Thousands upon thousands of travelers pass by a non-descript door at Nyugati Palyudvar (Western Railway Station) in Budapest, each day. The travelers have no reason to stop and ponder this door or what lies beyond it. The door is painted a bright green, but the painting has long since chipped and peeled. It looks as though it has not been repainted in decades. In truth the door looks like it leads to storage or some abandoned, long vacated office space. It is quite anonymous except for the words etched in gold above it, the Latin phrase, “Viribvs Vnitis” which means “With United Forces.” This is the only evidence hinting that there might be something special beyond the door. If a traveler tries to turn the golden handles attached to the door, they find them locked securely. As legions of arriving and departing travelers hurry along their way, they hardly even cast a glance at the green door.
I had traveled in and out of Nyugati many times before I learned about the door from the “Only In Budapest” guidebook which mentioned that the door was the entrance to the Royal Waiting Room at Nyugati. This came as news to me, as it probably would to even the most well-read travelers to the station. Nyugati is most known for an aura of faded grandeur, a fin-de-siecle elegance. The station’s present state of disrepair has left a gritty patina over the steel and glass framed main arrival hall. Despite this, Nyugati still has a distinctive ambiance that the vaunted Eiffel Company (of Parisian fame) – which built the station in the late 19th century – strove to provide for the travelers who arrived at Nyugati.
Today, the station is filled with a contradictory ambiance of both glamour and decadence. Even the nicest parts of the station have fascinating drawbacks. The magnificent old dining area has been converted into a McDonald’s albeit the most elegant one you could ever imagine, the cavernous ticket hall feels like a grand ballroom filled with absence instead of revelry and the station any time of day is home to a cast of characters that one might find in a B-movie film noir. And then there is the secret space of Nyugati, “ the Royal Waiting Room” which gives a glimpse into its golden age.
Going Beyond The Green Door
A confession here, I have never been able to get beyond that green entrance door. I inquired about it at the Hungarian State Railways Nostalgia Tours office at Nyugati. An official politely told me there was nothing to see beyond the door. Of course, a name such as the “Royal Waiting Room” is an invitation to the curious no matter what. The name belies a much richer history than officialdom would have us believe.
So what does the “Royal Waiting Room” hold? Well according to the photos I found online, it looks as though it has the charm and vivacity one would expect of a rest area created especially for the Habsburg Royalty. The waiting room is home to beautiful furnishings that give it a shimmering glamor. I cannot help but believe that in person these furnishings would be even more incredible than the photos show. After all, they are a distinctive counterpoint to the general neglect that the rest of the station suffers from. Intriguingly, unlike other waiting rooms in their many palaces, the Habsburgs were the ones doing the waiting here. Technology was changing the centuries old empire. Though the iron rooster – as the railroad was nicknamed – could shunt the Habsburg elite from one part of their vast empire to another in a matter of days if not hours, these imperial elites despite their exalted position, were as beholden to the industrial transportation revolution as other travelers of that time.
A Room Between Themselves & The World
The waiting room was an opportunity for the royals to relax before or after a journey that likely originated in Vienna. It was also a form of self-segregation, in order to keep the common folk at a distant. The Habsburgs deserved better because they were after all Habsburgs and the rest of the empire’s subjects were not. Yet being a Habsburg was not without its disadvantages. There were many in the empire who would have relished the opportunity to attempt an assassination. And railway stations, such as Nyugati were the types of vast public spaces, staked out by enemies of the crown. Times were rapidly changing and the ability of the monarchy to wall itself off from people and events in the empire both near and far was becoming harder. The threat to the Habsburg’s was more internal than external. The enemy was within and the Habsburgs had to protect themselves, but it would always be in luxurious surroundings.
Eventually the empire would crumble into eleven different nations. Industrial technologies like the railroad both helped develop and doom the empire. They brought about mass benefits, but also mass movements that threatened political stability. After the monarchy was consigned to the dustbin of history, the empire still managed to leave behind a structural legacy that was both useful and magnificent. The glass and steel framed structure of Nyugati has been utilized by Socialists, Fascists, Communists and Capitalists in the past hundred years. During this time, the “Royal Waiting Room” has been susceptible to the interests of ideology. It was either, neglected or revered, refurbished or hidden away, dependent upon the fluctuating political situation in Hungary.
Into A Vanished World
Today, despite that locked green entry door, the Royal Waiting Room is now accessible on a limited basis. During events such as the Night of the Museums or as part of the Hungarian State Railways Nostalgia railroad excursions, visitors can see for themselves its splendid chamber. What an experience it would be to stand in that waiting room, to soak up the heritage from a golden age. Such an experience is a must, especially in the station where its former grandeur is almost totally ignored and largely unknown. In a place where there is supposedly nothing to see, the Royal Waiting Room contains a portal into the vanished world of monarchial refinement. It is all there waiting to be seen, if only the traveler can get past that door.