The Klapka Library, Timișoara

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.

Klapka Library

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.

Klapka Library plaque

15 MAI 1815
BIBLIOTECA KLAPKA
TIMIȘOARA

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/

Klapka Library

Upper Floors of Klapka Library

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).

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About This Journey to East Central Europe

Lisa and I spent the last two weeks of September 2018 on what, for me, was a pilgrimage, visiting places where my father’s family lived before 1912 when my grandmother transported my father and his siblings to join my grandfather in the United States. This was a long-delayed trip that Lisa and I had been discussing for some 20 years, or at least since we returned from our family trip to Norway in 2001, but that I had been thinking about for much longer. I wanted to take the whole family, but life kept getting in the way. Finally, in March I realized that if we didn’t go now we would probably never go and I began planning a trip for just Lisa and me.

When I originally imagined this trip, my goal was to see the places I had heard of from an early age, places with mysterious, exotic names like Temesvár and Nagyszentmiklós, places once in Hungary but now in Romania and now called by different, equally exotic, names. But over the years I did some genealogical research, studied microfilms and digital images of church and other records that I found in the Latter Day Saints archives and various books, and now I knew of other places I wanted to see. For me to see it all, this trip would have consumed several months, but that would be far too long. We decided to limit it to two weeks, visiting the places that I thought would mean the most to me, plus a few other places “just because we were in the neighborhood”. This wasn’t to be a research trip — I wasn’t going to visit any archives or study any documents — but an exploration and pilgrimage, to see what these places were like now and whether any trace of my ancestors survives, though I recognized from the start that it has been over 100 years since my family lived in these places and no physical reminder of their existence was likely to remain.

Besides being points along the meandering tributaries of my DNA, what these places have in common is that all were once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and are strung along the Danube and its confluents like pearls.

So, here is our itinerary:

Note that most of these places have names in multiple languages, souvenirs of the long and often messy history of conquest and ethnic mix in East Central Europe as a whole. I have not listed all names for each place.

Romania: 18-21 September 2018
Timişoara (Romanian), Temesvár (Hungarian), Temeschwar (German).
Sânnicolau Mare (Romanian), Nagyszentmiklós (Hungarian), Großsanktnikolaus (German).

Hungary: 21-23 September 2018
Budapest.

Slovakia: 23-25 September 2018
Bratislava (Slovak), Pozsony (Hungarian), Preßburg (German).
Jelka (Slovak), Jóka (Hungarian).

Czechia. 25-27 September 2018
Brno (Czech), Brünn (German).
Ivanovice na Hané (Czech), Eiwanowitz in der Hanna (German).
Švábenice (Czech), Schwabenitz (German).

Austria. 27-30 September 2018
Wien (German), Vienna (English).
Asparn an der Zaya (German).

The Child’s St. George in Timișoara

St. George battles the dragon at Piaţa Sfântul Gheorghe in Timișoara, Romania, 19 September 2018.

St. George and the Dragon in Timișoara

St. George and the Dragon in Timișoara

Piaţa Sfântul Gheorghe (St. Gheorghe Square) has a long history with many changes. It was originally the site of a church dedicated to St. George, which is believed to have existed before the Turkish conquest in 1526. During the Turkish occupation it was a mosque. Later, after the Austrians took the city from the Turks in 1718, a Roman Catholic seminary was built on the square. During the brief period of 1845-1848 this building housed the first secular institution of higher education in Timişoara. If you are interested in the square and its history, please see www.timisoara-info.ro/en/sightseeing/historical-quarters/cetate/places/251-piata-sf-gheorghe.html

In 1996 a bronze statue of St. George and his dragon, created by the sculptor Silvia Radu and the architect Mihai Botescu, was added to the recently renovated square as a monument to those who died in the revolution of December 1989, which led to the fall of Nicolae Ceaușescu and of the Socialist Republic of Romania. The square is located in the area of heaviest fighting between security forces and demonstrators on 17 December 1989, where many citizens — men, women, and children — were killed. The statue stands on an elegant pedestal made by Ştefan Călărăşanu, on which are enscribed the names of the known child martyrs of the Revolution. If you are interested in the Romanian Revolution of 1989, you might start reading about it at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romanian_Revolution (Wikipedia is a good place to start, but I don’t think it can be assumed to be definitive).

The dragon and the horse may seem childish, and both are overwhelmed by the huge form of St. George. I was told that this was intentional, both to make this statue, and this square, more friendly to children, and to remind us that it is dedicated to the children of the Revolution.

I took this photograph quickly (and perhaps not from the best angle) during a walking tour. Better pictures can be found if you search for them.