He experienced the horrors of two wars and during this time he also covered an immense geographical area. The trip described in this blog is an attempt to retrace his steps from Prague across the Eurasian continent to beyond Lake Baikal in Siberia. The first part of the trip will follow the precisely described route of Josef Švejk, Hašek's inspired literary creation. I left home on April 30 2010 and was back on October 29.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010



By May 31 I was nearing the end of the Budějovicka anabase. The walking had taken it's toll. When  getting up from chairs people looked at me, wondering how such a relatively fit looking man moved round like a geriatric. In the mornings I rolled out of bed like a log, and in the evening my feet were swollen and and chubby like those of a toddler.
That morning I took the bus to Protivín to follow my hero to one of his many glorious moments; getting arrested at Putim, suspected of being a Russian spy. On arrival  I took a detour to Krč u Protivína and photographed the house where authors mother, Kateřina Hašková was born.  This was a place Hašek himself knew well from visits during summer holidays. Thereafter the path led through fields, forests and even past the enormous Talínský rybník, where I watched fish being caught, or rather, harvested. Fish-breeding is industry and South Bohemia is the centre of it all. The word fish-pond is misleading in these parts, many of the rybníky would be classed as lakes elsewhere.
Fishing out Talínský rybník
In Putim I immediately went to the municipality to ask about the facts behind Švejk's stay here. It turns out that there was no permanent gendarmerie station at Putim. It only existed during the periods of  k.k manoeuvres and it had no fixed location. At house #41 there is a plaque, but this  refers to the filming of Karel Steklý's Švejk here in the mid-fifties, and is not based on facts. The village pub was next door at number #42 but Hašek's name Na kocourku was probably invented. The man at the municipality said that the pub at no.42 didn't have a name at all. Today there is one large pub in the village, but in another location. U Cimbury has drawings of Švejk on the wall. Putim has become famous because of Švejk but is worth a visit on it's own right. Idyllically set by a lake and dominated by the Church of Saint Vavřinec. The panorama is well known in the Czech Republic, not least because parts of the film was shot here.

Wall painting from U Cimbury. Švejk being led to Písek
The Putim scene is one of the best known sequences of the whole novel and Karel Steklý's film exaggerates the role of it. He even adds his own stuff, twisting Švejk towards comedy. Although the film is enjoyable, it does Švejk a disservice; the satirical elements are mostly lost. If you've only seen this film and not read the book you would probably have missed a lot of what Švejk is about. The same could be said of the German film released in 1960. Although Heinz Rühmann is good as Švejk it is overall tame stuff and even more distorted than Steklý's film. Anti-religious sequences have been totally ignored, could you imagine Švejk without feldkurát Otto Katz? Still both films have contributed to Švejk's fame and Steklýs version is still regularly shown on Czech television. Perhaps the subtleties of Švejk is impossible to convey in a film? Although both films have good actors there's something missing. For entirely different reasons both film directors have left out or distorted essential elements of the novel. One had to toe the line of the Party, the other seems to have chosen not to offend his catholic viewers.

The final leg of Švejk's anabasis took him from Putim to Písek, escorted by a gendarme. As often happens in Hašek's stories, there was an intermezzo in a pub and Švejk in the end had to escort the gendarme to the Bezirksgendarmeriekommando in Písek. This scene is exploited to the ridiculous in the Steklý film; the policeman is brought to the station in a wheelbarrow. For me these last kilometres were less of a problem. I couldn't resist a stop in a roadside hospoda but still arrived in Písek every bit as steady as Švejk did.
Bezirksgendarmeriekommando in Písek
I now had a day spare and used it to seek out Ražická bašta, immortalised in Hašek's stories about his grandfather and also mentioned in Švejk. Armed by a map Radko Pytlík had given me and supported by a digital version from Jarda Šerák.  I took the bus back to Putim and walked from there. To cross the river Blánice I even used the railway bridge, not without trepidation. Fortunately no trains arrived, and some of the local trains are so slow that I could have run away from them anyway. I think I found the spot, now a total wilderness. The Ražice dam doesn't seem to be used for fish-farming anymore. People might be asking themselves; what the hell was in those pictures I took there? To be honest, I'm not completely sure but I took them just in case.

This concluded my walking anabasis in the Czech South. I estimated that I had walked around 200 km in these 8 days, and was looking forward to less strenuous exercises, happy to arrive at my Regiment in České Budějovice, the South Bohemian metropolis that all roads lead to.

1 comment:

  1. It was a tough anabasis, but the beer was worth it, I'm sure! (The only questionable thing was the decision to try the Hungarian moonshine ... It sounds as if it could had been supplied to and marketed by the Blue Oyster Cult. :-)