Suddenly Beethoven: A Visit to Városmajor and Kis-Sváb-Hegy

The newest installment of our investigation of Budapest’s outré places led us to that most outré of locations, The Square Formerly (and Forever) Known as Moszkva, from where a short walk allowed us to better inspect the city park going by the name of Városmajor. We’d of course often glanced Városmajor, either form a tram zipping by towards Hűvösvölgy, or from the final stop of the cog-wheel railway, but never really made it to the park proper. Or, come to think of it, Városmajor might just be the first of the city’s parks I ever visited, as I faintly recall a walk in a green area close to Krisztina körút.

That was however a long time ago, and felt like in a galaxy far away- so on a splendidly sunny Sunday morning we set out into the great unknown, which was to be Városmajor followed up by the hill behind it, Kis-Sváb-hegy- which should be spelled Kissvábhegy if it refers to the neighbourhood, insert silent prayer here saying thanks for my not having had to study either orthography or geography in Hungarian.

The park was purchased by the city of Buda in the early 18th Century, and got the name of Városmajor as it had been used as a grange and garden by the earl who had previously owned it. In the 19th Century it hosted an amusement park which grew gradually disreputable and the area was slowly invaded by the fetid smell of the nearby Devil’s Ditch. This Victorian Gothic period lasted well beyond its age, into the 1920s, when the ditch was finally covered, and Városmajor was rehabilitated, beginning to look more like the leafy city park we know today: sports enclosures, the Heart of Jesus church and the end station of the cog wheel train were all built in this period.

These days the park is the haunt of inquisitive dogs and their listless walkers, senior citizens entrenched in their newspapers, parents with baby carriages, the occasional jogger, students pretending to study while sunbathing and naturally enough, a statue of Beethoven. And, of course, pigeons, oftentimes landing on the top of Beethoven’s head in a symphony of discontent.

Having taken in the sights of Városmajor, we veered towards the hill onto Temes street and bumped into yet another statue, the presence of which was marginally more understandable: Károly Kós, slightly disturbingly a native of the fair city of Timișoara, is guarding a school named after him. Given that he was among many intriguing things, an architect as well, the general idea and proportions of the monument might have unsettled him, but we trod on unfazed towards the summit.

Though in all honestly unfazed might be an exaggeration, as the air got increasingly hot, the incline increasingly steep and we had no means of hydration, and no corner shop in sight, especially not one which would be open on a Sunday. Ideally this hydration would have come in the shape of a beer, and whenever we set out on such treks we promise ourselves to buy some, and each time we fail- hence I am thinking that if, towards the end of my fascinating and arduous life I’d get the chance to write an autobiography, no other title would fit it better than I Never Learned.

As soon as we got to the place where the Kis-Sváb-hegy trail officially begins, we spotted a wise soul in possession of beer, and we advise you take some too should you decide to follow in our footsteps. The trail itself is a simple and straightforward one, with altogether seven stations, of which the most scenic one is the clearing which offers a splendid view of the city all the way to Gellért hill and beyond. This time around it was also nicely framed by blooming trees and populated by sunbathers and readers, plus a chubby dog who obviously resented the sunbathing bit and irreversibly drifted towards the shade despite the protestations of its adjacent human.

In one of those hopeless gestures of urban renaming, Kis-Sváb-hegy was known as Martinovics Hill between 1950 and 1991, while its peak was and still is used as point zero for the triangulation of Buda. In the 70s the hill also served as the home of an ‘Indian tribe’ founded by photographer István Harmat, who under the name Villámszem (Lightning Eye) led a group of youngsters calling themselves the Napkirály (Sun King) tribe.

We, on the other hand, would have made pretty horrible Indians, as beer and nourishment had suddenly become the pillars of our existence, so we thus made it down on the other side of the hill, and after a pleasant walk in the sleepy afternoon of the 12th district, we ended up finally checking out Vagon restaurant– which happens to be just that, a vintage train carriage parked next to Déli station. The food turned out to be basic but tasty, the beer offer is spiced up by the fittingly railway themed, and also excellent brews of Fűtőház brewery (do try the stout), but the most exciting part remains the collection of rail transport memorabilia, which comes with a handy guide that can be read while you wait for the arrival of your meal.

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