The Golden Era of Hungarian-Jewish Architecture (1867-1918)

Cifra Palace

Budapest in the early 20th century is the only European city where we can possibly speak of a specifically Jewish architecture, even though, paradoxically, the prevalent style was claimed, at the same time, to be national Hungarian. 
– Fredric Bedoire, author of The Jewish Contribution to Modern Architecture 1830-1930

While living in Budapest a couple of years ago, one of the things that struck me most profoundly was the  city’s great architecture. So grand it was at the turn of the 20th century, people often referred to it as the “Paris of the Danube.” Though carpet bombed in WWII, and neglected during the Communist reign, the city still bears the legacy of this grand era, lasting a mere 51 years, from 1867 to 1918, essentially mirroring the short-but-spectacular lifespan of the Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy itself. This golden era of architecture is typically described as “Hungarian Secessionist,” but because a majority of the era’s architects just so happened to also be Jewish, it is sometimes called “Jewish-Hungarian architecture,” though by and large the symbology incorporated into the architecture derives not from Jerusalem but from the Magyar homelands of Transylvania and Finland.

Vienna Secession

Vienna’s Secessionist Movement was heavily supported by the Jewish community, who made up a large portion of the growing bourgeois class. Pictured is Gustav Klimt’s portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, the wife of a Jewish banker. During WWII, it was confiscated by the Nazis, and bought by the Moderne Gallerie (now Österreichische Galerie), Vienna in 1941. In 2006, a court decision attributed the ownership of the painting to Maria Altmann, the niece of Bloch-Bauer. She sold the painting for $135 million to Ronald Lauder, who transferred it to the Neue Gallery in New York City.

To put the Secessionist movement in proper perspective, we must turn to Budapest’s sister city Vienna, where the Austro-Hungarian expression of Art Nouveau first gained recognition. Though Vienna’s major artists and architects — notably Gustav Klimt, Adolf Loos, and Otto Wagner — were not Jewish themselves, the clients who supported their work most definitely were. As historian Steven Beller notes in his 1997 book Vienna and the Jews, 1867-1938, Austrian Jews had no small part in the success of movement:

Whether it was the propaganda in the press, financial support, the provision of contacts with artistic group is other countries, or even the chance, through the salon, to make contact with the rest of Viennese culture, the social support of the Secession appears to have been heavily Jewish.

Traditionally, architectural development had been dictated by the emperor and the nobility. In the newly established Dual-Monarchy, however, where merchants were becoming capitalists, artists and architects were suddenly receiving commissions from the new middle- and wealthy-class. True, the construction of Ringstrasse was the will of Franz Joseph, but it coincided with, and was in part the result of, the rise of this financially affluent new class. As Jews made up a large percentage of this growing class, they naturally became one of the Secessionist Movement’s main participants.

 

Otto Wagner's Karlsplatz Stadtbahn Station (railway). Image courtesy of Clemens Pfeiffer.

Otto Wagner’s Karlsplatz Stadtbahn Station (railway).
Image courtesy of Clemens Pfeiffer.

Indeed, as previously noted, few if any of Vienna’s Secessionist architects were Jewish. But that wasn’t the case in nearby Budapest. Of the city’s 110 architects at the turn- of-the-century, 70 were Jewish. Granted, in terms of timing, the city did “lag behind” Vienna and other major European cities; Budapest’s first example of Art Nouveau architecture was not until 1906, with the construction of Gresham Palace on the eastern bank of the Danube, designed by Hungarian-Jewish architect Zsigmond Quittner. Interestingly enough, since the 1870s, Budapest, like Vienna, experienced a construction boom and a rising moneyed class made up largely of Jews. So why were most of Budapest’s architects Jewish, while Vienna had virtually none? A look back to the 1840s may provide some clues.

 

The Revolution of 1848: The Jewish Perspective

Hungarian- Jews enthusiastically supported Hungary’s fight for independence from Austria in the Hungarian Revolution of 1848. The Monarchy would heavily fine the Jewish community for their participation in the failed revolution.

From the very beginning, Hungarian Jews overwhelming supported the nation’s fight for independence from the Habsburg Empire. Why Hungary’s Jewish population felt so patriotic towards the cause is somewhat of a mystery: They had not been treated as equal citizens, and violent anti-Jewish outbreaks in Pest and surrounding areas had been escalating.

In February 1848, for example, a month prior to the Revolution, the Hungarian Diet, which met in Pressburg, had heard several motions to fully or partially emancipate Jews. As reported by Mihaly Horvat, a Hungarian historian of the period, when news of this reached the “prejudiced lower classes of the Pressburg artisans, who had for a long time looked askance at the increase and progress of the capable Israelites, unable to tolerate that the latter should become through this law their equal in rights, attacked the homes of the Jews in enraged bands, destroyed their property, and assaulted their persons with savage violence. Only armed force was able to curb the bloody outbreak of prejudice and hatred born of filthy self-interest.”

Despite the anti-Jewish climate, the Jews in Pest and other Hungarian cities enthusiastically supported the revolution, both military might and financial backing. In his 1996 book The Jews of Hungary, Hungarian historian Raphael Patai writes:

Jews from Pest as well as other cities and towns of the country took part and distinguished themselves in the war of independence in large numbers …. The Jews from Pest even removed the decorations off the Torah scrolls in the synagogues, and offered 856 lat (vs. 33 pounds) of silver …. According to Károly Eötvös, a great storyteller, a horse dealer from Pest, Arnold Brachfeld, acquired horses sufficient for a whole hussar regiment, altogether 900, in four days and delivered them to the courtyard of the Károly Barracks.

Emperor Franz Joseph fined Hungarian-Jews an exorbitant 2.3 million florins, originally to be paid by six congregations in Pest, Obuda, Kecskemet, Cegled, Nagykoros, and Irsa. When the congregations asked for a reduction in the fine, the emperor decreed that the tribute should be paid by all Hungarian congregations, except those in Pressburg and Temesvar, who remained under Austrian control at the time. Source: Raphael Patai, The Jews of Hungary (Wayne State University Press), pg 284

 

Patai goes on to write that “being a Hungarian patriot was part of the essence of the Hungarian Jewish personality,” and suggests that 19th-century Hungarian Jews suffered from a sense of denial not unlike that of an abused child towards its abusive parent:

That they would be ready to fight for Hungary, to risk their lives for the harsh patria, was a psychological inevitability in 1848, and not for the last time.

Indeed, the Hungarian government granted its Jewish citizens the right to vote in March 14, 1848, but did not pass a bill for full emancipation due to potential threats against Jews. A few months later, on July 28, 1849, the government finally awarded Jewish emancipation to “settled” Jews, that is, those who were born in Hungary or had been long established.

But it was short-lived, ending with the Hungarian army’s surrender at Világos two weeks later. The absolutist Austrian rule that ensued singled out the Jewish community for their participation in the failed revolution and fined them with heavy taxes. In addition to paying a tribute, the Jews of Pest and Obuda were also required to furnish tens of thousands of uniforms to the Austrian cavalry and infantry, as well as large numbers of horses, saddles, harnesses, and the like.

And here is where punishment becomes fortuitous. Patai writes that in a series of back-and-forth negotiations between the Austrian government and the Hungarian-Jewish congregations, Vienna agreed to a repeal of the tribute in exchange for 1 million florins to fund a Jewish education system. By 1856, the entire amount had been collected. The Monarchy then issued instructions to:

  1. build a rabbinical seminary,
  2. open a Jewish elementary model school in each administrative district, and
  3. create an institution for poor blind or deaf-mute children.

The government, for its part, established model schools in Pest, Temesvar, Pecs, and Satoraljaujhely. Writes Bedoire:

Thus, it came about that the establishment of the most important Hungarian-Jewish religious educational institutions resulted from the tribute imposed by the Austrians on the Hungarian Jews in 1849, and that they were set up as, and remained throughout their history, governmental institutions.

Boomtown and the Sons of the Emancipated

The Parliament Building in Budapest, designed by Imre Steindl.

The Parliament Building in Budapest, designed by Imre Steindl.

The dream of Jewish emancipation finally arrived years later with the Habsburg Empire’s losing the Austro-Prussian War in 1866. In the wake of losing its Italian territories and Central European dominance, to say nothing of nationalistic sentiments sweeping the region, the Monarchy sought to redefine itself.

Within five years of the formation of the Dual Monarchy, the townships of Buda, Obuda, and Pest merged to become Buda-Pest. Though Wahrmann actively promoted the interests of all Hungarians, Budapest Jews—who made up a significant portion of the newly affluent—faired exceptionally well during his eight terms in office.

By the 1870s, Pest had become boomtown, experiencing rapid growth in commercial and industrial businesses, which naturally included the construction of new buildings. So predominate was Jewish involvement in these endeavors, Pest essentially became the playground of the Jewish elite. Budapest was also, in an ant-Semitic slur by Vienna’s mayor Karl Lueger, dubbed “Judapest” for its high concentration of Jewish inhabitants. “Practically all of the city’s industrial and mercantile development was ascribed to Jewish entrepreneurs who rose to positions of social eminence,” writes Bedoire. “Most of the wealth, however, ended up in the hands of the Jewish families, while many Hungarian magnates, as well as other Magyars, became indebted to them…. It seemed as though the new century was going to be the century of the Jews.”

When ground broke on Budapest’s Andrassy Blvd. on 1870, locals considered it the “Nationstrasse,” or political venture. Newly emancipated Hungarian-Jews were eager to show their patriotism and invested heavily in what is still considered the city’s most impressive avenue. Image depicts the Opera House on Andrassy in 18Pest, the Monarchy’s second capital city. Mór Wahrmann (1832–1892), the first Jew to be elected into the Hungarian Parliament, orchestrated the unification. Wahrmann, in many ways typified the affluent Budapest Jew of the era, meaning he identified himself as Hungarian. From 1869 until his death in 1892, he served as councilman for the area now known as the 5th District; he was also a lawyer, a banker, and a philanthropist.

 

Entrance to Mór Wahrmann’s Andrassy apartment building, designed by Miklos Ybl and Vilmos Freund, 1884

From 1870 to 1886, Andrassy utca was built. To the locals, the three-mile boulevard in Pest was considered the Nationsstrasse, a patriotic venture. Naturally, Jewish entrepreneurs keen to be seen in a patriotic light invested heavily. Out of 130 landlords on Andrassy, 90 were Jewish. And unlike the Vienna’s Ringstrasse, Jewish architects played a significant role in its design; four Jewish architects—Vilmos Freund, Mor Kallina, Sandor Fellner, and Zsigmond Quittner — designed no less than 20 of the neo-Renaissance stone mansions and townhouses that line Andrassy. In 1904, just as the Art Nouveau movement was about to explode on the Budapest scene, Jewish architect Imre Steindl (1839–1902), the Westminster-Abbey-inspired, neo-Gothic Parliament Building was completed post-huminously. The Parliament, the largest in Europe, took nearly two decades to complete.

By the early 20th century, Budapest had become one of the most fashionable cities in Europe, incorporating a new form of architecture known variously as Art Nouveau, Secession, and Jugendstil. Common motifs in the Hungarian version included sunflowers, tulips, plants, and bees—all of which inspired by local folklore and decoration. The above-mentioned Zsigmond Quittner (1857-1918) designed the city’s first example of Hungarian-Secessionist architecture in the opulently appointed Gresham Palace in 1906. His instructions were to spare no expense; he therefore partnered with some of the city’s top artisans, including Zsolnay Porcelain Works, who designed the building’s decorative tiles, and Miksa Róth (1865-1944), who executed the stained-glass windows.

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Zsigmond Quittner (1857-1918) designed the city’s first example of Hungarian-Secessionist architecture in the opulently appointed Gresham Palace in 1906.

Secessionist architecture began to spring up throughout the city, often produced by younger Hungarian-Jewish architects—the sons of the emancipated, who were allowed to attend the same schools and learn the same technical artistic styles as their non-Jewish colleagues. An older example of Hungarian Secessionist architecture exists outside of Budapest, in Kecskemét, designed by Hungarian-Jewish architect Géza Markus (1872-1912). The Cifra Palace, built in 1902, exhibits a curvaceous white façade tiled with colorful Zsolnay ceramics and painted with multi-layered sgraffitos based on Hungarian folk art.

Designed by Hungarian-Jewish architect Géza Markus (1872-1912), The Cifra Palace was built in 1902. Image courtesy of Mkesmarki at hu.wikipedia

800px-Interior_New_Synagogue_Szeged_Hungary

Lipót Baumhorn’s Art Nouveau Synagogue in Szeged, Hungary (1902-1904).
Image courtesy of Emmanuel Dyan, http://www.flickr.com/photos/emmanueldyan/5131140489/sizes/l/

Architect Lipót Baumhorn (1860-1932) is credited for creating “truly Jewish” architecture. Known as the “grandmaster of synagogue design” he designed over 20 synagogues, including the fabulously ornate Art Nouveau Synagogue in Szeged, Hungary (1902-1904), before the First World War. Like Quittner, he incorporated the stained-glass works of Miksa Róth into his Szeged masterpiece.

Indeed, the Hungarian-Jewish contribution to Hungarian architecture cannot be understated. For Simon Hevesi, the chief rabbi of Hungary in 1909, it was a great source of pride, as outlined in a speech he delivered to the the Israelite Hungarian Literary Society. “Jewish abilities today could vie with the Greek and Roman masters of architecture,” he said. “Look around in the capital of your homeland, look at the sequence of developmental milestones.”

And in 1917, the Hungarian poet Endre Ady said quite simply, “The Jews made Budapest for us.”

But as noted in the 1995 collaborative book entitled Jewish Budapest, these contributions were Hungarian, not Jewish. For this reason, the book includes a chapter called “The Invisible Jewish Budapest,” meaning that those who built, shaped, and formed Budapest, did so not as Jews, but as Hungarians.

It is tempting to speculate that the exorbitant tributes paid by the Jewish community following the Hungarian Revolution of 1848 may have provided Hungarian-Jews with an education that encouraged creative endeavors. But the seeds of architectural genius within the Jewish community may go back even further. According to the online Jewish Encyclopedia, the local guilds who detested competition, interfered with the development of Jewish artisans. Still, we cannot overlook the fact that the Jewish community of Pest encouraged their young men to learn crafts and trades. Years before the Hungarian Revolution, in 1842, the Jewish community founded the Hungarian Israelite Trades and Economic Association.

“Thus in due time the Jews contributed to the industrial development of the city, as well as to its culture, through the many teachers and university professors, judges, physicians, lawyers, and engineers they furnished to the community,” writes author Alexander Butchler.

The Jewish presence in Hungarian architecture also owes much to the influence of one of, if not the, best-known architect in Hungary: Ödön Lechner.

“In the center of the new architecture stood the non-Jewish architect Ödön Lechner, and many of his helpers and coworkers were Jews or of Jewish descent,” notes the Jewish Virtual Library, an online resource for Jewish history. Indeed, Lechner socialized, trained, and paired up with several Jewish architects, including the aforementioned Géza Markus and Béla Lajta (1873-1920).

Lechner also collaborated on the Hungarian Institute for the Blind, completed in1908, with Lajta, who came from an affluent family. Instead of following his father’s footsteps in construction, Lajta became an architect instead. Like his peers, Lajta derived his decidedly Magyar influences from his travels to Transylvania, where the Huns arrived in the 4th century, and the Magyar tribes settled in the 9th century.

Middle Eastern references, with geometric shapes so indicative of Islamic art, were actually quite fashionable in 19th-century synagogues. It is interesting to note that during the Turkish occupation of Hungary, from 1541 to 1699, Jews lived under relatively peaceful conditions. Unlike the Christian churches, synagogues were not transformed into mosques because the Turks respected the fact that the Jewish religion shared common Middle Eastern roots with the Muslims. Source: Dohany Street Synagogue, 150th Anniversary brochure (Budapest: Foundation of the Jewish Community of Budapest for the Restoration of the Dohany Street Synagogue), 2009

Architects also looked to the Orient for inspiration. Lechner and his protégés, in an attempt to tie in the Magyar’s eastern roots often applied neo-Egyptian and Moorish aesthetics into their designs—a characteristic shared by both Magyars and Israelites.

Interestingly enough, Hungary’s most important Jewish building—the Grand Synagogue on Dohany utca (1859)—decidedly Middle Eastern in its design, was built by neither a Hungarian nor a Jew. The neolog Grand Synagogue was built by Viennese architect Ludwig Förster (1797-1863) to accommodate Budapest’s growing Jewish population. According to Jewish Budapest: “The Jewish bourgeoisie of Pest consciously accepted cultural assimilation as a way of integration into Hungarian society. The congregation felt that the style of Förster’s synagogue in Vienna [the Tempelgasse, built in1857] suited them.”

One wonders, based on the date of construction, if the reason has more to do with the fact that there were no actively employed Jewish architects at the time. Though, this synagogue, like Baumhorn Szeged’s synagogue built decades later, strays from tradition by resembling a three-aisle Catholic church from the inside, replete with an organ.

A Viennese architect also designed the nearby Status Quo synagogue on Rumbach utca (1872). Perhaps it is the fame of Otto Wagner that overshadows the fact that he collaborated on this project with a Hungarian-Jewish architect, one Mór Kollina. Like the Dohany synagogue, the Status Quo synagogue takes inspiration from the Middle East, and is loosely based on the Dome on the Rock in Jerusalem. It exhibits a Byzantine-Moorish architectural style, with a yellow and rust brick facade appointed in blue ceramic tiles and crowned with a hard plaster rendition of the Ten Commandments. The interior space offers a dazzling array of colors and textures associated with Islamic art, a popular style for synagogues in the 19th century.

Reflections

tained-glass window from the Status Quo synagogue on Rumback utca, Budapest. Image by Jessica Tudzin.

Reflecting on the Budapest’s architecture, the Middle Eastern references of the synagogues; the grandeur of the neo-Gothic, the neo-Renaissance, and the neo-Baroque buildings of the 1870s and 80s; and decadence of the fin-de-seicle Secessionists, there’s nothing subtle about any of them. In many cases, the architecture symbolizes financial power, national pride, and, in some cases, even whimsy. In a word, they reflect success. To me, they represent a celebration of life in a very public manner. Sadly, the successes on which many of Budapest’s most Hungarian buildings were built drew the envy of others. Anti-Semitism began to turn its ugly head again around the turn of the century, and most especially after the First World War. Anti-Semitic laws were introduced in 1939, which eventually led up to the Holocaust and the killing of 90 percent of Hungary’s Jewish population, including those who were Jewish by bloodline only and not actual faith.

In my research for this post, I came across a quote that I felt fitting to end with. It is by a Viennese Rabbi, one Ludwig Philippson. He recognized that Jewish achievement, especially those made public, could spell trouble. Published on New Year’s Day in 1859 in Allgemeine Zeitung des Judenthums, a widely distributed Viennese journal, Phillippson wrote an article entitled “A Warning from History,” in which he draws parallels to the 19th-century Jews of the Monarchy and the luxury, pride, and love of pleasure that had led to expulsion of the Sephardic Jews from medieval Spain:

That which for another person can be both necessary and beneficial is all the more dangerous for the Jew, because by it he incurs envy and hatred. Do not say that times are changing and that everything is allowed which is not against the laws of the country. Ah, prejudice and hatred are demons, which are sometimes incarcerated in dark dungeons, but which a light hand can unbolt the door for, allowing them, unimpeded, to rush forth all the more savagery to vent their pent-up wrath. We have seen signs of this ourselves in the past ten years in Alsace and Hungary. We who are the people of history above all others, our history being the oldest and most consistent, we should learn something from that history and not allow its warnings to fall on deaf ears.

May we all learn something from history.  – Jessica Tudzin

SOURCES:

  • Bedoire, Fredric, The Jewish Contribution to Modern Architecture 1830-1930 (Jersey City, NJ: KTAV Publishing House, 2003) 2nd Edition
  • Belle, Steven, Vienna and the Jews 1867-1938. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989) 29-30
  • Dohany Street Synagogue 150th Anniversary [brochure] (Budapest: Foundation of the Jewish Community of Budapest for the Restoration of the Dohany Street Synagogue), 2009
  • Encyclopaedia Judaica, as quoted on the website Jewish Virtual Library,  “Architecture and Architects”.http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0002_0_01259.html
  • Frojimovics, Kinga, et al, Jewish Budapest (Budapest: Central European University Press, 1999) English translation
  • Jewish Encyclopediahttp://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=1561&letter=B#ixzz16uAPXRch
  • Lukacs, John, Budapest 1900 (New York: Grove Press, 1988)
  • Patai, Raphael, The Jews of Hungary (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1996)

WWI and the Austro-Hungarian Army’s Last Stand

One of the things I love most about hosting this site is that it attracts some interesting people. Richard Krotec is one such person. A fan of Austrian-Hungarian history, Richard has stopped by several times leaving kind comments and movie recommendations. In recent emails with him, I learned that he became interested in the Austrian army while growing up and hearing stories of his grandfather, who served in the 27th Laibach Division during World War I. (Laibach, by the way, is German for Ljubljana, the capital city of Slovenia, which was part of the Habsburg Empire from the fourteenth century to the close of World War I, when the Empire dissolved).

“I mainly got interested in the Austrian-Hungarian history by listening to family members talk,” says Richard. He recalls one story where his grandfather, drafted into the victorious Austrian battle of Caporetto of October-Novemver 1917 at the tender age of 14,  was severely wounded when an artillery fragment flew into the magazine of his rifle, causing his weapon to blow up in his hand. Richard says the Austrian doctors were able to repair his grandfather’s arm to such a remarkable degree that, save for the scars the wound left behind, was able to regain the use of his hand.

Richard credits a brilliant teacher for cementing his lifelong interest in the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. “It really picked up when I was in high school and my history teacher, a very educated man with degrees in the subject, taught our class a lot about Austria-Hungary.” So, without further ado, here’s Richard Krotec with a brief history lesson on the Austro-Hungarian Army.

In the late-nineteenth century, the Habsburg Army was unique among the world’s great powers. In fact, it was not one single army, but three separate armies. There was the “common army”, called the Imperial and Royal army, or Kaiserlich und Koniglich (KUK). (Being common meant that the soldiers were recruited from both parts of the empire—from Austria and Hungary.) Then there was the Kaiserlich Koniglich Landwehr (KK), where the soldiers were drawn totally from the Austrian half of the empire. And there then there was the Ku Koniglich Ungarisch, also a landwehr, but better know by its Hungarian name Honved, which drew its soldiers from the Hungarian half of the empire.

Due to a lack of funding, the army was unable put weapons into mass production. Then from 1911 through 1912, Parliament passed an army act that allowed much more spending on the military. This was due in no small part to the Austrian Chief-of-Staff Conrad von Hotzendorf putting on the pressure to get what the army needed. But the budget came too late and could not change things drastically by the outbreak of WWI. The Austrian Army was starved of proper equipment and funding, and this lead to huge losses in November of 1914.

During the war, the tight control and military restrictions that the civilians in Parliment had were lifted, and despite what many American historians say, the Austro-Hungarian Army preformed very well considering the disadvantages the Empire faced. It hung on till the bitter end, collapsing only one week before the Prussian-German Empire. A tribute to the military prowess of the Habsburg Empire.

The Austrian Army went over to the offensive and struck the Russian Army at the victorous battle  of Krasnik as well as the battle of Kamarov. These two victories protected Germany from Russian troops advancing on Berlin, because the Austrians believed that Germany would follow up and link  up with Austrian forces to knock out Russia. But allied armies were thrown back with massive casualties because as allies complained, the Germans did not live up to their end of the bargain. After these disasters, the Germans finally sent a powerful contingent to the east to assist Austria-Hungary.

There’s been a lot of German criticism of Austria’s performance at the early stage of the war, but this is unfair as the Austrian chief of staff Conrad von Hotzendorf once said in his memoirs that the Austrian Army basically saved Germany from having Russian troops march on Berlin’s door step  after the battles of Krasnik and Kamarov  in August and September 1914. Of course, Germany’s assistance to Austria-Hungary should not be underestimated. Germany was indeed the senior partner in the alliance—that’s a fact. But that did not mean that Austria-Hungary could not hold its own. From 1914-1916, the Eastern Front was spilt up. And on the northern sector of the front, Austrian troops operated under German command. However, on the southern sector of the eastern front, German troops came under Austro-Hunagrian command in 1915 at the battle of Gorlice Tarnow. Germany’s chief of staff Falkenhayn  had two plans to consider: one drawn up by Ludendorf for Hindenburg, and the other by the Austro-Hungarian chief of staff Conrad von Hotzendorf. Falkenhayn came down in favor of Conrad’s plan. As it was a more sound battle plan, he took both plans to the German emperor Wilhelm II, but did not mention whose plan it was but agreed to pick Conrads Wilhelm II’s.  At Golice Tarnow, the offensive turned out a complete success.

If you are interested in reading more on the Austro-Hungarian Army, I recommend these four excellent books, which are all well illustrated. (You can get them on Amazon.com for around $40 to $50. Sometimes they are over $100, but you just have to sometimes wait and check back every few days to few weeks and you can find them cheaper.)

 

  • Fighting Troops of the Austro Hungarian Army (1868-1914), by James Lucas
  • Austro-Hungarian Infantry (1914-1918), also by James Lucas
  • The Austro-Hungarian Forces in World War One, by Peter Jung, volumes 1 and 2 (these sell for $12 to $14 and are about 48 pages long)

 

 

 

Winter on Saint Jošt Mountain, Slovenia

Overlooking the Slovenian town of Kranjem is the hill settlement of Svent Jošt, home of St. Judoc’s Church, which dates back to the middle ages during the rule of Emperor Otto II (955-983). The gothic sanctuary, adorned with 16th-century frescoes, contains the oldest surviving section of the church. The church bell is made of bronze from sunken Ottoman ships in the 1827 Battle of Navarino, and bears the inscription: “My bronze was found at the bottom of the sea, when the kingdom of Turkey was ended in Helade by Navarino.”

Normally this is a great area to go hiking. During this time of year, however, it’s a winter wonderland as you can tell from the enchanting images recently sent to me from my friend, Klemen Klec, who lives nearby.

The Tapestries of Wawel Royal Castle, Cracow

On July 30th, 1553, Sigismund II Augustus (1520-1572), the king of Poland and grand duke of Lithuania, married his third wife, Catherine of Habsburg (1533-1572) at Wawel Castle in Cracow, Poland. The wedding guests noted the splendor of the castle, particularly the 360 or so Renaissance tapestries that adorned the walls. The elaborate tapestries were made from wool, silk, and gold threads and depicted mythology, landscape, and grotesque scenes intertwined with coats of armor. The tapestries also included scenes from the Old Testament.

Today, the 136 that are still in possession of the castle make up Europe’s best tapestry collections. Visitors of the city may view them on public display at Wawel Castle. Definitely one of the city’s many must-sees. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit the castle’s website: http://www.wawel.krakow.pl/en/index.php?op=22

The Wickedness of the Human Race Before the Flood. Made in Brussels. circa 1553

 

Detail of Dragon Fighting a Panther (circa 1550)

Grotesque tapestry monogramed with Sigismund Augustus’ initials, SA. Made in Brussels, circa 1550.

Monogrammed SA held up by satyrs. Made in Brussels, circa 1550.

Part of the Building of the Tower of Babel series. circa 1550. This tapestry was transferred to Cathrine II of Russia in 1795.

 

 

Spotlight on Lake Bled, Slovenia

One of the things I love most about Central and Eastern Europe is its abundant natural beauty. Lake Bled, a glacial lake in the Julian Alps in Slovenia is a prime example. The emerald-green Vintgar gorge nearby can be traversed by foot in about an hour, but this mystical setting will likely keep you here longer.

 

 

 

 

Images are the property of Klemen Klec. Please contact Bohemian Ink for permissions.

Finding Central Europe in Southern Cal

Since returning from nearly two years in Budapest to my hometown of Los Angeles, I can’t help but see things through different eyes, spotting the similarities in our art, architecture, and culture. Of course the origin of these similarities are Central European, brought here during various waves of immigration in the 19th and 20th centuries. In that spirit, I’ve decide to revamp my blog to feature those things of the Old World that have made their way into the New World, specifically in California, and more specifically in Los Angeles.

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On a recent visit to the downtown area, I came across our Sister Cities sign. Featured among the 25 cities are Split, Croatia; Berlin, Germany; St. Petersburg, Russia; and  Kaunos, Lithuania.

I also came across a very short street—just two blocks long—with a very long name: General Thaddeus Kosciuszko Way, located on the corner of the Disney Music Hall, across the street from MOCA. Before January 17, 1978, the street was known as Second Place. It was a Polish-American little old lady from Burbank—Mary Dziadula—who initiated the change. According to a Los Angeles Times article from the time, the street almost never came to be, as city council argued that the name was too long to fit on a street sign. The late Artur Zygmont, founder of the Polish American Cultural Network (PACN), adds that the name was also too hard to pronounce.

Dziadula had come from a military family. Her brother served in World War II, as did her husband who also served in Korea and retired as a Major. According to Zygmont, Dziadula took up a one-woman crusade to rename Second Place to honor Polish American who served in the U.S. military, the most famous being General Thaddeus Kosciuszko, who never even stepped foot in Los Angeles. He did, however, serve in the American War of Independence (1775-83). And thanks to Dziadula, his name now graces a Los Angeles street, in one of the most cultural spots in the city. Thank you, Mary Dziadula, wherever you are.

Photo of the Day: Plitvice Park, Croatia

by Allan Tudzin, March 29, 2011

 

Spring Forward Budapest

March 15th marks National Day in Hungary, commemorating the 1848 Hungarian Revolution. It has traditionally also been the day that Hungarians can count on warmer weather. Last weekend, donned in my usual winter garb (scarf, hat, gloves, and down coat), I hit the streets and snapped off a few shots under the clear blue skies of late winter. Though still very cold in the high 30s fahrenheit, I did spy a few hints of spring, which means any day now I can switch my coat for a sweater. Yes, seasons change rapidly here, and soon we’ll be hitting the 50s and easing into 60s. But most important, it means cafe society will soon be back in Budapest.

(feature image by Scott Warren; others by Jessica Tudzin)

One of the first signs that spring is approaching Budapest is when tables and chairs (draped with blankets) begin to appear outside local cafes. When spring hits full swing, the sidewalks will completely transform to accommodate the cafe society.

Another sign is the sudden appearance of street performers.

The first half of March is still very cold. But the clear blue skies often tempt flower shops into outdoor displays. By April, flowers will fill the city, both from the shops and in the local parks.

While we see tour busses in Budapest all year long, we begin to see an influx of visitors around this time. Rarely, however, is the city overrun with tourists so often found in other European cities. Budapest is definitely Europe's best kept secret.

When the weather begins to change, Budapesti's get their work-out on. Pictured are joggers along the Danube.

 

 

 

 

 

In the Spirit of the Bohemian

Kafka on Shoulders of Invisible Man

Consult the Urban Dictionary under the word “bohemian” (spelled with a lowercase B), and you will get a definition that reads: “[Someone] who leads an alternative lifestyle. They are not hippies because they can have an extremely wide range of different tastes in music, fashion, art, literature, etc., and they are usually very creative people. They are above all optimists, even if they can be very cynical too. They like wearing a mixture of weird clothes and mix different fashions together just for the heck of it.” Though the physical Kingdom of Bohemia is no more, the spirit of the bohemian continues to rule the region it once occupied, and none more so than in its public art. Below, a collection of images from Prague, a truly Bohemian city, in every sense of the word.

Words and images by Jessica Tudzin. Please respect copyright.xxxx

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In 1393, the Bohemian king Wenceslaus ordered St John of Nepomuk (the country's patron saint) thrown off the Charles Bridge because he would not reveal the confessions of the queen. This site on the bridge marks the spot he was thrown. Legend has it that stars appeared around the saint's head the moment he hit the water

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stained glass window by Alfons Mucha, St Vitus Cathedral

The Stroch House in Old Town

Peeing Men, located at the entrance of the Kafka Museum, by Czech artist David Cerny.

It's common for couples to write their names on a padlock, then lock it on this gate on the Mala Stana near the Lennon Wall (see link below).

During the 1989 Velvet Revolution, crowds of protesters jostled their keys in the air, the sound a musical gesture of non-violent protest. To commemorate the moment, artist Jill David created this sculpture made from 85,741 keys, spelling Revolution

Cubist light post

Statue of young woman, Kampa Park

Even the graffiti in Prague is creative. This one is located in Kampa Park

The facades of many historic buildings in the city are covered in sgraffito, a painting technique introduced by the Italian artists that the Bohemian burghers often employed.

Architectural details on a local restaurant

Located in a mall, David Cerny's parody sculpture of Dead Horse ridden by King Wenceslaus

 

WWII propaganda poster is one among many on exhibition at the entrance of the Royal Gardens

Statue honoring Mozart's Don Giovanni, which debuted in Prague on October 29, 1787.

Prague's narrowest street is equipped with a traffic light so that pedestrians won't collide with each other. The street with no name leads from U Luzickeho seminare street to a restaurant near the Charles Bridge.

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Prague Spring Music Festival 2011

As mentioned in my last post, the weather has been very mild in Central Europe this year. Here we are barely into February and it’s already feeling like a touch of spring is in the air. Which is getting me to think a lot about Prague. No, not about “the” Prague Spring of 1968 when the city (briefly) liberated itself from Soviet control. Rather, I was thinking of the annual Prague Spring International Music Festival. As a city with three opera houses, Prague has long been highly regarded by music lovers, at least since 1787 when Mozart debuted Don Giovanni here. But few travelers are aware how serious Prague’s music scene gets in the springtime.  This year, from May 12th through June 4th, some of the best orchestras in the world will converge on the Czech capital city, including the Berliner Philharmoniker, the New York Philharmonic, and the San Francisco Symphony. Many of the performances will feature the music of Gustav Mahler this year, commemorating the 100th anniversary of his death. Not to be missed are the two opening concerts that kick off the festival, featuring Prague Conservatoire Symphony Orchestra performing one of my personal favorites, Bedrich Smetana’s Ma Vlast (My Country). Feel free to click on the video below to listen to the 2009 performance of Smetana’s masterpiece, performed by Radio Symphony Orchestra Prague, with conductor Antony Witt. See you in Prague!


A Walk Through History

Have patience with me … my posts may be erratic until mid-June. Central European University—where I currently attend grad school—has been keeping me very busy lately. In the vernacular, it’s kicking my butt. Five classes last semester and six this semester. Then I have my thesis research and writing this spring.  But I promise, until then, I will drop in as often as I can, even if only to post a random picture or two.

This month, I hoped to capture some of the winter splendor of Budapest on my Canon G10, but unlike last year, it’s been a rather mild winter. We’ve had flurries, but nothing major. The snow seems to melt the moment it hits the ground. The weather has been so mild, in fact, that I’ve taken to long city strolls, 8-12 miles at a time. I walk along the Danube, over the bridges, around Margaret Island, up Gellert Hill, and down Andrassy utca. Last weekend, I hiked on the Buda side, up the hill to the Citadel, where I was thrilled to find a vendor selling hot mulled wine because although there was no snow, it was very cold up there with the winds blowing off the river.  The other thing I discovered up there was yet ANOTHER museum. (We have over 100 of them here in Budapest). This particular museum is dedicated to WWII, a subject that holds great fascination for me, especially since my thesis project covers just that very topic.

If you’re anything like me, you find just about all of 20th-century history fascinating. It began with what appeared to be a Golden Age with the Art Nouveau movement, followed by WWI and WWII, then the Cold War, and ending on a positive note with the collapse of communism. What a century! And that’s what I love about Budapest. It’s an open-air museum that touches on all that history! A walk around the city is like a trip in time. It’s no huge stretch to imagine what the city looked like a century ago – its architecture hasn’t changed much since then, which is an amazing thing when one considers that all the bridges and many of city’s buildings were destroyed during the 102-day Siege of Budapest when the Russians and Americans collaborated to drive out the Nazis and carpet bombed the city 37 times. Even the famous Royal Palace (once the Habsburg’s summer castle) on the hill was heavily damaged during the war, but reconstructed in the 1950s according to the original architectural plans. Which reminds me: Did you know that the city is still finding old bombs buried in various parts of the city? Late last summer, a 50kg Soviet-made WWII bomb was found—of all places—near the building that now occupies the American Embassy. Old American and Soviet bombs are found every year here, typically by construction workers who are creating underground parking structures or making repairs to public utility infrastructure. So yeah, it’s a real blast living in Budapest. Seriously, it is, especially for history buffs. And it’s not limited to just the 20th century.

In Obuda, for instance,you can find ancient Roman ruins. On Castle Hill, we have the 13th-century Mattias Church, which acted as a mosque in the 16th and 17th centuries when Hungary was under Turkish occupation. Also on Castle Hill are the remains of a medieval synagogue, which is partially buried below ground.  Which reminds me of something else … I should go to sleep now. Tomorrow I have to prepare for a presentation on medieval Jewish history, but not before I take a long morning stroll. I bid you a fond farewell for now, and I leave you with a few shots of historical finds on a recent walk. Until next time, stay warm!

Hungarian artist Gyula Jungfer created the intricate ironwork on Castle Hill in the late 19th century. Much of it was destroyed in WWII and faithfully restored in 1981.

Built in the 12th century, St. Michael's Provostship Church on Margaret Island was destroyed during the Turkish invasion in 1541. The ruins were excavated in 1923 and rebuilt in 1930-31. The bell was found in 1914.

Stone lions guard the entrance on the city's iconic Chain Bridge, built in 1839-49 to connect Buda to Pest.

The destroyed Chain Bridge in 1946. Nazis bombed all the bridges of Budapest as they retreated out of the city.

Chain Bridge and Castle Hill today.

Shoes on the Danube, a Holocaust memorial dedicated to the Hungarian-Jewish victims who were shot into the river by the Arrow Cross militia during WWII. The buildings and bridges have been rebuilt, but the loss of life haunts us still.

Chuck & Carl’s Excellent Budapest Adventure

Last July, Dr. Carl Richards wrote a guest post on Bohemian Ink about his “excellent adventures” traveling through Central Europe with his old school chum, Chuck Kemmerer. Together, the two shot an estimated 10,000 images in 6 weeks. As promised, Carl recently created a video depicting some of his favorite Budapest shots. We hope you enjoy them … and the beautiful gypsy music that accompanies them.

The Holy Right

IMG_0300One of the quirkier sights in Budapest can be found at St. Stephen’s Basilica on the Pest side of the city. Known as the Holy Right, it is the nearly 1000-year-old mummified right hand of St. Stephen, Hungary’s first king. The holy relic is housed in a miniature gold and glass shrine that resembles the 13th-century Matthias Church located across the River Danube in Buda.

Legend has it that Stephen—who converted the Magyars to Christianity—always kept a bag of gold at hand that he dispersed to the poor. Following his death in 1038, St. Stephen was buried in a small town in central Hungary called Szekesfehervar. Legend again has it that when the sick visited the king’s tomb, they were miraculously healed. By 1083, Pope Gregory VII canonized the king to saint, which entailed exhuming Stephen’s body. It is said that his right forearm and hand was left completely intact, perfectly mummified, which was promptly lopped off and sent to Bihar, were the Magyar tribes first settled in 896. (Today that once-Hungarian land is known as Transylvania and makes up part of Romania.)  Over the centuries, wars and invasions that followed, the hand had been moved several times for safekeeping, to Dalmatia (now part of Croatia), then Vienna, and finally to Budapest.

Visitors can see the Holy Right at St. Stephen’s Basilica in the 5th District. It is located in the back of the side chapel and requires a small fee for entrance. Or visit the city on St. Stephen’s Day, which falls on August 20th, and you can see the hand paraded around town with much fanfare for free.

The Holy Right clutching a band of precious jewels. Image courtesy of Cserlajos: Wikimedia Commons

Placard set under the Holy Right

Kampa Museum, Prague

The Kampa Museum occupies the site of the former Sova's Mills, alongside the River Vltava (a 5-minite walk from the St. Charles Bridge). It is said that a watermill has been at this site for centuries, at least six, but perhaps more.

Housed in a former watermill along the Vltava River, Prague’s Kampa Museum of Contemporary Art features the private art collection of Jan and Meda Mládek. In the museum’s 2008 catalogue, Jan’s widow Meda writes about her visit to the Czech capital in 1968, just before the Prague Spring when the Soviets occupied the country, know then as Czechoslavakia:

I returned to Prague for the first time in 19 years. I had studied as an economist and art historian, and wanted to see what those of us living in exile could do for our country in those fields. To my great surprise, I found that the Prague Spring was imminent, and the studios were full of remarkable art.

She goes on to discuss how she and her husband assembled an exhibition of Czech drawings, collages, and prints for the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. A generous grant by the Ford Foundation also allowed the couple to host a group of 10 Czech artists to study in Washington D.C. It was during this time—while the art exhibition and students were in the United States—that Russian tanks rolled into Prague and took control of the government. The Czech organization that lent the Mládeks the artwork for the U.S. exhibition was later taken over by another organization called Art Centrum, who contacted the couple with an “urgent request” to discreetly buy the exhibit, “to avoid any unpleasantness for Art Centrum and the artists exhibited.” The couple scraped together the funds necessary to purchase the works of art, thereby turning an impressive exhibition into their own private collection. Over time, the Mládeks added new works to their collection.

In 2002, Meda gifted the collection back to the city of Prague. Visitors today can once again appreciate these extraordinary works of contemporary art in the country in which they were created. The collection includes some of the Czech Republic’s most notable artists from the 20th century, including František Kupka and Otto Gutfreund.

Family Portrait, oil on canvas by Theodor Pištěk (Jr.), 1976.

Untitled, 5-part wooden object, by Zdeno Mayercak (1980s).

Painting by Frantisek Kupka (early 20th century).

Looking out from the glass roof of the Kampa Museum.

Looking out over the Vlatava River from "Untitled Glass Object," by Vaclav Cigler, 1960s.

Group of 9 Figures, hardened burlap and laminate, by Magdalena Abakanowicz 1970s.

Magdalena Jetelova's Chair. The scale was altered to express absurdity. The original was conceptualized in the 1980s, and was completed in 2002 just before the museum's grand opening. Sadly, it was washed away during a flood that same year. In 2003, it was replaced with a replica about twice the size of the original.

Crawling Babies, David Cerny 1992.

Crocheted Skoda

Family, metal synthetic paints

Expat Intervention

I received an email this morning from a fellow expat in Budapest who was reminiscing about the sunny year-round weather of Los Angeles while we are here experiencing the first cooling twinges of autumn. Clearly this guy needed some intervention, so I sent him the following list of reminders of why we love Budapest — especially at this time of year. Feel free to add a comment below with some of the things you love about this great 19th-century city!
  1. Walkable city
  2. Cool architecture and antique stained-glass windows

    The 19th-century Opera House on Andrassy Boulevard is among Budapest's many architectural gems.

  3. Wine shops filled with yummy wine that doesn’t cost a lot of dough
  4. Lots of pubs with dozens of offerings (No Bud or Coors here, sorry!)
  5. Snuggling up in scarves and stylish coats on a fall evening
  6. The changing colors on the trees that line the sidewalks
  7. Freshly made soup!
  8. Girls with long legs who like to show them off even when it’s cold outside (this one’s for the guys)
  9. Museums, more than a 100

    Real coffee in real cups. Featured here, coffee and dessert at Ruzwurms, located in Budapest's Castle District since 1831. During the cold months, guests sit inside the coffeehouse, which is outfitted with Biedermeier furnishings and a wood-burning furnace.

  10. Only a train ride away from medieval villages
  11. Only a train ride away from Roman ruins
  12. Only a hike away from a castle on a hill
  13. Coffeehouse culture
  14. Bath houses and Thai massages
  15. River cruises on the Danube
  16. Live Gypsy music
  17. Harvest festivals
  18. Antique stores and art galleries
  19. Low crime
  20. And coming soon: A white Christmas with sparkling lights and festive street decorations!

AND …. If you still really miss home that much, you can always visit Starbucks at the West End mall. It feels like every other Starbucks that populates nearly every corner in L.A.

Have a great Budapest day!

Seeking out good art and antique finds on Falk Miksa street in the 5th District.

Staying warm during the chilly months is no problem for Budapest locals; the baths are heated and open all year long.

Budapest offers a plethora of wine shops and intimate neighborhood restaurants for the wine lover. Pictured here is Pomo d'Oro's deli, located in the 5th District and serving fine Hungarian and Super Tuscan wines.

Stained-glass window and fin-de-seicle lighting fixture inside Budapest's Parliament Building.

Many Budapest pubs feature Hungarian beers, but also fine tasting beers from all over Europe, including Chimnay from Belgium.

Defining Central and Eastern Europe

What does Central Europe mean? Where are the boundary lines drawn? The answer really depends on whom you ask, and what time in history you are referring to.

Cameo depicting Constantine the Great crowned in Constantinople, 4th century AD. Today, that great city is known as Istanbul, and marks the geographical divide between Asia and Europe.

In ancient times, there was no term for the center of the Roman Empire. It was simply divided in half, with Constantinople in the east and Rome in the west. It’s worth noting that even after the western half of the empire collapsed in 476 AD, the eastern half continued to flourish for several more centuries, as noted by the 18th-century historian, William Robertson:

“Constantinople, having never felt the destructive rage of the barbarous nations, was the greatest, as well as the most beautiful city in Europe, and the only one in which there remained any image of the ancient elegance in manners and arts.”

From the late Middle Ages to the early 20th century, the Habsburg dynasty acquired much of the land we now call Central Europe, but during most of that time, the term Central Europe was not used to describe the region. In those days, the region was associated with the monarchy, and people identified themselves by their religion first, then whether or not they were members of the nobility, and then maybe they would mention the village or specific region in which they lived.

It was not until the 19th century, with the seeds of nationalism beginning to blow, that political journalist Friedrich Naumann (1860-1919), who sought to combine social reform with nationalism, coined the term Central Europe. The idea was to get the smaller countries—who differed in culture, religion, and language—to stop fighting with each other and find a common identity. The term was then picked up by the Germans, behind it the desire for expansion by uniting German speaking nations—including the German-speaking settlements of Poland, Russia, and Hungary.

Russia and the Balkans, which covers not only those countries that lie within the boundaries of the “Balkan Peninsula”, but also Slovenia and Romania, defined the concept of Eastern Europe in the 19th century. The problem was the term Eastern Europe became a stigma for the pre-Bolshevik Russians. In their eyes, the east represented a dark and undeveloped land, polar to the “civilized Europe” they were beginning to emulate out of Paris and other European cities in the west.

The public garden and coffeehouse along Vienna's city walls in 1908 represents the Eastern standard of a civilized Europe.

Early 19th-century view of the Cameron Gallery in Tsarskoe Selo, Russia.

In the 1930s, the Nazis used the term Central Europe in their propaganda to colonize the area. Then after WWII, the Russians used the term Eastern Bloc to describe the region they dominated, from Siberia to Berlin. Basically, the concept of Central Europe fell out of use and returned to the ancient idea of two halves, east and west. After the fall of communism, there was confusion over the term Eastern Bloc, as the newly independent nations no longer felt they belonged to Russia or the east. But with wildly different memories now, they didn’t feel they belonged to Western Europe either—although the Czech Republic, whose citizens like to point out that Prague is geographically closer to Western Europe than Vienna, might be the exception.  For several years during the 1990s, Central Europeans called their region the “Europe in between”.  And the thing is, Central Europe today now includes the Baltic region.

As for the American perspective on all this, most just lump the whole central and eastern regions together and call it Eastern Europe, though they tend to call Switzerland western, even though geographically speaking it is located more central, as is most of Italy. (It’s interesting to note that Venice, Italy briefly fell under Habsburg rule.) As for the European’s take on where the west ends and the east begins, they don’t really like to use terms. They prefer instead to talk about a “Unified Europe”. Politically speaking, that seems to be the term today.

The beautiful feature photo is provided courtesy of Lyn Gately. Her description of the photo: “The Danube (In German: Donau from earlier Danuvius, Celtic *dānu, meaning “to flow, run”, Slovak and Polish Dunaj, Hungarian Duna, Romanian Dunărea, Old Norse Duná, Turkish Tuna, ancient Greek Istros, Slovenian Donava, Croatian Dunav, Serbian Дунав/Dunav, Bulgarian Дунав (Dunav), Ukrainian Дунай, Arabic and Farsi دانوب) is the longest river in the European Union and Europe’s second longest river after the Volga. It originates in the Black Forest in Germany as the much smaller Brigach and Breg rivers which join at the eponymously named German town Donaueschingen, after which it is known as the Danube and flows eastwards for a distance of some 2850 km (1771 miles), passing through several Central and Eastern European capitals, before emptying into the Black Sea via the Danube Delta in Romania and Ukraine.”  You may view more of Lyn’s work at by clicking here.

Beer Bike on the streets of Berlin. Image courtesy of Jörg Sancho Pernas

Young Poles wearing the regional costume of Bokowsko. Image courtesy of Silar.

Polish street musicians. Image courtesy of Dariusz.Biegacz.

Tony Curtis leaves a legacy in Hungary

So saddened to hear about the death of Tony Curtis yesterday. In Budapest, Curtis, who is of Hungarian descent, is as well known for his generosity as he is for his movies.  In 1998, he founded the Emanuel Foundation for Hungarian Culture, a New York-based organization that works for the restoration and preservation of synagogues and 1300 Jewish cemeteries in Hungary.

Within the confines of Budapest’s Great Synagogue exists the Tree of Life Holocaust Memorial, funded by the Emanuel Foundation, in memory of the 600,000 Hungarian Jews who were murdered by the Nazis. The tree, which is made of stainless steel and silver, is fashioned to look like a weeping willow. The shape of the tree resembles an upside down menorah. Inscribed on its 4000 metal leaves are the names of Hungarian Holocaust victims. And on the top of the black granite double archway that sits in front of the tree, a Hebrew inscription asks: “Is there a bigger pain than mine?”

The Tree of Life Holocaust Memorial

It t is very common to see visitors placing rocks at the base of the tree. It is not known with certainty where the Jewish custom of placing rocks on tombstones originated from. One theory goes that as ancient travelers walked the dusty roads between cities, there were occasions in which they would come upon the body of a deceased person. The custom was to bury the body under rocks to protect it from wild life and the elements. As other travelers walked by the grave site they would add a extra stone, as the stones invariably shifted. Adding a stone to a grave site ensured that the body remained covered. It is simply a show of respect for the dead.

Rest in peace, Tony Curtis. You will be missed.

Sex in the City

Let’s face it, some cities are sexier than others. Rio de Janiero, Paris, and Rome come to mind. Few people, however, immediately think of Budapest—that is unless one has had the opportunity of spending even the shortest amount of time here. Indeed, almost from the moment the wheels of the plane hit the tarmac, you can feel a sexual vibe here. Public displays of affection are ubiquitous, with passionate couples engaging in long, slow, involved kisses while the world literally passes them by. You see it in on sidewalks, in the park, on the subway, and in the malls. No public place is off limits.

So what gives? Why are Hungarians so sexually charged? This was the topic of conversation in one my classes this week. Our Hungarian professor has a theory that this behavior is a carryover from Communist times. As he explains it, before liberal democracy came to the region, couples were legally prohibited from showing affection in public, which meant that if young couples wanted to make out, they had either to go to a hotel, where they had to show id and proof that they were married; go home, where they lived with their parents; or go to their car, which if they were among the majority did not own.

The fall of communism in 1989, explains our professor, released a great deal of pent up energy. Suddenly everything was deregulated, including sex and porn.  While some of this energy has tempered over the years, it seems the overt displays of affection have remained, infusing itself into the very identity of the Budapest culture, enough so to make even Latin lovers blush a shade or two.

Feature image by Jacopo Werther; others by Jessica Tudzin

Exceptional Status Quo

Stained glass window inside the Rumbach Synagogue.

Pick up any guide book on Budapest, and you will surely find an entry on the Great Synagogue, the largest Jewish temple in all of Europe, and the second largest in the world (second to Temple Emanu-El in New York City). The Great Synagogue is indeed impressive, and definitely worth a visit. But those interested in both Jewish and architectural history ought not miss Budapest’s lesser known orthodox synagogue, located just down the street on Rumbach Street, and known simply as the Rumbach Synagogue.

Built by Viennese architect Otto Wagner in 1872, the synagogue exhibits a Byzantine-Moorish architectural style, with a yellow and rust brick facade appointed in blue ceramic tiles and crowned with a hard plaster rendition of the Ten Commandments. The building is one of the earliest examples of Wagner’s genius, and the only one he designed in all of Budapest. In the words of Wikipedia:

[The synagogue] served the so-called Status Quo Ante (moderate orthodox) community which preserved the traditional “pre-Congress” way of Judaic cult. The Moorish Revival synagogue has eight sides and while the interior as of this writing (2008) is badly in need of restoration, the octagonal, balconied, domed synagogue intricately patterened and painted in Islamic style is exquisitely beautiful. It was built not as an exact replica of, but as an homage to the style of the octagonal, domed Dome of the Rock Muslim shrine in Jerusalem.

Inside the Rumbach Synagogue during restoration ... and piano practice for an upcoming Jewish festival.

My husband and I recently took a walk along Rumbach Street and meandered inside to take a look (entrance tickets are sold at the door and they are very reasonable, about $5 USD). Though the temple attracts far fewer crowds than the Grand Synagogue, and is many times smaller, its visual impact is no less dramatic. As Wikipedia notes, it’s interior is indeed in need of restoration, which has been in progress since last year. Scaffolding hugs the sides of the walls, and ornate handcarved doors and numbered slabs of stone are scattered throughout awaiting some tender loving care. Still, the space offers a dazzling array of colors and textures associated with Islamic art, a popular style for synagogues in the 19th-century.

It is interesting to note that during the Turkish occupation of Hungary, from 1541 to 1699, Jews lived under relatively peaceful conditions. Unlike the Christian churches, synagogues were not transformed into mosques because the Turks respected the fact that the Jewish religion shared common Middle Eastern roots with the Muslims. The Nazis, of course, had absolutely no respect for Jews or their places of worship. During the Holocaust, the Rumbach Synagogue was turned into a temporary internment camp for about 18,000 Jews, who eventually were deported to death camps in the Ukraine. Now many decades later, one cannot help  entering the temple without a sense of reverence for both its sobering history and vibrant beauty.

For more information about Budapest’s Rumbach Synagogue and local Jewish history, visit the Grand Synagogue’s website.

Rumbach Synagogue
Rumbach Sebestyen street 11
District VII, Budapest

View of interior dome

Natural lighting, gold columns, and vibrant color welcome visitors of the Rumbach Synagogue

Intricately carved wooden doors and concrete slabs await restoration

Decorative wood beams

Geometric patterns indicative of Islamic art abound here.

Hard plaster designed to look like stone slabs crown the top of the building

Climbing Jethro Tull

by Dr. William E. Doyle

We’re in the quaint hillside village of Csobánka (pronounced “Cho-ban-kah”), located about a 20-minute drive outside Budapest proper, in the Pilis Mountains and National Park. The area has plenty of fresh air and is surrounded by forest, hills, and mountains—the highest peak reaching 2,480 feet. My wife Wendy and I share a passion for travel and rock climbing—and rarely (if ever!) pass up an opportunity to combine the two. We also believe in traveling light, so when we planned this trip, we shipped our climbing gear separately. Now reunited with our equipment, we have taken to the hills.

Péter András, a local rock climber, is our guide. He’s unable to climb with us today; he’s nursing an injury from a previous climb. But his knowledge of the terrain is still helpful. He directs us to Oszoly, a limestone hill with a 1,076-foot elevation and a very steep incline; it has been welcoming hikers and climbers for little more than a century. After a short hike to the top, we’re ready to go for it. It’s mid-morning and the temperature is 84 degrees, no sun. Péter, who speaks pretty okay English, tells us that the rock—which looks like polished limestone—is a moderate-level climb equipped with bolts. There are places on the route, however, where you may need to pull out some pro cams and nuts. It has a 5.7 to warm up, and a 5.10 variation.

Wendy and I—along with our friend Kyle—start straightaway on the 5.10 (we go off route a few times, so there are variations). Then we go back and do the 5.7, too. A few hours later, we break for lunch (special delivery pizzas arranged by a local in our group of 5), and the sun comes around the wall and is now beating down on us—at 90-plus degrees. We pack up our leftovers (two untouched pizzas) and start to head back to the car. But Péter points out a classic 5.9-ish climb called Jethro Tull, and that’s all the motivation we need to scale another wall. Funny, by the time we wrap up the day, the pizzas “mysteriously” go missing. And they were good, too.

Dr. William E. Doyle is a Professor of Music at El Camino College in Los Angeles, California. He is also a composer and trumpet soloist, having performed throughout the US, Canada, Europe, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, Austria and the Czech Republic. In addition to teaching and performing, Dr. Doyle is an avid rock climber, certified SCUBA instructor, and adventure photographer. To view some of his work, click here.


Sign entering Csabanco.

A short hike to the top of the hill.

Wendy belays for Bill.

Wendy's turn.

Scaling Csobanca

This wall's a piece a cake for Wendy.

Csobanca sits within a national park on the outskirts of Budapest. An easy-to-get-to climbing destination if you're in the city.


Czech in at Prague’s Golden Well Hotel

The Golden Well hotel is situated alongside the Palace Gardens of the Habsburg ruler Rudolph II. Guests of the hotel gain access to his private passage into the terraced hillside gardens.

I recently returned from Prague, where I treated my husband to one of my favorite hotels: The Golden Well. I first stayed here on a solo trip earlier this summer. And let me just preface this now that when it comes to solo sojourns, I am definitely not the budget traveler. On those random occasions when I lack a good traveling companion, I like to over compensate with good, old-fashioned self-indulgence, favoring boutique hotels over the big 5-star chain brands. True, the latter can be luxurious but they can also feel impersonal. Conversely, the former are by nature more intimate. The better boutique hotels have the feel of a well-appointed mansion, with a doting staff that will not just formally address you by name, but will fall all over itself to make you feel spoiled—the cliché being that you feel as if you were the house guest of a very wealthy acquaintance.

A couple of months ago when I traveled to Prague by myself, I found the Golden Well to be one such hotel. I was at first a bit apprehensive about booking here after researching online reviews, and learning that it was “very romantic”. To the lone traveler, that sounds about as much fun as dining alone in a fancy restaurant on Valentine’s Day. However, the Golden Well—whose courtyard once served as Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II’s secret entrance to the palace next door—turned out to be the perfect solo retreat.

A long narrow pathway leads to the former home of 16th-century astronomer Tycho Brahe, now the 5-star Golden Well hotel.

When I arrived to the hotel—accessed via a narrow cobblestoned alley alongside the baroque Palace Gardens—I immediately became an honored guest, one whose arrival felt eagerly anticipated. I arranged in advance for the hotel to send their Mercedes to pick me up at the train station, so my arrival was expected. But how lovely it was to hear a cheerful “Welcome, Madame Tudzin!” the moment I stepped into the reception area, which, I might add, more closely resembles a handsome study, appointed with a wooden desk, a portable bar, and, on the walls, framed copies of Old Masters etchings and an antique tapestry. Petr, the attendant on duty, offered me a stuffed leather chair  to sit in and a warm oshibori hand towel scented with eucalyptus to freshen my hands. After we went through the ritual check in—providing my credit card and passport information—he invited me to take a tour of my temporary new home, which is laid out like a tall townhouse, with only 19 guest rooms spread throughout 5 floors.

On the second floor, guests can sit under the exposed beams from the original 16th-century building, which incidentally once served as the Bohemian residence of the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe (1546-1601). The geocentric astronomer was invited to Prague to work in the imperial service of Rudolf II (1583-1612), the mad Habsburg ruler whose few redeeming qualities included an affinity for the arts and sciences, and hence spawned what historians call Bohemia’s Second Golden Age (the first being under Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV, 1316 –1378). In addition to charting the night sky, Brahe also forecasted the emperor’s astrology—something not at all uncommon for astrologers to do back in those days. But it is unlikely that Brahe could foresee what lurked within his own future. According to the popular legend posted on the Golden Well’s blogsite, Tycho’s death two years after he arrived in Prague in 1599 has never been properly explained:

An image of Tycho Brahe graces a wall at the Golden Well. On close inspection, one can clearly see the outline of the astronomer's prosthetic nose, some say it was made of gold, though it probably was copper.

[Tycho Brahe] died after his bladder burst, as his good manners did not allow him to leave the table before Emperor Rudolph the II did, for it would have been a breach of etiquette. Several theories exist about the cause of his death, and some experts actually claim he was given a lethal dose of mercury that could have appeared in his body either unwillingly considering that no reliable precautions were taken during that time for those working with it, or that the astronomer fell a victim of a well-thought murder. Danish scientists have now obtained a permission from the Czech authorities to exhume his grave in Prague in the Tyn’s Church on the Old Town’s square to once again study the cause of his death.

In any event, the hotel owes its name to a dream the astronomer allegedly had about a golden well with mystical powers. Though I must admit, I did wonder if it might have had anything to do with the gold-colored prosthetic nose Brahe wore after losing his real nose in a dueling accident. If Brahe did in fact suffer from mercury poisoning, as we shall learn this winter after his body is exhumed, then perhaps it was due to the metal nose he wore every day from age 20 on, and not necessarily a well-planned murder plot.

The hotel itself is not quite as mysterious, though it does warrant exploring. Its labyrinth of sitting rooms and winding staircases lead one through a variety of indoor and outdoor spaces—one with a chess table, another with a terrace overlooking a gardened courtyard where weddings and outdoor recitals take place, and still another that acts as the hotel’s library and t.v. room, where complimentary wine and refreshments are served daily. On the roof, the view from the terrace restaurant consists of a sea of red roofs and spires, with the Vltava River flowing through its center. Upon check in, guests are led up here and served a libation, while a member of the staff points out the city’s main sites: the Royal Palace Gardens directly above, beside, and below; the Charles Bridge, the Powder Bridge, and St. Vitus Cathedral. Personally, I was utterly intoxicated, not by the sparkling Czech wine as much as the fairytale scenery, the air scented from the gardens below, and the warm Czech hospitality.

Fresh fruit, wine, and cheese make a welcome snack after a 7-hour train ride from Budapest.

On my solo visit back in July, I stayed in room  (#21), which is decidedly more modern than it was in Tycho Brahe’s day: It contains a flat screen t.v., an iPod dock, and resembles a studio apartment, with a foyer, a living area, and a separate bathroom suite with a Jacuzzi tub. A glance out the window reveals a view of the courtyard. And if you book your room directly, the staff arranges an assortment of fresh fruit and French cheeses for your arrival. Mind you, as a professional travel writer, I am well acquainted with such VIP treatment, especially when the hotel staff knows I am working on assignment for a big glossy publication. But to be treated so royally while traveling on pleasure, with no assignment, is quite unusual. But this is the way the Golden Well treats its guests: as royalty, whether you happen to be or not. And yes, it is very romantic, too, the main reason I hurried back so soon with my significant other. Though, I must confess, Room #31 was not quite as spacious as Room #21. Still, we did enjoy a romantic dinner on the terrace (ask for table 64 when making your reservations), looking out to the stars on a clear Prague night, and postulating on the nose-less Tycho, the mad Emperor, and other Bohemian types while enjoying never empty glasses of a bordeaux-style red wine grown in the Czech Republic. — Jessica Tudzin

The Golden Well Hotel, Prague


Pros: Clean, quiet, and modern rooms. The rooms’ creature comforts include a whirlpool tub and your choice of 6 different types of pillows to ensure that you receive a good night’s rest. Centrally located but still off the beaten tourist path. The rooftop restaurant serves gourmet fare at night and an appetizing breakfast buffet in the mornings that includes fresh-pressed, in-season juices. Other amenities include access to the private entrance into the Royal Gardens (be sure to walk the hillside vineyards), and  an exceptional staff who genuinely seem to care about your comfort and satisfaction.

Cons: The hotel does not offer a swimming pool or spa, but it can arrange for an en suite massage therapist.

Courtyard of the Golden Well hotel.

View of Prague from the hotel's terrace restaurant.

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Original wood ceiling beams of the 16th-century building. The wall pictured here is a faithful reproduction of what it looked like back in Brahe's day.

Pointers for the solo sojourners in Prague

Traveling solo can have its own great rewards. For one, it allows you to be totally selfish. You can see what you want to see, when you want to see it, for as little or as long as you want to see it. For the solo sojourner, Prague is a very safe city. But it’s also just like any other big city. That said, travelers should beware of a few things:

  • Pickpockters, especially in crowded tourist areas. Don’t be afraid of public transportation, but do be aware of pickpocketers, particularly at the train station.
  • Cheap souvenirs that are imported from outside the Czech Republic, usually Asia.
  • Cab drivers who overcharge. Best to negotiate the price before you get in the cab. Better yet, arrange for your hotel to call a cab for you.
  • Waiters who attempt to charge you a cover fee and expect a tip on top of it.
  • English—Finding your way around is pretty easy here. If you need to ask a stranger for directions, many of Prague’s young people tend to speak English.
  • Get a private tour guide. The staff at the Golden Well can recommend one. Breaking up your sightseeing with a private guide allows you to interact one-on-one with a local, and see all the main sites, as well as places off the beaten path. A private guide is, of course, more expensive than a group tour, but well worth the extra money. I used a private guide by the name of Milos Curik, who specializes in art and music history. He can be reached by email at arts.music@volny.cz
  • Unofficial porters at the train station. These are guys who look for first-class passengers who are obviously confused about what platform to meet their train. They come off as being employed by the train station and will approach you, check your tickets, then take your bags, and get you situated. When you try to tip them, they will be very apologetic and say that the “fee” is actually much higher than your meager tip, usually around $10 USD.  I’ve actually had a couple of these guys help me out in the past and they were helpful. But you can figure out everything you need to know by checking the boards. If you do use the unofficial porters, make sure you ask up front how much it will cost you for their help. And just to be on the safe side, insist on carrying your own luggage. Once on the train, if you decide to go to the dining car, do take your luggage with you.
  • Finally, stay at a good hotel. The Golden Well, naturally.

Room service at the Golden Well.

After touring the 700-year-old St. Vitus Cathedral, take a leisurely stroll through the palace vineyards that ultimately leads back to the hotel's private entrance.

Alternative dining within the Royal Gardens, accessed through the hotel's private entrance.

One of many nooks within the Golden Well where one can enjoy a glass of wine, read a book, or write post cards.

The hotel's salon offers complimentary snacks and libations every afternoon, from 4 to 6 pm. A wonderful way to meet fellow travelers and compare stories.

Dog Days of Summer

No doubt, Budapestians do love their four-legged companions! Here we show just a small sampling of some of the city’s furriest citizens. Images by Scott Warren and Jessica Tudzin.

Getting affection comes easy to a dog in Budapest.

Walking fluffy on the stylish pedestrian stretch that is Vaci utca (street).

A shopkeeper and her mascot on Vaci utca.

Actor dog on the back lot of a Budapest film studio (Raleigh Studios, Budapest).

Daddy carrying his baby at a summer festival in Budapest.

A German shepherd cools down at the mechanized water fountain in the 5th District.

Chance encounter in the plaza.

Bike basket baby.

Czech Graphics of the 1970s

One of my favorite art blogs is Adventures in the Print Trade, produced by Neil Philip, a British-based writer who also runs the online original print gallery Idbury Prints. He always seems to get his hands on the most interesting and esoteric prints, etchings, and bookplates. His blog features work from not only Central and Eastern Europe, but the entire continent. As I just packed a bag and am now ready to take the train up to Prague this week, I perused Neil’s website in search of his more contemporary Czech prints, a little something to get me in the mood for the Kampa Museum, featuring Czech art from the mid- to late-20th century. Neil has graciously given Bohemian Ink permission to reprint his fascinating post on Czech graphics of the 1970s. I can only just imagine the times these featured artists endured as they bravely created their art. It brings to mind a quote from a Czech friend of mine who lived in Prague during the Communist Era: “If you have talent and a need to express yourself, you live unafraid.”

International Grafik no. 30, 1980 (This was the final issue, entirely devoted to the Czech artist Miroslav Matous)

In the 1970s I remember a great deal of interest in the West in writers behind the Iron Curtain, but almost none in artistsIt was just assumed that all artists in the Eastern Bloc were producing soulless socialist realism or figurative kitsch. So it has been fascinating for me to acquire work by what seems a representative sample of Czech printmakers from that decade, all published in the Danish art revue International Grafik, edited between 1969 and 1980 by Helmer Fogedgaard and Klaus Rödel. International Grafik was an altruistic labour of love. It published almost exclusively woodcuts, wood engravings, and linocuts, printed from the original blocks or plates, in a numbered edition of 1000 copies. No doubt many important artists are unrepresented in its pages, especially those who specialized in etching and engraving, but there are enough artists here to at least get a flavour of the currents of Czech art at this time. All of the Czech artists contributing to International Grafik were doing so from inside the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic.

The first surprise is that in the decade after the brutal suppression of the Prague Spring in 1968, Czech artists were not retreating into safe figurative images on socialist themes, but were instead diving headfirst into experiment and abstraction. These are not cowed voices, but confident and progressive ones. Maybe in the period of “normalization” that followed the overthrow of Alexander Dubček’s reformist government there were too many other people to police, and the graphic artists somehow operated under the radar of government surveillance. I’d be very interested to hear from anyone with memories of the cultural atmosphere of this time.

Jaroslav Vodrázka

Jaroslav Vodrázka, 3-colour linocut International Grafik 17, 1973


Jaroslav Vodrázka, Wood engraving International Grafik 17, 1973

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxThe graphic artist Jaroslav Vodrázka was born in Prague in 1894. He studied at the School of Applied Art, and then at the Academy of Visual Arts under Max Svabinsky. Jaroslav Vodrázka himself became a professor of graphics. He produced wood engravings, linocuts, etchings, engravings, and lithographs, and was always interested in exploring new printmaking techniques, using materials such as plastic and plexiglass. Although he lived until 1984, Vodrázka remained rooted in figurative art, creating images of peasants, landscapes, and religious scenes.

Jaroslav Sváb

Jaroslav Sváb, Achse Linocut International Grafik 6, 1970

Jaroslav Sváb, Grafik Two-colour linocut International Grafik 6, 1970

Jaroslav Sváb was born in Hodonin in 1906. His work veers from severe geometric abstraction to curvaceous Art Nouveau-influenced patterns based on organic forms, including the human body. Sváb is known for his linocuts and wood engravings, including engraved bookplates, and also as a designer of dust jackets for books. He died in Prague in 1999.

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Josef Weiser

Josef Weiser, Linocut, 1971 International Grafik 20, 1973

Josef Weiser, Frühling Linocut International Grafik 20, 1973

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The graphic artist, art teacher, and art theorist Josef Weiser was born in Switzerland in 1914, but moved with his parents to Moravia during WWI. In 1933 he became a teacher, and from 1950-1958 was a professor of art education in the teacher training college in Olomouc. Subsequently he became head of art teaching at the institute of advanced education for teachers in Olomouc. Besides his original graphics, Josef Weiser is also known for his bookplates. Weiser, too, remained a figurative artist; in the linocuts published by International Grafik, the predominant motif is that of a rather idealised young woman. He died in 1994.

Olga Čechová

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Olga Cechová, Die schwarze Figur Woodcut International Grafik 18, 1973

Olga Cechová, Die weisse Figur Woodcut International Grafik18, 1973

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxThe graphic artist Olga Čechová was born in 1925. She studied at the School of Applied Art in Brno from 1941-1944 and at the High School of Applied Art in Prague from 1945-1950. Here she was invited join the exclusive society of Czech graphic artists, Hollar. Olga Čechová was also a member of the avant-garde group Trasa. Her boldly expressionistic woodcuts seem to me to have a strong feminist message.

Ladislav Rusek

Ladislav Rusek, Scherzo Linocut International Grafik 21, 1974

The printmaker Ladislav Rusek was born in Olomouc in 1927. He studied at the university, where he was eventually to be made Professor of Graphics. Ladislav Rusek was particularly fond of the linocut, though he also produced wood engravings and etchings. His work was influenced by Jugendstil. Rusek is particularly known as an engraver of ex libris. His engravings tend towards abstraction while retaining symbolic forms and human figures.

Ladislav Rusek, Linocut, 1965 International Grafik 4, 1969

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Dusan Janousek


Dusan Janousek, Wood engraving International Grafik 3, 1969

Dusan Janousek, Wood engraving International Grafik 3, 1969

Dusan Janousek was born in 1928 in Prostejov. He studied at the School of Applied Art in Brno and at the Komensky University in Bratislava. He taught graphics at the Palacky University in Olomouc. His white line engravings are either human figures verging on abstraction, or completely abstract.

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Miroslav Houra


Miroslav Houra, Charon Linocut International Grafik 18, 1983

The painter and printmaker Miroslav Houra was born in 1933 in Krhanice upon Sázava. He studied at the School of Applied Art in Prague, and at the Karl University in Prague. He taught in the teacher training faculty at the university in Ustinad Labem. Miroslav Houra was a member of the artists’ associations Okjekt and Hollar. He had his first solo show in 1960, and later exhibited in many international exhibitions. Miroslav Houra’s colour linocuts are both technically and aesthetically remarkable. Of course they appeal to me because of the way they use mythology to explore cosmic truth. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Ratislav Michal

Ratislav Michal, Wood engraving International Grafik 15, 1972

Ratislav Michal, Wood engraving International Grafik 15, 1972

The painter, graphic artist, and designer of bookplates Ratislav Michal was born in 1936. He studied at the Academy of Pictorial Arts in Prague, graduating in 1961. Ratislav Michal had his first solo exhibition in 1964. He is known especially for his wood engravings of the female nude. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Jana Krejčová

Jana Krejcová, Bei Prachatice II Linocut International Grafik 23, 1974

Jana Krejčová was born in Bruntál in Nordmähren in 1946. She trained in painting and graphics at the art school in Olomouc. She remained in Olomouc, working as a technical editor at the Palacky University, and creating linocuts inspired by the architecture of the town and by Czech folk art. Jana Krejčová is also renowned as a designer of bookplates.

Miroslav Matous

Miroslav Matous, Linocut International Grafik 30, 1980

Miroslav Matous, Linocut International Grafik 30, 1980

Lastly, Miroslav Matous was born in Zdárky in eastern Bohemia in 1920. Known as painter, printmaker, tapestry designer and architect, Miroslav Matous attended the Mánes School for painting, studying under Vladimír Sychra. As a printmaker, Miroslav Matous is known for lithographs, drypoints, etchings, linocuts, and woodcuts. From the evidence of these prints, the 1960s had definitely arrived in Czechoslovakia by 1980! — Neil Philip

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Among Neil Philip’s books are Mythology (with Philip Wilkinson), English Folktales, The Cinderella Story, Victorian Village Life, and The New Oxford Book of Children’s Verse. He has also published two collections of original poetry, Holding the World Together and The Cardinal Directions. All text and photographs on this post are copyright © Neil Philip. Copyright in the artworks remains with the artists or their estates. Read more from Neil Philip on his blog, Adventures in the Print Trade.


Color Me Zsolnay

A steeple of the 13th-century St Matthias is adorned with Zsolnay ceramic tiles

The first time I saw the work of Zsolnay Porcelain Works was shortly after we moved to Budapest, up on Castle Hill. Our tour guide pointed out the 13th-century St Matthias church, a gothic stone structure topped with a baffling mix of brilliantly colored ceramic tiles. When I asked our guide about the incongruent roof, she explained that the church had been rebuilt and reconstructed several times over the centuries, the tiles added during one such episode in the late 19-century. As I began to better familiarize myself with Budapest, I noticed these distinctive, polychromatic tiles on just about all of the city’s landmark buildings: the Four Seasons Gresham Palace, the Museum of Applied Arts, the National Archives of Hungary building, the (former) Royal Post Office Savings Bank, and the Grand Market Hall, to name just a few. Was this a regional fad? It wasn’t until months later, when I attended a local art auction, that I would learn the answer to that question. Yes, that “fad” was called Hungarian art nouveau, and Zsolnay Porcelain Works played a key role in it.

A fellow expat, who works as a docent at the city’s Museum of Fine Arts, told me about a famed ceramic factory located near the Croatian border, in the medieval village of Pecs, Hungary, after she saw me admiring one of the lots, an iridescent art nouveau vase made around 1900,. “See how the colors seem to change in the light, reflecting shades of yellow, blue, and purple?” she asked. “That’s the hallmark of a Zsolnay! You’ve seen their tiles all over town by now.” Indeed, I had. Suddenly, it was like everything was beginning to click in place, and I began to feel something similar to falling in love. Yes, it was with the vase, but more so the manufacturer who had produced it. Unfortunately, I left the auction empty handed—the vase was way out of league with my pocketbook. However, I did leave with something: a desire to learn more about Zsolnay.

Antique Zsolnay vase, circa 1900

I found a lot of erroneous and contradicting history on the company. Such is the blessing and curse of the internet. Fortunately—with the aid of a few good art books, some reliable web resources, and several visits to my neighborhood antique dealer (Virag Judit Gallery in District V), I was able to construct a short bio on the company.

The Zsolnay Story

Vilmos Zsolnay

Zsolnay Porcelain Works was founded in 1853 by Miklós Zsolnay (1800-1880), in southeastern Hungary. He originally produced stoneware and pottery, but when his son Vilmos Zsolnay (1828-1900) took over the family business in 1865, it was taken in another direction. Vilmos produced high-end tea services and vases instead. Early tea services depicting scenes from the Brothers Grimm tales date back to this era, but the company is best known among collectors today for producing vividly colored vases and glassware that have a metallic-like luster, achieved through a process called eosin glazing (from the Greek eos, meaning flush of dawn). The process involves firing at extremely high temperatures, resulting in iridescent hues of red. It was an idea not unfamiliar with the Danes, but it was Vilmos who perfected it. Over the years, he continued to experiment with glazes to achieve a variety of colors favored by art nouveau and Secessionist artists. In fact, several then-famous Hungarian Secessionist artists designed a number of pieces for the Zsolnay factory, including Sándor Apáti Abt, Lajos Mack, Géza Nikelszky, and József Rippl-Rónai. By the close of the 19th century, Zsolnay was firmly established as a decorative arts leader in the art nouveau movement.

Zsolnay flask, circa 1900, available at the Virag Judit Gallery in Budapest, valued at approx. $15,000 to $20,000 USD

As was the trend in art nouveau, Zsolnay adopted motifs inspired by the local folklore and borrowed ideas from India, Turkey, and Asia. Vilmos himself studied Islamic art and ceramics in London, and applied those concepts to his work, which won him, among numerous other awards, the Grand Prix gold medal at the 1878 World Exhibition in Paris. In 1887, Vilmos sent his son, also named Miklos, to the Middle East, where he traveled for several months through Istanbul, Izmir, Larnaka, Beirut, Baalbek, Damascus, Jerusalem, Jaffa, and Cairo, collecting artwork and corresponding in German back to his family in Pecs the images that he saw.

The company’s chief designer during the art nouveau years and beyond was the very talented Tádé Sikorski (1852 – 1940), a Polish architect and artist who trained in Vienna. In addition to having a hand in the building of that city’s State Opera House, Sikorski had also been the director of a state-operated school of ceramics in Vienna. During a study tour in 1882, he visited the Zsolnay factory in Pecs and met Vilmos’ daughter Júlia. They were married a year later, and he thus became a key personality within the factory. From 1900 to 1940, Sikorski oversaw the architectural division of the company, and produced frost-resistant tiles and exterior decorations for buildings.In his work, one finds many floral themes, such as sunflowers, tulips, plants, and bees that are common in Hungarian folk decoration.

Hungary’s leading art nouveau architect, Ödön Lechner (1845-1914), also known as the “Hungarian Gaudí,” incorporated Zsolnay decorations and roof tiles into his buildings, evidenced in such architectural gems as the blue-tiled Thonet House (1888-89) on Vaci street, the blue roof of the Hungarian State Geologicial Institute, and the green and yellow tiles and ornaments of the (former) Royal Post Office Savings Bank (1899-1901). Lechner appreciated the fact that Zsolnay’s pyrogranite ceramics could be molded into intricate designs and coated with exotically colored glazes. As did other prominent architects in the region, such as Miklós Ybl, who designed Budapest’s Opera House, and Imre Steindl, who designed the Parliament Building.

Facade of the Former Royal Post Office and Savings Bank

Close-up of Zsolnay tiles on former Royal Postal and Savings

After the death of Vilmos Zsolnay in 1900, the management of Zsolnay Porcelain Works passed into the hands of his son Miklos Zsolnay (1857-1922), who continued the family tradition. The Great War that began in 1914, however, began an unfortunate chain of events for Hungary, as well as the Zsolnay Porcelain Works. During World War I, production of pottery ceased. Instead of creating beautiful objets d’art, the factory was forced to produce insulators for military use. After the war, raw materials were difficult to source, to say nothing of the factory’s declining fortunes due to a global economic depression and the Serbian occupation. Then came World War II, when a bomb destroyed the company’s facility in Budapest. The final insult came with the rule of communism, when the factory was nationalized and stripped of its family name, thereafter known as the Pécsi Porcelángyár (Pécs Porcelain Factory), and producing common tableware goods.

Then in 1982, with the resumption of a market economy, the company regained its operational independence, reorganized, and reclaimed the Zsolnay name. Today, the company is producing ceramic items again, in bulk for the Swedish company IKEA, as well as producing fine ceramics from resurrected designs from the company’s Secessionist era. And then there are collectors (and admirers like me) who live vicariously in the late-19th century through the beautiful works that Zsolnay Porcelain Works created during its glory years. – Jessica Tudzin

Where to See Zsolnay in Budapest Architecture

  • The green miniature statues on the Hungarian Parliament Building (1896)
  • The steam-resistant tiles of the Gellért Baths (1918)
  • The gold exterior tiles and sea-green interior tiles of the Four Seasons Gresham Palace (1906)
  • The rainbow-colored roof of the 13th-century Matthias Church (added in 1896)
  • The blue-tiled domes of City Zoo’s elephant house (1912)
  • The blue ceramic tomb of Sándor Schmidl, a prominent local grocer, in the Kozma Street Jewish Cemetery (1903)
  • The gold-glazed tile interiors of the Franz Liszt Music Academy (1907)
  • The blue-tiled Thonet House on Vaci street (1888-89)
  • The blue roof of the Hungarian State Geological Institute (1899)
  • The green and yellow tiles and ornaments of the (former) Royal Post Office Savings Bank (1899-1901)
  • The gold curvaceous decorative ceramics on the Museum of Applied Art (1896), where inside you can also see some prime examples of Zsolnay vases and glassware.

Also consider a day trip to Pecs, Hungary, where you can visit the Zsolnay Porcelain factory and tour its museum.

Featured photo: Entrance to the Museum of Applied Arts, Budapest. Image courtesy of Kathleen Tyler Conklin.

Relevant article(s):

Museum of Applied Arts, Budapest. Designed by Odon Lechner. See featured image for close-up detail

Close-up of Zsolnay tiles on Grand Market

Elephant House at the City Zoo

Close-up of Hungarian Geological Institute, by Csanády

The tomb of Sándor Schmidl (1903) in Kozma Street Jewish Cemetery. Image courtesy of Dr. Varga József, www.agt.bme.hu/varga

Close-up exterior tile work on the Thonet House



The House That Jenő Hubay Built

Lovingly restored and opened to the public in 2008 is Jeno Hubay's Music Hall, located within his home on the banks of the Danube River.

Jenő Hubay (1858–1937), the brilliant violinist, composer and educator built his house on the banks of the river Danube in 1897-98. On the first floor of the four-story building exists his salon, a legendary white music hall where gatherings of music, literature, and other arts were regularly held. During the Second World War, the music hall fell quiet. But happily in 2008, the owners of the Hotel Victoria renovated the salon to its original grandeur and reopened it to the public. Today it is a part of the hotel and, together with some other rooms of the Hubay home, it can be entered through the hotel lobby.

Jenő Hubay was born into a German family of musicians, but was raised Hungarian and is considered one of the country’s most well-known and acknowledged musicians, adopting the sounds of Hungarian folk music in his mazurkas. His name—which he changed at age 21 from the Huber to Hubay to sound more Hungarian—remains connected to the world-famous Hungarian violin school. It was from his father, Károly Huber, who was the conductor and concert master of the Hungarian National Opera House, that Hubay, learned the basics of playing the violin, after which he went on to study from Josef Joachim in Berlin. On the advice of Franz Liszt (1811-1886), Hubay traveled to Paris in 1878 and soon won over audiences all over Western Europe. Naturally, his violin of choice was a Stradivarius.

Jeno Hubay in 1897.

With his smooth manner, exceptional personality and intelligence, Hubay created a wide circle of contacts. He was invited by kings, heads of states, artists and church leaders to their homes throughout Europe. In 1882, Hubay was appointed head of department at the Conservatoire Royale in Brussels, but on call from Franz Liszt he returned home, and supervised violin education at the Conservatory of Budapest for half a century. He was also a successful and prolific composer. Besides several hundred violin pieces and songs, he composed symphonies (Symphony 1914, Dante Symphony) and operas (The Villain of the Village, Moss Rose, Anna Karenina, The Mask). His opera The Violin Maker of Cremona (premiered in 1894 in Budapest) proved to be a world success, performed on several dozen stages throughout Europe within a single decade. It was the first Hungarian opera to be performed outside Europe (New York, 1898). The famous violin solo of the 2nd act was often played by the composer himself behind the scenes.The main work of Hubay is the cantata entitled Ara pacis (The Altar of the Peace), composed between 1915 and 1937 to the poem Hymn of Peace by Romain Rolland. Because of its pacifist message, the piece was banned during the Second World War; after six decades, the orchestra and choir of the Hungarian Radio premiered it at the Conservatory of Budapest in 2000 with László Kovács conducting.

Information sourced from the Hubay Music Hall, Budapest. To read more about Jenő Hubay, listen to some of his music, and find out about upcoming music events, please visit the Hubay Music Hall’s website at www.hubaymusichall.com.

Details, Details …

Nearly 70 percent of the buildings in Budapest were destroyed in 1945, when the Soviets fought the Nazis over control of the city. Despite that sad fact, much of the beauty of the past remains. Here is just a very small sampling of some of the architectural details that one might spot while walking the streets of historic Budapest.

Detail of St. Stevens Basilica

Mosaic at Aulich utca 9, in Budapest's 5th District

Building detail near St. Stevens basilica

Soviet detail on 5th district building

Mural on Budapest building. (Image courtesy of Scott Warren)

Detail on lamp post at State Opera House

Detail on building in District V

Detail on Museum of Hungarian Agriculture

Detail on Castle Hill

Detail on State Opera House

Mosaic of the Dual Monarchy Coat of Arms

Detail on Nador street apartment building

Detail on building on Andrassy Blvd

Schooled in Bartók

This week our dear friends Dr. William Doyle (Bill) and his wife Wendy Stockstill have come to visit from Southern California. Bill is a music professor, and Wendy teaches art history at the college level, and we’re just having the best time perusing the museums with experts in the fields of music and art. The first museum we visited in Budapest was the Béla Bartók Memorial House. Bill did his dissertation on Bartók, so visiting the museum with him was like having a personal tour guide. Bill explained that Bartók (1881-1945) is considered one of the greatest geniuses of Hungarian music (the other being Franz Liszt). He composed music with more dissident sounds than traditional classical music, and in so doing introduced the world to the beginnings of contemporary music. Today, his piano music is one of the basics for any beginning piano student pursuing classical studies. His Mikrokosmos is a series of beginning piano pieces that are truly delightful for children, as the pieces progressively grow more difficult. (Listen to a sample below.)

Béla Bartók's desk at his namesake Memorial House in Budapest. Note the gramophone, which he used to record Hungarian folk music in the countryside.

Bartók was also very proud of his nationality, traveling to the Hungarian countryside with a gramophone to record the regional folk music. Back at home in Budapest—which is now the site of the memorial museum—Bartók took to rearranging the music in such a way that it became something new without losing its uniquely Hungarian flavor. Bill explained that the process was not unlike taking the words of a language and composing them in such a way that it becomes a new story, basically using familiar vocabulary but in a fresh arrangement.

The memorial museum is outfitted with the original furnishings from when Bartók and his family lived in the house during the 1930s. It also includes many of his personal effects, such as photographs, letters, and items from various collections, which include insects, sea shells, dried flowers, and gems and minerals.

The museum is located way off the beaten path in an upscale residential neighborhood on the Buda side of town. We all enjoy moving our legs, but we elected to take a taxi instead of walking an hour and 20 minutes from the Margaret Bridge on the Pest side. It’s well worth the visit for any music lover. When selecting a home, Bartók insisted on the greatest possible quietness situated within “healthy” neighborhood. His requirements are still present today. Steps to the home lead though a lush garden with trees that provide cool shade in the summer. Inside, guests are greeted by a docent who will walk you through the house, pointing out select items along the tour, say, a certain piece of furniture, like the desk in Bartók’s study where he composed some of his music, or the black and white photo of him sitting cross-legged on the floor and wearing a pair of sandals. My only complaint about the house is that there are none of Bartók’s compositions playing in the background. I imagine Bartók himself would be thrilled by the unadulterated silence of the memorial house. I, however, am thrilled that the memorial house hosts small 120-seat concerts during the spring and summer (check website for dates, times, and prices). Entrance is 1,000 HUF per person, 500 HUF for students. The Memorial House is open between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.; closed on Mondays. On concert days, the museum opens at 12 p.m. It will be closed from August 1-23, 2010. — Jessica Tudzin


Dr. Doyle taking a picture of Bartok's shell collection.

Statue of Bela Bartok on the tree-shaded grounds of the Memorial House.


Béla Bartók (1881-1945):
From Mikrokosmos, Progressive Piano Pieces vol. VI:
140. Free Variations (Variations libres/Freie Variationen). Allegro molto
142. From the Diary of a Fly (Ce que la mouche raconte/Aus dem Tagebuch einer Fliege). Allegro
149. From Six Dances in Bulgarian Rhythm (Six dances bulgares/Sechs Tänze in bulgarischen Rhythmen): no. 2
Béla Bartók, piano
Recorded in 1940.
Courtesy of Erwin.

$100 Million Holocaust Art Claim Filed Against Hungary

St Andrew, Francisco de Zubaran. Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

The heirs to the Herzog Collection, the largest private art collection in Hungary prior to World War II, filed suit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia late yesterday to seek the return of artworks they claim were illegally held by Hungary since the Holocaust. They further claim that Hungary, a WWII-era ally of Nazi Germany that organized the dispossession, seizure, deportation, and eventual deaths of more than 500,000 Jews, exploited the fact that the family had been forced to flee Hungary as a result of Hungary‟s acts of genocide in order to retain or reacquire possession of the family‟s artworks at the end of the war.

The Herzog Collection

The Herzog family‟s lawsuit seeks the return from Hungary, three of its state-owned museums, and one state-owned university of over 40 works with a combined value over $100 million, including masterworks by El Greco, Francisco de Zurbarán, and Lucas Cranach the Elder. Regarded by art experts as the world‟s largest unresolved Holocaust art claim, the case is the culmination of a decades-long effort by three generations of Herzog heirs to recover their family‟s property.

The works come from the collection of Baron Mór Lipót Herzog, a passionate Jewish art collector whose daughter married into the de Csepel family, one of the most influential industrialist families in pre-WWII Hungary. After Baron Herzog‟s death in 1934 the collection remained intact with his wife, and after her passing in 1940 was divided among their three children, Erzsébet (Elizabeth), István (Steven) and András (Andrew), who intended to continue their father‟s legacy as a patron of the arts.

Nazi-Era Looting and Aftermath

When Germany occupied Hungary in 1944, the Third Reich dispatched the notorious Adolf Eichmann to orchestrate the annihilation of the Jews of Hungary and the plunder of their personal property and treasures. Within a matter of months, Hungarian Jews were deprived of their freedom and property, and nearly half a million Jews living on the countryside were transported by Hungarian security forces to their deaths in German concentration camps. The Hungarian government already had enacted a law requiring Jews to deposit their art with the government for “safe keeping.” The Herzog Collection, one of the most splendid in Europe, was inspected personally by Eichmann, who designated certain works for shipment to Germany. The remainder were left in Hungary‟s possession or looted by others.Stripped of their belongings and fearing for their lives, the surviving members of the Herzog family were forced to flee Hungary or face extermination. Parts of the family immigrated to the United States, while others escaped to South America or remained in Europe.

The Holy Family with St Anne, El Greco. Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

In the years immediately following World War II, Hungary and its museums were responsible for safeguarding artworks that had been seized during the war, including those recovered in the territories of the Third Reich and returned to Hungary, until their owners could be identified and located. Instead of returning the artworks to their rightful owners as required by Hungary‟s 1947 peace treaty with the Allies, the museums managed to avoid turning over physical possession of most of the Herzog Collection. Instead, they attempted to extract substantial fees to cover the “cost” of recovering the art from the Third Reich and denied export permits to the Herzog family members who had fled Hungary during the Holocaust. In the rare instances where the government offered to return art to Herzog family representatives in Hungary, Hungarian government officials subjected those representatives to harassment, including false smuggling allegations, until they had no choice but to agree to allow the artworks to be “returned” to the museums for “safekeeping.”

Attempts at Restitution

With the opening of Hungary to the West in 1989, the Herzog heirs started making inquiries and learned that many pieces of their art collection were being openly exhibited, hanging on the walls of the Hungarian National Gallery and the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest. The tags under the paintings identified them as “From the Herzog Collection.” The family attempted to retrieve their artworks through negotiations with Hungary‟s post-communist government. Although the Hungarian government recognized the family‟s ownership rights to the artworks, negotiations were unsuccessful. After several years of negotiations, Martha Nierenberg, the daughter of Erzsébet (Herzog) Weiss de Csepel, saw no choice but to pursue legal proceedings in Hungary to recover a portion of the Herzog Collection. She was joined in that effort by then-Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT), Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), and the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA), among others, who appealed to the Hungarian government to return the treasured Herzog Collection to its owners. Hungary has rebuffed or ignored all such requests despite the fact that prior to many of those requests, at the 1998 Washington Conference, it pledged that it was “fully committed to the restitution or compensation of Holocaust victims concerning cultural assets” and that it would appoint a commissioner to manage the task. Twelve years later, no commissioner has been named, nothing of consequence has been returned to the Jews from whom it was taken, and works from the Herzog Collection continue to be displayed prominently, and profitably, at Hungary‟s state-owned museums.

“It would be so simple for the government to make this right, but our struggle goes on,” said Martha Nierenberg, the daughter of Erzsébet (Herzog) Weiss de Csepel, who fled the Holocaust with her family in 1944 and has championed efforts for the return of the collection. “I hope this lawsuit will restore what was lost to my family and has been held hostage by the government of Hungary for more than half a century.”

“In the area of Holocaust restitution, the government of Hungary has been a particularly bad actor,” said Michael S. Shuster of Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman LLP, the lead attorney

in the Herzog lawsuit. “Hungary attempts to portray itself as a nation worthy of our respect and investment, while refusing to comply with its basic obligations under international law. In contrast to Hungary, Germany returned artworks from the Herzog Collection to the Herzog heirs this spring without the need for legal action. We had no choice but to bring the Herzog family„s claim before a U.S. court.”

The case, spearheaded by plaintiff David de Csepel, the grandson of Erzsébet (Herzog) Weiss de Csepel, is filed just as Hungary has concluded a year-long cultural program in the United States. The program, known as “Extremely Hungary,” contained no references to the mass genocide of its Jewish citizens during the Hungarian Holocaust or the gruesome manner in which the government acquired some of the most significant artistic pieces in its possession and failed to acknowledge its crimes against humanity. — Information provided by Herzog family.For more information about the family and their art collection, please visit the Herzog family website at www.hungarylootedart.com

Mucha’s Slav Epic Not Moving to Prague — Just Yet

For months, the family of the Czech Art Nouveau painter Alfons Mucha has been fighting an ongoing drama with the Prague Municipal Gallery over who legally owns the artist’s work, the Slav Epic. The murals—20 in all depicting the history of Slavs from its dawn to a future of hope—are currently housed in a chateau in Moravsky Krumlov, located a four-hour drive outside of Prague. After World War II, the murals where brought to the chateau in a very poor state, and eventually restored and put on public display at the chateau.

Mucha had hoped that by depicting historically significant episodes from the Slavic past, he would teach future generations a lesson in integrity, bravery, idealism, and faith. He bequeathed the series of monumental murals, which took 20 years to complete, to the city of Prague back in 1928 — but on the condition that the murals would be displayed in a pavilion specially built to accommodate them. The Prague Municipal Gallery, however, wants the works returned to the city where they have plans to display them at the Veletrzni Palace, which shares space with the city’s National Gallery. Mucha’s heirs contest that the condition of the deed has not been met, and therefore the murals should remain in the care of the family, who also operates the Mucha Foundation. According to Radio Prague, the Prague Municipal Gallery was prepared to move the Slav Epic at noon today to its new proposed home, but all such plans were suspended at the last minute by the township of Moravsky Krumlov until the legal problem with the deed is solved. Happily, visitors may continue to view Mucha’s Slav Epic in Moravsky Krumlov.

But if you happen to be in Prague between now and September 31, 2010, be sure to check out the Alfons Mucha exhibit called the Apotheosis of Love, showing, curiously enough at the Prague Municipal Gallery. The exhibit includes photos, studies, and works that belonged in the private collection of Mucha’s heirs and has never been publicly exhibited until now. It also includes some of his most popular works, including Gismonda, the lithograph (proof print no. 1) of Sarah Bernhardt that made Alfons Mucha famous. I had the opportunity to see the exhibit in early July, and it is indeed impressive! I was particularly fascinated with Mucha’s use of the camera to capture the poses of his subjects. Give yourself at least two hours to peruse the works of art, about a hundred items total, and watch the short documentary. Beginning in October, that exhibit will travel throughout the Czech Republic. –Jessica Tudzin

Sarah Bernhardt in Gismonda, the piece that made Alfons Mucha famous.

Model posing in Mucha's studio, Paris, 1902. One of several photographs that can be seen at the Apotheosis of Love exhibit. Photo sourced from http://revolutsiya.wordpress.com.

Midsummer Magyar

It’s raining in Budapest today—a welcome relief from the humid summer heat. But it got me to thinking: we’re already halfway though summer. I’m finding that every season here brings its own rewards, but I wanted to reflect a little bit on this fleeting season, which thus far has brought us, among other things, al fresco dining, festivals and public concerts, late-night excuses for gelato on the steps of St. Stephen’s Cathedral, weekends at Lake Balaton, hours spent at public pools, and sunset boat rides on the Danube. I offer below some images from my midsummer Magyar photo album, knowing the best of summer is still yet to come. — Jessica



Jugendstil Bookplates

The bookplate or ex libris has put bread and butter on many an artist’s table, and over the course of time has developed into a flourishing art form all of its own. I don’t pretend to know very much about the history and development of ex libris, but seem to have acquired some anyway. I think this little group of Austrian, Czech and German bookplates of the Jugendstil (Art Nouveau) period are particularly charming. They come from the Vienna art revue Die Graphischen Künste, from the years 1911, 1912, and 1914. — Neil Philip

Neil Philip is a writer who also runs the online original print gallery Idbury Prints. Among his books are Mythology (with Philip Wilkinson), English Folktales, The Cinderella Story, Victorian Village Life, and The New Oxford Book of Children’s Verse. He also published two collections of original poetry, Holding the World Together and The Cardinal Directions. All text and photographs on this post are copyright © Neil Philip. Copyright in the artworks remains with the artists or their estates. Read more from Neil Philip on his blog, Adventures in the Print Trade.

Maximilian Liebenwein (Austrian, 1869-1926) Ex libris Josef Kundrat Lithograph, 1910

Maximilian Liebenwein Ex libris Karl Stark Lithograph, 1910

Maximilian Liebenwein Ex libris der Verbindung von Wiener Kunstakademikern “Athenaia” Lithograph, 1910

Martha Hofrichter (Czech, 1872-1960) Ex libris Anna Boeck Lithograph, c.1914

Alfred Cossman Ex libris Franz J. Kaiser Etching. c.1912

Alois Kolb (Austrian, 1875-1942) Ex libris Gertrud Kolb Etching, c.1914

Rudolf Junk (Austrian, 1880-1943) Ex libris Rudolf Junk Lithograph, c.1914

Arnošt Hofbauer (Czech, 1869-1944) Ex libris Leopold Heyrovsky Lithograph, c.1914

Emil Orlik (Czech, 1870-1932) Ex libris Martha Poensgen Lithograph, c.1914

Felix Hollenberg (German, 1868-1945) Ex libris Albert Gussmann Etching, c.1914

Alfred Cossmann (Austrian, 1870-1951) Ex libris Arthur Graf Etching, c.1912

Alfred Cossmann (Austrian, 1870-1951) Ex libris Arthur Graf Etching, c.1912



SoHo House Opens in Berlin

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Located in Berlin’s bohemian Mitte district, the newly opened SoHo House used to be a Jewish department store before Hitler’s Nazi regime claimed the space and converted it into a youth “House of Unity.”  Now it houses a stylish 40-room hotel and private club where Euro jetsetters can lounge on the rooftop pool, relax in the Cowshed spa, or dine at Cecconi’s while mingling with a young creative community. For those not cool enough to get a a private membership, room rates at the hotel for nonmembers start at US$130. –Terena Thyne Eisner

Read more: http://wandermelon.com/2010/05/11/soho-house-opens-in-berlin/#ixzz0uVbNCJlU



Scenes from Buda’s Historic Castle Hill

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Its great courtyards and southern and western facades, which are not visible from the Danube and from the Pest side, have good 18th-century details and proportions, Baroque rather than classical, in the Austrian manner (it was said that Franz Josef had insisted on that). It would soon have a fine terrace above the river, around the equestrian statue of Prince Eugene of Savoy, whose armies reconquered Buda from the Turks in 1686.” Budapest 1900: A Historical Portrait of a City & its Culture, by John Lukacs.

All images except Mátyás Church, by Jessica Tudzin.

The Royal Palace, originally built on the remnants of a 15th-century Gothic fortress by the Habsburgs in 1905. The palace was destroyed during the Siege of Budapest in 1945, later to be rebuilt after the war. During reconstruction, workers discovered the ruins of the medieval fortress, which were left untouched and can still be seen throughout the grounds today.

Church of St Mary Magdalene, built in the mid-13th century. During the Turkish occupation, it served as a mosque. The church was severely damaged during the liberation of Buda from the Turks. Afterwards, an order of Franciscan monks reconstructed the church and tower in the Baroque style, only to be severely damaged again in 1945. Today in partial ruins, the Church of St. Mary Magdalene sits empty within a memorial park.

While Hungarian Christians worshipped at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene, the town's German population worshipped at the 13th-century Parish Church of Our Lady Mary, known more popularly as Mátyás Church (Sometimes spelled in the Anglicized Matthias). Its name is derived from King Mátyás Corvinus, who is responsible for enlarging the church during the 15th century. Like its counterpart shown above, Mátyás Church had been converted into a mosque during the Turkish occupation. In the late 18th-century it was restored to a church in the neo-Gothic style. Today, colorful ceramic tiles made by the famed Szolnay ceramics factory in the 20th century adorn the roof. Photo courtesy of the Four Seasons Gresham Palace.

The former Ministry of Defense bears the scars of the 1945 Siege of Budapest, where Soviet forces fought the Nazis and eventually took control of the city. The battle lasted 102 days and nearly 70 percent of Budapest was destroyed or severely damaged. All seven bridges linking Buda to the Pest side were damaged. Contrary to what many guide books suggest, most of the damage from that era has been repaired. The former Ministry of Defense has been left untouched and sits on Castle Hill as a reminder of the city's turbulent WWII past.

Built in 1895, when the city was experiencing a construction boom, the Fisherman's Bastion was built solely for decoration to commemorate the fishermen who once sold fish on the banks of the Danube. The bastion affords panoramic views to the Pest side.

Statue of St. Stephens, Hungary's first king. The statue is located within Holy Trinity Square, alongside the Fisherman's Bastion and Mátyás Church.

Vintage military vehicle parked near the neo-Romanesque building that houses the State Archive of Historic Documents.

Holy Trinity Column, built in 1713 during the Baroque era as a memorial to the plague victims. The column is made of limestone and depicts at its base King David praying for an end to the plague. Crowning the top are the Holy Trinity, surrounded by clouds and angels.

The cobblestoned street of Tancsics leads to The State Archive of Historic Documents building. Much of the 19th-century Germanic architecture on Castle Hill was spared damage during the WWII era.

Detail on building on Castle Hill.

Statue of Falconer set within the Royal Palace.

Medieval wall uncovered on Castle Hill.



Tale of the Old Town Clock

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If you’ve been following this blog over the last few weeks, you know that I recently took a trip to Prague, aka the City of a Hundred Spires. It was my first trip to this grand Bohemian city, but it will definitely not be my last. I absolutely fell in love with it! Of course, I loved the architecture, which ranged from 1900′s art nouveau buildings in the Jewish Quarter to the 1000-year-old gothic cathedral of St. Vitus. I fell in love also with the city’s palatial gardens, the plethora of museums, and the late-harvest Czech wines. But what I found most appealing were the stories, many of them not unlike those of the dark tales told by the Brothers Grimm. With centuries of stories handed down to them, the Czechs have evolved to become natural storytellers, spinning yarns that include people getting thrown out of windows and off bridges, of a mute half-human creature walking the old Jewish ghetto, and of a mad medieval ruler who roasted his personal chef alive on a spit. Some of the stories are fantasy, many, however, are true–and the ones that cannot be verified are called legends. But some of those legends are so detailed, based on actual events and people who lived during the time, one suspects there is more truth than fiction behind them. The Legend of the Old Town Clock is one of those that come to mind.

Recorded by the Czech historical novelist Alois Jirásek (1851-1930), the story revolves around the Astronomical Clock, located in the heart of Prague, on the building of the Old Town Hall. The setting is the late 15th century, shortly after a master clockmaker and mathematician by the name of Master Hanus (born Jan Z. Ruze) improved upon the existing town clock. It had been a simple one, originally built by clockmaker Mikulas of Kadan around the year 1410. Hanus, however, transformed the clock into a curiosity, adding more than a dozen statuettes, including a skeleton that not only marked each hour by pulling a rope, but, with a running hourglass clutched in its boney hand, also served as a constant reminder that all living things grow closer to the grave. There were also medieval stereotypes: a Turk who shook his head, a Jewish moneylender who shook a money pouch, and a man who gazed vainly into a mirror. Each hour on the hour,  two small windows above the magnificent dial would open, revealing a procession of 12 apostles, each one, as it rotated passed an open window, bowing to the town’s people below. After the last two apostles took their bows, the windows closed and a mechanical crow would cluck, followed by the bell towers chiming in the hour. In the medieval mind, the earth was firmly fixed in the center of the universe, and thus, Hanus imitated on the clock’s dial the orbits of the sun and moon around the earth. In addition to measuring Bohemian and Babylonian time, the clock also showed the movement of the sun and moon through the 12 zodiac signs. The unusual clock drew crowds from near and far away lands. They filled the Old Town Square, standing on tiptoe, craning their necks, eyes glued to the golden circles that made up the clock’s various dials. Indeed, Prague’s Town Hall clock was the envy of Europe – and the eventual demise of poor Master Hanus.

The story goes that the clock abruptly stopped running in 1497. This, according to legend, did not happen by chance. The town’s councilors enjoyed the status that the clock had brought the city, but they also feared that Master Hanus would recreate his masterpiece in another city, despite the fact that he pledged an oath that he would never betray Prague by doing such a thing. Sadly, Master Hanus’s word was not enough to ease the suspicion in the minds of the councilors, so they hatched an evil plan. Late one night, while Master Hanus worked diligently by the light of his fireplace, three hooded men broke into his home. The men gagged the clockmaker and dragged him toward the smoldering fire, where two of them held him down while the third blinded his eyes with a red-hot poker.

After their heinous act, the men wrapped a bandage around Master Hanus’s head and left him to fend for himself. Miraculously, Hanus survived, but not after suffering delirious fever and later deep depression. For the longest time, he could not understand who would ever want to do such thing to an aging clockmaker like himself. He was guilty of nothing other than taking care of the town’s beloved clock. But, as the legend states, Hanus found out the truth and revenge fell on his heart. In his blinded state, he found his way to the Town Hall to visit with his beautiful clock one last time. There, he managed to convince his way into the inner workings of the clock, explaining that wanted to adjust the weights so the clock would run more smoothly. But instead perfecting perfection, Master Hanus manipulated the machinery–as though he could see clearly–and ceased the clock just as the skeletal figure of Death began to pull its rope to mark the hour. As the clock stopped, so too did Hanus’s heart. He collapsed from a massive heart attack, taking with him to the grave the secrets to repair the clock. For the next 80 years, the Town Hall clock had told no time. — Jessica Tudzin



Summer Nights in B-Town

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Royal Palace on Museum Night 2010. Castle Hill was beautifully lit for the occasion. All the museums in town, about 120 in all, were open until 3 am.

The Chain Bridge taken on a boat from my iPhone. Sorry for the blur. I thought it was a pretty shot.

Royal Palace at Night. On our walk home from a local cafe, we stopped and took this picture on my Canon G10.

Romantic Night by the Danube. This was from the same batch as the previous photo. Love the couple on the bench.

Lion's Gate Courtyard on Museum Night 2010. The place is impressive during the day, but on Museum Night, WHOA!

Museum Night 2010. Here come the crowds. What can I say? We live in a very cultured city.

Psychedelic Museum Night by Scott Warren. The techno-rock gives the castle an outdoor club feel.

Museums are closing. Time to hit one of those clubs that takes over abandoned buildings; very popular here in Budapest. Seems a lot of people ride their bikes here.

Photo essay by Jessica Tudzin. Featured Lion’s Gate image by fellow expat Scott Warren.

Motoring and Shooting Through Central and Eastern Europe

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Dr. Carl (left) and his travel partner, Chuck

Dr. Carl Richards and his longtime childhood friend, Chuck Kemmerer, are currently traveling through Central and Eastern Europe in a rented camper, stopping and “making” pictures along the way (Carl took 10,000 pictures on a similar trip back in 2006). The two retired Americans recently stopped by Budapest on their way to the Croatian coast. Below is an excerpt from Carl’s travel journal, touching on his passion for travel photography and what motivates him to shoot so many pictures.

The stairway to the castle with its overhead shade was a cool respite from the midday Budapest sun, but the toll it took on our 70-plus-year-old legs wasn’t an even trade off. Yet the fact that Chuck and I were here at all on a free-winged motor home sojourn through Central Europe was the ultimate reward.  Actually a repeat performance of our 2006 European tour.  We downsized this time to a VW bus-sized, shoulder rubbing, bumping-into-one-another camper, which we concluded actually suited our situation much better than the trucklike vehicle we had before.

Retirement has its rewards we figured, and this trip is one of them.  Coupled with an insatiable wanderlust and perhaps an overblown sense of youth, we planned to plow our way through the Czech Republic, Hungary, Croatia, Italy, Austria and Germany.  The watchword was spontaneity and we were ready for it.  Wherever our camper would take us, we would follow.

And today it had taken us to Budapest and delivered us into the hands of our generous hosts and guides, Jessi and Allan Tudzin, who gave us 100 percent of their time and 200 percent of their hospitality.  We couldn’t have asked for more, and besides, we could use the help.

Royal Palace on Buda Hill

The Royal Palace was an eye-popping experience.  This scale of size and wealth is so foreign to most Americans.  The grand estates in Rhode Island, or the Biltmore in North Carolina, or San Simeon in California come to mind, but fail to match up.

We snapped picture after picture, knowing that our wives would be relieved with the digital format we were using.  No longer would we endure the question: “Do you really need another picture of that?”  Considering that our passion is photography, and our quest is to capture as much of Europe in images seen through our eyes, the answer would be yes.

Each night back in the camper we busy ourselves with loading our pictures from our cameras into our little computer.  The convenience of electricity in our camper and the miracle of our little computer enable us to continue our work flow.  Night after night, picture after picture accumulate on our hard drives: one to record and one to back up.

And we have Photoshop, thank goodness, to polish our images, even while sitting in our little camper.  All digital images require some computer processing, sometimes only to remove noise from the image or sharpen focus, but usually require more.

Bohemian Ink's Jessica Tudzin plays local travel guide for Dr. Carl and his friend Chuck.

We decided to shoot raw this trip, which you might think would get us arrested in some parts of the southern U.S., but it’s really not as risqué as it sounds.  Most digital cameras process the photo in camera using criteria devised by the camera designer, to adjust brightness or color or contrast — it’s all according to one’s individual tastes.  Conversely, shooting raw captures all of the photographic information that falls on the photo sensor without altering it in camera.  That privilege is afforded to us self-proclaimed, self-styled pros, or so we like to think.  Actually, it does make for better pictures, even in our hands.

And then there’s the purist who asks if it’s really legitimate to touch up a picture in Photoshop, to which I ask if it’s legitimate to put on makeup and dress in your finest clothes?  Anyway, who says that the camera’s eye is so accurate as to capture the scene faithfully?  A scene captured by a Kodak Brownie (if you remember that camera, I know how old you are) looks different than the same scene captured by a German Leica (a very expensive camera, as you might guess).  Which picture is legitimate?  Which is representative?  Regardless, we’re here to “make” pictures, not to “take” them. Each one, an endorphin-releasing balm that sooths our wanderlust generated from years of the regimented lives of one doctor and one movie industry professional.  It’s the “when the cat’s away” syndrome — and our cat has flown!

Life camping contributes to our mission: no wasted time looking for hotels, packing and unpacking, or getting familiar with new surroundings. Like a turtle, our home is on our back.  It’s a test of friendship, of sorts.  If at the end of three weeks in a small camper, you’re both still alive, you have an enduring friendship.  After six weeks, as on our last trip in 2006, you’re almost wedded.

And a word should be said about our wives, those sweet and tolerant women who, though not able or wanting to go, suggested that we, Chuck and Carl, go.  In this age of email we can keep in daily touch.  We call it correspondence.  They may call it keeping tabs.

Camper traveling is a matter of negotiation.  We could be considered the yin and yang of travel.  Chuck is the gas, and I am the brakes.  Chuck is thinking the next several steps while I’m trying to cope with the present.  But the peaks and the valleys smooth out with a little negotiation.  Two days in Budapest give way to three, and one route changes to another.

So the stage is set, and the route begins with Prague, followed by Budapest, followed by Croatia, and wherever the camper takes us. — Dr. Carl Richards

Stay tuned for an upcoming photo essay from Dr. Carl and Chuck’s trip.

Featured image by Joseph Clark (twitter: Jsclarkfl).

This is copyrighted material. Please respect copyright law and email BI for permission to reproduce in whole or in part any portion of BI content. Thank you. jessicat@bohemianink.net



Basel Readies for Fin-de-Siècle Vienna

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The Fondation Beyeler in Basel, Switzerland is preparing to host a large-scale thematic exhibition on Viennese Secessionist art (1897-1918), featuring some of Gustav Klimt’s most important works, and may include his Frauenbildnis (Portrait of Ria Munk III), which recently sold at a Christie’s auction for £18,801,250 (approximately $30.3 million USD).

The presentation—called VIENNA 1900: Klimt, Schiele and their Times—will also include the works of Klimt’s young protégé, Egon Schiele, as well as the early works and architectural photos and designs of Josef Hoffmann, Otto Wagner, Koloman Moser, and Joseph Maria Olbrich.

The principle lender to the exhibition is the Leopold Museum in Vienna, which means those who visit Vienna from mid-September through the end of January 2011, will not see the museum’s Gustav Klimt collection in its entirety. (The largest Gustav Klimt collection, however, remains at the Belvedere, also located in Vienna, and includes the famous painting The Kiss.)

Visitors of Fondation Beyeler will also see a selection of Secessionist furniture, ceramics, silver, and textiles from the Wiener Werkstätte shops.Other important lenders include the Albertina and the Belvdere, Vienna, the Neue Galerie and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Stiftung Sammlung Kamm at the Kunsthaus Zug. — Jessica Tudzin

VIENNA 1900: Klimt, Schiele and their Times
September 26, 2010 – January 16, 2011
Opening hours 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, Wednesdays until 8 p.m.
Fondation Beyeler, www.fondationbeyeler.ch


Goldfish, by Gustav Klimt

Judith, by Gustav Klimt

Frauenbildnis, by Gustav Klimt

Self Portrait, Egon Schiele

Weibliches Liebespaar, Egon Schiele





Lennon vs Lenin

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John Lennon Wall, Prague

Within hours of John Lennon’s tragic death on December 8th, 1980, a graffitied mural of the musician appeared on a wall in Prague. It was soon followed with flowers and spray-painted odes to Lennon and the Beatles. As one would expect, producing graffiti was an extremely daring feat in the former Soviet-ruled Czechoslovakia – to say nothing of spray painting images of a Western pop icon whose musical lyrics imagined a world of peace, love, and freedom. Such an act was considered “subversive activities against the state,” punishable by imprisonment. Still, the need for the human spirit to express itself is too great to restrain. In a country that had no free press or freedom of speech, the John Lennon Wall gradually  became a place for young pacifists to air their grievances about communism throughout the 1980s.

These clever young Czechs— who identified more with John Lennon than Vladimir Lenin—began calling themselves followers of Lennonism. Naturally, the state officials took a dim view to their brand of public art and the wall was repeatedly whitewashed, only to have the graffiti reappear again the very next day. Curiously enough, the graffiti continued even after overnight guards and surveillance cameras were stationed by the wall.

After the collapse of communism in 1989, the wall has fallen into the ownership of the Knights of the Maltese Cross, and is no longer considered an intolerance.  The wall now receives visitors daily and the spray painting continues, but instead of grievances the message has returned to that of peace. Yoko Ono herself visited the Lennon Wall back in the 90s and even painted a message of her own. Her message is long gone now, under layers of paint left by other graffiti artists.

To visit the wall, go to the tiny side streets of Velkoprevorske Namesti and Mala Strana in Prague’s Lesser Town. It located directly across from the French Embassy (whose members may or may not have smuggled in Beatles music during the communist era – we’ll never know.) – Jessica Tudzin

This is copyrighted material. Please respect copyright and email BI for permission to reproduce in whole or in part any portion of BI content. Thank you. jessicat@bohemianink.net

Double click on images to see full size. Images by Jessica Tudzin.



Going Underground: Hospital in the Rock

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Hospital in the Rock, tunnel construction in 1944. Image by "Riadó" Civil Defense News.

Last Sunday,  I stumbled upon one of Budapest’s best kept secrets. In fact, it actually was once a top-secret underground bunker that high-ranking members of the Communist party planned to use in the event of a nuclear attack. It’s outfitted with a war room, gas masks, air filters, a decontamination unit with showers, and a water supply system using water that would have been pumped from the Danube. But this secret place — located deep inside Castle Hill, 50 feet down in a series of linked caves not too far from the Royal Palace — has a history that goes back much further than just the Cold War. Indeed, the caves are natural, etched out several thousand years ago by the underground springs that run under what is now known as Castle Hill. This natural cave system was once used as living quarters by some of the region’s earliest peoples, which at one time included the Celts. Even as late as the 13th century, people were known to inhabit the caves.

Original medical equipment from the Hospital in the Rock, Budapest. Image by Ali1234

Most interesting, however, is that the cave system — which was made larger by manually linking several smaller caves together — was once the home of a WW II secret military hospital, complete with an operating room, hospital beds, generators, an x-ray machine, and an arsenal of medical equipment. The tiny hospital in the rock was filled beyond capacity with about 650 patients during the 102-day Siege of Budapest in 1944. (It was built to accommodate up to 60 patients with a staff of 200.) Because supplies were running so scarce, when one patient died from his wounds, his bandages were taken off and put on another. Surgeons were often operating on more than one patient at a time, and those who did not survive were stored in bomb crates. But life began here, too; a girl and six boys were born at Sziklakórház, the official name of the hospital.

Entrance to Sziklakórház, Hospital in the Rock, 1944. Image from "Riado" Civil Defense News

Ward room with wax figures within the Hospital in the Rock. Image by Ali1234.

In 1956, the caves once again opened as a hospital when a group of protestors sparked a 12-day revolution against Soviet Totalitarianism, known simply as the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. Again, it was a devastatingly bloody moment in Budapest history, with Soviet tanks rolling into the city and soldiers gunning down citizens. In all, there were about 2,000 deaths and innumerable injuries.

Since 2007, the caves have been an off-the-beaten path stop for curious locals and tourists in the know. Tours are available in several languages and run about an hour. As word gets out, it won’t be a secret long, especially when people find out that original gas masks and first aid kits from the hospital can still be purchased as souvenirs. — Jessica Tudzin

Hospital in the Rock, www.sziklakorhaz.hu



Austria’s Wachau Wine Country

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During the Third Crusade, in an act he would regret, Britain’s King Richard I, also known as Richard the Lionhearted, uprooted Austria’s flag and tossed it to the ground, deeply insulting Austria’s Duke Leopold V. Some time later, as Richard traveled incognito through Austria, the bitter Leopold captured and imprisoned him in Kuenringerburg castle located above the Danube, in Lower Austria’s Wachau Valley.

Despite a long history of such rivalries, political intrigues, and conflict, the region today is a welcoming place, particularly during the summer months, when sunny, mild weather brings the landscape alive and the apricot trees are heavy with fruit.

Throughout the tranquil towns in the Wachau Valley, remarkably well-preserved remnants of the Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque periods accent the landscape. Set aside time to explore the region’s abundant medieval castles, elaborate abbeys, and other cultural sites.

Outdoor pursuits, such as cycling the riverbank’s bike path, golfing, tennis, horseback riding, white-water rafting, fishing, and rowing, make the Wachau an active vacationer’s paradise. But rest and relaxation are easily found in Wachau, too. Take in the incredible vistas from a gardened restaurant terrace or a romantic riverboat excursion, or simply stroll one of the many narrow cobblestoned roads. For altogether different reasons than Richard the Lionhearted, you will find the Wachau Valley a captivating experience.

by Jessica (Taylor) Tudzin. Originally published in Robb Report magazine, May 2003: Wachau Valley

Video compliments of Wines from Austria, www.winesfromaustria.com

Featured image by Walter Hochauer.



Where’s Budapest?

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A year ago, when my husband Allan asked me what I thought about moving from Los Angeles to Budapest, I must admit, I knew very little about Hungary and its capital city. Would we be moving to some exotic place, rich with Turkish and Eastern influences, a place similar to, say, Istanbul? Or would Hungary, with its various wine countries and mighty Danube River, be the Eastern European answer to the West’s Rhone Valley?  Or would it bear the wounds from the past, a bleak and pale satellite of the former Soviet Union, full of waddling babushkas and dilapidated communist-era buildings? I simply had no idea what to expect. I soon found out that I was far from alone in my lack of knowledge about Budapest, which is actually understandable since most Americans have been taught very little about societies that once existed behind the Iron Curtain. Up until 1989, all we really knew about these former Soviet-controlled countries was that they were impoverished, oppressive, and foreboding. Sadly, that perception still lingers. As I began to talk about our move to various friends and acquaintances–many of whom are well-read, well-traveled, or both–the responses bordered on comical, if not conciliatory.

“Too bad you’re moving to Eastern Europe instead of Western Europe.”

“At least you’ll be close to Prague.”

“It’s not something I would do, but I can understand why you would want to.”

“I hate Eastern Europe.”

“Are you moving to Buda or Pest; one’s better than the other.”

“Good luck being a vegetarian there!”

“Be safe.”

And my absolute favorite: “Where’s Budapest?”

Clearly, Budapest does not top most people’s list of “Places to See Before I Die”. It’s more of an after-thought destination, a place where travelers pass through on the way to or from some place else. And that’s a pity. To my ever-growing delight, Budapest has turned out to be a warm and vibrant city, beautified by fin-de-siecle architecture, public parks, and monuments—and boasting a culture rich with cafes, restaurants, music, art, and wine. In fact, ask any Hungarian what other nationality they most identify with, and they are most apt to say the Italians, as they both share a similar joi de vie.

Some people may be turned off by the idea that Hungary is completely landlocked—by Slovakia to the north, the Ukraine to the northeast, Romania to the southeast, Serbia and Croatia to the south, and Slovenia and Austria to the west. But trust me, with an abundance of natural springs and the mighty Danube flowing through its very center, there is no shortage of water here.

During the early winter months, the city bristles with holiday energy and sparkling lights, followed by several months of short days and heaps of snow. For the expat living here, the season may take some getting used to. Once you get the lay of the land, however, winter can take on its own special rhythm that might include visits to the theater, nights of jazz and art at the city’s various museums, perhaps a Chopin recital at the city’s new music hall on the Danube River, or a wine dinner at one of Budapest’s many wine shops. And thanks to the Turks who introduced coffee and bathhouses to the region several centuries ago, one can always warm up at one of the myriad coffee shops and bathhouses in town.

Once spring arrives, tourists and locals head for the outdoors; they walk the pedestrian streets, jog along the river, or just sit a while on a park bench and take in the live gypsy music provided by one of many street entertainers. One can also take in the local color while lingering over a meal at a sidewalk cafe. Be sure to order a glass of the local Hungarian wine, and you’ll be all set for some very serious people watching. I have a theory that the cold winter months have conditioned the Hungarians to enjoy the sun while it shines. So far, my theory has held up, as we have had a festival every weekend since the arrival of spring.

In terms of celebrating summer, there is not much difference between today’s Budapest and the one of yesteryear. In his book entitled Budapest 1900, author John Lukacs writes that “May and June in Hungary, even in Budapest, have something near-Mediterranean about them. The chairs and tables were put out before the cafés and in the open-air restaurants. It was then that the nocturnal life of Budapest blossomed …. Summer was the recurrent feeling, the promise of pleasure.”

Regardless of season, I most favor the architecture of this ancient city. I walk looking up, paying close attention to all the intricate details on the buildings and try to imagine the era in which they were built. It is no accident that modern-day visitors to Budapest draw similarities to the architecture of Vienna and Prague. Throughout Central and Eastern Europe, one cannot underestimate the influence of the Habsburg Dynasty. Though long dead, it lives on in the culture it left behind, perhaps most notably in its architecture. It is said that Empress Maria Theresa of Austria (1717-1780)—the mother of Marie Antoinette and sovereign of Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Bohemia, Mantua, Milan, Lodomeria and Galicia, the Austrian Netherland, and Parma—ordered all churches and public buildings within the Empire painted in her favorite colors of yellow and white. Examples of this decree can be seen throughout the entire region today, including the 18th-century neo-Baroque churches of St. Anne’s and the Tabán Parish situated on the Buda side of the Danube.

In the late-19th century, just as Vienna was winding up construction on the Ringstrasse (the grand boulevard that surrounds that city), Emperor Franz Joseph ordered the construction of Andrassy Boulevard on the Pest side of Budapest to commemorate the 1000-year anniversary of the Magyar tribes (now known as Hungarians) arrival in Hungary. Though diagonal and not circular like Ringstrasse, the tree-lined Andrassy Boulevard, with its magnificent stone mansions do call forth some similarities. Indeed, up until the end of the Great War, Vienna and Budapest—the the two capital cities of the Austro-Hungarian dual monarchy—shared a highly civilized rivalry with each other, always striving to outdo the other in architecture, literature, and music. In terms of layout, however, visitors to Budapest are more apt to draw comparisons with Prague—which is actually much more compact than Budapest, but similarly features a hilly castle district and a bustling metropolis that are  joined across a river by historic bridges.

But for me, Budapest is a city unto itself: Like other places in some ways, but unlike any other. It has the hilly Buda side, with it Austro-Germanic architecture, secret gardens, and underground caves. And it has its bustling Pest side, with its Secessionist architecture, art galleries, museums, antique shops, and a great night life. The people of Budapest are both young and old, edgy and traditional, exuberant and melancholy. In other words, Budapest is a little bit of this, and a little bit of that. It is, after all, like a well-made goulash, with just the right measurements of spice and a lot of different ingredients. And it’s everything I imagined—babushkas and then some. – Jessica Tudzin

Comments may be emailed to Jessicat1000@gmail.com

= sights to see  =

St. Stephen’s Basilica – Located in the city center on the Pest side, the basilica is dedicated to Hungary’s first king, St. Stephen, who was crowned on Christmas Day 1000. Visitors should not miss taking the winding staircase to the building’s domed roof, which affords panoramic views of the city. Also head to the chapel before leaving, where the mummified forearm of St. Stephen’s is kept as a holy relic.

St. Stephen's Basilica

Parliament Building –The imposing, neo-gothic Parliament building was built by Imre Steindl  and overlooks the Danube River. The structure was modeled on the famed British Parliament building on the Thames in London. English tours are available three times per day: 10 am, 12 pm, and 2 pm. Regardless of the time of the tour, it is strongly advised that you purchase your tickets first thing in the morning.

Mathias Church

Castle District – Take the funicular up Buda Hill to the Royal Castle. Here, a maze of cobbled streets, medieval courtyards, underground caves, and secret gardens. The current uniform Baroque appearance emerged in the mid-18th century. As part of the restoration and decorative extensions at the end of the 19th century, the Fisherman’s Bastion was built to honor the fishermen who once sold fish on the banks of the Danube. Visit Mathias Church, built in the 14th century, and outfitted with colorful 19th-century Szolnay tiles on its roof. During the Turkish occupation, the church was converted into a mosque. Under the Habsburg rule, the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I is crowned here as a King of Hungary.

Váci Utca is the tourist zone and city’s main pedestrian street, known for offering goods that were, until recently, unobtainable elsewhere in Eastern Europe. During Communitst rule, citizens behind the iron curtain received a taste of Western culture here on Vaci Street.

Grand Central Market is located in a former 19th century railroad station at the south end of Váci Utca. It offers a glimpse into the diversity of Hungary’s agricultural production, as well as the daily lives of its citizens.

Grand Synagogue – Built from 1854-59, it is the world’s second largest (after the synagogue in NYC) and Europe’s largest synagogue, with a seating capacity of 3,000. The Romantic style is strongly mixed with Byzantine and Moorish elements. Adjoining to the fully restored buildings is the Hall of Heroes, where the Monument of Hungarian Jewish Martyrs was erected in 1991. The Jewish Museum is next door. A visit to the Holocaust memorial room is a moving experience.

Zoo and Botanical Garden – One of the oldest zoos in the world, some 500 mammals, nearly 700 birds, 1500 reptiles, fishes, and arthropods, plus 1,500 plant species all come together here.  Opened in 1866, the zoo’s newer buildings reflect Hungarian art nouveau and national Romantic, and Oriental-Hungarian styles. The interiors of the recently restore Elephant House resemble a Muslim sanctuary.

The Budapest History Museum has exhibitions on the history of the city, plus restored elements of the destroyed medieval castle and the sculptures.

The Ethnographical Museum was erected in 1893-96 as the Supreme Court. Behind a Classical façade, visitors will find a variety of neo-Renaissance spaces. The permanent exhibitions show Hungarian folklore customs and craftsmanship. Free folklore music concerts are often held on Sunday mornings.

The House of Hungarian Wines is the only place where you can find more than 680 kinds of wine. Take a stroll around the 22 wine regions of Hungary and sample some of the best wines in the world.

Museum of Fine Art – Old Masters from outside Hungary. The museum houses a large Spanish collection (El Greco, Velazquez, Goya) and an impressiove Italian collection (Bronzino, Bolleotto, Raphael).



Destination Prague

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In preparation for my first trip to Prague next week, I consulted my good friend and seasoned travel writer Eric Hiss for some suggestions. Listed below are some of his recommendations on what to see and do. For more information on where to stay, eat, and shop, visit Eric’s website Wandermelon at www.wandermelon.com.

The Secret Vrtbovska Garden in Prague

Walk! – Around the Old Town (Stare Mesto), stroll through Prague Castle (on Hradcany), visit the Secret Vrtbovska Garden, cross the Charles Bridge to the New Town (Nove Mesto) where the Jewish Ghetto (Josesfov) is located and is the art noveau heart of the city. Below Prague Castle is the charming Little Quarter (Malá Strana) – a mass of gardens with fantastic views across the banks of the River Vltavaand beyond the Old Town. From here, take the funicular railway to the Observation Tower on Petrin Hill or admire the stunning Dome Fresco of the baroque Church of St. Nicholas.

The Strahov Philosophy Library (Strahovsky kláster) dates to the 12th Century and is the second oldest Monastery in Prague. It is well known for its two Baroque libraries. The Philosophical Library (Filosoficky sál), which contains some extraordinary furnishings from Louka Monastery in Moravia. Upon acquiring the furnishings the Strahov Monastery altered the library structure to adapt to the new acquisitions. The ceiling was painted by Franz Anton Maulbertsch and depicts “enlightenment”.

Lesser Town Bridge Towers in Prague

The second library is the Theological Library and is the highlight of the monastery. This splendid Baroque room with a beautiful ornate painted ceiling, done by Siard Nosecky, a Strahov Monk, is the finest Baroque room in Prague. The ceiling frescoes are framed by detailed stucco work. This room is truly a Baroque masterpiece. The libraries collections contain many rare, old volumes and manuscripts, including the 9th Century Strahov Gospel.

The Franz Kafka Museum has a new long-term exhibition that presents first editions of Kafka’s work, his letters, diaries, and manuscripts. This unique project, which was originally introduced in Barcelona in 1999, has been brought to the writer’s birthplace and the city where he had such strong ties. The exhibit is divided into two sections: the first, Existential Space, explains the huge influence of the city on Kafka’s life and therefore his writing. The second uses 3-D installations as well as good audiovisual technology to depict the author’s “Imaginary Topography of Prague.”

Favorite Kafka reads: The Trial, The Metamorphosis

Best Tip: Don’t miss the pee-ing statues in the front courtyard!

Old Jewish Museum – When Josefov was redeveloped early in the 1900’s, several buildings were preserved as the venues

The Jewish Quarter

for a museum to commemorate the Jewish heritage of Prague and Czechoslovakia, including four synagogues. The enterprise was threatened by the Nazi invasion during the Second World War, when the area was ghettoized but, ironically, the museum was saved by Nazi intervention, albeit in its most sinister form. The area was intended as the Museum of an Extinct Race; thereby ensuring the collection was in fact increased. With the Nazi defeat, the museum returned to Czech hands and today it is run in collaboration with the remaining Jewish community in Prague. The Jewish population of Prague is estimated to have dropped from 50,000 in 1939 to 1500 today. The museum provides an essential service in cataloging history and culture as well as unifying remaining Jews. Since the fall of Communism, several synagogues in Josefov have reopened as places of worship, signaling a revival of sorts.

Best Tip: For an unusual birds eye view, duck into the bathroom at the Decorative Arts Museum around the corner, which borders the cemetery.

The Lucerna Palace is the oldest operated movie theatre in Europe. It opened in 1909 and the first “talkie” was premiered there. For those who love the golden age of cinema, it is a must!

Best Tip: Be sure to check out the upside-down horse statue by the sculptor David Černý on the way out.

What better way to see the beautiful landscape of southern Bohemia than from a hot air balloon. Ballooning CZ offers hour-long trips, which take off from Konopiste, very close to the castle in both summer and winter. Unfortunately, they are not allowed to fly over the city.

The National Technical Museum is a great favorite, popular with all the boys. The Czechs have a long tradition of industry and technology on full display at this brilliant museum. It is a cornucopia filled to the rafters with old planes, trains and automobiles. Lose yourself here in some real heavy metal. It has been under renovation, but is due to re-open this summer.

Find out more about where to stay, eat, and shop at http://wandermelon.com/2008/07/08/prague/#ixzz0sJgQTd9R

Images courtesy of the Czech Tourism Board, www.czechtourism.com



Alfons Mucha: For the Love of Art & Money

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This month marks the 150th birthday of Alfons Mucha, one of the most popular names in the Art Nouveau movement. To commemorate his birth, the Czech Republic is issuing a 200-crown silver coin graced with his image. The coin, valued at approximately $9.50 USD, is designed by academic sculptor Ivan Rehak.

Also commemorating the occasion is a limited exhibition of Alfons Mucha’s work called the Apotheosis of Love, showing at Prague’s Municipal House from from July 2 — September 31, 2010. The exhibit–which includes photos, studies, and works that belonged in the private collection of Mucha’s heirs and has never been publicly exhibited until now–will travel to other areas within the Czech Republic starting in October.

Born on July 24, 1860 in Moravia (a region that partly makes up today’s Czech Republic), Alfons Mucha lived variously in Vienna, Munich, Paris, and the United States. In Vienna, at the tender age of 19, he designed backdrop sets for the theatre. Two years later, he returned to his homeland, where Count Karl Khuen of Mikulov commissioned him to paint a series of frescoes for Hrušovany Emmahof Castle. So impressed was the count with the work of the young Mucha, he sponsored the artist’s formal training at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts. After university, Mucha moved to Paris in 1888, where, despite his inability to speak French, he established himself as master in art nouveau (though he never wanted to be connected to any specific style or label). His works were typically painted in pastel colors and featured beautiful young women with long flowing hair. Mucha’s most notable work during this time are the lithograph posters he made for several plays performed by Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923). In addition to working as a painter and graphic artist, Mucha tried his hand at sculpture, jewelry, interior design, costume design, and applied arts.

In 1906, Mucha married in Prague and immediately moved to the United States. Ironically enough, it was there that he rediscovered Slav history and culture, after hearing the Boston Philharmonic perform Smetana’s Moldau (My Fatherland). Inspired, he returned to Prague in 1910, and began work on a series of 20 historical canvases entitled The Slav Epic, which reached their completion in 1928. In the midst of the project, the Great War waged, the Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed, and Czechoslovakia subsequently won its independence. Mucha, a proud native son of the new nation, was charged with designing the new nation’s postage stamps and banknotes, the latter of which is currently on exhibit at the Czech National Bank in Prague (http://www.cnb.cz/en/public/cnb_exhibition/exp_obsah.html). — Jessica Tudzin


Sarah Bernhardt for the Theatre de la Renaissance

Printemps by Alfons Mucha



Hungary Vegetarian

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One of the apprehensions I had about moving to Budapest was how I would maintain my vegetarian diet. All I really knew about Hungarian cuisine was that it consisted of pork, pork, pork, and then more pork. And it’s true, the country can be a meat eater’s wet dream. But that doesn’t mean visiting vegans and vegetarians should wage a hunger strike while visiting here.

Fresh produce at the Grand Central Market

Thanks to the nutrient-dense soil, Hungary has a wonderful array of fruits and vegetables, most notably apples, apricots, peaches, cherries, watermelon, cucumbers, tomatoes, cabbage, beets, leeks, ginger, red onions, and all sorts of leafy greens. What isn’t grown here is often flown in from the Mediterranean, with oranges from Greece, grapes from Italy, and avocadoes from Israel.

In Budapest, there are a number of farmer’s markets open 7 days a week (most open from 6am to 2pm). Visitors might notice that the produce lacks the size and uniformity found in produce back in the States and western Europe. Under Communism, Hungarian farmers did not have the luxury of high-tech farming methods, and today, with an EU policy that prevents the country from exporting produce in any substantial way, the local farmers continue to grow produce in the traditional manner. That means that while some of the produce is sometimes irregular in appearance (especially during winter months), it is often closer to organic than the conventionally grown produce back in the States.

Organics (called bio in Europe and pronounced “bee-o”) can also be found in some of the local supermarkets like Match, but beware: you have to weigh and bag your own produce before you get to the cashier. People rarely speak English in such stores, so if you have a Hungarian friend who can accompany you to show you how to use the mechanical scales and tag your produce with the appropriate prices, you will save yourself a lot of trouble.

The Mediterranean salad at Taverna Dionysos

There are also a handful of vegetarian restaurants in Budapest (see list below). But no need to limit yourself from the mainstream dining scene: nearly every café and restaurant in town offers some form of fresh salad on the menu, with offerings that can be an extravagant mix of greens, veggies, fruits, nuts, and cheese, or they can be a simple presentation of a single vegetable such as beets, tomato, or cabbage.  And you’re not just limited to just Hungarian food, either. Like the major cities back in the States, Budapest offers a wide variety of dining options, including Italian, Indian, Chinese, Greek, and even Mexican.

Soups are also very popular in Hungary. Naturally, the national favorite is the meat-laden goulash, but many restaurants offer vegetarian soups. But if you are not a lacto-vegetarian, do ask if the ingredients include any cream or cheese. During the summer months, cold fruit soups (which look strikingly similar to a fruit smoothie, except served in a bowl instead of a glass) feature melon, berries, and apricot, and sometimes arrive to the table laced with some of the local acacia honey. Again, some of the summer soups are prepared with cream, so if you’re not a lacto-vegetarian, do ask about the ingredients before you order.

Most waiters in Budapest speak English, so you should have no problem communicating. However, it should be noted that it is not uncommon to receive a dish that looks completely unlike what you imagined. Sometimes it’s a pleasant surprise, but sometimes not. It’s all part of the adventure. It helps to know that vegetarian in Europe means that dairy and fish are okay. If you’re a vegan, you must be more diligent in your communication, however. Just let your waiter know your dietary restrictions, and you should be fine. –Jessica Tudzin
(Featured photo at top by Scott Warren; others by Jessica Tudzin)

Entrance to Vasarcsarnok in the 5th District

Below, a list of my favorite vegetarian-friendly stores and restaurants. If it’s not listed, I either did not care for it or I have not eaten there yet. Check back from time to time for updates on new discoveries.

Farmer’s markets and grocers

There are several small corner shops situated throughout the city. Some are better than others and produce depends on season and day of the week. They are worth checking out for a quick piece of fruit.

Offerings at one of the many corner grocers in Budapest


Culinaris – This specialty shop is a haven for American expats craving junkfood from home, where you can score Pop Tarts, A-1 Steak Sauce, and Haagan Daz Ice Cream. But you can also find keifer, unsweetened yogurt, goji berries, premium dark chocolate, and some fresh produce.

Restaurants

Salad off the vegetarian tasting menu at Costes

Costes – This very upscale restaurant recently gained international attention for receiving a star from the Michelin Guide. They offer a vegetarian menu alongside their seasonal tasting menu. At the time of this writing, however, the restaurant is in the process of changing chefs. Stay tuned for an update. www.costes.hu

Farger Kavé Haz – This dog-friendly coffee house – located near the Parliament building, off Liberty Park – offers cozy environs and outlets to plug in your laptop. The menu includes such raw vegan selections as fruit smoothies, freshly made fruit juices, arugula salad, and a raw vegan snack plate of celery, carrots, and cucumber. (Exercise caution ordering the latter during off-season, as I did have an experience with limp veggies one cold January morn.)  Vegetarian options include a veggie wrap with a cream based sauce. If cigarette smoke bothers you, avoid coming here in winter. During the spring and summer months when patio dining is available, it’s not a problem. www.farger.hu

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Photo Essay: Urban Budapest

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Photography by Scott Warren, Budapest
Budadad@gmail.com

Magyar Secessionist Architecture: Gresham Palace

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For visitors of Budapest, the Four Seasons Gresham Palace deserves a place high on the must-see list.
It exhibits a magnificent example of Hungarian Secessionist architecture, replete with romantic balconies, larger-than-life statues, bas reliefs, and gold mosaic tiles. Crowning the building is a bust of Sir Thomas Gresham, a 16th-century British financier. Built in the very early years of the 20th-century, when Budapest and Vienna both served as capital cities of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

= The back story =

image courtesy of Four Seasons Gresham Palace

The property Gresham Palace stands on is one of the city’s most prime pieces of real estate, located on the Pest side at the base of the Chain Bridge. The site was acquired by a British insurance company – the now-defunct Gresham Life Assurance Company of London – in 1880, with the intention of building a monumental building to house their foreign office. The blueprints included a shopping arcade on its ground floor and about 70 luxury residences above the ground floor to serve as a source of rental income. (Insurance companies at the time were prohibited by law from investing in such risky investments as the stock market.) When Gresham Palace opened in 1906, it immediately became the city’s most fashionable address. And its opulent façade served as a “discreet promotion” of the company’s financial strength.

= What is Hungarian Secession architecture? =

The Secessionist Movement (also called Jugendstil, German for “youth”) has its origins among the Viennese avant-garde, who, like their Art Nouveau counterparts in fin-de-siecle Paris, rejected the stuffy 19th-century fad of neo-gothic, neo-classical, neo-baroque, and neo-renaissance architecture in favor of a more free-style form; they were essentially seeking to define the art of a new generation on the doorstep of a new century, and preferably one that did not include a past that they did not belong to. The movement was not limited to the Vienna border, but spilled throughout the whole of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, from Bohemia to Croatia. Secessionist art and architecture typically features motifs borrowed from nature, as well as Japanese and Egyptian art, and favors vibrant colors, and sinuous lines and curls. Like Vienna, Budapest was reinventing itself as a World City in the final years of the 19th century, and experienced a construction boom that would last through the first decade of the next century. As a result, both Vienna and Budapest boast many examples of Secessionist architecture. In Budapest, Ödön Lechner (1845-1914) was the most influential architect of the time. He sought to create an identifiable Hungarian National Style by combining Secession motifs with elements from Hungarian folk art and Hindu, evidenced in his designs of the Museum of Applied Arts, the Hungarian National Bank, and the (former) Post Office Savings Bank. And of course, there is the Hungarian architect Zsigmond Quittner (1857 – 1918), who, in addition to building an array of sophisticated apartment blocks, designed Gresham Palace.

= The architect and master craftsmen who built Gresham Palace =

Given free reign and generous funding by his client Gresham Life, Quittner chose some of Hungary’s most talented artists and craftsman to work on the Gresham Palace project. Zsolnay Porcelain Company out of the medieval city of Pecs, Hungary, produced the decorative tiles for the building. Zsolnay won acclaim in 1878 when the company received a gold medal at the World Exhibition in Paris, France. The company’s founder developed a “secret” glazing method that produced a lovely iridescent coloring. Zsolnay tiles can be found in many buildings of Budapest, including the ceramic tiles that grace the roof of the city’s landmark Mathias Church. Two world wars and communist rule essentially thrust the Zsolnay Porcelain Company into obscurity during most of the 20th century (their Budapest factory was bombed and destroyed during the Second World War), but in recent years, Zsolnay has been making a return among collectors and ceramic aficionados, and is happily enjoying a reputation for its fine ceramic craftsmanship once again.

Glass master Miksa Róth (1865 -1944) executed the exterior glass mosaics and the stained glass windows of Grisham Palace. His work, too, can be seen all over Budapest, including the colorful stained glass mosaics found inside the Hungarian National Bank.

The intricate railings of the main staircases and the three large peacock gates that open onto the courtyard lobby were made in the workshop of Gyula Jungfer (1841-1908), a master in wrought-iron work and one of the most celebrated names in Hungarian decorative arts of the late-19th and early 20th centuries. The decorative wrought iron works in Buda Castle (formerly called the Habsburg’s Hungarian Royal Palace), the neo-gothic Hungarian Parliament Building, the Hungarian State Opera House, St. Stephen’s Basilica, Keleti Railway Station, and Vigado Concert Hall are among is most prominent commissions. The railing of Buda Castle, considered his most important work, was destroyed during World War II, but was restored in 1981 to its original condition.

Hungarian master sculptor Eduard Telcs (1874 – 1948) created the statues on the first floor of the Palace, and the large bust near the top of the building façade of British financier Sir Thomas Gresham. Other decorative elements of the facade were the work of Geza Maroti (1875 – 1941), whose talents combined architecture, sculpture, and painting.

War and Communism take their toll

The siege of Budapest in 1944 destroyed about 70 percent of the buildings in the city. As the German army retreated from the Russians, they blew up the Chain Bridge. The explosion scarred the façade of Gresham Palace and caused the wrought-iron peacock gates to be wrenched off their hinges. The repairs made were nominal, using whatever materials that were available during war time. The chandeliers were removed and replaced with standard light bulbs, while the leaded glass windows gradually disappeared.

Immediately after the war, British and American diplomats and military personnel moved in. The U.S. also opened a temporary public library on the premises. When the Hungarian Communist Government nationalized the Gresham Palace in 1948, they divided the palatial apartments into small units and state companies took over the offices. In the latter days of Communism, retired Soviet officers were allowed to take up residence in the building, which even as the building fell into serious disrepair was still considered a privilege. Although the Gresham Palace was named a protected landmark in the 1970s, it received little if any maintenance. The story goes that passersby during this period could pick up valuable Zsolnay ceramic tiles right off the sidewalk as they fell from the building’s crumbling facade.

= A return to glory =

When Hungary became a democracy once again in 1989, the Hungarian National Government transferred ownership of Gresham Palace to the City of Budapest. In 1998, an investment firm acquired the Palace and received approval from the Budapest Heritage Board to reconstruct it into a luxury hotel with the provision that it retain its original appearance.

The Four Seasons took over the restoration in 2004, a project that took 2 years and $110-million. As Gresham Life had done nearly a century ago, Four Seasons sought out Hungary’s best wrought-iron specialists, silversmiths, stained-glass makers, ceramists, mosaicists, and other craftspeople to preserve what they could and reconstruct the rest based on old documents and photographs.

Artisans replaced the glass roof to mimic the original, using surviving remnants as a guide. About 120 workers standing on scaffolding restored the stone facade. The mosaicists reconstructed the brilliant mosaics of the Miksa Roth, using materials imported from Venice, just like the originals. Ironsmiths restored the peacock gates at the building’s entrance. Back is the T-shaped interior shopping arcade roofed with glass. Back are the grand staircases, the stained glass windows, the mosaics, and the intricate ironwork. And new, since the 2004 restoration, is the spa — sans a million-dollar view looking out over the Chain Bridge, the hills of Buda, and the Danube River. To get that view, one must book a room at the hotel. — Jessica Tudzin

Feature photo courtesy of Four Seasons Gresham Palace.

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