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Budapest: At the source of a song (1)


We leave Dortmund Stadium, where 80,000 fans have just belted out “You’ll never walk alone”, and start our journey where it all actually began more than 100 years ago: in Budapest. While some might know that the song comes from a musical, only very few are aware that this in turn is based on a Hungarian play.


On a film shoot the various stages of a trip are not necessarily shot in chronological sequence—but filming for the WDR/Arte documentary “You’ll never walk alone” does in fact start in Budapest, where the origins of the well-known song lie. And that gives us the opportunity to immerse ourselves in the fin-de-siècle world because in Budapest every street corner is filled with history. The Hungarian capital consists of two parts, Buda und Pest, separated by the Danube but connected by many bridges. The flat Pest side is intersected by a number of grand boulevards and avenues lined with impressive historical buildings.
Already at our first stop, The Vigszínház (which translates roughly as “comedy theater”), a splendid theater with ornate stucco and gilt decorations and red plush seats, we breathe in the atmosphere of the Habsburg era. The play Liliom by Hungarian playwright Ferenc Molnár received its world premiere here on December 7, 1909. Less than two weeks later, on December 19, 1909, the Borussia football club was founded in the Zum Wildschutz restaurant in Dortmund. “That’s surely no coincidence,” jokes Joachim Król.
In The Vigszínház the actor meets stage director Maté Szabó, who restaged the play earlier this year. The two of them discuss why Liliom initially flopped with the Budapest audience—and why Szabó thinks that the piece is still relevant even today. But Joachim Król first has to remind the Hungarian director about the text of “You’ll never walk alone”, which brings home to us once again that the song doesn’t feature at all in the play. Król also chats with Enikő Eszenyi, the current director of The Vigszínház and a famous Hungarian actress, who in her youth once played in Liliom. On a “golden wall” in her office she collects autographs of prominent visitors and actors—and Joachim Król is of course happy to join this band of immortals.
We haven’t yet discovered how, from a scene of this early twentieth-century play that is still successfully performed today, a song came into being that found its way into many football stadiums around the world. But we’ve put together a few important pieces of the puzzle. Before continuing on the trail of the song we plan to shoot some of the highlights of the city: Europe’s largest synagogue, the Holocaust Memorial, the impressive railway station in neo-Renaissance style, and of course the Danube. Always in search of striking images, director André Schäfer discovers on the way to the next stop an observation point with a panoramic view on the Margaret Bridge. As we head there with Joachim Król after shooting in the theater the clouds are gathering, but the view over hilly Buda and flat Pest with the imposing Parliament Building is nonetheless breathtaking.
At dinner in a small restaurant in the Jewish quarter we quite unexpectedly encounter the song again: As the Pink Floyd album Meddle plays in the background, Joachim Król runs over to the waiter and asks him to skip to a particular track and turn up the volume. At the end of Fearless we hear the Liverpool fans chant “You’ll never walk alone”—and Joachim Król sings along.
The next day’s plans include a shoot in the well-known New York Café. We’ll be reporting here on this soon!