December 31, 1918 - January 6, 1919. New year, same problems

Barkóczi Janka – Torma Galina

The beginning of 1919 was rough. There was a lot of tension in the country and the news was flooded with reports on personal tragedies and violent offenses.

But viewers were still excited about the news and hoped that things will get back to normal both on screen and in real life soon.

The Salgótarján riot

The 100 year old news were mostly about Budapest for practical and ideal reasons, as transporting equipments were quite difficult back then and also, most of the newsworthy events were happening in the capital.

That makes the report on the Salgótarján riots a special one, which was meant to raise awareness about activities of the left. Iron- and metalworkers and miners of Salgótarján joined the Hungarian Communist Party around Christmas time and started to organize. With Béla Kun as their instigator, they discussed their burning questions at two meetings. Not much later in early January, riots started and violent groups broke into several shops and apartments. Some of them brought dynamites from the mines and threw them at the police which made it quite difficult to fight them off. The police had to gather machine gun companies from Hatvan, sailors from Budapest, the gendarme and the rebels' employers to ease the situation, but the 3 day chaos still cost a lot of lives.

The loyal rifle regiment's march in Budapest

The next report takes us back to Budapest, to one of its most emblematic places, Oktogon. Five battalions, vehicle- and armed units of the loyal 1st rifle regiment of Budapest marched through the city on January 4, 1919. The soldiers took over the streets of Budapest after Defense Minister, Sándor Festetich's visit, to demonstrate their commitment to peace and order.

 

The Kovács café's sign in the background tells an interesting story. The building on Andrássy út 48 housed one of the oldest cafés in Budapest, opened by pastry chef Ede Nicoletti in 1889. Although it was officially called Oktogon, guests (who were mostly artists) usually just called it Nicoletti after the owner. In 1909 József Kovács took over the place and after rebuilding it, he renamed it after himself and that is why we see his name on the facade behind the soldiers. The café's guest rooms were often used by the Radical party until November 29, 1918, when with thousands of new members they outgrew the café and moved to Sörház utca 3.

 

Nobody thought at the time that a couple months later, during the Republic this café would be closed. Kovács later reopened it, but in 1934 he went bankrupt and the place had to be put up for auction. As Savoy, the café had its last momentum between the two wars with regulars such as Zsigmond Móricz, politician István Bibó, sociologist Ferenc Erdei, chemist Károly Tettamanti and composers Endre Szervánszky and Endre Székely.

University students gather at Vigadó and the Petőfi statue

On January 6, 1919 the university and college students' territory protection league had a general assembly in Vigadó, where Minister of Education and Religious Affairs, Márton Lovászy spoke to them, amongst others. The youth standing up for their territorial integrity filled up the main hall, but delegates of the Székely guard were also in attendance. The event suffered minor incidents with several people booing and shouting from the gallery, hailing Bolshevism. After the event, the crowd walked to Petőfi tér, sang the Kossuth-nóta and listened to more speeches, then marched down Kossuth Lajos utca and Múzeum körút. They ripped the red ribbons and buttons off of every soldier they passed and offered them tricolor accessories.

MÁV head Gyula Ludwigh's funeral

Gyula Ludwigh (1841-1919) was a sophisticated railroad engineer with enviable international experience. His father, publicist János Ludwigh was close friends with Lajos Kossuth, and served as a government commissioner during the 1848-49 Revolution, for which he was sentenced to death. The family escaped to Western Europe, and their son, Gyula finished his studies in Brussels. He was familiar with Turkish and French railroad systems and worked on the Spanish-Portuguese and Bosnian-Romanian connections. In Hungary he worked on the Károlyváros–Fiume, Nagyvárad–Kolozsvár and Hatvan–Szolnok lines' track signals. From 1881 he led the department of road- and public constructions at the Ministry of Transport, became a member of the board of directors at the State Railways in 1883, and a member of the Upper House. He spent his most successful years as the head of MÁV (Hungarian State Railways) between 1887 and 1909. He was one of the first Hungarians to travel on the Orient Express in the 1880s and remained enthusiastic about everything related to his profession throughout his entire life. He spent his last years with his family on the second floor of the railworkers' pension home on Andrássy út 88, but "his patriotic soul was always troubled by the country's situation, not to mention that he was terminally ill". He battled with serious depression. On January 6, 1919 he woke up, had breakfast, and around 10:30 he went into his study and shot himself with a revolver. His funeral took place 2 days later at the Fiumei út cemetery with the Est crew present.

 

This week's joke: a Budapest local goes home at night

The attack on Baross tér in the previous episode was just one of the many incidents that occurred since the Revolution thanks to poor public safety. The most dangerous area was called Chicago on Rákóczi út between József körút and Keleti Train Station. A lot of clubs and cinemas were in that area, and when these joints closed, attacks, robberies and fistfights started. Pharmacies of the area had to tend to at least 4-5 injured every night. At the end of December 1918, Police Chief Károly Dietz told the papers' police reporters that „The most efficient way for locals to defend themselves from possible robberies and stabbings would be if they avoided the streets at night."

It might come as a surprise, but bad public safety was in close connection with coal shortage, which the country has been suffering from for a long time. The gas required for public lighting also came from coal, and to even minimally illuminate the streets during the coal shortage, the city announced a restriction regarding household gas-usage: from December 30, gas was only allowed between 07:00 and 08:00, and 18:30 to 20:00 for cooking, heating and lighting. The gas pressure was set so low for the rest of the day it was useless. On January 3, 1919 the Interior Ministry made further safety measures on the Budapest Police's suggestion. All houses had to be locked at 17:00 when the sun went down, which they could only reopen at 06:00. The Minister announced a door opening fee for the time in-between and changed closing time for commercial spaces: theaters, restaurants, clubs and other places had to be closed by 21:00. The Police Chief divided the city into police quarters and ordered the officers to patrol the streets all night until sunrise. The prohibition in effect was also enforced.

Despite those measures, months later it was still dangerous to be out at night. Those who were brave enough to step out into the dark, suspiciously scanned everyone while holding revolvers in their pockets. Numerous jokes and cartoons were made about the subject, Marcell Vértes wrote several odes to it: one of them for the Est news and another one for Borsszem Jankó under his moniker, Fodor. The French colonial soldiers' armor burned into everyone's minds, so their impressive daggers were also included in the arsenal of weapons in his cartoons. A similar drawing was made by Károly Mühlbeck for Uj Idők.