Alajos Hauszmann is one of the most significant representatives of Hungarian historicist architecture. Many buildings in Budapest are associated with his name. They include the splendid block of flats at Döbrentei street 8, whose commissioner was one of Hauszmann’s first clients and his old friend György Kégl (1822-1908) – a distant relative of Sándor Kégl, the renowned Iranologist and great friend of cats. The commission was probably also connected with an earlier, almost fatal accident. In fact, during a duck hunt, Kégl shot off an incisor of Hauszmann, who at that time was at the beginning of his career. Due to his guilty conscience, he payed close attention to him, as Hauszmann himself mentions in his diary.
On 22 and 23 April, during the Budapest100 festival of this year, this house was open to visitors. The stories of the former inhabitants were collected by Noémi Saly, the great monographer of Budapest, who also lives here. One of her own family stories was also included in her volume Példabeszédek (Parables, 2015):
“My mother moved to Döbrentei street in 1947. It was two years after the siege. Two of the three rooms in the flat were only covered by the starry or stormy sky, and the kitchen had no walls. The bathroom had also no roof, so the rain and snow fell steadily on the thick ceiling beams. […] She enters into the block of ruins, bathing in sunshine, and then, through the gilt beams, to the balcony. The Danube is blue, so she decides to stay.”
Some blocks away: Döbrentei street 16, seen from Attila street, in 1945. Source: Krisztián Ungváry / Fortepan
Many people spent shorter or longer time in the house from its construction to its nationalization in 1950. One of the first inhabitants was Rezső Abele, the former governor of Fiume, who moved to Budapest after his resignation in 1897, and lived here until his death in 1923. Although he changed the Adria for the Danube, nevertheless he kept the brand: both the governor’s palace in Fiume and the house in Döbrentei street were built by Hauszmann. Later, in the early 1920s, several prominent figures of the Russian monarchist emigration found new home here. Under the leadership of Petr Glazenap, the former military governor of Stavropol, here operated from 1921 the administrative center of the White Legion, which tried to recruit former Russian prisoners of war in Hungary and anti-Bolshevist officers of the former Austro-Hungarian army for a war against the Soviet Union. Although Glazenap left to Munich in 1923, the former colonel of the Tsar’s body guard Vladimir Malama and his family, who had lived here since 1919, remained in the house. Their flat was home on a weekly basis for a political salon, whose purpose was to convince the local representatives of the Entente about the necessity to restore the monarchy in Russia. The club’s regular visitors included the Governor of Hungary, Miklós Horthy, who was on friendly terms with Malama. In 1925, the organization of the Russian emigrés was abolished by an order of the Foreign Ministry, but the Malama family remained in Döbrentei street. Vladimir Malama died in 1935 in Nice, but his wife, Anna Samoylova remained in Budapest. She died in 1950, allegedly due to the illness received in 1945 from the Soviet soldiers.
And towards the end of his life, from 1939 on, here lived Zoltán Medve Zoltán (1868–1943), the retired governor of Krassó-Szörény County, who at the peak of his career, on 12 May 1913 performed the last territorial expansion of Hungary, the annexation of the island of Ada-Kaleh.
Albeit the Interior Minister’s order required full confidentiality, the event quickly became known. The Népszava reported about it three days later, on 15 May, taking over the report of the Keleti Értesítő:
“On 12 May, the Monday of Pentecost, the Turkish island of Ada-Kaleh near Orsova, was annected and immediately taken into possession on behalf of the Hungarian government by Dr. Zoltán Medve, Governor of Krassó-Szörény County.
It is reported from Orsova: On Monday at 12 noon, Governor Zoltán Medve, Vicegovernor Aurél Issekutz and Mr. Podhraczky, Chief Servant of Orsova, accompanied by a gendarme officer and four gendarmes, appeared in the island of Ada-Kaleh, and immediately went to the Governor’s building, where the Governor of the island, Sherif Eddin Bey received them.
Mr. Medve showed the decision of the Hungarian government, and he read its Hungarian text. This decision instructed the Governor to annex the island of Ada Kaleh in the name of His Majesty, and to immediately take it into possession.
Then, turing to the Vicegovernor and the Chief Servant, the Governor briefly outlined the importance of the event, and he entrusted them to strictly observe the traditions of the island’s population, especially the free practice of religion, and to act so that the inhabitants feel themselves equal to the other sons of the homeland. Finally he called on the Chief Servant as the administrative authority to take over the island as part of Krassó-Szörény County.
After the annexation was completed, a protocol was redacted. Governor Sherif Eddin Bey declared, that he cannot acknowledge the annexation, because he had received no instructions from the Turkish government. He is therefore obliged to refuse the signature of the protocol, and to protest against the occupation of the island. Governor Zoltán Medve referred to the decision of the Hungarian government, and declared, that he cannot take the protest into account. Nevertheless, he had no objections to the Governor’s remaining on the island, until he receives detailed instructions from his government. He also instructed the gendarmes to stay in the island as a sign of the annexation, and to take care of the order and peace. After this, the Governor and his escort left the island.
According to a more recent telegram from Orsova, on Tuesday evening Sherif Eddin Bey left the island, but nobody knows to where. Rumor says, that the Turkish government will oppose the annexation of the island in the most decisive way at the great powers.”
Despite the appearances, the annexation was merely a formal act, the last episode of the decade-long territorial debate. In fact, Ada Kaleh had previously been under Hungarian sovereignty. It was almost precisely thirty-five years earlier, on 25 May 1878, that the Monarchy, taking advantage of the Stan Stefano Peace Treaty which closed the Russian-Turkish war, occupied the Turkish island on the Lower Danube. The treaty, concluded on 3 March, had not decided about the possession of the island, only about its evacuation and the demolition of its fortress. Thus, the Ottoman empire in any case had to renounce the territory, whose possession was not irrelevant to the Danubian empire. In case they did not act, a neighboring competitor, Serbia or Romania could have laid hand on the island, laying in a comercially and tactically strategic point. In March and April 1878, the Austro-Hungarian diplomacy, which was already vigilant, made the decisive step, and after lengthy negotiations, on 21 May, with the tacit consent of the Russians, the representatives of the Austro-Hungarian and the Ottoman government agreed on the temporary Austro-Hungarian occupation of Ada Kaleh, postponing the final regulation.
The temporay occupation lasted forty years. The clearing up of the odd situation – a Turkish civil administration alongside with an Austro-Hungarian military presence – was from time to time on the agenda of the Hungarian party, but no progress was made until the annexation of 1913. The annexation took place in a political situation which was very similar to the occupation of 1878. The Monarchy wanted to prevent that during the new negotiations at the end of the first Balkan War any other Balkan state might require the island for itself. However, the integration into the Hungarian civil administration remained nominal – due not so much to Müdir Sherifeddin’s protest, but rather to the prudence of the Austro-Hungarian government, which did not want to overshadow the good relations with the Porta either in 1913, or later, in the war years. A Lex Ada Kaleh was never born. The “Ada Kaleh question” was finally resolved by the dissolution of the two parties, the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy and the Ottoman Empire. The 1938 Sèvres and the 1933 Lausanne Treaty awarded the island to Romania.
Forty years of Hungarian rule, however, did not pass without trace. In the years of the occupation, the strategic significance of the island declined (only during the war it became important again, when even Egon Erwin Kisch, “the frenzied reporter”, wrote articles from here. Nevertheless, due to its situation and the neighboring Orsova and Hercules Bath, the island soon became a popular tourist destination, as it is attested by newspaper ads and postcards sent from here. But it attracted not only the touirsts. Turcologist Ignác Kúnos visited the island several times. His ethnographic research was aided by the local teacher and merchant Mehmed Fehmi, who, as attested by the postcards, also operated a printing press, and who, as the leader of the anti-annexation movement, was elected in 1914 the deputy of Ada Kaleh in the constituency of Constantinople. Kúnos held lectures and published articles on his visits to the island, and he published the materials collected by him in several volumes: the folk songs in 1906, the folk tales first in 1907 in German, in two volumes, then in 1923 also in Hungarian. Thereby he virtually saved a great part of the island’s ethnography and of the archaic Turkish dialect spoken here, almost seventy years before its sinking under the water of the Danube. Kúnos probably would have got to the island without the Hungarian occupation as well, but, alongside with the gradual disappearance of the Rumelian Turkish world, the popularity of Ada Kaleh in Hungary also contributed to his interest in the island. Seen from this point of view, the decades long Austro-Hungarian aspirations were perhaps not completely useless.
The first summary blog post on Ada Kaleh in Hungarian was published on Falanszter. The Dunai Szigetek (Danubian Islands) regularly publishes information-rich entries on it, with many little-known infos and images. In 2011, a large exhibition on Ada Kaleh was organized in Bucharest, whose catalog, Marian Țuțui’s Ada-Kaleh sau Orientul scufundat (Ada-Kaleh, or the sunken Orient) will be soon presented by us.
A genre postcard on Ada Kaleh: the original version (above), livened up with a few odalisques for a tourist trap (below)