Timișoara, 20 September 2018.
Ludovic, our guide in Romania, knowing that we were both librarians, said we should take a look at the Klapka Library when he dropped us off at Piața Unirii after our visit to Sânnicolau Mare.
A short walk further, less than a block away from Piața Unirii, we found Biblioteca Klapka, the Klapka Library.
Josef Klapka (1786-1863) was a printer, publisher, and journalist. On 15 May 1815 he established a public library in this building at what is now Strada Episcop Augustin Pacha, nr. 8, which also housed his newspaper offices and printing press. This was the first public lending library in the Habsburg Empire — at that time, the city was part of the Kingdom of Hungary and known as Temesvár.
The library contained a public reading room and permitted subscribers to borrow books from its collection of some 4,000 volumes in German, French, Latin, and Hungarian.
In 1819 Klapka became mayor of Timișoara (Temesvár) and served in that position until 1833. A brief biography I found suggests that he was a very progressive mayor who advanced a number of public improvements. He apparently invested too much of his time in his mayoral plans, neglecting his own businesses and bringing him close to bankruptcy. Klapka’s financial situation worsened during his term as mayor, and in 1831 he was forced to sell the library, his press, and his publications. The library continued to function under its new owners until the Revolution of 1848/49, and printing and publishing continued until 1947.
The building now houses the Timiș County Department of Culture and National Patrimony, Casa Artelor (Pygmalion Gallery, Subterana Gallery, and Café Klapka), and the Timiș Branch of the Romanian Order of Architects.
For more information on Klapka and his library, see www.turdearhitectura.ro/en/blog/josef-klapka/
Josef Klapka’s son Győrgy (1820–1892) served as a general in the Hungarian Revolution of 1848/49. The English author Jerome K. Jerome, who wrote one of my favorite novels, Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog), received his middle name Klapka in honor of Győrgy Klapka (although perhaps it would have been more appropriate to honor Josef).