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sights & culture


Where printers fought doctors and love conquered a Casanova knight – the hidden story of Gutenberg tér


  • Gábor Wágner

06/01/2022 4.50pm

This neat and stylish square of the Palace Quarter is an increasingly popular part of town thanks to surrounding gentrification. Although Gutenberg tér is not big in size, there are many streets running into it, including café-lined Bródy Sándor utca, right next to the National Museum, making it a busy little hub. In addition, an important defining feature is the large centrepiece playground, ringed by a fence. No one suspects from the calm atmosphere that this was once a popular residential area for contemporary celebrities – or that printers and doctors fought each other for decades over the very name of the square. Although the former seemed to win the battle, in fact, you can safely call the situation that finally emerged a win-win.

Printers vs Doctors

Although Gutenberg tér seems such a small, peaceful area, the tension between doctors and printers raged for decades, fortunately only at the level of name-calling and lobbying. The question to be decided was after whom the square should be named: printers or doctors.

For this reason, the prominent figures of both professions wanted to steal the name and they also demanded a sculpture depicting a great figure of each craft. Until 1946, the City persistently resisted the submissions of both printers and doctors, supporting both in principle and rejecting them in practice. Then finally doctors were at least allowed to erect a statue.

Photo: Major Kata - We Love Budapest

Dr József Fodor (1843–1901), founder of Hungarian public health care

Photo: Major Kata - We Love Budapest

Around 1909, the Medical Society of Józsefváros was better liked among politicians and the Budapest Public Works Council than the Joint Association of Budapest Printers and Letter makers. In addition, an international congress was organised in Budapest that year by the National Public Health Association.

So, when the doctors’ society turned to the council to erect a statue on the square for which they had already raised money, it was well-received. The bust was created in 1909 by the sculptor György Vastagh and it depicts József Fodor, the chief physician of the Rókus Hospital between 1868 and 1869.

From 1874 he was the first Hungarian lecturer in public health at the Faculty of Medicine at the Medical University of Budapest and the head of the hygiene institute. The printers were quietened by the fact that a few years earlier, in 1907, the association's Art Nouveau residential block and cultural centre, the Gutenberg Home, had been built, which tended to define the life of the square rather than the bust.

Photo: Major Kata - We Love Budapest

The House of the Rising Sun

The Joint Association of Book Printers and Letter Makers was founded in 1876 and at that time this profession became so important that barely ten years later the trade union became a national network. It was then that the idea arose in the first place to build a headquarters for the association that would meet the cultural and entertainment needs of printers. The decision to execute was finally made 20 years later, in 1905.

A tender was announced for the building and it was won by two brothers, József and László Vágó. The house would have originally been built elsewhere, but the designers picked another site for the construction: Gutenberg tér, which was called Sándor tér back then. This the printers readily accepted.

At the same time, they asked three prominent architects – Flóris Korb, Samu Pecz and Ödön Lechner – to advise them on the construction work. It’s no coincidence that the building became as beautiful as it eventually turned out.

Photo: Major Kata - We Love Budapest

Photo: Major Kata - We Love Budapest

The Gutenberg Home opened its doors in 1907 and the building served several functions. A total of 38 rental apartments occupied four floors and you could enter the staircase through a gate overlooking the square, where passenger and freight elevators were also available to residents.

The association's offices were on the mezzanine floor and could be accessed through the entrances on side of the house. There was also a lecture hall, a reading room, a playroom, a meeting room and a library, as well as the editorial offices of Typographia magazine. On the ground floor, there was a café overlooking the square and a restaurant, as well as a few smaller shops.

In the courtyard stood an ornate and covered auditorium and theatre. It also hosted a cinema in the 1910s and 1920s called Omnia and then renamed Andersen, accessed through the café and restaurant. There was an additional studio and dance hall on the top floor, and a bowling alley on the basement level.

Photo: Major Kata - We Love Budapest

Photo: Major Kata - We Love Budapest

The beautiful Art Nouveau building was decorated with Hungarian handmade Zsolnay ceramics, murals by Károly Kernstok and two huge, full-length sculptures depicting printers. The latter were made by the duo Ödön Szamovolszky and István Gách, with help from Gyula Betlen.

Although the Gutenberg Home withstood world wars, the Siege of Budapest, nationalisation and the 1956 Uprising, it couldn’t survive the Socialist urban planning of the 1970s. During the barbaric works called renovation, the building statues were demolished, the Kernstok murals were plastered, the old, ornate elevators were removed, ordinary lifts were put in their place, and even the wrought-iron railings were damaged.

The courtyard theatre is still there, but it has been empty, unused, in a dilapidated state for decades, even though it was once one of the best of its kind. The good news is that the house is due for a refurbishment, and they want to restore it to its original condition, including the building sculptures and Kernstok’s murals.

Philosopher Ágnes Heller also lived at the Gutenberg Home

Photo: Major Kata - We Love Budapest

In a natural way

Like so many squares, Gutenberg has evolved naturally, following the changes in the city. In the second half of the 1700s, there were still brick burners on the site of today's Rákóczi tér and the workers' homes were nearby, partly on the site of Gutenberg tér. The peasants tied to the nearby farms also lived here.

The Téglaégető út 'Brick burning Road' ran in the line of today's Bródy Sándor utca and obviously led to the brick-burning facility. This was crossed by the Rákos ditch at the height of Gutenberg tér and it often flooded the area, making life difficult for those living here. It’s not surprising that today’s Rökk Szilárd utca, located nearby, was called Sár ‘mud’ utca at that time.

The site of Gutenberg tér 2, by the yard. Behind, Bródy Sándor utca 27, 1914

Photo: Fortepan / Szabó Lóránt

Gutenberg tér, facing the corner of today's Somogyi Béla utca

Photo: Fortepan / Budapest Főváros Levéltára / Klösz György Fényképei

The bronze plaque of Hügieia

Photo: Fortepan / Ferencziné Fodor Katalin

Although, the expansion of the area was already evident in the 1870s, it was only given a proper name only in 1884, the Budapest Council of Public Works named it Archduke Sándor tér. At the turn of the century, the never-ending lobby of doctors and printers started and although the City government did not object any of the renaming proposals, they finally made a decision.

In 1919 the name of the square changed to Sándor tér then, ten years later, they returned it to the original one of Archduke Sándor tér then, barely a year later, in 1930, it adopted the more simple Sándor tér. Finally, in 1946, the perseverance of the printers' lobby paid off and the square was given the name of Gutenberg. This created a relative win-win situation, although the name of the square was given by the printers, the statue standing in the middle of the square belongs to the doctors.

Photo: Major Kata - We Love Budapest

Tiny square, stellar residents

Gutenberg tér hosted many famous figures. Ödön Lechner, designer of Budapest's prestigious buildings, for example, not only helped to build the Gutenberg Home, but also lived in the house himself. So did writer Iván Mándy and philosopher Ágnes Heller.

At the same time, renowned novelist Gyula Krúdy also lived in one of the nearby streets. He often passed the square and weaved it into several of his writings. Another special figure also appears in them, named Jenő Freystädtler, probably the most infamous character ever to step foot on Gutenberg tér...

Photo: Major Kata - We Love Budapest

Photo: Major Kata - We Love Budapest

Photo: Major Kata - We Love Budapest

In the decades before World War II, the area served as a home for writers, poets and actors. The latter included Amália Jákó, who lived here thanks to her rich lover. This man was called Jenő Freystädtler the knight-pasha of Kövesgyőr, who led exactly the kind of hedonistic lifestyle his title suggested.

His father was the largest landlord in the Balaton Uplands and owned several agricultural factories. Jenő, the knight-pasha, had never worked a moment in his life, unless wasting his father's property and money was a job.

Photo: Major Kata - We Love Budapest

Photo: Major Kata - We Love Budapest

Photo: Major Kata - We Love Budapest

Jenő was one of the celebrities of the era, a man of countless women and endless champagne. He had several luxurious palaces in the city and, according to contemporary rumour, in one of them he collected the feet statues of his former lovers: the most beautiful were made of gold, the plainer ones of silver and the rest, bronze.

He inherited the knighthood, but he earned the title of pasha himself by participating in the construction of the Turkish railway. As for the actress, Amália Jákó, she was the destruction of the Casanova knight. The man, completely blinded by his attraction to her, spent all his wealth on her education, paid for her travels and even built a house for the prima donna in his loving madness.

The punchline goes that he himself was the only one who could never enter the mansion because by the end, he had lost all his money and with it, his power.

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