Due to the months-long drought – already visible from space – several lakes have already been put in danger, for example, more than ten fishing lakes have dried up in Baranya, but record low water levels are also being measured on the rivers. One of the dried up lakes is Lake Vekeri near Debrecen, which turned into a small puddle by July this year. Vekeri, which belongs to the Erdöspuszta lake system on the eastern-southern border of the city, has been functioning not only as a resting place, but also as a cultural space in recent decades, youth and children’s camps, family days, and even festivals have been held on its banks.
However, this is now the past. At the time of our arrival, only a few cranes were looking for food in the lake, while the abandoned buildings on the shore remind us that there was once a vibrant life here.
The playground, which is also in need of renovation, the old campsite, and the view of the baconing areas bear witness to the memories of the old days. Although they are still useful today based on the traces of fresh ash, the overgrown surroundings are a clear indication that Vekeri is only occasionally visited by people.
Dreams of cross-country skiing and KISZ debates on the beach
Lake Vekeri, together with the nearby Fancsika lakes, which have also dried up, were originally built as an inland water reservoir in the 1970s. It was handed over as a recreation center in 1976.
a camping site, a summer holiday camp, a sports field, a forest gymnastics field, and a cross-country track and a horse riding inn were also planned for the nearby Hosszúpályi – where a toboggan track was operating at the time.
Although it was announced at the time that the lake was never suitable for bathing (more on that later), some shower blocks were placed in the campsite, from which it was also used for children’s and youth camps. Primarily, the “working people” could use the lake, i.e. those who came to Vekeri to fish, recharge their batteries, pedal water bikes, and later to camp children.
Even before the regime change, sports competitions and mayoral events were organized here, as well as a “young workers’ meeting”, at which – according to the Hajdú-Bihari Napló of the time – young workers showed each other their expertise and discussed their political positions.
“It would be difficult to rank which of the program points is more significant. We are talking about young workers, proving their professional knowledge, the contests about who is the master of what immediately occupy a prominent place in the queue, but it is at least as important that the members of the working class of the present and future are actively involved in political life”, reads the report of the county newspaper in 1976.
The unannounced festival and the stolen can of wine
In the years, for the freedom of the nineties that came with the change, several festivals were organized at the lake, the most significant of which were the East in 199 and 1991, and the following regular events were the Tolerance festivals.
These were mainly enjoyable for fans of alternative music and the small bands that played it. Political Asylum, László Waszlavik Gazember, Vírus 63, Csokonai Vitéz Műhely, Hystéria, Üver Uzgin, Uzünedes Istenek, Red Marinetti, Trottel, Balloons, Leukemia, Victor Hugo and the Wretched, Nurses – just a few names of the performers at that time.
The East advertised itself as an alternative to such an extent that the organizers could not even advertise it due to a printing error, so they only heard about the program organized on the shores of Lake Vekeri. In today’s world dominated by Facebook events, this sounds almost unbelievable, but surprisingly, it still reached more than a thousand people.
Both the East and the later Tolerancia festivals were held in simple conditions, the latter’s alternative character and not at all solid audience remained even in the mid-nineties.
“Someone sprinkles cornflakes from a larger bag with two handfuls on the heads of passers-by and lets out loud laughs. Again, he rambles on in another bone-drunk state, and with a healthy roar he asks the prosaic question to his friends in a ghostly similar state, “where did you rush to see your mother?”
– writes the correspondent of the Hajdú Bihari Napló about the 1995 Tolerancia festival, at which he was also an earwitness to other small-town strange events: “I buy a coke from an older uncle, he sells it under a parasol, on a camping table, for seventy, while he keeps complaining. “I had to turn on the lights, otherwise there would be a free robbery here.” You have to be very careful, I had a can of wine out yesterday as well, and then I ran after him in the dark.”
As we can see, tolerance then and there had a completely different meaning, which the reporter also noted: “In a way, acceptance of otherness, or rather respecting it. Yes, maybe the festival was really tolerant, the behavior of the participants, the variety of music. And the greatest tolerance is the peaceful coexistence of these different types of music.”
Motörhead and prewashed towels
thus there was a short break in the lake’s festival history, which only ended in 2002, with the Lake Vekeri Festival. This was actually the predecessor of today’s Campus, the festival-goers who socialized in the 2000s can still remember when the Campus was organized not in Nagyerdő, but on the shores of Lake Vekeri, and which was initially aimed at punks.
Among the better-known performers of the festival were Tankcsapda (this is the home track of the band from Debrecen), Aurora, as well as Kispál and Borz. After the first After Vekeri, the organizers wanted to open to a wider audience, so the festival became more popular.
Thus, even if not a popular mainstream, they also signed a well-known foreign performer: Motörhead performed in 2004. The band also had an unusual request, according to a contemporary newspaper article:
“They asked for sixty towels, they got forty. Their manager “hissed” a row about it, before a colleague ran off and bought thirty more. It turned out that this is not good either, because they only like pre-washed »Torks«. But there was none, only six used ones. The Lemmys took these six with them, the other seventy remained here untouched”
– wrote Napló, referring to the memories of the main organizer Péter Miklósvölgyi.
Moving after EFOTT, then decline
Although the popularity of the Vekeri-tó festival continued to grow until 2006, after the 2007 EFOTT, the organizers decided on an important change that also affected the life of Vekeri.
EFOTT, which still moved to a new location every year, was held again in Vekerin that year (the festival was also held there in 1977, 1989 and 1995), with such success that the Vekeri organizers wanted something new. András Süli, the program director of the Campus Festival and one of the organizers at the time, told about this in a earlier in an interview:
“The success of EFOTT led the thinking of the organizers in a new direction, and the intention was formulated that it would be good to perpetuate the values that were achieved at EFOTT, and that the entire Vekeri-tó Festival should grow into a larger, higher education into a complex cultural event targeting students,” he said about their decision at the time. Thus, the festival was organized under a new name the following year, from then on it was called Campus.
“This is how we brought the first Campus under the roof in 2008 at Lake Vekeri, in terrible weather, in huge mud. Practically all the available straw bales in the county had to be brought there in order to be able to walk around the festival area at all, and there was a huge jump in the rubber boot traffic,” Süli detailed the circumstances at the time, which caused him and his colleagues to look for a new one, and then they found it in the heart of the Great Forest in Debrecen.
This is the end of the festival history of Lake Vekeri. With the onset of drier weather, the newspaper articles only reported on the condition of the lake and the dramatic drop in the water level, which also shows that there were ideas for developing the lake for tourism purposes.
Lajos Juhász, the then deputy technical director of Nyírerdő Zrt., which maintains the lake and its surroundings, spoke to Naplo in 2018: “There is a thermal well here, it has been in perfect condition for many years or decades. You could either build medical tourism or some kind of spa complex on it. It would be possible to go in the direction of creating a water sports center or even a training camp, but these go beyond traditional forest management tasks,” he listed the ideas, which ultimately came to nothing.
The solution awaited for more than forty years: Civaqua
Filling the lake would now only be possible with the Civaqua program. According to the plans, Vekeri and the surrounding fishing ponds will be filled with water from the Keleti Main Canal. However, this idea is not new: the idea of Civaqua was raised already in the seventies, but due to a lack of funds, the design and construction of the canal did not begin.
The project – including the rescue of the Fancsika reservoirs in Erdöspuzta – only received more press coverage in 2020, when the local Momentum started collecting signatures to save the lakes. At that time, the party also got into a conflict with the Fidesz city administration, according to which the development of the project had already begun before the collection of signatures, so its it had nothing to do with it to organize Momentum.
Either way, Civaqua’s first phase in March 2022 started. According to the answer sent to our paper by the National Directorate General of Water, the revitalization of the Tócó stream west of Debrecen will take place first. After that, the specialists will prepare the technical implementation options for replenishing the water in the Nagyerdő and Erdőspusztai reservoirs. Based on a previous announcement, the works and uploading are at the earliest by 2027 can be completed.
Until then, however, a lot of water flows down the Danube (if not into the Vekeri), so until the lakes are filled, the photos taken from the former festivals and excursions and the beautiful memories created there remain.