Budapest parliament winter Danube
Photo: Alpár Kató – Daily News Hungary ©

Up until 70 years ago from today, people actually lived in the Parliament building. But this is not the only special story.

We tend to think about the Parliament as the scene where laws are made, and where representatives go to work. However, the beautiful building has given and is giving jobs to hundreds of people, and it even served as a home before. Since 1902, many strange and surprising events occurred in the building, writes

1. Workers of the country

For lawmaking to be uninterrupted in the building, the work of hundreds of people is needed. Stenographers have worked there since the beginning, who had 24 hours to clean up what was said on the day of the sitting and give it to the diary editor. Printers, bookbinders and librarians have worked there since the beginning as well.

The room guards oversaw that there was order at the sittings. They gave tickets to the audience to the balconies of the meeting room, and they brought letters, papers and pieces of paper calling representatives out of the room.

Of course, doormen looked after the entrances, and at the doors of high-ranking registrars, doorkeepers were posted.

Cloakroom attendants guarded the coats and hats of representatives, and phone ladies patched calls through in the phone centre of the building.

In order for everything to work, of course, they needed financial staff, an economic office, and cashiers, who paid the daily fee of the representatives and the wage of the officials.

They used vacuum cleaners for cleaning as early as in 1906, but its handling required serious skills, so it was not done by a cleaner but by a mechanic assistant. Their job was to assemble the machine, to operate and to clean it. Along the janitors worked professionals (locksmiths, masons, tinsmiths, carpenters), but runners, elevator operators and mechanics were needed as well. The doormen, guards and elevator operators all wore black uniforms, hats and ties.

The Parliament guard responsible for order and security operated separately from the office. At the end of 1904, they had only operated for three months, but because of the press’s powerful attacks, they had to disassemble the corps, and their new uniforms were given to the National Theatre and the Opera House’s property rooms. In 1913, the Parliament guard was reassembled; they had sleeping and eating areas built for them in the building. If in the meeting room, there was some sort of disorderly conduct, the house president could alert them with a bell. On celebratory events, they provided the guard of honour.

The single members of the guard lived in the multi-bed sleeping rooms, and firefighters were also provided with sleeping places in the Parliament.

In 1906, they issued regulations for those living in the Parliament. For example, stoves and chimneys had to be cleaned monthly; bedding, clothes, rugs could not be dried in windows. In the basement, there were two laundry rooms, and they could hang up their clothes to dry in the attic, where they could only go during the daytime, and the key had to be asked for from the house caretaker. In the basement, they could store firewood and even chicken, but only in cages. Everyone had to move out in 1948-49, and their rooms were made into offices.

2. Restaurants, buffet, tobacconist’s

The dining of the representatives working there had been attempted to be solved since the beginning. On the Parliament’s main floor, the Vadászterem functioned as a restaurant. The service was provided by restaurateurs based on contracts, who switched often because it was not profitable, as in the many months of sitting breaks the restaurants did not make any money. Another problem was the fact that the kitchen was in the basement, and they sent the food up with food elevators, but by the time it was placed on the table it got cold. And because of the slow elevator, the representatives had to wait for a long time for their lunch.

In 1905 next to the Vadászterem, opened a separate press restaurant, where officials could dine as well, and the caterers had to give the food for less than in the big room. In 1911 a public restaurant was opened in the basement facing the Danube’s bank, which offered outside seating in the summer and a beautiful view.

In 1920 the press restaurant became a buffet, where sandwiches, drinks were sold, and next to it opened a tobacconist’s where cigarettes and cigars could be bought.

In 1946, because of the famine, it was newsworthy that salami and sausages were sold in the Parliament. In 1948, the Parliament made a contract with Közért, and they operated the buffet and restaurant. In the ’60s — then-rare — bananas and oranges were sold in the Parliament’s buffet.

After 1949, the restaurant in the basement stopped being public and became the staff’s kitchen. At the time, both restaurants were operated by Gundel Restaurant, and they offered two menus: a quality menu for the upper restaurant and a typical menu for the basement one.

3. Hairdressers, doctors

In 1907, the Parliament had its own barber, whose employment’s basic conditions included discretion: they could not gossip about anything the representatives might have shared with them. In 1962, the National Hairdresser’s male and female hairdressers operated in the building so that representatives could speak with freshly curled hair.

In 1907, Dr Béla Alföldi became the Parliament’s doctor, who served in this position for 30 years. On weekdays, he had to practice for an hour each. At times, his work was required indeed: in 1910, there was a fight in the meeting room, and Károly Khuen-Héderváry was hit in the head with an ink pot’s lid, which wounded his forehead. In 1912, a representative shot István Tisza, then himself. Another time, he had to rescue a waiter, whose head got stuck in a food elevator.

In 1957, a dentist’s office opened as well, and it still operates in the basement of the building.

4. Visitors of the Parliament

The Parliament has always been open to the public. Before the First World War, if someone had a question, or complained to their representative, they could go to the application room on sitting days, where — if they waited their turn — they received a piece of paper. They took this to the reception room a floor above, and they waited there until the guard took the paper to the representative. If the person was lucky, the representative came out and heard their complaints. Later, the corridor next to the meeting room and the application room were made into a pneumatic tube, so, the waiting time significantly shortened.

In the reception room, the person received a free balcony ticket, with which they could sit in and view plenary sittings. In the two-storey balcony, there were separate places for the elite and for the female relatives of representatives. The representatives could sign up in advance for two or three seats, and there were 40 seats reserved for university students. The remaining seats were up to the public. The Parliament always draws in big crowds after elections and the new Prime Minister’s speech.

The visitors of the balcony could not always behave properly. In 1917, for instance, a drunken soldier fell asleep, and when he woke up, he thought he was in the field, and there was a Russian attack. In his scared state, he fired three shots from the balcony. Luckily, the bullets did not harm anyone.

There is an opportunity for everyone to view the beautiful building ever since the beginning. In 1902, almost 10,000 people took part in a visitation. Since 1954, there is a children’s Christmas organised each year. They invite 4,000 pupils and entertain them with a show. The Parliament Library serves the public as well since 1952 and is mostly visited by university students. The plenary sittings can still be viewed with a balcony ticket by anyone over the age of 14.

Read more about news and articles about the Parliament HERE.

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