It is well known that Debrecen's right to hold fairs meant that it had a large trade, and the crowds of shoppers boosted the tourism of the town. However, accommodation was needed for satisfied visitors, and the Fehérló (Fejér ló – White Horse), the first inn of the town, opened at 58 Piac Street in the Dobozi House. The rapid boom of the inn prompted the city leaders to consider establishing a city-owned inn, and the property on Piac Street, owned by the Bika family, which was up for auction, came in handy. Bálint Bika, the founder of the family fortune, was a beer brewer supervisor as well as a farmer and a stockbreeder. He was also sensitive to the common good, as shown by the fact that he donated his dry mill to the Debrecen College so that the grains collected for the students could be milled there duty-free.
The wealth did not last long, however, as the two sons of farmer Bálint lacked business sense and their inheritance quickly dwindled, until the stone house on Piacz Street had to be sold up. When the town acquired the Bika House in 1699, it was converted into an inn with four guest rooms and a drinking room. Thus began the story of the "Bull".
The history of the hotel faithfully follows the events of the sometimes-turbulent history of Hungary. During the Rákóczi uprising, for example, the inn was badly damaged, but these four rooms seemed to prove scarce not only in wartime, but also in peacetime. It is recorded that six or eight people might have become casually acquainted during a night in a common room, and not of their own accord.
The city authorities also had other problems with the hotel besides its size: for most of the year, it was a military accommodation, so the Bika Hotel was closed to visitors. The military use of the inn lasted for a long time, until 1796, when the city ceased using the inn for military accommodation purposes. Then, in order to emphasise the change, a floor was added to the ground floor.
The years that followed were a period of constant expansion, and by the second half of the 19th century, the hotel already had 18 rooms. By then, it was not only a hotel but also a café that made it a very attractive place for the inhabitants of the town, especially because it also had a ninepins table. The popularity of the Bika Hotel grew, and not just because of its central location. Although it is true that the footbridge built against the notorious Debrecen 'wallow' passed right beside the inn, which must have been very beneficial to its clientele. The bull trade-sign was also put on around this time, and was gilded in 1810 as a tribute to the Bika family.
In 1848, it was called the István nádor (palatine) Hotel, then the name was changed to the Nádor Hotel, but as everyone referred to it as the Bika Hotel, they returned to the name Aranybika (Golden Bull).
In 1876, when the aforementioned Fehérló building was handed over for a future county hall, the development of the Bika became unavoidable. Originally, the plans of architect József Gál were accepted by the city council, but due to serious shortcomings in the construction, they were eventually abandoned, and Imre Steindl, a professor at the University of Technology, was asked to create new plans, and he accepted the job. The new, comfortable hotel and restaurant were completed in 1882. The café catered for the guests of the hotel for a long time, thanks also to hotel manager Herman Fehér, who rented the hotel until 1902. Its legendary marble hall and the entertainments held there were much talked about, and so was Géza Mirkovszky, who painted the murals in the banqueting hall.
However, the hotel could not escape its fate: from the moment it was opened, it was already small. At least this was the reason for its demolition. From 1903 to 1926, the hotel was rented by András Németh and his partner, who was Mrs. Lajos Vilmos, who inherited the Hotel Angolkirálynő (English Queen) from her husband. A prosperous business later became a marriage, and András Németh and his wife ran the hotel together. Meanwhile, the hotel was being improved constantly, Németh installed electric lighting and there was a hairdressing salon in the building as well. In the 1910s, more and more people supported enlargement again.
They did not have to wait long for the realisation of the project; the building of Aranybika, which we know today, was inaugurated in 1915, based on the plans of János Villányi and our first Hungarian Olympic champion, Alfréd Hajós (originally Arnold Guttmann). The façade of the imposing three-star Art Nouveau-style hotel was sculpted by Italian master stonemasons. However, do not think that the city was overwhelmed by enthusiasm for its beautiful new hotel. Of course, the World War, and later the Romanian occupation, contributed to the lack of joy, as military troops were accommodated here mostly during this period.
Even Zsigmond Móricz was once a guest of the stately hotel. According to a legend, the modest guest had a strange habit of leaving the choice of food to the waiter, but in the end, he always ordered only lean meat and broth, because he was on a diet.
In 1976, the hotel was expanded again, based on the ideas of the Commercial Planning Institute, and it seems that expansions really went on throughout the history of the hotel. According to the press of the time, a new 300-bed wing was added to the stately building, and the renovation of the old wing added a capacity of 600 guests - where is that little four-room inn now?!
However, this expansion was not as popular with the townspeople as the earlier versions. According to the latest news, this modern wing of the building will no longer face the main street of Debrecen, as its new owner has decided to demolish it.
Translated by Zita Aknai
Balassa Sándor: A debreceni Aranybika szálló története, Debrecen, 1959.