Thursday, 25 May 2017

Random Splendor on Nádor utca

Mask-topped window columns at the rear of the Stock Exchange Palace.

Classical music love triangles, revolutionaries, poets, assassination attempts... Nádor utca's turbulent past deserves its own historical soap opera. Even the name of the street is surrounded with drama.

Musclemen and cherubs of industry toil at No.21

In the 1800s, it alternated names with 'Wind Street' (perhaps after the strong winds that blew off the Danube in winter) and 'Tiger Street' (after the 'Tiger Hostel' that still stands at No.5 - more on this later). It was given its current name in 1847, in honour of Archduke József of Austria. Vienna ruled Hungary at the time, but in his role as nádor (Palantine) József worked with progressive Hungarian figures like Andrassy and Szechenyi to oversee social and economic reforms, the building of a rail and steamboat infrastructure and establish the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (which stands nearby). Magyars took him to their heart and nicknamed the "the most Hungarian of Habsburgs".

Ornate decorative mullions on window of the bank at No.6

It was during this time that many of the street's neo-Classical apartments were constructed. Three were designed (and occupied) by the famous Zitterbarth family, a number by Jozesf Hild.

Ödön Lechner beehive decorating No.1 Nádor utca

In the 1870s, composer and pianist Franz Liszt lived at No.20, in what was then the Continental Hotel. Liszt was as close to a rock star as mid-19th century Europe had ever seen. He toured extensively - despite poor transport links - often performing three or four times a week, electrifying audiences with his intensity. Critics described his performances as creating a feeling of "mystical ecstasy" and poet Henreich Heinne wrote in awe of "powerful... and shattering is his mere physical appearance". Liszt evoked a feverish hysteria in his female fans, and this passion was so widespread, the press of the time named 'Lisztomania'. At the end of a show he would throw his gloves and handkerchief into the crowd, where the women in the audience would tear them to shreds to take home a piece of their idol. It was this passion that led one arduous fan - whom Liszt had spurned in Paris and who had followed him to Budapest, and Nádor utca - to pull a gun and threaten to shoot him. Fortunately, the crowd wrested it from her hand.

Memorial bust of Liszt, close to where a fan almost assassinated him.

Drama and fervour followed Liszt around Europe, but even these were surpassed by the scandals surrounding his illegitimate daughter, Cosima. At first ignored by her father, in her teenage years Cosima began to work her way through his students, all famous musicians in their own right. She first married pianist Hans Von Bulow. He was initially seduced by her own piano skills, but soon that admiration turned to envy and he became abusive. Cosima then scandalised German and Austrian society by conducting a blatant affair with Richard Wagner, Von Bulow's best friend. Liszt was a huge supporter of Wagner, transcribing much of the younger composer's work for piano and helping to spread his fame by featuring Wagner's pieces in his recitals. What he thought of his protégé's affair with his daughter we don't know, but the two would rendezvous in the Tigris Hotel down the street from where Liszt was staying. The Tiger statue on the lintel is still there.

Door lintel and eponymous statue of the old Tigris hotel, No.5 Nádor utca

The Tigris Hotel's tavern and cafe was at that time a notorious hangout for poets and revolutionaries. Tisza Kálmán held meetings here in response to the banning of the Hungarian National Assembly by Vienna, and his centre-left Democratic Party were nicknamed 'the Tigers' after their meeting place.

We can assume the Liszt didn't entirely approve of Cosima and Wagner's trysts: when they finally did marry in 1870, they failed to announce it to her father and it is rumoured he only discovered the wedding when he read about it in the newspaper.

Trefoiled balcony and historical 'antics' (heads) .... at No.22

Further down the street at No.22 - in what is now the Parliamentary Commisions Office - the groundbreaking Nyugat ('West') literary journal was formed in 1908. The first magazine of its kind in Hungarian, it introduced Nietzsche and Kierkegaard to Budapest circles - but it's main aim was to promote a new generation of Hungarian writers and poets (Árpad Toth and Gyula Krúdy were contributors) who were producing their own unique interpretations of naturalism, Impressionism and Symbolism.

Another balcony at No.22

After the Second World War, when a Soviet-controlled Communist government came to power, the nádor's 19th century achievements were afforded little respect by the Communists. Jószef may have been a social reformist, but he was also an aristocrat and therefore an enemy of the people. In 1968, the street was renamed Munich Ferenc utca. This was named after a communist leader who was had assisted the Soviet-imposed Kádár government, and who many saw as betrayed the 1956 revolutionaries.

More Norse-looking zophora at No.10

Terv Presszó

A relic of the Communist era is the Terv Presszó, still a great place for beer, food and rowdy students. This was a celebrated hangout for dissident writers and artists - as well as celebrities - and its walls and shelves are now crowded with phones, tape machines and posters from the period. The name means 'Plan' and is a cheeky reference to Stalin's 'Five Year Plan'. (The wonderful Disappearing Budapest blog has a lovely piece about Terv and other 'presszó'.)

Bygone partying days at Terv

The title of Nádor utca was finally restored as the Communist government began to crumble in 1989. Just days after Kádár's death, on 14th July a group of people gathered beneath the street sign at No.19. They climbed up a ladder and taped a hand-painted sign reading 'Nádor utca' over the Communist street name. In the days that followed, the restored street name became a focus for demonstrations and a symbol for the end of Soviet control of Hungary.

Caryatids at No.32 brave surprise April snow

Just days before this, a young activist named Viktor Orbán had led a protest in Heroes Square, demanding Russian soldiers leave the city. Ironically, almost 30 years later, the former revolutionary is now one of the most right wing prime ministers in Europe: his latest campaign is to try to shut down the Central European University... which actually owns many buildings on Nádor utca (including the one featuring the violent zophora below:)

Violent friezes at no.11 -  coincidentally reflecting Prime Minister Orbán's feelings towards the Central European University the building now houses.

Politicians, virtuosos, poets, lovers and revolutionaries have paraded by; empires and dictatorships come and go... the caryatids of Nádor utca have born witness to them all.

Coolly appraising gaze of an antic at No.6

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