have gone. I will always be with you in spirit’.
She threw herself under the Budapest-Vác train.
Viki wrote that the answers to every question could be found in Zámbó’s songs.
Since the star’s death, she had filled two notebooks with lyrics, articles and photos.
The last page read in big letters VÉGE - the end.
Kulacs restaurant review, November 15 2001
By Lucy Mallows
A kulacs is a flask that a shepherd used to take with him to the fields.
It would be filled with water or, more likely, wine.
The Kulacs restaurant on the corner of Dohány utca and Osvát utca is famous because here self-taught pianist Rezsô Seress wrote the melody to László Jávor’s lyrics in 1927. Szomorú Vasárnap became Gloomy Sunday, a haunting hit for Billie Holiday amongst others. A pink marble plaque in the entrance hall commemorates the song and the first line ‘Szomorú Vasarnap, száz fehér virággal’ (Sunday is gloomy with one hundred white flowers).
Now Gypsy bands play more uplifting melodies, led by some of the most talented primás (lead violinists) in town.
The Kulacs has two rooms in which to sample hearty Hungarian fare. The vast well-lit dining hall, where the band holds sway, seems more appropriate for large tourist groups and wedding feasts. It actually seats 120 guests.
The smaller, darker room is appropriately called the Seress room and is lit by candles and the glow of a barrel-shaped ceramic stove.
Whips, tankards, cartwheels and farm implements decorate the walls and the wooden fencing and red embroidery gives the impression you are on the Hortobágy plains. For our light business lunch, my companion and I both plumped for the cream of celery soup (390 forints), which was a gigantic bowl of piping hot soup with a good celery flavour which wrestled for attention with the taste of the sour cream.
Together with huge crisp croutons it made a substantial opener.
We sat in the larger room on this occasion and admired the redecorated walls. The light yellow colour is very uplifting and with the contrasting blue carpets makes a stylish atmosphere.
If the smaller room is a rustic home on the Puszta, the larger room recalls the boardwalk at Coney Island with the yellow wood slats all around.
However, an assortment of agricultural accoutrements can be found here too: A collection of kancsó (pitchers for sloshing out the wine), hollowed-out pumpkin water carriers, plates and dried sunflowers, strings of paprika and garlic dangling from the beams. The menu offers a vast range of traditional Hungarian fare.
The dishes are described evocatively, with references to the region or to some historical or fictional character who particularly enjoyed his grub. Rezsô Seress’s favourite roast goose (Ft2,190) can be sampled and one wonders why he composed such melancholy melodies when surrounded by such delicious food.
Starters include such delights as cold goose liver Mako style (1,390 forints) or the sailor fish salad (990 forints).
Unusual main courses include cabbage gnocchi in honey or catfish (1,890 forints) marinated in Tokaji wine.
The dishes are all very reasonably priced: Poultry costs between 1,500—2,000 forints, fish goes for 1,700—2,000 forints, while pork, veal, beef and game concoctions all weigh in at around 2,000 forints. With salads for 390 forints and side dishes at 290 forints, you can eat like a king without breaking the bank.
I had the white fish with grilled vegetables which was perfectly cooked pieces of sole and an assortment of tasty huge mushrooms, spring onions, peppers, aubergines and courgettes. This was perfect for a healthy lunch that didn’t send me straight into a siesta afterwards.
My companion also selected a lighter dish, grilled chicken breast with salad, and commented on how well the meat was prepared.
Although famous for its traditional Magyar setting, history and cuisine, the Kulacs is branching out and organizing a series of gastronomic weeks featuring the food of different countries. From tomorrow (Friday) until November 25, a Gallic ambiance takes hold and each evening guests can enjoy Coq au Vin, Roquefort soufflé, salmon cooked in foil with tomatoes and herbs and an unusual combination of goose liver with brown rice. A photo exhibition of Parisian scenes will adorn the walls and the music will also add to the atmosphere. Desserts on offer will include crepes Suzette, Tahiti exotic fruit salad with Gran Marnier and the famous French chocolate mousse.
A quotation on the back of the Hungarian menu announces ‘Nem titok az erôsségünk, háziasan sütünk, fôzünk’ (Our strength is not a secret, we bake and cook in a homely manner) and if they approach the French cooking with as much zest and enthusiasm as the traditional Hungarian dishes, then we are surely in for a feast.
Budapest district VII
Osvát utca 11,
Metro M2 to Blaha Lujza tér.
Tel: +36 1 322 3611
Open daily, 10am to midnight
Lyrics by Seress Rezső
Ősz van és peregnek a sárgult levelek
Meghalt a földön az emberi szeretet
Bánatos könnyekkel zokog az öszi szél
Szívem már új tavaszt nem vár és nem remél
Hiába sírok és hiába szenvedek
Szívtelen rosszak és kapzsik az emberek...
Meghalt a szeretet!
Vége a világnak, vége a reménynek
Városok pusztulnak, srapnelek zenélnek
Emberek vérétől piros a tarka rét
Halottak fekszenek az úton szerteszét
Még egyszer elmondom csendben az imámat:
Uram, az emberek gyarlók és hibáznak...
Vége a világnak!
LITERAL ENGLISH TRANSLATION:
It is autumn and the yellowed leaves are whirling
All human affection has died on this Earth
The autumn wind sobs with bitter tears
My heart no longer waits or hopes for a new spring
In vain I weep and in vain I suffer
Heartlessly evil and greedy are people
Love is dead!
It is the end of the world, the end of hope
Cities are destroyed, shrapnel makes music
The mottled meadow is red from human blood
Dead bodies lie all over the road
One more time I will say quietly the prayer:
Lord, people are fallible and they make mistakes
The world is finished!
Lyrics by Jávor László
Szomorú vasárnap száz fehér virággal
Vártalak kedvesem templomi imával
Álmokat kergető vasárnap délelőtt
Bánatom hintaja nélküled visszajött
Azóta szomorú mindig a vasárnap
Könny csak az italom kenyerem a bánat...
Utolsó vasárnap kedvesem gyere el
Pap is lesz, koporsó, ravatal, gyászlepel
Akkor is virág vár, virág és - koporsó
Virágos fák alatt utam az utolsó
Nyitva lesz szemem hogy még egyszer lássalak
Ne félj a szememtől holtan is áldalak...
LITERAL ENGLISH TRANSLATION
Gloomy Sunday with a hundred white flowers
I waited for you, my dear, with a church prayer
A Sunday morning, chasing after my dreams
My sorrow’s carriage came back to me without you
Since then my Sundays are always sad
Tears are my only drink, sorrow my bread...
On the last Sunday, my darling please come away with me
There will also be a priest, a coffin, a hearse and a mourning sheet
Flowers await you, flowers and -- a coffin
Under the blossoming trees it will be my last journey
My eyes will be open, so I can see you for the last time
Don’t fear my eyes, even in death I bless you…
The last Sunday