The hotel was built for the millennial festivals in 1896 with a non-confidential aim: to attract wealthy guests there. It was frequented not only by guests but also by artists. Gyula Krúdy lived here for a long time, after having estranged from his wife, he seduced the hotel directors’ wife and lived in the hotel as a family member. There was no scandal until the point when he also seduced his lover’s daughter.
The fame of the hotel was not only due to rollicking poets. The first film screening was organised here. In May 1896, the reels could be seen for an admission fee of 50 Krajcárs in the banqueting-hall of the café. The hotel kept its openness towards the film art later as well. The ballroom was transformed into a 1000-person cinema in 1915, it was called (Royal) Apollo, and then it operated under the name Vörös Csillag (Red Star) for 80 years.
The hotel survived the Second World War luckily. The Gestapo choose it as headquarters, owing to its working generators rather than to its renown. The hotel tided over this period as well and later even offices were run in it. Nevertheless, the fights in 1956 did not save the building, and its restoration ended by 1961. It was furnished according to the requirements of the era: the ‘uniformised furniture – uniformised flat’ concept prevailed here too. However, the art-nouveau luxury could be felt in its facilities: there was a phone in every room, for example.
After its re-opening, sparkling life returned in the saloons. Especially as there weren’t any serviceable hotels along the Danube shore, – they were damaged badly in the war – and the Danube Intercontinental was finished only in 1969. Besides being taller than the previously-built houses, it exploits the panorama entirely, which many people cannot forgive its designer József Finta even today.
‘Outsiders’ have always been curious about the internal life of hotels. Wes Anderson’s movie Grand Budapest Hotel plays on this curiosity with the group of hotel concierges appearing in the film. This ‘Society’ exists in real life, though not under the name ‘Cross Keys’ but the ‘Society of the Golden Keys’. The loyalty and discretion of the association is not a legend either. The President of the Hungarian society is Tamás Ungár, and he is the Chief Concierge of the still operating hotel.
One of the most interesting cases in the life of the hotel happened in 1963: the memorable quarantine. Two hotel employees held their wedding in the hotel. Next day strange hives appeared on the woman, which was diagnosed as smallpox (variola major) by a doctor. The hotel was shut down, guests and employees had to stay inside the building for three weeks. Many people thought there was a state protection operation behind the scenes, but it was never proven. Rumour had it, a few romances began during this time and several women employees bore children nine months later.
Finally, the hotel was closed in 1991. Almost a decade later in 2003, it was re-opened again under a new name: Corinthia Hotel Budapest.
Translated by Zita Aknai