March 1, 2016
Dog shows, meetings, breeding dogs, exercising, eating, visiting family…pretty much thats all that I could do during the first two weeks in Budapest. Time flies fast. Finally, Sunday my sister convinced me to forget the Pumis and dragged me to the City. I did not oppose and there we went.
Budapest is a humungous size city with a population of over 3 million people within 203 square miles of land. This area is strictly the 22 districts of the City of Budapest without the greater metropolitan area. (compare it to New York’s five boroughs with over 8 million people on 305 square miles of land .) About 1/3 of Hungary’s population of 10 million lives in Budapest.
We aimed the famous Erzsebetvaros, or Elizabethstadt in German or in English simply Elizabethtown, the VII-th district (7th district). This area was the outer edge of the City of Pest prior to the 1873, unification of the three independent cities, Buda, Pest, and Old- Buda. During the 1800s there have been gardens, small agricultural plots around this area with one and two story houses where the jewish population started moving in to the city from the countrysides in search for a better life.
The turn of the century (1900) has brought an incredible urban renaissance to the area. Eclectic high-rise buildings and wide boulevards, were designed and built that surrounded the perimeters of the largest jewish quarter in Budapest. During this time, the area’s vernacular name has become “Csikago” after the City of Chicago in the U.S.. The nickname drew a parallel between the rapid urban and economic growth of the area and the American metropolis. Ironically, during the Great Depression, the name stuck with the district, but at this time because of another parallel drawn between the two cities, the growth in crime rate.
Near the end of WWII the jewish population has been systematically decimated by the retreating German military from the Russian front and the Hungarian National Socialists. After the war, during the rebuilding of the City, the center of Elizabethtown, the “ghetto,” as it was unofficially called by the communists, got very small attention. It has remained one of the most dilapidated, poorest and crime ridden part of Budapest, hidden behind magnificent edifices.
During the 1960s’ Communist integration policy, the Gipsy (Romani) from the countryside, was forced to move under the urban relocation programs into the district’s abandoned and battered buildings. Lack of infrastructure, sanitation, policing and available jobs, turned the area into a hotbed of urban crime again. During the 1970’s and 1980’s’ communist gentrification, a slow, however, steady wave of “bohemian artistic crowd” moved into the area that has become the beginning of the second urban renaissance of the district.
Today, Elizabethtown is a huge tourist attraction with street vendors, artisans, galleries, restaurants, bars, micro hotels and great apartments for rent. We spent pretty much the entire Sunday in the area wondering around. One of the greatest attractions are the “Ruin pubs” that open up in abandoned buildings and empty lots with good food, wide selection of beers, art works for sale and music.
Although most of the area has been restored and sanitized to entertain tourists, the ghosts of those who perished during the violent past, have been and will be present in the air, the bricks of the buildings, the cobble stones of the streets and in the reflections of leaded glass windows of the synagogues.