How many bridges are there in Budapest

History in the flow. Rivers as European places of remembrance

Sebastian Garthoff

Sebastian Garthoff studied history and social sciences in Erfurt and Vilnius. From 2006 to 2009 he worked for the German-language weekly newspaper Pest Lloyd in Budapest. He is the editor of Thuringian General Newspaper in Erfurt.

Budapest always wavered between extremes. Big cities, representation and modernity were juxtaposed with melancholy, fear of the future and a longing for death. And right in the middle of it was and is the Danube.

The Chain Bridge and Pest viewed from Buda. License: cc by / 3.0 / de (Marc Ryckaert; Wikimedia Commons)

Capital of suicides

The year is 1877. The poet János Arany publishes his poem "Bridge Consecration". In the main role: the Margaret Bridge. A year earlier it was completed as the second connection across the Danube in Budapest.

This gave the Budapest suicides another opportunity to switch to the other side at an early stage. Six people used it that year. And the poet Arany had material for his work. In the 20 stanzas of this "city ballad" he lets a cross-section of Hungarian society at the end of the 19th century jump over the railing. It hits the hapless card player as well as the unhappily in love, the cheated, the poor, the professionally and socially failed, the sick and the plain and simple tired of life.

In the year of Arany's "bridge consecration", a total of over a hundred people in Bundapest decided to take such a shortcut out of their lives. 30 of them jumped into the water, which only 14 of them survived. This made jumping into water the most common type of suicide, followed by hanging and headshots.

The suicide rate in Hungary has been rising steadily since the middle of the 19th century. In this regard, Budapest left behind not only Vienna, the other metropolis of the Danube monarchy, but also other European capitals. According to the statistics, it was mainly workers, apprentices, service staff and day laborers who passed away voluntarily, i.e. the lower social class, which made up the majority of Budapest's population.

But while these lived on the outskirts of the city - for example in the later demolished Mária-Valéria settlement - in sometimes miserable conditions, the city itself blossomed into a metropolis, represented wherever possible, and tackled modernity in a hurry .

Metropolis on the Danube

Budapest had long since become a European city at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries. At that time, no Viennese would have shared Prince Metternich's view that Budapest was part of the Orient. Anyone who went to the Hungarian capital around 1820 went on an expedition. At the end of the century, people went there to do business.

Budapest had become cosmopolitan not only with its first-class restaurants and hotels, with its electric trams and the subway (the first on the European continent), large parts of the population spoke German, many also French.

Even before the emergence of today's Budapest, the area had attracted different peoples. And in the middle of it was always the Danube. The Romans built Aquincum, the capital of the province of Pannonia, on its banks. The city prospered under Roman rule. With the governor's palace, several amphitheatres and baths, it offered everything a city had to offer in terms of power and demonstration and entertainment.

As a border town on the border river, its strategic importance was also immense. Alone, with each shift in the boundary, a previously important post can sink into insignificance. And so Aquincum's heyday also had an expiration date.

At the end of the 4th century, Germanic and Hunnic tribes invaded during the migration of peoples. After the fall of the Roman Empire and the end of the Great Migration, a Slavic population first settled here, but from 896 they were displaced by Hungarians, Uralic peoples who immigrated to the Pannonian lowlands.

In the Middle Ages, neither Buda nor Pest could be called real cities. Political events took place in Esztergom. During the Mongol storm in 1241, both parts of today's Bundapest were destroyed. Buda only became the Hungarian capital at the beginning of the 15th century.

But even after the end of Turkish rule in the late 17th century, Buda with 13,000 and Pest with 4,000 inhabitants remained provincial nests, which were separated from the wide and unregulated Danube, only temporarily connected by a wobbly pontoon bridge.

The ancient peoples who once lived on the Danube have disappeared, lost in time. Some traces remained, many were washed into oblivion. There were always new ones added. The city owes its repeated awakening primarily to the Danube.
The Chain Bridge is Budapest's most famous bridge over the Danube License: cc publicdomain / zero / 1.0 / deed.de (Wilfredor; Wikimedia Commons)

Departure into the modern age

In the center of important traffic routes, Pest became more and more important. At the end of the 18th century, Budapest was the largest port along the almost 3,000 kilometers long Danube. The best and cheapest way to get to the Hungarian capital was by boat.

Finally, Buda and Pest were permanently connected with the Chain Bridge. When it was completed in 1849, it was the first stone bridge on the Danube below Regensburg. It is said that Széchenyi, who gave it its name, was encouraged to build it after he had to wait a week to come to the other bank to attend the funeral of his father.

However, the individual parts of the city were not politically connected until decades later. In 1873 the previously independent cities of Buda, Óbuda and Pest were merged. The name Budapest itself did not appear before; Pest-Buda was common in parlance.

The previous independence of the cities was not only due to their separation by the Danube. While Buda was mostly German-speaking, Catholic and loyal to the Habsburg royal family, the anti-Habsburg revolution broke out in Pest in 1848 - led by the Protestant Lajos Kossuth.

Three decades later, during the unification of the three districts, the city experienced rapid development. From the middle of the 19th century, especially since the "Compromise" in 1867, which introduced the dual monarchy Austria-Hungary onto the stage of world history, and up to the First World War, Budapest developed very suddenly into a metropolis, even more violently than other capitals that did could look back on a larger past. During this time, the city's population increased sevenfold to almost 750,000. Budapest rose to the top ten European cities in terms of population, it was now larger than Rome, Madrid or Hamburg. It became the largest city between Vienna and St. Petersburg.

The population explosion mainly affected the plague. Younger and far less idyllic than Buda, it was the dynamic engine that made Budapest famous and in which 83 percent of the population lived at the turn of the century.