Garden City of the Octopus People: A Walk in Wekerletelep

Having explored the villas of Mátyásföld a couple of weeks back, we decided it was now time to investigate another leafy peculiarity of the city: Wekerletelep, lying in district XIX, and easily accessible from the blue metro’s Határ út station. Provided the metro is running, which on the weekends it is not, so we ambled around somewhat aimlessly until we found the right direction. I have always found Határ út particularly confusing, especially since I oddly tend to end up there on very hot summer days, when I seem to invariably come down with mild sunstroke before I find my way out. This time around the task was made worse by a considerable change in the (not particularly eye pleasing) landscape: the Europark shopping mall is seemingly being renewed and looked much akin to an eviscerated whale.

Once in Wekerle, though, getting around becomes considerably easier: the neighbourhood was planned methodically around two main boulevards (Pannónia and Hungária) crossing it from one end to the other, and meeting in the main square, bearing the name of Károly Kós, one of the main architects of the project. I confess to having been ignorant of much of Kós’s works, but I kept entertaining the blog’s industrious co-photographer with remarks on how, although Wekerle is less posh than Mátyásföld, I prefer it on account of being strongly reminiscent of Transylvania and was thus not too surprised to discover that Kós was born in Timişoara, and after having worked in Budapest, moved back to Transylvania and lived in Cluj towards the end of his life.

The building of the neighbourhood started in 1908, when prime minister Sándor Wekerle initiated the state funded purchase of lands from the Sárkány family. The intention was to set up an area which would provide a welcoming environment to workers moving in to the capital from the countryside. Instead of crowding them into cramped apartments, with no access to greenery, Wekerletelep would have small plots with single houses, family houses and even larger shared houses, but all with gardens surrounding them.  The narrower streets, disposed in chessboard pattern towards the edge of the area, were reserved for the one floor houses, while the wider central boulevards were dominated by larger, multi-floor buildings.

Particular attention was paid to the greenery: about fifty thousand trees were planted in the area, and locals received help from the administration to run their own gardens, a system which proved so efficient that according to some sources in good years the berry harvest would cover the rent costs of the inhabitants. As such, Wekerletelep is the only Hungarian example of Ebenezer Howard’s garden city movement and remains a soothing green oasis to this day, when authorities sadly insist on placing asphalt slabs wherever they find an available square metre.

Without having any spectacular feats, except perhaps the slightly Mediterranean style church overlooking the almost Bavarian main square, Wekerle quietly impresses as an example of how, with the necessary amount of forethought and effort, one can build livable cities, that are both pleasant and functional. Sure enough, many of the solutions which were state of the art in the early 20th Century have become outdated by now, so the community hopes to introduce some innovative solutions. One such aspect is the modernizing of doors and windows. Speaking of which, I spent a considerable amount of time amazed at the system of having two sided wooden shutters bolted to the outside of the house, trying to imagine the octopus-like Wekerlians extend their water polo champion arms to close both shutters at the same time. Which in most cases is frankly impossible, so after much amazement I had to conclude that they must close them one at a time. (Or not at all, a lot of houses seem to keep the shutters as a decorative feature only, and have thick curtains or roller blinds on the inside.)

Besides belief in green spaces, the neighbourhood’s founding fathers also shared one in making the main square a hub for the social life of Wekerletelep, and that is what it obviously remains more than a century later as well. While the side streets were dozing off in a lavender scented summer midday disturbed only by the random tweet of one of Wekerle’s many mysterious birds, almost as if suspended in an indefinite historical era where a horse cart would have looked just as natural as the GDR made caravan parked in front of one of the houses, Kós Károly square was animated by children playing in the park, teenagers doing whatever obscure things teenagers do, usually with one of them clattering a skateboard to the pavement, while the grown-ups saw to their weekend shopping, visited the café or ran into the lottózó for one quick bet- it was a World Cup Saturday after all.

There were of course those who did not run anywhere but tarried in front of the bar with a Soproni in hand- no neighbourhood round here is a real neighbourhood if it lacks half a dozen locals who, at any moment of the day, look like they’ve just arrived at the bar and intend to leave immediately, yet everyone else knows that they only go home to sleep, and only if they really must. This domestic set up does lead to a certain scarcity of restaurants, with most people likely opting for home made dishes with a dash of parsley from the garden, but should you be famished in Wekerle, there is still no reason to panic: Wekerle étterem on Pannónia út provides for sizable and unfussy meals to go with the neighbourhood’s general anachronistic charms.

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