Nebbien’s City Park

The City Park in Pest (originally called in German the Stadtwäldchen) was the first public park in the world created by a city on its own land, from its own resources, for the free use of citizens, and where the designer was chosen by means of an open competition. The winner was Heinrich Nebbien, whose creation is noted not only because it was the first of its kind, but also because the City Park is one of the most attractive of its era, and arguably the most beautiful.

The winner of the competition announced in 1813, Christian Heinrich Nebbien, was born in Lübeck in 1778, the son of a well-to-do, middle-class family. He pursued agrarian and horticultural studies in Mecklenburg and Holstein, and later gained experience in agriculture, forestry and construction, devouring many specialist works on these subjects. Up to the age of 30, he undertook numerous study trips, visiting Germany, Russia, England, Italy and Hungary.

Between 1806 and 1821 he worked in Hungary. His most important landscape gardening designs were the parks for the Prónay Mansion in Tóalmás (1812), the Brunswick Mansion in Alsó Korompa (1812-18) and the Brunswick Mansion in Martonvásár (1821). It is probable that he  was also the designer of the parks for the Koháry-Coburg Mansion in Szentantal and the Andrássy Mansion in Betlér. However, his most important work was undoubtedly the large-scale, prize-winning design for the City Park in Pest (1813-16), the essence of which was realised in practice.

Legal ownership of the City Park returned to the city in 1861 and with that a new period in its history began. The top decision makers of the day – often in defiance of the city’s stipulations and objections – incomprehensibly treated the City Park quite unfairly.

In 1885 the City Park was chosen as the site for the National Exhibition. Trees were cut out and a total of 105 buildings were constructed. With the exceptions of the Trade Hall, the Hall of Arts (Kunsthalle) and some pavilions, these were later demolished. A much larger change occurred with the Millennium Exhibition, which was held in 1896. Later, creating a route for political marches involved a further serious loss. The widening of Dózsa György Road resulted in cutting off about 21 hectares of tree-filled park area.

Nevertheless, with its reduced size the City Park today remains one of Europe’s major public parks with an outstanding historical value. With spacious lawns, replanting shrubs, complementary trees, refashioning pathways and reviving horticultural treasures it can be rehabilitated.

In 2016, in the framework of the Liget Budapest project, a landscape design competition was announced for the regeneration of the park. The winners, like many other competitors, prepared alternative plans in two versions. The second version bears little resemblance to Nebbien’s design. Still, he would deserve a statue somewhere in the City Park.