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SOC/MOD Part 1 | Hotel Budapest

We kickstart our SOC/MOD article series with an iconic representative of the Budapest hotel scene: Hotel Budapest. Amongst many others, the hotel handed over on the New Year’s Eve of 1967 even had Roger Moore as a guest. And now we made a miniature version of it—go and get your own in our online store!

Written by: Dániel Kovács

In the sixties, thanks to János Kádár‘s careful steps to open the country, the number of tourists in Budapest soared: owing to the well-tuned propaganda, the city became a popular destination for both Hungarian and foreign visitors. They tried to cover the lack of good quality accommodation options with renovations and the building of new hotels, envisioning tower hotels everywhere in line with the trends of the time: one at Blaha Lujza Square, one on Margaret Island and one at the Pest bridgehead of Árpád Bridge. Eventually, only one of the three was actually erected, the 19-story Hotel Budapest, also known as the Körszálló.

View over Szilágyi Erzsébet Alley, the terminus of the Budapest Cog-wheel Railway and Hotel Budapest, 1980. Source: Fortepan / Fortepan

The architect, György Szrogh, belonged to the established architects of KÖZTI, a state-owned architecture firm specializing in public building design: one and a half decades earlier, he gained a dubious reputation by co-designing the modern building of the MÉMOSZ (National Association of Hungarian Construction Workers) headquarters, as the approaching socialist-realism condemned the glamorous “internationalism” of the trade union’s headquarters. Szrogh continued to design welcoming buildings during the time of socialist realism, too, but he returned to the modern as soon as he could: he earned his second Ybl Miklós Award for the epoch-making community center in Salgótarján. His colleagues often referred to Hotel Budapest designed and built in parallel with the Salgótarján community center as a “half-hammered nail”—it is no coincidence that Gábor Verrasztó’s book published about the building in 2018 has the very same title. Speaking of internationalism: the hotel was supposed to be named Hotel Florida originally, however, the competent comrade considered this too much—hence the name Hotel Budapest.

The cylindrical tower hotel is an icon of modern hospitality, and one of the most prominent and well-known structures built in the sixties. Its recipe is incredibly simple: there is an area for staircases and elevators in the middle, confined by pie-shaped rooms, expanding towards the view. The most well-known variant of this architectural pattern is, perhaps, Hotel Nacional Rio designed by Oscar Niemeyer, which was completed a few years after the handover of Szrogh’s building, but differs vastly from it with its elegant, dark curtain walls. In Budapest, architects could only dream about such solutions at the time. Even though Hotel Budapest was built with a progressive sliding formwork technology, the traditional structure of its exterior, the white parapets wrapped around the cylinder somewhat dulls its slenderness. However, the elegant, truncated cone-shaped top gave a ship-like eloquence to the tower, at least in its original condition. 

The cylindrical shape is very favorable from economic aspects, as in a building that has no front and no back, every room can be offered for the same price. In this case, this means a total of 280 rooms. The only drawback is that it needs an appropriate location. They managed to find one in Buda, even though the choice may seem strange and surprising, as Városmajor is not one of the popular tourist destinations in the Hungarian capital. The location was chosen particularly for its serene and relaxing neighborhood, but perhaps the fact that the villas of local party cadres stood in Varázs Street nearby also influenced the decision.

Accordingly, after its opening on New Year’s Eve in 1967, Hotel Budapest welcomed quite elite guests: actors, public figures and politicians stayed in its rooms and its rooftop bar, which was only available to ordinary citizens for an entry fee of five Forints. However, the chance of running into Roger Moore, Heinrich Böll or Mária Szepes and, of course, the view, made even this price (quite expensive at the time) worthwhile: the top of the tower offers a fantastic panorama onto the greenery of Városmajor and the hills of Buda, which have been densely built-up since the opening, yet still seem green from the top.

The hotel faces the terminus of the Budapest Cog-wheel Railway, thus allowing weekend hikers to keep an eye on the construction, which was also regularly covered by the newspapers of the time. However, its true fame and popularity stem from the fact that it made it to the one Forint stamp of the Hungarian Post Office’s series presenting modern buildings, and so an entire country was licking it for years when sending postcards to the family.

Hotel Budapest still serves its original function today—at least when it’s not closed due to the pandemic. The building was renovated between 1993 and 1997: this was when the former rooftop terrace was built in with guest apartments and also when the façade’s original cladding made in the Miskolc Glass Factory consisting of five million pieces of glass was removed. Despite these regrettable changes, Hotel Budapest still flaunts its original glory, standing as an astonishing exclamation mark amidst the hills of Buda, just like it was envisioned by György Szrogh six decades ago.

List of photos:

  • Photo 2: The miniature of Hotel Budapest, 1964. Source: Fortepan / Lóránt Szabó
  • Photos 3-4: The construction of Hotel Budapest, 1966. Source: Fortepan / Lóránt Szabó
  • Photo 5: View from the terrace of Hotel Budapest under construction towards the Buda Castle and Városmajor, 1966. Source: Fortepan / Sándor Bauer
  • Photo 6: Hotel Budapest, 1970. Source: Fortepan / Sándor Bauer
  • Photo 7: View from the terrace of Hotel Budapest under construction towards the Parliament and the Buda Castle, 1975. Source: Fortepan / Sándor Bauer
  • Photos 8-9: Hotel Budapest, lobby, 1970. Source: Fortepan / Sándor Bauer
  • Photo 10: One of the rooms in Hotel Budapest, 1975. Source: Fortepan / Sándor Bauer
  • Photo 11: Hotel Budapest, café, 1970. Source: Fortepan / Sándor Bauer
  • Photo 12: The grill terrace of Hotel Budapest, 1969. Source: Fortepan / Sándor Bauer
  • Photo 13: Hotel Budapest, café, 1975. Source: Fortepan / Sándor Bauer

If you are a great fan of Hotel Budapest, now is the time to get your own miniature version of it! 

Click here and check it out in our online store!

In our custom-designed SOC/MOD collection, we reimagined the iconic buildings of socialist realism from Kyiv through Budapest to Karlovy Vary in the form of concrete deskware items and unique posters. Grab them now in HYPEANDHYPER’s store! Attention: extra limited quantities!

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