Snapshots: Ajka, the Crystal Capital of Europe?

Dora Tima Irma

Snapshots: Ajka, the Crystal Capital of Europe?

Ajka crystal stemware, statue of Kincsem;statues of "Bogáncs" and Fekete István,Glass factory; Lutheran Church, Bánya Múzeum (Mining Museum) and Szent István Church

The history of Ajka goes back to the Stone Age.  Many finds prove that Celts, Illyrians, Cumanians (kunok), lived there.  Romer Florian, a famous archeologist found Celtic earth mounds and gravesites on Török-tető (it is also called Cservár).  Romans also lived in the area; many pieces of grave markers are proof.

When Queen Gizella, wife of King Stephen came to Hungary, with her came a German warrior named Heiko. Gizella gifted the town to him.  That is where the name came from.  First it was called Eyka, later Ayka.

The name of Ajka is mentioned first in documents in 1228. 

In 1878, Neuman Bernárd built the Ajka Crystal Factory, where it still stands today.  He gathered the glassworkers from nearby Úrkút, and the rest of Transdanubia, from Bavaria, and even Saxony.  In his glass melting ovens he used coal from Ajkacsinger, instead of wood.  The glass is blown by mouth, and all work is made by hand.  Ajka crystal is world famous.  96% of the wine glasses, whiskey tumblers, champagne flutes, bowls, vases and giftware is exported to big name manufacturers such as Wedgewood, Tiffany’s, Rosenthal, Waterford, Polo Ralph Lauren, Christian Dior, etc…

During the Socialist government in the country, the factory was nationalized; it was returned to private ownership again in the 1990’s.  Purchased by the Fotex group, owned by Várszegi Gábor, it went through major technical improvements.  High quality multicolored glasses, and painted lead crystal were produced.  Due to great demand, a second site was built in Ajkacsinger.

Other factories were built and the town grew; in 1959 it was declared an “Emberarcú város” (a people-friendly city) and it won the Hild Award in 1987.

Bauxite was discovered in the Bakony Mountains, and an aluminum foundry and alum earth (timföld) factory was built in Ajka to process these finds.  To supply electricity to the factories, a power plant was built.

In 1937, a krypton bulb factory – the first in the world – was built in Ajka, based on a patent obtained by Bródi Imre.  Today, a zeolite factory, and over 30 other factories provide work to the people of Ajka and the region.

I have to mention the 2010 tragedy the city of Ajka endured.  More than 1 million cubic meters of red sludge waste from the alumina plant flooded the area between Ajka and Kolontár.  Ten people were confirmed dead, 150 were injured.  The ecological damage was immeasurable; it devastated the wildlife; the Tarna and Marcal river fish died immediately.  The spill even reached the Rába and Duna Rivers.  Now the city of Ajka and the towns affected by the sludge are rebuilding.  The government has allocated 38 milliard HUF to home reconstruction.

If you visit Ajka, don’t miss seeing the churches: Szent István Roman Catholic church, and the Reformed and Lutheran churches.

In addition to the crystal factory, the Városi Múzeum (city museum), Bányászati Múzeum (mine museum), Őslény and Kőzettár (prehistoric and mineral museum) are also worth a visit.

At Ajka, the Hungarian race mare “Kincsem” was memorialized in a sculpture.  (Read about Kincsem in the September 2015 issue of www.magyarnews,org.) Until 2012, a small replica of Kincsem, manufactured at the Ajka Crystal Factory, was the Prima Primissima Prize (a distinction awarded annually, in recognition of outstanding achievements in the arts, sciences and athletics).

A sport center and recreational pond was built in the Városliget (city park).  In the middle of the pond, on an island is a statue of Ajka’s favorite son, the author Fekete István, as well as animal statues representing characters of his books, including Bogáncs, the dog.  Ajka is also called “the city of statues”, for many statues may be found in the parks all around the city.  The five small streams that cross the city make a stroll through the parks very pleasant. 

Dr. Dora Józsefné, née Tima Irma is a retired school principal enjoying her “Golden Days”.