For Sale: Vintage underground Hungarian power plant

Tue Jun 2, 2009 10:25am EDT
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By Gergely Szakacs

BALATONFUZFO, Hungary (Reuters Life!) - Unlike most vacationing Hungarians, Bela Szigeti best remembers Lake Balaton for a steep descent into a smoldering abyss.

Szigeti, 74, spent his formative years working as a mechanic in the underground power plant of a gunpowder factory on the cusp of central Europe's biggest lake, the Balaton, 110 km (68 miles) west of the capital Budapest.

The coal-fired plant, all but forgotten until its owner chemicals firm Nitrokemia Zrt. recently came up with the idea to use or sell it, went online in 1927 after Hungary's World War One.

It was built underground as a defense against air strikes but also to cover up its operation. Its chimneys were puffing in the woods nearby so that in case of a bomb attack, the plant, hidden beneath a thick layer of earth, would remain intact.

Entry into the plant is through an unassuming office block.

A spiral staircase winds its way down into a steep concrete tunnel, which ends on an iron gallery perched atop the first of three gigantic halls.

"Ours was like a jack-of-all-trades brigade. We fixed coal bogies, furnaces, exhaust fans," said Szigeti, one of the few remaining workers of the former power plant. He took up work at the age of 16 in 1951 and worked eight years underground.

Despite all the hardships, the noise, the extreme heat and the constant draught in the hangar-sized concrete halls of the two-storey power plant, out of operation since 1972, Szigeti said working there had a very intimate atmosphere to it.   Continued...