Photo: Alexander Stemp

Crumbling palace sits amid downtown splendour

Anker is a sore thumb – when will something be done?

A generation ago the decrepit Anker Palace would have blended in with the overall unkempt state of the many leftovers from the former regime that surrounded it. But not today, when much redevelopment has taken place all around at Deák tér, thus leaving far behind what could also be a grand, picturesque and relevant structure.

The prominent locale of the Anker-palota, to give it its correct Hungarian name, occupies one of the best-known parts of the city, and must be in the line of sight of anyone who sets foot in downtown Pest. But unless one has an interest in architecture, further thought about this prominent hall of residence probably soon becomes a relatively forgotten matter.

Every tourist and local person alike has registered with the very nearby and beautifully restored Basilica, the deluxe Váci utca shopping promenade, the immediate brace of luxury hotels and the plush Andrassy promenade. These attributes and others have received top priority and nowadays are basically immaculate.

Yet the Anker-palota’s distinguished appearance serves more of a reminder to living-memory revolution times rather than anything else more dignified and prosperous today. Remarkably, while this once equally splendid building still remains at a distinct crossroads with all these famed junctures, owing to its general unknowingness and obvious decline (at least on the outside), it resembles more of a ghost-town setting than anything else in this fast-moving and progressive capital.

Beyond this point of observation and despite its premier location, research into this matter is very thin, resulting in a sort of now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t mirage. The Anker-palota almost never gets a mention anywhere. Few people are even aware of this camera-shy building’s name.

Therefore, with what minimal research there is, it was finally good to discover that this yellowish eclectic structure with its Greek-style Doric columns was built from a design by Hungarian architect Ignác Alpár between 1908 and 1910. The palota was commissioned by a Viennese insurance company and was known as the Anker Life and Pension company (as faintly seen today with some form of vague lettering inscriptions upon its front, presumably relating to this).

This enterprise clearly closed down at some point during the 20th century, and eventually the building became an apartment block with a few ground-level shops. As one walks around, the fanciful crescent-shaped alleyway Anker köz runs round the back and looks much better.

Finally, this palace-of-sorts holds a case-closed secret. The Anker was host to the Galileo Circle (Galilei Kör), an underground movement between 1908 and 1919. This was an atheist-materialist student organisation that split into four varying subgroups: the Radical Democrats, the Marxists, the Anarcho-syndicalists and the Social Democrats.

Despite differences they had some common goals, namely to protect free scientific research at universities, the cultivation of social sciences, assisting poor students, the spread of anti-clerical and atheist views, the support of anti-nationalism, promoting internationalism, opposing large estates and finally some agreements – as well as some attempts – to assassinate various politicians at that troubled time.

All this made me wonder what other secrets does this place, still relatively mysterious, hold? Although I have walked around the Anker many times, I have never made it through the front door. Therefore, I have nothing more to go on other than, I assume, it’s probably more comfortable when inside. But still it’s obvious: the Anker Palace is, at least, a rightfully attractive and impressionable locale and worthy of recognition.

Finally, I hope that long-awaited restoration work and decoration will soon return the place to its erstwhile glory. Why haven’t the authorities acted on this matter far sooner?

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