Nowadays one often hears the German noun “Einstand” or its Hungarian verbal form “einstandolni.” It means “to forcibly appropriate.” What is the origin of this odd expression? After all, if one looks at a German-English dictionary one can pick among several equivalents: entrance, first day, to celebrate the start of one’s new job, to make one’s debut, deuce in tennis, and finally entrance fee. Not very helpful. In any case, the expression “Einstand” comes from the Hungarian children’s classic, The Paul Street Boys or Pál utcai fiúk (1906) by Ferenc Molnár (1878-1952). Apparently, it is the most popular Hungarian book in world literature. I read not long ago that foreign visitors in Budapest often want to see the scene of the “grund” where János Boka, Feri Áts, Dezső Geréb, and naturally Ernő Nemecsek fought the “red shirts,” a rival gang led by the Pásztor boys.
A literary historian mapped out late nineteenth-century Budapest and was able to pinpoint the “grund” at the corner of Mária and Pál Streeets. They found the spot where the Nemecsek family lived. Literary historians reconstructed the route the boys took from their school to the Museum Garden and from there to the “grund.” The grund is gone but it was recreated elsewhere in District VIII or in Josephstadt as it was called in Molnár’s youth. Some of the children were identified. Nemecsek was Jenő Feiks (1878-1939), an impressionist painter and friend of Molnár. Árpád Pásztor (1877-1940) wrote children’s novels.
Apparently The Paul Street Boys is compulsory reading in grade five in all Hungarian schools. Indeed, one can read it as a simple children’s story. However, it can also be read as a description of European nationalism before World War I. The “grund” is the fatherland the boys defend but which is going to disappear soon: a new apartment building will be erected on the empty lot in the middle of Budapest. They fought for nothing to defend the plot from the red shirts.
The first mention of the word “Einstand” appears on page 6 of the book. Molnár explains that “Einstand” in those days referred to brute force in children’s circles. The stronger boys picked on the weaker ones and took away whatever belonged to them. “Einstand” meant war booty or declaration of war.
The story of the famous “Einstand” in the book is described by Molnár in the following way. The boys have just left school and are wandering around on the streets of Pest when they find out that the “two Pásztors” used “Einstand” the day before. Five of the boys, including Nemecsek, went to play marbles in the Museum Garden, surrounding the National Museum, when the two Pásztor brothers arrived. They first just looked and looked rather darkly, and Nemecsek and his companions sensed that there would be “Einstand” soon. The Pásztors were strong and, although there were five boys playing marbles, Nemecsek knew that they couldn’t stand up against them. However, they were hoping that nothing would happen, that there would be no Einstand because after all they did nothing to the Pásztor brothers. But bullies don’t operate that way. They kept looking at the marbles and it was clear that they liked them. Eventually Nemecsek won all the marbles and was ready to pick them up when the younger Pásztor yelled: “Einstand.” Two of Nemecsek’s companions immediately ran away and the third was thinking about it. Nemecsek tried to be brave and said to the Pásztor boys: “You have no right to do this!” but the older Pásztor was already picking up the marbles. The younger one grabbed Nemecsek’s coat and yelled: “Didn’t you hear me? Einstand!” The Pásztors picked up all the marbles, didn’t say another word, and left.
Here is the statue that recreates the scene in the Museum Garden in front of an elementary school close to where the grund was.
Ferenc Kőszeg, one of the speakers at LMP’s demonstration on November 3, recalled the story: “Here is the end. The Pásztors are coming.” But one mustn’t run away. One must stand up against arbitrary action and illegality [of the Orbán government]. His speech can be read here.
Almost all adult Hungarians have read The Paul Street Boys, but most likely most don’t realize the deeper meaning of the “Einstand” scene. Perhaps today they will understand a little better what Molnár was talking about.