Cafe Wandering — An Excursion through the Literature and History of Budapest

Cafe Wandering — An Excursion through the Literature and History of Budapest

Cafe-Wandering-2To have the experience of sitting in one of the cafe houses in Budapest and sipping your coffee with a lovely cake or pogácsa is a journey back in the heroic age, when Budapest was a flourishing, vivid and thriving city of Europe, full of life, ambition and excitement.

This tour is dedicated to the masterpieces of Hungarian architecture as well as poets, artists and writers who created the most remarkable pieces of Hungarian literature from the second half of 19th until the first half of 20th century, most of them habitués of the cafe houses.

Unfortunately, during communism many cafes were closed, altered or even ruined so as to prevent people from forming a conspiracy of any kind, a censorship, which, in turn, destroyed a whole urbane Budapest culture of social gathering, spiritual and culinary refreshment and the lively exchange of views.  As a result of this, we will see only a few of the originals cafes in the city, as well as ones that were modeled after them in the past century and which still give a rich impression of Budapest’s café esprit.

Cafe-Wandering-3Our 3 hour walk starts at Vorosmarthy square, in the heart of the city.   Our first cafe already gives us a deeper insight into the ambiance of Imperial Budapest. The Gerbaud with its exquisite interior, and more than 100 years of history, served as a central social hub for both tourists and locals during the late 19th century.

From Gerbaud we take the tram by the Danube to the Central Cafe, a space so dignified that it epitomizes what the cafe house culture really meant during the 19th century pinnacle of the Habsburg Empire’s economic and cultural power. The “scenery”, the delicate decor, the delicious meals, the delightful desserts and refreshing drinks give us a full taste of the atmosphere of a bygone culture’s social rituals.

Next (and within walking distance), we move the Museum Café, in operation since 1885.  Prominent clientele were regularly entered in the guest book, now a historical document, including the names of many Members of Parliament, distinguished writers, and famous Hungarian actors. The lavish walls are covered in tiles from the world-famous Zsolnay porcelain works.  Another unique feature is the grand 19th century Venetian mirror.

Cafe-Wandering-4After yet another short walk, we come to the Urania Cafe on Rakoczi street, which houses the oldest Film Theatre in the city, and which is famous for its lectures given by prominent intellectuals before large audiences of Budapest cosmopolitans.

From here we will walk towards Blaha Lujza tér, on the big boulevard to reach our next sight, the elegant New York Cafe, one of the most beautiful Cafe Houses in the world. We end our walking tour sitting down for a coffee and cake in the Muvesz Cafe on Andrassy Boulevard, near the Opera House, hoping to catch a glimpse of the city’s celebrity actors and actresses, who regularly patronize the venue during their rehearsal breaks from the nearby Budapest Broadway.

Andras Schweitzer Andras Schweitzer is senior lecturer at ELTE University, Budapest, focusing on contemporary political history. He holds a PhD in International Relations (2006, Corvinus University of Budapest). Besides his alma mater, he took courses on the history of the Israel/Palestine conflict at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, studied contemporary Hungarian history at the Eszterházy Károly Főiskola (Eger) and East-Central European history at the Central European University (CEU). He had worked for 17 years for HVG, Hungary’s leading political-financial-cultural weekly magazine („The Economist of Hungary”) as journalist and section editor producing and editing feature and news stories, interviews, reportage among them some award-wining ones. He covered a wide array of topics in- and outside of Hungary at conferences from Boston through Copenhagen and Nové Zámky to Seoul. His most recent articles appeared in The Guardian, in Hungarian Spectrum, in Intersections – East European Journal of Society and Politics, in The Hungarian Quarterly. He is a vice-chairman of the Hungarian Europe Society.
ZoltanZoltán Csipke was born and raised in Los Angeles. After starting his PhD in History at the University of Liverpool in 2006, he moved to Budapest in 2007 for his research, where he has lived ever since. Zoltán’s research focused specifically on the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and collective memory, with a wider interest in the Cold War. He formerly lectured at Eötvös Loránd University and the Balassi Institute, having also been a senior editor at the All Hungary Media Group, where he focused on Hungarian politics and Budapest nightlife. He can frequently be found wandering the streets of Budapest with his camera as he indulges in his hobby of cityscape photography or providing impromptu history lessons at a table with friends in one of the city’s cafés or ruin pubs.
RunaRuna Hellinga is a freelance journalist, writing for Dutch newspapers. She came to Hungary in 1989 when communism was just collapsing and the century’s most exciting political, economical and social changes were unfolding. From 1994, she spent a number of years in South Africa, covering the end of Apartheid in that country for the Dutch press. In 1998 she returned to Hungary as a freelancer, and has been living in the country ever since, first in Budapest and the last couple of years in the small Baroque town of Vác. In 2008 she wrote a book about Budapest, covering the city’s history and culture, but also the social and political developments from the times of the Romans until today. Together with her husband Henk Hirs (also a journalist) she organizes themed tours, covering subjects from Jugendstil architecture and the remnants of the Turkish occupation to the communist past. As a correspondent, she can also offer a lot of insight in recent Hungarian political and cultural developments. On request, she also organizes tours around special subjects like Hungarian literature or current social issues.
HenkHenk Hirs is a Dutch radio and newspaper journalist who first came to Hungary in the summer of 1989, when the country was in the midst of pulling down the Iron Curtain. He has been reporting on its many ups and downs ever since,getting to know the people, their turbulent history, their various cultures and their impossible language in the process. Between 2006 and 2010, he was editor in chief of Business Hungary, the monthly magazine of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hungary. After living in Budapest for many years, in 2008 he moved with his wife, Runa (also a distinguished journalist), to the lovely little Baroque town of Vác close to the Hungarian capital. Suddenly, he got to know “the other Hungary” of gracious suburban town life. He has published several books on the country, among them a tourist guide which he updates yearly. He is also the (co-)author of various Dutch-language blogs on current events and tourism developments.
CsabaCsaba Tibor Tóth born and raised in Szeged, acquired a distinguished interest in the history of his country quite early on, finishing his BA studies in 2010 at the University of Szeged, with a double major in history and cultural anthropology. On the cultural anthropology track, he finished a thesis on the beginnings of Hungarian Jewish Folklore in the 1890’s, then he expanded on with this topic at Central European University, where he achieved a MA with Honors in 2011. In order to study Jewish history and culture in a broader context, Csaba went through a second Masters program at the University of Southampton, UK in 2012. He currently works at Budapest’s Holocaust Memorial Center in as a guide and educator, while regularly blogging in Hungarian about the country’s history and daily politics.


Starting Location:
Café Gerbeaud
Vörösmarty tér 7-8
1051, Budapest


Groups of over 10 should contact us at [email protected] in order to get a special rate for their party.

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