August 20-26. From Crystal Lake to Abbazia: late summer adventures in 1918

Barkóczi Janka

Az Est Film's first compilation takes us back to late summer, 1918. The war was still on, but the German army collapsed on the Western front in early August.

Peace talks will be starting soon and the promise of peace is substantial, even for those who ended up on the losing side. On our trip back to the last minutes of the great Monarchy, we see hopeful, smiling faces all around the capital.

Swimmers of Crystal Lake

The first images bring us to the unique lido, Crystal Lake. The owner of the gigantic artificial bath on Kerepesi út was Adolf Emmerling, godfather of Hungarian pyrotechnics. Emmerling had a factory at Vágóhíd utca 17 in Pesterzsébet until it was taken by the state. He was also the first person to shoot fireworks from the top of Gellért Hill in 1927. The resourceful businessman probably made a smaller fortune with his suburban pool, although he was strongly criticized by the media for the allegedly obscene operation. Az Újság's reporter wrote „the bacchanals at this puddle of a lake are simply intolerable! Several honest families were fooled by the advertisements and left the lido in a horrified shock!” Faces from the Budapest nightlife, cafés and bars appear in the waves, and the tanned and cursing lady guests, "who would only wear fitted garments, lay on their stomachs swinging their legs in the sky and chatting about things other women would be ashamed to talk about.” It is not exactly clear whether the journalist was trying to horrify the readers or sell the place, but one thing is for sure: based on this footage, the exhausted soldiers and curious teenagers had the time of their life at this joint.

Children's summer vacation in Abbazia

The King Charles Children's Summer Vacation Initiative was a symbolic chapter of the Monarchy's end. The poorly organized, dangerous trip left deep scars in both the children and their worried parents, not to mention that Italians kept that part of the Adriatic under heavy fire at the time. The exchange program covered 6.000 Hungarian children's trip to sea, and plenty more Austrian children's vacation in Hungary, some say around 50.000. Suspicious locals thought the real reason behind the initiative was to feed the malnourished Austrian children from the "Monarchy's pantry", Hungary. The movie is basically a propaganda video, which was meant to blow away the scandal. Interesting fact: while in the printed version of Az Est they criticized the organizers, demanding to find the ones accountable, their cinematic feature offers a different view on the situation - we see cheerful swimmers and hikers on the beach, which has nothing to do with reality. The only true moment captured was the train's arrival at Keleti railway station on August 26, and parents finally finding their children in the massive, chaotic crowd.  

Eastern Expo opening

The Hungarian Chamber of Industry and Commerce's 10th Products Expo opened on August 17, 1918 with a special Eastern theme. The 10 day event had record number of visitors with 215.000 people. Besides Hungarian goods, everyone was interested in the Turkish, Ukrainian, Bulgarian, Albanian, Bosnian, Romanian and Serbian products, as the fine Eastern fabrics, Turkish fashion items, perfumes and furs reminded them of peacetime. The expo was held at the Industry Hall, and on the stairs and in the lobby we can see some important public figures of the time. There were Imre Révész and János Müllner photographers, and listening to the opening speeches (or rather just watching them, as the movie is silent), there are a few politicians we recognize - Ahmet Hikmet Turkish and Ivan Stojanovic Bulgarian Consuls, Sándor Popovics Finance Minister and Gusztáv Tőry Minister of Justice. The 10 day fair was a major success due to the immense number of visitors and the successful deals they made. However, there was a new Government Regulation restricting exportation from August 24, and the Eastern Economic Centre had to do some serious lobbying to realize those deals.  

Officer Inauguration at Ludovica

Inauguration was always a major milestone in the life of a professional soldier. These images reveal details of the 1918 ceremony held on August 18 (birthday of Franz Joseph I) at the Ludovica. It was the 18th inauguration, as the institution opened in 1897 and the first officers graduated in 1901. The complicated ceremony had an unusual and heart-breaking addition that year when their church was consecrated, and they put up a plaque with the names of all the graduates who recently died at war. Although the report does not show, János Csernoch archbishop in ermine was also invited to the ceremony. Prince Francis Joseph welcomed the 125 graduates and Antal Leopold clergyman blessed their swords. The inauguration was held two days later, on August 20 between World War I and World War II, as it became unnecessary to keep on celebrating the king's birthday, and they kept that tradition to this day. Interesting fact; saluting with swords and chanting "For the homeland until death!" became popular again in the 2010's, although the ceremony has been taking place at either Heroes Square or the Kossuth Square for many years now. The young soldiers went to war shortly after their inauguration during World War I, but it is unclear what happened to those who graduated in 1918.  

Saint Stephen's Day Procession

János Csernoch appears in the news once again, now leading the Saint Stephen's Day Procession. The archbishop is a real media personality, we also saw him two years ago at the coronation of Charles IV. On the footage recorded at Matthias Church, the Holy Trinity Statue is clearly visible, and on the pedestal of this monument is a baldachin, under which the archbishop conducted the ceremony. Antal Leopold, who blessed the swords at Ludovica, mentioned in his memoire that he was also present as Csernoch's clerical assistant and as the coronation's master of ceremony. The king did not appear at the Saint Stephen's Day events, instead he sent Prince Albrecht to represent him. The festivities were altogether much more modest that year.  

Fire at the Margaret Island Coffee House

This report is particularly interesting, as it is an early version of the catastrophe news genre, which became quite popular later on. Reporters today can immediately rush to similar events, but in those days it took intense organization to provide skilled professionals with the required equipment in such a short amount of time. This might explain why they only had footage of the extinguishing and the smoldering ruins. The building with an impressive wooden structure was originally a hunting pavilion, made for Prince Joseph's Millennial celebrations and designed by an important architect of the time, Ignác Alpár. The complex was transferred to Margaret Island from the City Park to complement the nearby restaurant's infrastructure. After the August 24 fire they rebuilt the roofing and it continued operating under the name, Márkus Coffee House. The two tenants, József Kiszely and Imre Márkus suffered minimal damages, as both of them were insured. We will probably never know whether the fire had anything to do with the fact, that the tenants were repeatedly ordered by the court (even a couple days before the disaster took place) to pay a considerable amount of fine for overpricing their goods.

Bicycle Race at Millenáris

„While there was peace and silence in the realm of cyclists, energy was slumbering, muscles were resting, cobwebs were growing on the pedals, and there were only a handful of sportsmen daydreaming about the glorious past and dwelling on the revival of cycling.” – wrote the Budapesti Hírlap in 1911. Later organizations and societies were formed and a debate started. While one group wanted to hold their event at Millenáris, the other – just to annoy them – was trying to lure the public to the Hippodrome. This rivalry had a big impact on the cycling culture's evolution, which might explain the professional attitude seen on the 1918 footage. The Endeavor Sports Club was founded in 1897 by railway workers at the Hungarian State Railway's Northern workshop. Soccer was their top priority, but as the footage shows, they also enjoyed engaging in other sports. They organized the August 25 event on Millenáris, where the main attraction was the 2000 meter obstacle race, which number might seem a little odd today. However, there were similar obstacle races dating back to 1909, and for some reason they managed to stay popular. Béla Bartos came in first, who was on a winning streak, as a month before he also won first prize on the same field at the Brightness Bicycle Circle's 10 km duo cup with team member, István Szécsényi. The kindest part of this segment is at 8:28, when a funny cyclist does rotating gestures with his hands. He was probably encouraging the reporter, who was using a hand-cranked camera. On this day both cyclists and cameramen had to powerfully rotate their machines, no doubt.