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.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Small, fat and ugly

Maria Theresa in 1750, 33 years old.
Švejk only spent a very short time in Vienna, where he very emotionally got reunited with his obrlajtnant Lukáš. Hašek describes how the atmosphere in early summer 1915 is starting to get sour. The catastrophic losses the k.u.k army suffered in 1914/15 and the endless stream of dead and wounded pouring back from the two fronts was already having an impact on the public mood.
The railway station  mentioned in Švejk was most likely Wien Südbahnhof, which only last year got razed to the ground to make way for a new Wien Hauptbahnhof. Despite the Austrian capitals relatively minor role in the novel, I decided to spend five days in Vienna. As capital of Austria-Hungary, the great city was just too important to ignore. Vienna is mentioned many times in the novel, and Schönbrunn, the Imperial summer palace, also features. The stay in Vienna was only partly dedicated to the theme of the journey; the FIFA  world cup had started and got more attention than Hašek. I was also visited by  my good friend Arvid Langeteig, and we could enjoy many  good Austrian beers whilst watching  many mediocre football matches and listening to the vuvuzela all day. We were in other words normal tourists in a big city. Again I had the opportunity to converse  clearly and coherently in my own dialect, a privilege I would  probably not enjoy again until late October.
Franz Ferdinand's uniform from Sarajevo 1914.
The lethal bullet penetrated near the collar on the left side.
Arvid informed me that the venerable Queen Victoria was regarded as small, fat and ugly, and judging by pictures and paintings, she indeed was. In fact she was probably even uglier than she was portrayed, as most visually challenged rulers are regularly "glossed over".
A century earlier another fat and ugly monarch ruled Vienna and the Habsburg Empire. She was Maria Theresa, who despite not being a picture postcard was an astute ruler who introduced reforms of lasting importance. The Empress was one of the so-called enlightened  despots, a term often used to describe her and Prussian king, Friedrich the Great. Their educational reforms paved the way for progress in Central Europe in the centuries ahead, and the legacy is still noticeable  today in the form of high levels of education in both Germany and most of the territories of the former Austrian Empire. Maria Theresa was also a master of arranging strategic marriages, seven of her eight daughters were victims of such dealings. This was a strategy the Habsburgs were experts at; expansion by marriage rather than warfare (which they were less skilled at).
During our stay in Vienna, a visit to Schönbrunn was compulsory. It was a wet and miserable day so we didn't have the benefit of seeing the fabulous garden. Still the palace has enough splendour to offer. Schönbrunn was built as a summer residence by Maria Theresa and the Empress herself features regularly in the exhibitions. So does Franz Joseph I who was born here and also died here. His bedroom is on show, and the pre-recorded guide tells how His Highness got up at four in the morning, spent some time praying and then started work. He was a workaholic and his habits spread through the civil service and eventually the whole Empire. In parts of the former empire these work hours still prevail; anyone who has been to the Czech or Slovak republic will have noticed this and the Austrians are not late starters either. His private toilet is also exhibited and Švejk would obviously have commented on this. It actually features in a conversation in the Schwarzenberg sheep-shed during the Budějovická anabase and that conversation is definitely Majestätsbeleidigigung!
The popular Empress and Queen "Sissi" also features; and as opposed to Maria Theresa she was not fat and ugly at all. She died tragically in Geneva in 1898, stabbed by anarchist Luigi Lucheni, an event mentioned early in the very beginning of Švejk. The good soldier also took note of the many personal tragedies the Emperor and King suffered. When Franz Joseph was told of the murder of his estranged wife he tersely commented: "Nichts wird mir erspart". A lasting impression from a museum like Schönbrunn is the extreme luxury  the rulers allowed themselves, obviously by pilfering their own peoples (and others).  The Habsburg's were of course not alone here, and they were surely not the worst, which in itself says a lot!
Škoda 38 cm howitzer.
A second museum of relevance to my Hašek-theme was the Heeresgeschichtliche museum, which as the name indicates deals with army history. As opposed to Schönbrunn photography was allowed, and several megabytes were used. The entrance features the hall of the commanders and many of the names known from Švejk are there: Alfred Windischgrätz, Eugen von Savoien, Ernst von Laudon and Johann Radetzky. The latter was the Czech aristocrat Jan Radecký who is supposed to have said: "let's be Czechs but keep quite about it"", a phrase attributed to Senior Lieutenant Lukáš by Hašek! Radtezky is often mentioned in the novel, a whole field mass by Feldkurat Ibl is attributed to him. Needless to say Hašek's ridicule is merciless here. The principal architect of the WW1 disaster, Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf is also on show, together with various Habsburgs. One of the major items in the museum is the car Franz Ferdinand was driven in when he was killed one June 28 1914. His uniform is also exhibited, complete with bloodstains and the hole were the lethal bullet from a Belgian-made Browning penetrated.
Franz Ferdinand himself had quite radical political views; he advocated federalism which would have put the Slav nations on equal footing with the Germans and Hungarians. Whether this would have been enough to save the Empire is an open question. Still there were relatively few, even amongst Czechs, who  advocated a break-up of the Empire before 1914. Tomáš Masaryk only changed his position after the war broke out. Had had actually himself been a representative in the Austrian parliament before 1914.
Both world wars obviously feature in the museum, and the WW1 collection has an amazing display of artillery which seemed all to be from Škoda. Particularly massive is a 380 mm howitzer. The monster weighs 80 tons, and was used on the Italian front. The Czech heavy industry played a crucial role in arming the k.u.k army. After the split-up of the Empire, Czechoslovakia inherited 60% of the industry and became on of the top 10 industrial powers of the world and also one of the wealthiest. Already before the war the Czech lands contributed 25% of the tax income of the Empire. This disproportion between contribution/population numbers and real political influence caused a lot of resentment amongst Czechs, and contributed to the fact that Czechs (apart from Rusyns) were probably the least loyal of all k.u.k subjects.
Hofburg, the Habsburgs main residence.
After admiring all these magnificent field commanders and huge howitzers we were close to suffering from Stendhal's syndrome and needed a beer down at the homely Puntigamerhof, right opposite the giant hole in the ground where the Wien Südbahnhof used to be. This beisel was to become our second home after the affordable albeit idiotically named Austria Trend Hotel.
Vienna is of course a great city to visit apart from the agenda of my own trip. With its grand palaces, parks, cathedrals and museums it has plenty to offer. It is also a vibrant, modern, and multi ethnic city and one of the cleanest around. Vienna's beisels offer a unique and affordable atmosphere for eating and drinking  but if you need an Irish pub or a Döner Kebab, that's also possible.

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