Pasarét and Ponte Vecchio

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Typical Pasarét villa, Copyright Petru suciu

Pasarét is a Bauhaus neighbourhood in District II of Budapest, on the Buda side. Its borders are Pasaréti Út, Hűvösvölgyi Út (which turns into Szilágyi Erzsébet Fasor), Herman Ottó Út, Lorántffy Zsuzsanna Utca, Battal Út, Csalán Út, Páfrányliget Utca, and part of Szerb Antal Út.

Prior to Hungarian independence, Pasarét was identified as Ried (Meadow) on old Army maps. It was later called Sauwiesen (Pig Meadow) and Schmalzbergel (Fat Hill). Serbian Budapestis called it Paša (Meadow). In 1847, philologist Gábor Döbrentei joined the Serbian name with the Hungarian word rét (meadow) to form the modern name: Meadow Meadow.

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St. Anthony of Padua Church (built 1933), Copyright Globetrotter19

In the early 20th century, it became a desirable location, and attracted many artists, musicians, intellectuals, writers, Bohemians, and scientists. Among its famous residents were Béla Bartók, writer Antal Szerb, politician Imre Nagy, composer Ernő Dohnányi, and writer István Örkény.

One of the most famous landmarks is the St. Anthony of Padua Church, built in Bauhaus style like many of the other Pasarét structures built during the 1930s. Even the bus station was built in Bauhaus style. Pasarét also has several parks, and Ludovika Engineer Academy.

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Bus terminal next to church, Copyright Globetrotter19

My characters move to Pasarét after Eszter receives a letter from her much-older sister Mirjam in early October 1945. Mirjam and her three roommates make room for them, and find an abandoned apartment across the hall for the boys. Since the landlord was killed in a bombing raid during the war, no one’s keeping dibs on what goes on in this building.

During their brief time in Pasarét, Eszter, Jákob, Imre, Csilla, and Artur work at the fictional Hotel Juhász Gyula, in various positions. The hotel is also built in Bauhaus style. It’s a blue, four-story, cubic building, not some sprawling grand hotel or huge edifice rising high into the sky.

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Copyright Tamas Szabó

Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) is the oldest surviving Florentine bridge. Its current incarnation was built in 1345. The first version was built by the Romans, and first mentioned in 996. In 1117, it was destroyed by a flood, and the second bridge was destroyed by another flood in 1333. Only two central piers were saved. Ponte Vecchio spans the Arno River at its narrowest point.

Like Budapest, Florence too saw all her bridges destroyed when the Germans surrendered and fled the city. However, unlike Budapest, Florence was left with this one bridge. Supposedly, this was because of an order from Hitler. Regardless, access to the bridge was blocked, since the Germans blew up the buildings on either end.

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Damaged but not destroyed

The bridge has always hosted merchants, kiosks, and shops. According to legend, the concept of bankruptcy originated here, as a money-charger who couldn’t pay his or her debts had the table where the goods were sold (banco) broken (rotto) by soldiers. Hence, the newly-coined term bancorotto (broken table), or banca rotta (broken bank). Without a table, the merchant could no longer sell anything.

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Taken by famous photographer Carlo Brogi

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View from above, Copyright sailko

Above the bridge is the Vasari Corridor, built by Giorgio Vasari on orders from Cosimo I de’ Medici in 1565. This corridor connected Palazzo Vecchio (the town hall) with Palazzo Pitti (chief residence of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany’s rulers). In 1593, the Medicis forbade butchers from selling on the bridge, so it wouldn’t be seen as a low-class place. Butchers had had a monopoly on the shops since 1442. In their place went gold merchants.

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View from below, Copyright sailko

My characters Imre and Csilla reunite on Ponte Vecchio after a brief separation, 22 November 1945, Imre’s 19th birthday. Imre stayed behind in Budapest on some mystery business, which he reveals is exactly what she suspected, going to her hometown Abony to dig up the valuables in her coal cellar and to confront the gendarme who’s now living there, the gendarme who tortured her last June.

Imre also reveals a broken hand, acquired when he accidentally punched a brick wall in his white-hot rage, not realising the gendarme had already fallen unconscious to the floor. He still wasn’t satisfied, and kicked the gendarme over and over again, finishing him off with a shovel to the head, and possibly killing him. Imre says he only did it because he loves her so much, the first time he’s told her he loves her.

Sunset fills the sky after this romantic declaration.

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Copyright Martin Falbisoner

Normafa and Neology

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CopyrighKaszás Tibor

Normafa is a hiking, picnicking, skiing, and lookout area at the top of Széchenyi Hill, in District XII (Hegyvidék) of Budapest, on the hilly Buda side. It’s accessible by the Cog Railway (launched 24 June 1874) and the Children’s Railway (launched 1950). Normafa is close to János-Hegy (János Hill), the highest point in Budapest.

Normafa takes its name from the Norma tree (originally called a storm beech, viharbükk), said to have been planted by King Mátyás Corvinus in the 15th century. After the Hungarian National Theatre performed Vicenzo Bellini’s two-act opera Norma there in 1840, the new name originated, and stuck.

Sadly, the namesake tree no longer stands. It survived many terrible storms, but in 1927, it was destroyed by lightning.

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Copyright Kispados at Hungarian Wikipedia

The area fell into disrepair due to more daytrippers than infrastructure could accommodate. There weren’t enough rubbish bins or benches, and many exposed roots and slippery leaves caused accidents.

Revamping took five years, and added many new paths, more secure gravel paving, replacement of soil with natural rock from the hill, easy-to-read maps, relaxation areas, lots of new and improved benches, 16 rubbish bins, and an upgraded playground.

Other new additions are an outdoor gym, a 4.5-km. running track, drinking fountains, a baby-changing room, bathrooms, bike-parking, and a cross-country skiing and biking track.

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Source FOTO:Fortepan — ID 02787

My characters hike up to Normafa for a daytrip during Sukkot 1945, with a large picnic lunch. Csilla suspects Mrs. Goldmark let the holiday lunches on Saturday and Sunday drag on so long on purpose. Mrs. Goldmark has to be at work on Monday, so there are less buffers between Csilla and Mrs. Goldmark’s older son Imre, whom she’s trying to set up. Imre has also been getting increasingly flirtatious.

Csilla gets drunk on Tokaji Aszú wine and strawberry liqueur, liquid courage for getting physical with the sexually experienced Imre in a secluded spot in the forest. She’s insulted when Imre says he’s not doing anything with a drunk, but after she explains her reasoning, he agrees to treat her to a sensual experience. This is the first time the very tomboyish Csilla has ever done anything with a man.

Unfortunately, as Imre rounds third base, Csilla has an intense flashback to being tortured by a gendarme last June, and her friends come upon the scene and think Imre’s trying to rape her. On the last day of Sukkot, Imre has his sister Júlia deliver a love letter to smooth things over.

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Neolog synagogue of Subotica, Serbia, Copyright Dickelbers

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Neolog synagogue of Trenčin, Slovakia, Copyright Martin Hlauka (Pescan)

Neology is a denomination unique to Hungary and some nearby areas. Many people inaccurately call it the Hungarian equivalent of Reform Judaism, though it’s more like liberal Modern Orthodoxy, or very, very old-school Conservative Judaism.

Neology began as a mild reform movement in the 19th century, among those segments of society more inclined towards integration during the Era of Emancipation. People were throwing off their symbolic chains, moving out of ghettoes, acculturating to wider society, becoming full, equal citizens of their host countries. In 1867, Austria–Hungary granted legal equality.

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Neolog synagogue of Szeged, Copyright Somorjai Ferenc

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Fabric New Synagogue of Timişoara, Romania, Copyright Gratziela Ciortuz

The first Neolog rabbis were very influenced by Zecharias Frankel’s Positive–Historical Judaism, from whence the Conservative Movement evolved. This rift solidified following the schism of the 1868–69 Hungarian Jewish Congress. There was a lot of bad blood between Neology and Orthodoxy, each thinking they represented real, relevant, modern Judaism.

To make matters even more complicated, there arose another unique Hungarian denomination, Status Quo Ante. This was also a mild reform movement of sorts.

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Neolog synagogue of Oradea, Romania (formerly Nagyvárad, Hungary), Copyright Andrei kokelburg

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Neolog synagogue of Braşov, Romania, Copyright Mark Ahsmann

Neology has separate seating for the sexes (generally with an open-air women’s gallery or more relaxed mechitza) and liturgy essentially identical to Orthodoxy. Men are required to cover their heads, Gentiles play organs on the Sabbath, intermarriage isn’t allowed, there’s no confirmation for teenagers, and traditional kosher is kept.

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Neolog synagogue in Cluj–Napoca, Romania, Copyright Ana Maria Catalina

Today, Neology is the majority denomination in Hungary. All my native Hungarian characters have Neolog origins, though Eszter’s family leaned more towards Orthodoxy. Since Abony only had a Neolog synagogue, they had no choice.

Gellért Hill

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CopyrighMark Ahsmann

Gellért Hill, at a height of 771 feet, is located on the hilly Buda side of Budapest, and has a beautiful lookout view of the Danube and the Pest side of the city. It spans Districts XI and I, and takes its name from Saint Gellért (Gerard) of Csanád, who was martyred on the hill on 24 September 1046. Accounts vary on how exactly he was martyred, but all accounts transpire on the hill.

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Copyright Misibacsi

Gellért Hill was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. Attractions include the Gellért Thermal Baths, Hotel Gellért, Gellért Hill Cave, the Citadella (Citadel), the Statue of Liberty (Szabadság Szobor), and the Tabán area. Like much of the rest of the Buda side, the Gellért Hill area too has historically been rather affluent. It’s a very popular hiking and daytrip spot.

In 2007, private construction revealed a new cave beneath the hill. This cave has three rooms, is covered with beautiful white crystals, and was created 300,000–500,000 years ago by one of Budapest’s thermal springs. The cave immediately came under legal protection.

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Typical 1945 damage, Copyright Fortepan, Source Fortepan

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Copyright Andrzej Otrębski

Hotel Gellért was constructed from 1916–18 in the Art Nouveau style (Vienna Secession subbranch), at the foot of the hill, next to Liberty Bridge (Szabadság Híd). A spa, swimming pool, and plaza were built next to the hotel, creating a huge tourist draw and important reputation. The hotel’s nickname was “the first lady of Hungarian tourism.” In 1927, a fine restaurant was added.

Sadly, during WWII, the hotel was badly ruined, and the façade along the Danube was totally destroyed. In 1946, the section facing the hill began repairs, and in 1957, the Danube-facing side began restoration. In 1962, restoration was complete, and in 1973, another renovation was undertaken.

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Hotel Gellért, Copyright Marc Ryckaert (MJJR)

After the Habsburgs put down the 1848 Revolution and the 1848–49 War of Independence, they forced Hungarians to build a fortress on top of the hill. It was meant to remind the Hungarian people of who ruled them, and to try to keep them in line. This Citadella was the most hated establishment in Hungary, and was often called the Hungarian Bastille.

In the late 19th century, the Habsburgs gave it to the City Council, and parts of it were symbolically destroyed. In the years since, it’s served as a prison camp, homeless shelter, hiding place during WWII, anti-aircraft battery site, and Soviet patrol. Since the 1960s, it’s been a tourist attraction.

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Aerial view of Citadella, Copyright Civertan Grafikai Stúdió

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Partial demolition of Citadella, 1897 or 1898, Copyright Lakner

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Copyright Pasztilla aka Attila Terbócs

Opposite the entrance to the Gellért Thermal Baths is a cave church. The network of caves is known as Saint Iván’s Cave, after a hermit who lived there and was said to have used the thermal waters of a nearby muddy lake to heal the sick. In the 19th century, a poor family lived there and built an adobe house in the opening. The cave’s mouth was boarded up and used as a courtyard.

In the 1920s, Pauline monks made a modern entrance to the cave, and consecrated it as a church and monastery in 1926. The Soviets walled it up in 1951, arrested the monks, and murdered their leader. In 1989, the wall was ripped down, and the church was reopened.

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Copyright Thaler Tamas

The Statue of Liberty in front of the Citadella can be seen from almost all parts of Budapest, and has become a symbol of the city. She commemorates Hungary’s liberation from the Nazis. According to legend, she was originally designed in memory of Regent Admiral Miklós Horthy’s son, who died in a plane crash during WWII. She was meant to hold a propeller blade in her hands, but by the time she was erected, Horthy wasn’t the ruler anymore.

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Copyright rHerczeg, Source Indafotó

My characters Csilla Bergman and Imre Goldmark go to Gellért Hill for their first real date in October 1945, timed so they can catch sunset over the panorama. While they’re there, Imre gives her a pearl on a silver chain. She’s his Pearl of the Danube, tarnished on the surface but pure and whole underneath, waiting to be polished back to her former splendour.

Erzsébetváros

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Erzsébetváros coat of arms, Copyright Fekist. “Queen Elizabeth took the name of our district 125 years ago. The anniversary was stated by Erzsébetváros Municipality.”

Erzsébetváros (Elizabeth Town) is the more formal name of District VII of Budapest. It’s on the Pest side, in the heart of downtown. The inner half was historically the Jewish quarter. During the German occupation of 1944–45, several of its streets formed part of the Budapest Ghetto. This part of the ghetto was the large ghetto, for people without protective papers enabling them to live in protected Yellow Star Houses.

In addition to the beautiful Dohány Utca Synagogue, Erzsébetváros is also home to the Rumbach Utca Synagogue (Status Quo Ante) and the Kazinczy Utca Synagogue (Orthodox). They’re all within the same couple of blocks. Non-Jewish landmarks include New York Palace, Gozsdu Udvar, Magyar Theatre, and a former tram depot.

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New York Palace, Copyright Mark Ahsmann

The New York Palace opened 23 October 1894 on Grand Boulevard (Nagykörút), and is home to the New York Café, which was frequented by the élite of the Hungarian literary world. It was built by the New York Life Insurance Company as a Budapest office. Predictably, it was damaged during WWII, and closed under Soviet occupation. It’s now a luxury hotel under the management of Italy’s Boscolo hotel chain.

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Magyar Theatre, 1897

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Szent Erzsébet Church, Copyright cseharon, Source Indafotó

From about 1900 to 1970, Erzsébetváros was very densely populated, with many working-class inhabitants and immigrants. The population has been on a sharp decline since 1970, though like many downtown areas the world over, it’s begun a process of gentrification. Hipsters love it. When historically working-class neighbourhoods are gentrified and hipsterised like this, it really screws over the people who lived there before it was hip and cleaned-up. They can’t afford the raised rent and general price of living.

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Kazinczy Utca Synagogue, Copyright Diana, Source FlickrSynagogue

Another landmark of interest is the Klauzál Air Market Hall, which was built in 1897. This shopping plaza offered over 300 shops and kiosks at its height. Though it was in the Jewish quarter, there was also non-kosher food sold. In 2014–15, it was refurbished, and is open seven days a week, from 7 AM to 10 PM.

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Copyright 12akd

Gozsdu Udvar (Courtyard) is a complex of seven buildings and six interconnected courtyards, built in 1902. It once was home to many Jewish shops and small synagogues, like a small city within a huge city. Though the character of the complex has changed, it’s still a bustling place. It contains many shops, cafés, restaurants, and bars. There are also regular art shows, fairs, and concerts, as well as a weekly Saturday vintage and craft market.

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Copyright Globetrotter19

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University of Veterinary Science, Copyright Thaler

My characters Eszter Kovács and Jákob Gerber spend a long weekend in Erzsébetváros in July 1945, lodging at an abandoned house the Soviets gave to survivors. They’re trying to find information about Eszter’s two oldest sisters, Rebeka and Lea, who went to Budapest with false papers and disguised as Christian peasants shortly after the German occupation in March 1944.

While strolling along Dohány Utca, they run across a woman who lived with Rebeka and Lea in the ghetto. Initially, this woman was unnamed and only appeared for this one scene, but when I took this book out of hiatus, I named her Mrs. Goldmark and made her into an important secondary character. When Eszter and her friends move to Budapest in early September 1945, Mrs. Goldmark treats them like her own children, hosts them for holiday meals and birthdays, and arranges day trips and picnics.

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Former Israelite Deaf-Mute Institute, Copyright Attila Terbócs, Source Pasztilla

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Former Arcade Bazaar, Copyright Globetrotter19

Dohány Utca Synagogue

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Copyright Maciej Podstolski

The Great Synagogue of Dohány Utca in Budapest is Europe’s largest synagogue, and one of the largest in the world. It seats 3,000 people, split about evenly between the women’s galleries and the ground floor. Its denomination is Neolog, a unique Hungarian denomination often misleadingly described as similar to Reform Judaism. It’s more like liberal Modern Orthodoxy.

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Copyright Aktron

The synagogue is in District VII (Erzsébetváros [Elizabeth Town]), the historic Jewish quarter. It was built from 1854–59, in Moorish Revival style, by Viennese architect Ludwig Förster. The decoration was based upon the Islamic Moorish style of Medieval Spain and North Africa. It also was inspired by Byzantine, Gothic, and Romantic style.

The interior was designed by Frigyes Feszl, the fifth of fourteen children in a family of German origin. Many Budapesti buildings were designed by him, though his name is all but unknown in the West. Geometric frescoes prominently feature among the interior design. Originally, the synagogue had a 5,000-pipe organ which was played by the great Franz Liszt.

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Copyright BáthoryPéter

From 1930–31, the Jewish Museum was created in a new adjoining building, on a piece of land where Theodor Herzl’s house used to stand. The museum has a lot of Judaica on display, as well as historical exhibitions and travelling artwork. Its architectural style matches the synagogue.

Another 1931 addition was the Heroes’ Temple, which seats 250 and is today used for services in winter and on weekdays. It was designed by László Vágó and Ferenc Faragó, as a memorial to those Hungarian Jews who gave their lives in the First World War.

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Jewish Museum, Copyright Thaler

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Heroes’ Temple, Copyright Varius

Under the German occupation of 1944–45, the synagogue was part of the Budapest Ghetto. It was located within the large ghetto, for people without protective papers enabling them to live in the Yellow Star Houses. Since so many people died during those brutal final months of the occupation, there was no choice but to bury them in the synagogue courtyard. It’s very unusual for a synagogue to have a cemetery right on the property.

After the war, a number of the bodies were transferred to Kozma Utca Cemetery, but about 2,000 people remained buried in the courtyard of the Great Synagogue. Architect Imre Varga created a weeping willow sculpture to commemorate all the dead, in the Raoul Wallenberg Memorial Park behind the synagogue.

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Copyright Varius

On 3 February 1939, the fascist Arrow Cross bombed the synagogue. During the ensuing war, it was used as a stable and a base for German Radio. More aerial raids followed, this time from the Germans. During the Siege and Battle of Budapest, it particularly suffered, but wasn’t entirely destroyed.

Before the deportations stopped in early July 1944, Eichmann had his office in the women’s gallery, right behind the rose window. He requested reassignment, and in late August was assigned head of a commando squad rescuing Volksdeutsche on the Hungarian–Romanian border, in the way of the approaching Red Army. He returned to Budapest in the autumn, and arranged for brutal forced labour marches to Vienna. On Christmas Eve, he fled before the Soviets had completed their encirclement of the city.

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Copyright Osendi Cadenas

After the war, Budapest became the centre of Jewish life in Hungary (though there were also several thousand people in next-largest city Debrecen). Many of the survivors who were repatriated found no one and nothing in their hometowns, and so moved to Budapest. Though all the major synagogues had suffered damages, the community nevertheless used them for services.

Not too many years later, when the Soviets had completely taken over, it was boarded up and abandoned. Only in 1990 was it reopened for worship and restored.

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Copyright Neer Ildikó

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Weeping willow sculpture, Copyright Ian Pitchford

My characters spend the 1945 High Holidays by Dohány Utca Synagogue, since the native Hungarians among them all come from Neolog backgrounds. It’s also not a far walk from the survivors’ house they’re living in. After they move across the Danube to the Buda side in October, they begin going to the Óbuda Synagogue.

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Copyright Gabor Dvornik