Green gazebo on the Danube
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At the turn of the century, Budapest became an important industrial center. In the eleventh volume of Britanniki, the city was described as "one of the most natural capitals" of the continent, which slowly began to perform the functions of both the national capital and the cosmopolitan metropolis with almost six hundred cafes and twenty-two daily newspaper titles!

The paradox of the city's career at the turn of the century was that even a hundred and fifty years ago, Buda and Pest located on the banks of the Danube were hardly visible on the map of European civilization. The name Budapest was officially introduced only in 1873.

Undoubtedly, 1900 was a Budapest time of splendor. It was then that the most effective and admired urban planning assumptions, buildings, the most interesting institutions, especially museums and theaters, literature and music, but also cafes, restaurants and the menu available in them today, an important part of the cultural heritage of the Hungarian capital.

Budapest residents were proud to live in one of the most modern European metropolises. Foreign guests arriving in this unknown region of Europe east of Vienna were stunned at the sight of the city teeming with life and energy, with first-class hotels, elegant windows, electric trams, well-dressed men and women, and the largest parliament building in the world whose construction has just ended.

"Surrounded by the yellow, loose Hungarian province, Budapest stretched along the banks of the Danube like a green gazebo or (for those who prefer vegetables over flowers) like an overgrown green cabbage head with leaves here and there ending in a black smoke ring of factory chimneys. A crowded city, packed with people and rows of tenements, in appearance and atmosphere resembled a summer resort, and maybe even a health resort "[1] - wrote in the book Budapest 1900. A portrait of the city and its culture John Lukacs (1924–2019), who remembered the charms of the old Budapest from childhood.

This period, as we know, is the culmination of café culture in continental Europe, especially in cities such as Vienna and Paris, but Budapest's cafes had a different character. First of all, their history was longer. In the last decade of the nineteenth century, there were about six hundred in Budapest and there were more and more of them.

"While the Turkish habit of drinking coffee suddenly came to Vienna and Paris at the end of the 17th century, it appeared in Hungary more than a century earlier. There is a three-story history of Pesztu and Budy cafes, covering four centuries and full of various curiosities. Its author, a respected amateur historian Béla Bevilaqu Borsody, came from an old family of coffee brewers (like the prominent 19th century mayor of Budapest Károly Kammermayer), "reads a book by John Lukacs.

Like some areas of London in the 18th century or Philadelphia in the 19th, this smoky, swelling, crowded metropolitan Budapest was still a city with a "rural heart, giving the feeling that provincial Arkadia was at hand." Its phenomenon around 1900 is a derivative of both spontaneous urbanization and the consequence of the golden age of Hungary. The creative tension she brought in her final la belle époque quickly replaced the shock caused by the particularly painful effects of the First World War for Hungary and the consequences of signing the treaty at the Grand Trianon Palace in Versailles.

"On June 4, 1920, on a sunny day, life on the streets of Budapest stood still. The stores were closed. The trolley buses stopped. Black flags were hoisted onto the masts. The church bells were struck. That morning, a peace treaty was signed in Trianon, a suburb of Paris, which provided for cutting Hungary. This had no precedent in the history of Europe, except perhaps with the second partition of Poland. Two-thirds of the Kingdom of Hungary were given to other countries: Romania, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia (and a small piece even to Austria). It was a day of national mourning. Budapest has become the capital of the truncated country, a city of one million with a population of seven million. " Budapest is becoming the capital of a small country that has lost as much as two-thirds of its territory after the collapse of the Habsburg monarchy.

A synthetic portrait of this period in the history of the Hungarian capital was painted in the book Budapest 1900. A portrait of the city and its culture by the eminent Hungarian-American essayist and historian John Lukacs (born János Albert Lukács), who was born in Budapest in 1924. Under Hungarian Jewish laws, during World War II, he was incorporated into a forced labor unit (his mother was Jewish), but he managed to avoid the fate of others called to the "labor service" (Hungarian: Munkaszolgálat): deportation to death camps or marching in marches death. He hid in his hometown until the end of the war. In 1946 he emigrated - first to England, where he graduated in history studies at Cambridge, and then to the United States, his later second homeland.

He was referred to as one of the best narrators among historians, he had over 30 books on topics related to the history of the twentieth century, primarily on World War II and the Cold War. He was a biographer of people (Winston Churchill, George Kennan) and cities (Philadelphia, Budapest). His book The End of the Twentieth Century and the End of the Modern Age was in 1994 among the Pulitzer Prize finalists in the "general nonfiction" category. His essay June 1941 has been published in Poland so far. Hitler and Stalin (2008) and the book Budapest 1900 prepared by the ICC Publishing House. A portrait of the city and its culture (2016). We encourage you to read a fragment of it as part of our series From the MCC library.

[1] All quotes in the text come from the book by John Lukacs Budapest 1900. Portrait of the city and its culture (MCK Publishing House, Krakow 2016) translated by Tomasz Bieroń.




Rakoczy Avenue, seen from today's intersection at the Astoria Hotel, 1903.



The National Opera building, 1900.



Oktogon, view towards Teresa Boulevard and Nyugati station, around 1897.



Peshto Korso and Petőfi Square, seen from the Elizabeth Bridge, 1912.



Peshto Korso, view of the Royal Castle on the other side of the Danube, 1900.



Queen Elizabeth's Women's School (today Blanka Teleki High School), 1905.



View from the Fisherman's Bastion on the Water City and the Pest side of the Danube with the parliament, 1907.



View from the terrace of the castle gardens in Buda, 1904.

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