Budapest Art Deco

I only became interested in Art Deco in Shanghai, long after leaving Budapest where I lived for a number of years (see post “Budapest Old and New“) . Just like in France, Art Deco was until recently seen as a minor style, often enclosed in the “Entre- deux guerres” period (Literally “between the 2 wars”), see post “Art Deco in France” for more on that. During my previous trip to Budapest, I was looking for Hudec connection in Budapest (see post “Hudec Alma Mater“. This time I walked around the city in search of Art Deco.

The search was greatly helped by a great guide book, from Zoltan Bolla, that is both in English and Hungarian. I had already looked for Art Deco in Budapest districts where I used to live in (mostly 6th, 7th), including UjSzinhaz theater, that is on the guidebook cover. This time I went to the 8th, 11th and 13th districts, parts of the city I never really visited while living there, but main points of Art Deco and modernist style. The border between Art Nouveau, Art Deco and modernism are often blurry and Budapest is no exception. This made a really interesting trip.

Art Deco on Népszínház utca

8th district

This area is pretty central, and Art Deco buildings are spread between earlier styles building. I focused on Népszínház utca, from Blaha Lujza Tér. The largest and most noticeable building on that road (though not the only onw) is pictured above, a beautiful and massive corner building. Although it is very central, the area was not very desirable when I lived in the city. This has massively changed and it is transforming fast.

11th district

Spending most of my life in Pest, I rarely went to Buda, the other side of the river. This is the home of one the main Art Deco et modernist area, around Móricz Zsigmond Körtér, with its large modernist buildings (picture above). I always felt that this part of the city was mostly about large boulevards, but strolling the small side streets looking for Art Deco completely changed my impressions on the area.

Small leafy streets with Art Deco buildings, like Szábolcska Mihály utca (number 3 on that street is pictured above) are really quite, with a high concentration of Art Deco and modernist buildings, as this part of the city was really developed in the late 20’s and 30’s. Away from the traffic, but close to transportation, they make a really nice area to live, away from the tourist crowds.

Further down Bartók Béla út, around Kosztelányi Dezsö Ter, Art Deco and modernist buildings are much larger, overlooking large boulevard. This gives a much more urban and modernist feeling.

13th district

Although I lived in that area at some point, I only realized many years later that my flat was located in a modernist building from the 1930’s. This part of the city has quite a mix of buildings, including art Nouveau, Art Deco and mordernist. The most noticeable Art Deco part is surely around Szent István Park (above picture). This is also the location of Duna Park Kaveház, a fully renovated Art Deco Cafe and restaurant. A great spot for a rest while on the hunt of Art Deco in Budapest.

Dunapark Café

Another really valuable guide about Art Deco and modernism in Budapest is the new guide book from Kovács Daniel, with pictures from Gulyás Attila. Although, it is only (so far) in Hungarian, the English translation will be a great addition for international Art Deco lovers.

Laszlo Hudec alma mater

Hudec uni 002m
Inside the main lobby

Having lived in Budapest for years before moving to Shanghai, I always felt a special connection to Hudec Laszlo, the Hungarian architect who did the same things about 100 years ago to become one of the leading architect in Shanghai. Hudec was totally unkown when I reached Shanghai in 2004, but his return to fame from 2007-2008 helped me getting back in touch with Hungary. I recently took a trip back to Budapest after a number of years of absence. Having met Hudec great grandniece at the Shanghai World Congress on Art Deco, it was obvious to go and meet her in Budapest and a great opportunity to visit Laszlo Hudec’s alma mater, Budapest Technical University also called Müégyetem.

Hudec mark book
Hudec mark book

Csedy Virág, Laszlo Hudec great grandniece has created the Hudec project in Budapest, studying the elements of Laszlo Hudec’s life available in Hungary, including correspondence with his family, in particular with his sister and brother in law. Originally from Bistrica Banya (today Banska Bistrica in Slovakia), Laszlo Hudec went to Budapest for studying at what was the main technical school of Hungary at the time, and one of the most advanced in the world. He lived in a place owned by the reformed church in Budapest VIII district and studied at Müégyetem. In this period before WWI, Budapest was a vibrant city, full of people from all corners of the empire. Art and crafts were celebrated and a massive transformation of the city had taken place in the previous 30 years until that time. As an architect student, Hudec surely walked around these buildings, along with Gresham Palace, the chain bridge, taking the tram 47 -49 over the Danube to city center.

Hudec uni 001m
Laszlo Hudec used to walk here

As shown in Hudec marks book, his teachers at the university were the best at the time in the country, many of them designed architecture wonders that still make the city beautiful today. Amongst many was Karoly Kos, who designed the Budapest Zoo. Another graduate of the same university was Imre Steindl who designed the Budapest parliament house. Being taught by the bests of his time, Hudec carried this heritage and skills to Shanghai, creating some the iconic buildings of the city including the Park Hotel, Grand Theater and many more. Having made it in Shanghai, he brought his younger brother from Hungary to help him, who unfortunately died after a few years. Hudec was planning of returning at some point in Hungary, purchasing land and a ranch in the area surrounding Budapest. Leaving China after World War 2, he never went back as it was occupied by Soviet troups and became part of the East European bloc.

Visiting Müegyetem was a great experience, as I had passed in front many time but never went into it during my time living in Budapest. Hudec Laszlo story of traveling so far and being one of the main architects in Shanghai, to be forgotten for decades is still a fascinating story, strongly linked to both Hungary and China. Hudec and his work are now famous again in Shanghai, unfortunately few people know about him in his homeland of Hungary. I hope this will change in the future.

Shanghai flashbacks

First of all, I want to wish all readers a happy new year with this first post of 2011.

This entry is not so much about Shanghai, but about sight, locations and feelings that reminded me of Old Shanghai during my recent trip to Europe. Navigating old Shanghai is often about trying to find in Shanghai, buildings and artifacts that are similar to the ones from Europe and other parts of the world. Coming from Shanghai, a trip to Europe becomes the opportunity to look at European cities, looking for  Shanghai flashbacks. Such trips are also often opportunities to go back to places I have lived in, as well as to re-connect with friends and family. This one was no exception.

Budapest Art Deco
Budapest Art Deco

First step of the trip was in Budapest where I have lived many years. Most buildings there are either no-classical, or art Nouveau as most of the city was built in the late XIXth century and early XXth century. Post WWI was not a great time for Hungary, so the city has very few art deco building, though I managed to spot one near Moskva Ter, one of the more recent part of the city. Art Deco there is very recognizable, with the lack of ornaments compared to the neighboring earlier buildings, as well as the use of geometrical lines. It could argue that this building is also Bauhaus style, which sometimes looks very similar to art deco. Funny enough, Art Deco in Shanghai was mostly developed by a Hungarian architect in the same period, Laszlo Hudec. I discovered more Art Deco buildings in a later trip to the city, see post “Budapest Art Deco” for more details.

My time in Budapest was mostly about spending time in cafes, enjoying friend company. When I came to Shanghai from Budapest in 2004, one of the things I missed the most were cafes, the right places to meet friends and spend a few hours in the afternoon. At that time, the only approximation was Xin Tian Di’s Starbucks, and later Vienna Cafe (that I like so much because it reminds me of Budapest). 7 years later, Shanghai has a large choice of bars and cafes, often located in the old houses of the French Concession. Cafe culture has come back to Shanghai, and I love it… this is what I think sitting on some of the Budapest Cafes.

Savoy Apartments, Shanghai

The trip continued to Lyon, that was built much earlier than art deco time but a number of art deco building can be found. One of the best example is surely the “hotel college” in Saint-Jean. Located in the medieval district, the 30’s building is just out of place in the decor, probably as much Broadway Mansions or Savoy Apartments was when they were built. The first element to be seen is the incredible art Deco door, a wonderful work of iron, similar to some found in Shanghai. The building itself is art deco, somewhat similar to the Savoy apartment on Chang Shu lu. It is also very similar to some of the long gone buildings on avenue Dubail (today the North South elevated highway), that were destroyed in the 90’s. Just like seeing European architecture is Shanghai reminds me of Europe, seeing similar architecture in Europe…. reminds me of Shanghai, bringing one of those Shanghai flashbacks.

Budapest old and new

Budapest Saint Istvan Bazilika
Budapest Saint Istvan Bazilika

As much as a I love Shanghai, it was not the first city I fell in love with. Getting used to the Chinese megalopolis in 2004 was actually not easy coming from the charming Central European City of Budapest. I have spent more than 5 years walking the paved streets of this XIXth century beauty. I knew about every corner of several districts, in particular the 6th district, home of numerous theatres and cafés where I lived most of the time. Though I left the city about 4 years ago, I have managed to come back regularly (see post in love again), being able to keep a strong link with my old community of friends. The city still feels like home, though the more time passes the more my memories get separated from reality.

Andrassy Ut
Andrassy Ut

The pioneer spirit that pushed a lot of foreigners to come to Hungary 10 years ago seems to have somehow vanished… adventurers go to China nowadays. The community of foreigners who arrived in the early – mid 90’s in Budapest is getting smaller and smaller. We had a real group of friends, most of us are gone away… just like me. The remaining ones are busy climbing the corporate ladder or heavily involved in raising their kids. Their daily life is far remote from the group of bachelors and young couples that we used to be. We still meet sometimes online or on a few reunions, but news update are getting rarer. To my surprise, some of my friends there now only meet when I am in town. Since I don’t come that often from China, they really live lives apart within this small city. Although I feel happy to be back, I miss the speed and energy of today’s Shanghai after a few days. The Budapest that I lived in was full of hopes and new energy, most of it seems to have vanished.

Art Nouveau facade in Budapest
Art Nouveau museum facade in Budapest

The city is getting more beautiful, transformed from a dark and intriguing labyrinth to a colorful tourist paradise. Thanks to a current real estate boom, old buildings are being renovated into former glory, or torn down to be replaced by new. The mix creates a nice atmosphere that is catching up with Vienna or Munich. It has become a nice Central Europe city within the European Union, as opposed to this mysterious and dark city that me and many others came to look for.  I am sure new people still arrive and create there own little world here… but it’s just not the same for me. Budapest is still a great place to visit and I always invite my overseas friends to go there but Shanghai is where my life has moved to.

In love again

From Buda to Pest

We had not met for about a year and I just could not come to Europe without seeing her. The original trip was supposed to take me straight to France, but somehow I had to make a detour. Instead of the streets of Paris, I’m sitting on a terrace having a coffee at Cafe Vian on Liszt Férenc Square, far away from France. The one I came to visit is the city of Budapest. Our story started when we first met in 1996 to somehow finished in December 2004, when I decided to leave and move to Shanghai. Although I am now far away, I have never forgotten the intense feeling of living here.

I have just spent the last hours walking in its streets and old feelings come back so fast. The city and me just find back each other. I notice every detail, every change in its heart. I touch the walls, the old stone still has the same feeling and the same soul. Flashbacks about people I knew and events that happened when I lived here come back at every corner. There is a déjà vu feeling (maybe a glitch in the matrix) and the return of past habits is just like slipping back in old shoes. I sometimes feel that I never left, that the whole time in Shanghai was just last  night’s dream, just like it happened when I came back here after more than a year in Vietnam a few years ago. Spending time with old friends, sitting at the same restaurants we used to go and feeling somehow part of the group again, those feelings are worth coming from the other side of the World.

Buda from Pest

I am still in love with Budapest and being here is just like restarting an old relationship. While living here, I thought I would never leave, and somehow with fatigue, habits and all what happened, I ended up going away and  eventually left for my new girl, Shanghai. Even if new and unknown feelings were overwhelming, it took me a long time to really absorb the end of my Budapest story and feel like a part of this new adventure. Shanghai is now my home and the relationship with this city is just as intense as the previous one. I still enjoy re-living the old times again, and I regularly come back (See later post Budapest Old and New). I even found ways to help bringing Budapest and Shanghai through the work and life of Lászlò Hudec (see post Hudec Alma Mater for more details). Having talked with enthusiasm of Budapest has also convinced a number of my Shanghai friends to come here to visit.

Spending time around the city great architecture and feeling Hungarian nostalgia again is still fantastic, while I know that the story is over. As much as I feel home here, it does not take long to realize how much a different person I have become. Any return would be the start of a new story, and imagining anything different would be fooling myself. The city is like an old girlfriend of mine, and meeting again is just so nice for a few days. It is just long enough to enjoy a little bit of the nostalgia before flying back to Shanghai, my new home.

A l’arriere des taxis

This song called “A l’arriere des taxis” (On the back seats of taxis) keeps on coming in my head. The band who sings it is called “Noir Desirs” (Black desires). I actually saw them live at the Sziget Festival in Budapest in 2002. It used to be the most popular French Rock band, until the lead singer and composer killed his girlfriend and his career in 2003.

The song is about people spending a lot of their lifes, taking taxis to link the different points of their live in these big and incredible cities. “C’est Paris, Moscou, Berlin, Berlin l’enchanteresse” (It’s Paris, Moscow, Berlin, Berlin the magic one). The song is from 1989, just before the Berlin wall fell, and the world changed forever. Had it been a little later, you could add Prague, Budapest, Beijing, Shanghai and many more of the fallen cities of Marxism. The song is full of references to Moscow and Russian communism. I can’t stop having images of Lenin statues being toppled by crowds and falling communism when I hear it.

A l’arrière des taxis

“Ils s’aiment a l’arrière des taxis, tant que les heures passent” (they love each other on the back seats of taxis, as long as the hours fly away). People live and love at the back of taxis, flying around the arteries of Shanghai. Taxis are just so much a way of life here you take them to go everywhere… particularly at night time. I take taxis about twice a day on average… Taxis are where we live, work and love. I have so many memories on the back seat of taxis… As in Budapest and Saigon before, a lot of my Shanghai life takes place “A l’arrière des taxis”.