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.

Monday, 31 May 2010

Bucolic backwaters

In the days before Internet became widespread I was dependant on guidebooks, and the Rough Guides were my favourites. The language was fresher and more direct than that of their competitor Lonely Planet's and they were less likely to fill up their eating and drinking section with "Irish" and expat pubs. The Czechoslovak Rough Guide written by Rob Humphreys was always with me in these parts from 1991 onwards. It was a feature in this book that made me aware of Jaroslav Hašek and led me to Bebington Library to borrow Švejk. A writer described as an anarchist, prankster, beer-drinker, dog-breeder and red commissar surely must have been out of the ordinary. So it proved and since then I've never looked back.
 
The Rough Guides tend to be written in a laconic style, my birthplace Vik i Sogn was described  as a "half-hearted village" by the Sognefjord, Kirkenes was so far away that it seemed to be falling off the edge of the earth. Žatec was a scruffy medieval affair (when I visited in 2006 it was not scruffy at all, it's an attractive town), and South Bohemia was a bucolic backwater. I admit I had to look up the word bucolic  when I read it first time, so please feel free to Google it!
 
In the mud of these bucolic backwaters I was still waddling about in late May 2010. After the previous days hard but rewarding walk I took the train back to Radomyšl and continued towards Švejk's haystack in Putim. I had an off-topic agenda in the morning, a visit to the Jewish cemetery in Osek where Franz Kafka's grandfather, Jakob Kavka, is buried. He was a butcher in the village, kosher even. It was Heřman Kavka (Hermann Kafka), the writers father, who moved to Prague and also germanised the name, which in Czech means Jackdaw.
 
I set out towards Osek along a track which Milan Kovařík had showed me the day before. As it happened the track was far from kosher and to avoid having to wade through the mud, I took another route. In the end I missed the cemetery altogether. I got pissed off, and decided to leave Kafka to kafkologs. As I was getting sore in unmentionable parts I soon made compromises on Švejk's route, leaving out Putim for now and heading straight for Štěken. It was a Saturday, and only the Vietnamese shop was open, and there I found no suitable remedy for my troubles. I decided to head for Ražice where there at  least were trains back to Písek.
 
The walk was pure purgatory, and I made a stop in a large pub in Sudoměř. There I bought a Jan Žižka T-shirt, and sat down  for a beer. Opposite me appeared a man which appeared to have escaped from ZZ Top, a biker with long hair and an appropriate beard. We struck up a great conversation, he was also a fan of Hašek. Jindřích Brichašek bought me a glass of vodka for the road, I returned the compliment with a pivo, and promised to send him a post-card from Bugulma. The final 6 kilometers to Ražice went better; beer and the vodka work against many ailments.
 
Back in Písek I looked for remedies for my troubled rear. I had insecticide, toothpaste  and sun lotion available. I decided to apply Nivea Sun Lotion. On the bottle was written Sun Factor 10. Never in the course of human suffering has the sun factor been of such meagre importance.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

A grumpy farmer

Švejk had both good and bad encounters on his wanderings in the Czech south. Just before Vráž he had met a kind  old babička who gave him bramborovka, a kind of potato soup. She also gave him advice on which villages to avoid and which were safe, assuming he was a deserter as he walked round in his military greatcoat. She also gave him directions to her brother in Radomyšl, a certain farmer Melichárek who lived in Dolejší ulice behind Floriánek. Švejk in the end went there, but was given a could shoulder by a farmer who took him for a deserter and didn't want to have anything to do with him. Švejk set off again and ended up sleeping in a hay-stack near Putim, in he company of three real deserters.

Pond between Čížová and Malčice.
In  the morning of May 28 2010 I set off early to continue Švejk's anabasis from Čížová. At 7 in the morning I bought some buchty in a bakery and had my breakfast on a bench in front of the Municipal House. Čížová is a neat village, set on a slope and offers a fine panorama of the countryside to the south.

My next goal was Malčice where Švejk went to a pub to buy kořálka. This took me along the new motorway to Prague, which is not yet opened. The construction workers allowed me onto it, so I had all the lanes to myself. I didn't find any pub in Malčice, the nearest I came was a community hall which wasn’t open this early in the morning. The village is quite small, although larger than Květov.

Then I took a gamble; to avoid having to turn south again along the motorway I set across the fields and followed some tractor tracks. Two farmers sitting on their Zetors advised me  and it all turned out well. The tracks were wet and mucky and I passed the largest dung-heap I've seen in my life  (and raised on a farm I've seen a lot of muck). I then got onto a cycle track, and finally by Holušice  on to an asphalted road. I must have looked quite forlorn, because close to Sedlice a Mercedes pulled up and an elegantly dressed elderly lady, wearing a ridiculous hat, offered me a lift. I politely turned down the kind offer, not because of the hat, but because Švejk used his feet and so would I. In Sedlice I had a deserved lunch and two excellent Strakonice desitky before continuing towards Radomyšl. Sedlice is a likable small-town, dominated by it's big church. There is no account in the novel about Švejk ever having been in Sedlice, but later he at least claims he went there.

Radomyšl
Radomyšl is likewise a quaint place. In 2005 it was voted South Bohemian "Village of the year" and understandably so. The church is again the main sight, but the old and narrow streets around it adds to the charm. When I arrived on the square the lady in the Infocentrum jumped on me like sergeant Flanderka jumped on Švejk in Putim, offering me all sorts of more or less relevant stuff. I was only interested in Floriánek and Dolejší ulice, and was at last pointed in the right direction. I asked again further down, even went to the radnice. Because it was election day there was very little help offered. I asked more people and a lady told me that the grand-daughter of the farmer Melichárek lived in town, but she wouldn't be in until 5pm. I gave the lady my e-mail address to pass on.
Floriánek
Finally I had some luck; an elderly man who was obviously interested in local history came up with the answers. Floriánek is actually a house, now derelict and recently bought by a foreigner. An officially dressed man walked past, overheard the conversation, and exclaimed that the "they" had stolen it! To judge by his age he would also have been an official when the party had a leading role. What would the Party have preferred, I wondered? The property falling into ruins or it belonging to a foreigner who would then have restored it by exploiting the local working class?
The local historian Milan Kovařík was very helpful, and needless to say we rounded off with a few pivo in the local hospoda. He told me that there are two Melichár families in Radomyšl, Hašek had slightly altered the name. The lady who I had given my e-mail address to again appeared and so did the busy-body from the Infocentrum. I must have caused some attention in town. It was all in all a fruitful day, and I decided to give my feet a rest and catch the bus back to Písek via Strakonice.

Milan Kovařík
Some 10 days later I was pleased to receive an e-mail from Ivana Síbková. She told me that her mother was born in 1915 and that in the same year Jaroslav Hašek had visited the family and was allowed to sleep over. Her grandmother even made him bramborovka. Her grandfathers name was Václav Melichár. So some of the story in Švejk is factual, although Hašek adapted it. Mrs Síbková doesn't know why Hašek put her grand-father in such a bad light. To that can be said that Hašek consistently used names of real people in his stories but that these often didn't correspond to the person he described. Kraus von Zillergut is a prime example. He was an acquittance of Hašek from Prague, not a moronic colonel in the k.u.k army!

The question remains: what was Jaroslav Hašek doing in Radomyšl in 1915? From February 17 to mid-May he was assigned to the reserve cadre of the 91st regiment in České Budějovice but Radomyšl is 70 km away. It is known that he went on walkabouts in the area, but this is something different. Could it have been an attempt to desert? In that case, parts of the Švejkova anabase might be autobiographical, and not purely based on memories from his childhood vacations in the south. Also there is no evidence that he visited South Bohemia in 1915 before he was called up.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

To Čížová

South Bohemia is mostly countryside and it often smells of pig-shit and other variations of dung. It even has a number of Country Clubs and I've seen the American Stars and Bars flying more than once. Still it is an attractive Central European region with little heavy industry, a cluster of medieval towns, numerous castles and many pretty villages and small towns. It is perfect terrain for cycling and walking, and walking is what I did, even more than I had anticipated, probably even more than Švejk did.

Usually Jaroslav Hašek was thorough when putting together the backdrop to his novel. This applied to geography, history, literary quotes and quotes from war calendars, encyclopaedia, but when it came to timing he was way off. Studies conducted by Antonin Měšťan and Hans-Peter Laqueur estimate the Švejkova anabase to 72 hours. This is however impossible. Not even a super-fit Marathon-runner would have done the 160 kilometres in such a short time, and in between Švejk spent time in pubs and at police stations. I set aside a week for the walking and it turned out to be no more than I needed.
 
After offloading my luggage in Písek I was finally getting to the core of Švejk's anabasis, trying to get to his obrlajtnant and his regiment whilst walking in circles around Písek. On May 26 I took the bus back to Zvíkovské podhradí and from here I continued in the steps of our anti-hero. Švejk might presumable have crossed the Vltava somewhere else, the Orlik dam has made the options limited nowadays. It was a wet and horrible day and again I got lost before I finally arrived in Vráž. There was no kind babička waiting for me with her bramborovka (potato soup). Instead I had to rely on the Country club. They were flying the Confederate Flag and much to my delight playing Led Zeppelin and Lynyrd Skynyrd. I stayed on for four good Budvars and continued towards Čížová in high spirit. My feet where in a bad state but the Budvar helped. Painkillers can mean many things. Whatever hallucinogenic put in front of me there and then would have been appreciated; no matter if it was for eating, drinking or smoking. Fortunately there was a bus back to Písek, so I didn't have to add the last 6 km to my Google-map. The pizza at Maestro Appetito beneath the imposing church towers tasted particularly good that evening.

Písek is another pretty Czech town. Kamenný most (The stone bridge) across the Otava predates the Charles Bridge in Prague by 100 years and is the oldest existing bridge in Bohemia. The town has two squares and a cluster of old streets. The surroundings are also attractive, green rolling landscapes dotted with  quaint  villages. But above all this is Hašek country. His mother, Kateřina Jarešová was born near Protivín, 20 km to the south, and his father Josef Hašek was from Mydlovary a bit further south. Jaroslav Hašek visited the region in his childhood and again in 1915. He uses his local knowledge both in Švejk and in the stories about his grandfather Antonín Jareš. His grandfather's rebellious attitudes influenced the young Jaroslav, something which is clear from the stories about the pond-warden Jareš from Ražice who stood up against the aristocratic landowners, the Schwarzenbergs.

Friday, 28 May 2010

Anabasis and archives

The word anabasis hails from Greek historian, general, and writer Xenophon. It is the title of seven heavy volumes where he describes the arduous route back to Athens after a military expedition to Persia. Xenophon is also said to be the first historian to write a report form a battlefield. Obviously Jaroslav Hašek must have read Xenophon or at least been familiar with his work. Through his famous chapter, Švejkova budějovická anabase, Hašek and other former legionnaires immortalized the word anabase for Czech readers. If you ask an American, Englishman or Scandinavian what the word means, you would get a blank stare. If you ask a Czech, or for that sake anyone in the neighbouring countries he would probably mention Švejk and not Xenophon. Czech poet and legionnaire Rudolf Medek (who at  times was a friend of Hašek) even wrote a work called "Anabase" (1927), the ultimate homage to the Czechoslovak Legions. Tomáš Masaryk also briefly mentions it in his book "The word revolution".

Hašek was a member of that organisation from 1916 onwards but quit in April 1918 after it was decided that they were to be transferred to the Western Front and fight under French command. British professor of literature, Robert Pynsent, has stated that Hašek's chapter in Švejk mocks  the Legion's wanderings in Siberia. Similar speculation is equally categorically voiced by translator of Švejk Zenny Sadlon and Polish writer Antoni Kroh. The theory seems highly speculative, and none of the three gentlemen quote any sources. There is nothing in the text of Švejk to support the claims; the aim  there is firmly the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Medek's work was published after Hašek's death so he has definitely not targeted him directly*). Importantly: Hašek already used the term in the short-story "Dopisy z fronty" (25 September 1916), and at the time he was definitely not mocking the Legions. All of the above three fail to mention this highly relevant fact. Hašek may have had good reasons to poke fun at his former comrades but that doesn't prove that he did it. Some legionnaires might have felt offended, but again that doesn't prove that he intended  it as a slur. The background for his use of the term "anabase" is probably a straight-forward reflection of Hašek's genuine interest in ancient history. References to ancient Rome and Greece are found all over the novel. I also doubt very much if Hašek can be quoted, saying that he aim this very brief mention of Xenofon at the legions. If such a quote existed, the post-1948 communist Haškologs would surely have used it for what it was worth.

*) NB! In a letter in 2011 Robert Pynsent correctly pointed out that Medek's work was NOT the first that used the term "anabase"; several writers had used it as early as 1921. Antonín Měšťan in his excellent REALIEN UND PSEUDOREALIEN IN HAŠEKS "ŠVEJK", writes that Hašek presumably used the term to ridicule journalist's use of the word. It remains to browse the Czech press from the immediate aftermath of WW1 to find any references to it. Still Hašek used the term already 18 months before the legions started their Siberian anabasis.

After settling in at reasonable Pension U Kloudů in central Písek for a week, my hands were free  and my back-pack firmly stowed away. The pension had fast wireless Internet, essential to a traveller who takes dozens of pictures every day and needs to upload them. I now had a whole day off without having to trace anyone in the whole world. Instead I went to the Státní okresní archiv (the regional state archives) to investigate a few of the facts Hašek employed in his novel. The staff were sceptical in the beginning, and I had to go back for my passport before they even considered letting me in. I guess they were leftovers from times where rules were rules and no nonsense was tolerated. When I returned with my passport, and had signed the  necessary papers, it was pure goodwill and helpfulness. I soon established where the Bezirksgendarmeriekommando  was, and also had a look at the police records from 1914-18.

Hašek mentions a rytmístr König in Švejk. He is probably pure fiction or a different person. According to the records Theodor Rotter was in charge in Písek during the war. He is mentioned in Švejk on several occasions, was an expert on breeding police dogs, and also an acquaintance of the author. They had met when Hašek was editor of "Animal World". The records were great reading, they would have been perfect background material for Hašek. Here are instructions on how to deal with drunkards, pacifists, anarchists, gypsies etc., all in the pompous official language that Hašek ridiculed. The only one piece missing was the village idiot Pepík Vyskoč  (Joey Jump).

Hard work

Tábor railway station today does not offer  any hospoda where you can sit down and have a beer with some shaggy Hungarian. There is a Bufet Viktoria though, all plastic and convenience but without  draught beer. I still felt obliged to have a bottle of Kozel that early morning in 24 May, as this is a place of immense importance. The beer was good but I had to get moving, because it was as obvious to me as it was for Švejk that all roads lead to that Budějovice. I also  had the good sense to leave some books behind at Hotel Slávia. The backpack was already getting worryingly heavy.
On the previous day I had gone to the Infocentrum to pick up some maps. I assumed that the map of the Písecko region was sufficient, and that I would confidently  manoeuvre westwards through Táborsko purely by relying on my excellent memory. I had decided to visit Klokoty on the way, but surprisingly, early  that day my excellent memory played me a trick. I added 3 km to an already long walk almost before I had started. The beauty of Klokoty monastery still made me feel humble, despite me being generally indifferent to religion.
I continued down the Lužnice valley and walked on and on, ever forward. Before Sepekov I got lost in some marshland and was nearing exhaustion, with a backpack that seemed to weight 10 kilos more for every hour. By now every imaginable part of the body was aching. I decided it couldn't get any worse anyway and carried on to Milevsko even though it was getting dark and a thunderstorm was brewing.

The last 3 km to Milevsko were unbelievably long, and just before the station the thunderstorm hit. I had bought my second umbrella from a Vietnamese in Břevnov for kč 30 and it was turned inside out within four seconds. I wrapped the wreck around the backpack and was relieved to get shelter at U Vlaků, on the railway platform. Here I had the most welcome pivo of my whole travelling career. The pub was a grotty lidová hospoda serving excellent Platan 11. I gulped down three of them on the trot and then asked for a place to sleep. The other customers were railway workers which by now were struggling with their diction, but they took a keen interest in the tourist and were generally helpful.
Just before 23:00 I finally found a place to sleep and was safe. Švejk only carried his fajfka (pipe) on his walk whilst I was carrying heaps of electronics and other necessities. On the road to Sepekov it had struck me that carrying all this on my back for a week could result in a premature end to my grand travelling project. I decided to change tack: go to Písek and settle down there, then do the rest of the anabasis as day-trips. That would rid me of three worries: the heavy backpack, keeping the electronics dry, and having to secure a place to stay every night.
I still decided on another stop before executing the plan: continue by foot to the brewpub/hotel in Zvíkovské podhradí which was only 20 km away. From there one I would head for Písek. The road went through Květov, mentioned in Švejk. It is a tiny village, I didn't even find a pub. That put pay to the intention of having a beer at every spot Švejk stopped at! I could have bought some bottle at Jednota, but beer-drinking has  to be done properly and rain was threatening. I crossed the Vltava in a downpour  and finally got to Pivovarský Dvůr, the promised land, combining a hotel and a house brewery. The beer was very good and I had plenty of time to catch up on sleep.
This concluded the first part of my own Budějovická anabase. I struggled with getting my feet into the bed and felt the best way of getting down the stairs in the morning was walking sideways. These things wouldn't have bothered Švejk, but I'm sure he would have understood my predicament. In the last two days I had put more than  50 km behind me.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Tábor

Early in 1915 Jaroslav Hašek was called up by the Austro-Hungarian Army. He was to report at Karlín on February 15, so he must have left for Mariánske kasárny in České Budějovice on a southbound train a day or two later.  At least for Hašek the train journey south must have been rather uneventful. However, his alter ego Švejk and his obrlajtnant Lukáš suffered a series of misfortunes. First their suitcases were stolen at the station in Prague, then Švejk made the following unfortunate comment in the presence of a bald gentleman in the compartment they shared:

“I dutifully report Senior Lieutenant, Sir, that I’ve read once in the paper that a normal human should have sixty to seventy thousand strands of hair on his head on the average and that black hair tends to be thinner, as can be observed in numerous cases.” And he continued on mercilessly: “And then a med student was once saying at the Špírek’s coffeehouse that the hair falling out is caused by a disturbance of the soul during the mother’s customary six weeks of recuperation after giving birth.” (from Zenny K. Sadlon's translation)

Unfortunately the bald gentleman was the fearsome army inspector Major General von Schwarzburg and the merciless response was:  Marsch heraus, Sie Schweinkerl! It didn't end there; Švejk was unfortunate enough to pull the emergency break just before Tábor. The train stopped, and Švejk was pulled in to pay the fine at the railway station. There he settled down in the restaurant and that while waiting for the very next train he was beset by the mishap of sitting at a table and drinking one beer after another. The result was that the missed all the trains, didn't have a heller in his pocket, had no documents, and was forced to set out on foot. This is the start of the famous Švejkova budějovická anabase which I was going  to retrace in the next week or so.

My own trip down to Tábor on 23 May 2010 was less dramatic. I bid farewell to Prague in the classic art-deco Fantova Kavárna at Prague main station. It is a spectacle in it's own right, set below the glass dome of the station, and complete with a huge picture of His Imperial Highness František Josef I. The visit to Tábor had purposes apart from tracing Švejk. Last years on a cycle trip from Freising to Prague I had met some good people there, which I wanted to meet again.


Secondly, author and politician Jan Berwid-Buquoy lives in nearby Měšice. I had for a long time tried to get hold of his book Die Abenteuer des gar nicht so braven Humoristen Jaroslav Hašek, but to no avail. I ended up writing to him, and he suggested I come and pick up the book personally. So I did. It was right during a fest at his own family castle, a country and western-band was playing, people were drinking pivo and eating sausages in the garden, the kids were busy in the jumping castle. By the posters to judge it was also part of the election campaign for KDU-ČSL. Berwid-Buquoy was for the occasion dressed in a British battle-uniform and was easy to detect. I was very pleased that he, despite a busy schedule, had time to sit down with me and also to guide me around the castle. He was himself pleased that I brought him a personal gift from Richard Hašek, whose father he had met, and who is quoted as source for the biography.

The family got the property  back during the restitution process in the nineties. They bought it for one  koruna but have  has since spent a lot of money restoring it. Now it also contains three small museums: one on the abuses of communism, one on Konrad Adenauer and finally one on John F. Kennedy. Berwid-Buquoy also showed me his  impressive library. He is himself the author of 12 books, and I received one of them as a gift: Ludwig Erhard, der Vater des deutcshen Wirtschaftswunder. Berwid-Buquoy and his wife are bilingual in Czech and German. He told me that he didn't speak a word of Czech until he was seven, his mother was Sudeten-German, his father Czech. After the Warsaw-pact invasion in 1968 they went into exile, and lived in Vienna and Berlin until after the 1989 Revolution.

The next two days were spent with friends I had met the year before.  We'd had in 2009 had a great time at the hard-rocking Blues Bar and then at U lva, a classic pub with cheap beer and great atmosphere. However, Blues bar was by now history, the owner had been arrested for fraud and locked up. U lva still existed though, and the atmosphere was electric on the night the Czech Republic beat Russia 2-1 in the Ice Hockey WC final.

Tábor has a special place in Czech history. It was the main seat of the radical part of the Hussite movement. These were followers of religious reformer Jan Hus, an early critic of the abuses of the Catholic Church. He pre-dated Martin Luther by 100 years. The Hussite movement, for a while led by military genius Jan Žižka, a legend in his own right, played a vital part in Central European politics until 1526 when Bohemia came under Habsburg rule. The protestant Hussite church still exists although it suffered greatly under the Catholic Habsburg-sponsored counter-reformation of the 17th and 18th centuries.

Tábor is an attractive city, the core is preserved and wandering through the streets of the old town is pure joy. It is well worth a visit, even if you couldn't care less about Švejk. It is situated south of Prague, on the way to equally enticing České Budějovice, in some countries known as Budweis. According to Švejk all roads lead to České Budějovice, and I was to test his assertion in the next week or so.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Haškology

There exist numerous sciences and pseudo-sciences on earth. There is cosmetology, ontology, astrology, tautology, philology, gynaecology, sinology and of course haškology. The latter science is by its very nature represented by "haškologists", a relatively minor sub-species of the human race. Haškology does not only deal with the the literary work of Jaroslav Hašek, but also his extraordinary and turbulent life, which in many ways is even more remarkable than his tour-de-force novel The Good Soldier Švejk.
Haškologové at Lipnice in 2008.

From the author’s death in 1923 until the fifties, written material on  Hašek consisted largely of reminiscences written by his friends; amongst them Franta Sauer, Josef Lada, Václav Menger, Emil Artur Longen and Zdeněk Matěj Kuděj. There was no systematic research on his life and work at that time, perhaps apart from Menger. Hašek as an alleged traitor was not a popular figure amongst the elites of pre-war Czechoslovakia and Švejk was largely neglected by the literary establishment.

In the early 1950's the situation changed. The communist regime decided that they could live with “certain contradictions” in his career, and concluded after some hesitation that Hašek could serve their purpose (Cecil Parrott). Thus the irony was complete; the most anti-authoritarian writer imaginable was canonized by a regime that was far more authoritarian than the one the writer  himself had mocked in his famous novel. However, his elevation also had a positive effect. Resources were made available for research and books on Hašek started to appear. The first was Zdena Ančík's "O životě Jaroslava Haška" that was published in 1953. Then Jaroslav Křížek followed up in 1957 with Jaroslav Hašek in revolutionary Russia. This was the first serious study on the authors stay in Russia and contained valuable new material. This book is also a prime example of how facts got filtered to fit a political purpose. Křížek only mentioned Trotsky once, and he ignored Hašek's association with the left-wing opposition to the Bolsheviks (according to Pavel Gan). Other researchers followed;  Milan Jankovič and Radko Pytlík and more. In 1970 the latter published "Toulavé house", a complete biography on the author. Haškology hit it's peak in 1983, marking the 100th anniversary of the authors birth. A number of books were published this year, particularly by Pytlík. The anniversary was also sponsored by UNESCO. Some of Pytlík’s books were by now translated to German, English and Russian. Pytlík produced a book on the theme as late as in 2003, and "Toulavé house" has been revised a number of times, the latest update appeared in 2013.

Some of Radko Pytlík's publications
Haškology was by  no means limited to Czechoslovakia though. Literature appeared in Russia, and in the German-speaking world exiles Gustav Janouch (1903-1968)  and Jan Berwid-Buquoy (1946-)  published biographies. Janouch's book is well written but seems rather  speculative and reviewers have pointed to his uncritical use of sources. Nor does he provide any discussion on the official Czechoslovak truth as presented by scholars on the other side of the Iron Curtain.

Berwid-Buquoy in his Die Abenteuer des gar nicht so braven Humoristen Jaroslav Hašek explicitly seeks to dispel what he sees as myths created by Pytlík, Ančík et. al. He accuses the Marxist writers of ignoring western sources and exaggerating Hašek's humble background to fit their agenda. Berwid-Buquoy evidence that Hašek's family background was not that humble after all is convincing, but many other parts of his book are not. His explicit agenda is to dispel "legends" and provide "truth", hardly a convincing starting point and the lack of sources makes it difficult for others to follow up. He even alleges that Hašek was assassinated (by the communists).

The view that Hašek's background was not that humble is shared by English biographer Cecil Parrott (1909-1984). The diplomat and former ambassador to Czechoslovakia was also a Hašek-expert and he is the only person with a non-Czech background who has written a biography on the author. The title is "The Bad Bohemian" and it was published in 1978. It is a thorough and well-researched study, albeit written in a dry and academic style. For most readers this book will still be the best introduction to Hašek, unless he/she reads German, Czech or Russian. In my view the book is marred by Parrott's obvious distaste for Hašek's lifestyle and the sleeve even states that "Hašek's life was a disgrace". If these were the words of Parrott I don't know, it could also be the publishers trying to sell by shouting loud. Still the tone is set, and one of the conclusions is that Hašek was a "creative psychopath" who routinely broke promises, exploited his friends and was exactly the opposite of a model husband. These statements are partially true of course, but such kind of behaviour is very common amongst heavy drinkers who put the next glass of beer before other obligations. It  could be that simple; characterizing someone as a psychopath to explain a common trait amongst alcoholics is quite inventive. Parrott's book has an extensive reference list, something that the biographies by Pytlík and Berwid-Buquoy lack. Parrott also acknowledges Pytlík's work and admits that he has lent heavily on his Toulavé House in certain parts. It actually goes further than Parrott admits: some paragraphs, even whole chapters, are translated word by word, given away by Pytlík's errors. Another and in my view better publication by Parrott is “A study of Švejk and the short stories”. This book is a must for any admirer of Švejk.

Pavel Gan
In 1983 Bamberg hosted a conference on Hašek, exclusively attended by scholars based in the west, many  of them Czech exiles. One of them was Pavel Gan (1933-) who with his extensive paper Hašek als Rotarmist an der Volga in 1918 shed new light on the authors activities during the first phase of the Russian civil war. Gan since went on to produce papers on Hašek in the Ukraine, Hašek on the way to Baikal and Hašek beyond the Baikal. All these papers are in German, some of them translated to Czech. Part of  the information in these papers are collected in his book which I wrote about in the entry "More important than Lonely Planet". Unfortunately facts are obfuscated by presenting it in the form of a novel. In my view Gan would have served admirers of Hašek better  if he had written a fact-based biography.

Literary historian Radko Pytlík (1928-) is generally regarded as the number one  living expert on Hašek, and has been so for some time. Already in 1978,  Cecil Parrott recognised him as such. He has published a number of books on Hašek, including the biography Toulavé House (The wandering gosling), and a complete bibliography. He also specialises on Bohumil Hrabal and Fyodor Dostoyevsky. He has written several books on Prague and particularly it's hospody. It can be assumed that no-one alive knows more about this particular theme than Pytlík. As said before, Pytlík has his critics. According to those he more or less willingly towed the line of the Communist authorities, benefiting from the public canonization of Jaroslav Hašek, contributing to making Hašek more of a Bolshevik than he really was. On the other hand it's clear that backing from the authorities aided research on Hašek. Pytlík spent six weeks in the Soviet Union doing his research, something which would have been inconceivable without official support. He also visited Austria in 1983 in the capacity as a haškologist. It must have been a precarious balancing act still; he says that when he had conversation with Cecil Parrott they didn't dare to speak openly, they knew that the StB  (State Security) were tapping the conversation. Toulavé House is still pretty free from between-the-lines ideology (my version is a revised edition from 1998). This is a literary historian writing, not an apparatchik. Pytlík is currently working on a complete fact-file on Jaroslav Hašek. It is organised year by year and including dates, sources, literary references and with a side-view to concurrent events. From what I have seen (a draft and a complete issue of the year 1911), it looks very promising and dwarfs anything that has been published so far. Pytlík said in a recent radio interview that he has been working on Hašek for 60 years now, and is still discovering new things.

After 1989 haškology lost the official backing and researchers again had to rely on voluntary efforts. These are headed by Pytlík himself and Richard Hašek and twice they have arranged conferences at Lipnice (2003 and 2008). They also arrange other events and regularly appear in Czech media, from regional newspaper to television. Richard Hašek has also been interviewed by German, Polish, Hungarian and Austrian broadcasters. But judging by the attendance at the latest conference at Lipnice, the movement is in dire need of new blood. The amount of grey hair and  bald heads was as striking as the lack of female representatives and below-fifty men.

All is not gloom though. As mentioned above, Pytlík is working on a new fact-file and hopefully he will keep healthy and be able to publish  it. The demand for material on Hašek is still there, demonstrated by the fact that Hodik and Landa were able to publish a thorough investigation of the facts behind Švejk. I have already mentioned the efforts of Jaroslav Šerák and Hans-Peter Laqueur. Another enthusiast also deserves a mention. He is the Czech-born American Zenny K. Sadlon who maintains one of the most extensive web-sites around: Svejk Central. It was the first of it's kind in the world and contains a lot of documents. It also has links to virtually all that exists on English-language material on Hašek (and a lot more). Sadlon is also the man behind a new translation on Švejk, which was completed in 2009 and ultimately successful after a wobbly start.

Computer technology and Internet presents new opportunities for organizing and presenting the material. And most importantly: it speeds up he research effort many-fold, with archives and other printed material increasingly appearing in digital form. My hope is that some of the enormous knowledge possessed by those elderly haškologs can be collected and digitalised before it's too late.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Katastrofa

First I would like to reassure readers that the ominous title Katastrofa hails from literature and is not based on my own travel experiences. It is the headline of Chapter 15, Book One of Švejk and refers to the result of Švejk and Blahník colluding to steal a dog for obrlajtnant Lukáš who in turn got caught red-handed by Colonel Friedrich Kraus von Zillergut, a supreme idiot who in the k.u.k Armee could only be matched by Lieutenant Dub. The result was immediate departure to the front, an event which Švejk commented on as follows:

It will be something truly exquisite when we both fall together for the Lord Emperor, and his family.........” (from Zenny K. Sadlon's translation)
My last few days in Prague were spent following Otto Katz and Švejk looking for the lost Field Altar in Vršovice, picking up the monstrance at Břevnov monastery, serving Field Mass at Motol, and collecting some loose ends. It can be noted that the monastery at Břevnov is beautiful and that the restaurant Klášterní šenk is extremely comfortable without being expensive. Their web-page is in Czech, German and Latin, how could I possibly not love the place!

The road to Motol was wet and horrible and I  missed the exercise ground (now a golf course) altogether and ended up between the paneláky in Řepy, far beyond. There I celebrated my failure in an extremely shitty pub in a dreary seventies shopping centre, and then took the bus back to the centre. On the 21 May I went back to Vršovice to photograph the barracks where Lukáš and Švejk lived, now housing a regional court. I also bid farewell to restaurant Dobrý den and Jonny Axelson. Later it has been confirmed that the restaurant has been sold.

One morning Richard Hašek and I visited Radko Pytlík's atelier in Holešovice. The atelier is his functioning office, filled with books from floor to ceiling and with a piano in the middle.  A thought struck me when we entered the room: I'll never get to Siberia if I start digging into this. The next half year could easily be spent here. Pytlík told us that he's working on a new biography on Hašek. He has already compiled background facts on both Švejk and Hašek, and fortunately I have those huge files kept on my computer. They are vital as the journey progresses and I have already corrected errors on my own web-pages after consulting the  files. Again I had a feeling of having entered a sacred world, containing knowledge that no Google-search could find. There will be more on Dr Pytlík in future letters.
After the visit to the atelier we went to U svatého Antoníčku around the corner, a classic pub where Dr Pytlík has been a regular for years. The Czech Republic were at the moment playing Finland in the Ice Hockey WC and as the Finns scored in the first minute there were some loud kurva and do prdele heard in the room. Ice Hockey is serious business in this country.

After the hockey  we continued to U Rudolfina and met Antonín Kachlík, another elderly haškolog (and former film director). We had a discussion about Henrik Ibsen's An enemy of the people and concluded that there were many parallels with Hašek.

The final evening in Prague was celebrated with Richard Hašek and friends Na Slamníku in Bubeneč, one of the oldest pubs in Prague and a place with a timeless, serene atmosphere. The evening sun was shining through the thin smoke-stained white curtains, getting reflected in the cigarette smoke. The Pilsner beer was exquisite. Afterwards there was a great rock arrangement with some old stalwarts.  The tourist drank wine for a change, and did so as if it was beer. The result was cataclysmic, but he was taken care of by good friends.
On  the morning of 23 May I set off for Tábor. I was sad to leave Prague, Richard and other good friends behind but also full of anticipation for the rest of the adventure. I will, all being well, be back in the mother of all cities in October. From now on the taverns will gradually get less enticing, the beer will deteriorate in quality, but I will hopefully still have a good life amongst the good people of all nations.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Books and beer

As mentioned in the previous letter, four Hungarians, led by László Polgár,  had arrived at Lipnice. They were on the way to vital events in Prague: a Book Fair and a Beer Festival. Books and beer is an excellent combination and no-one in the Czech Lands wound find this  particularly strange. In few other countries are literature and beer that closely connected. The Czech Republic  has  a huge quantity of hospody and fittingly it also has a large number of book-shops. It also boasts a great number of beer-drinking writers.
The book fair Svět Knihy takes places at the Vystaviště (Exhibition Grounds) in Holešovice in mid-May every year and attracts book-buyers, book-sellers, literary types and the general public from even beyond the borders of the republic. The immediate reason for our visit on 14 May was the launch of Karel Vaněk's continuation of the unfinished Švejk, with illustrations by cartoonist Petr Urban. He is known for his humorous-grotesque caricatures and is as such fit for the task. He has already illustrated Hašek's original Švejk. The continuation of Švejk has not been translated to English or any other major language and is generally regarded as inferior to Hašek's. NB! I have not read it myself.

The launch was hosted by the publishers X.Y.Z and the honorary guests were Petr Urban himself, and Radko Pytlík, generally regarded as the foremost living expert on Hašek. Pytlík even introduced three members of the audience: Richard Hašek as grand-son and Hašek-expert, László Polgár as distinguished Bohemist from Hungary and a stray dog from Northern Europe, recognized for his web-pages on Švejk. I felt very honoured by Pytlík's recognition, although he somewhat imprecisely announced that the web-pages also exist in French! I bought both of Urban's Švejks, and he signed them personally with a grotesque Švejk. The books  are far heavier than the Kralice Bible and the Gutenberg Bible put together and will not be travelling with me to Siberia!
There was never any doubt that the literary event would be rounded off by a visit to a hospoda and so it was. The direction was towards the classic U Houbaře, one of Radko Pytlík's favourite haunts, but Petr Urban was after the trials of the launch so overwhelmed with thirst,  that he guided the whole delegation into the nearest corner pub. Pilsner Urquell was consumed in quantities, and only Polgár went missing from time to time. He got so involved with books that he atypically forgot about beer and went to buy more literature. Petr Urban himself stuck to pivo. He is a giant of a man in his late forties, a former Czech sledding champion who twice took part in the Olympics, and with his hockey-style long and greasy hair, even resembles his own caricatures.
The next day, 15 May, Hans-Peter and I traced Švejk, chapter 7 and 8, from U Kalicha to Hradčany. Again we talked to landlord Pavel Töpfer who the night before had had a visit of a group of 80 Germans who insisted on paying separately, just to confirm the statement in his book! We walked the route where  Mrs Müllerová pushed Švejk in a wheelchair; to Střelecký ostrov. Then we followed him through Malá strana and onto Hradčany's Garrison Hospital where he withstood all the trials His Imperial Highness's servant Dr Grünstein subjected him to; needless to say with the greatest composure.
By now our legs were weary and after a Kozel at U černého vola we parted and I went on to further arrangements. At the former airfield of Letňany the annual Beer Festival was taking place. I was to meet László Polgár and Zsofia Hunyadi at Holešovice metro, and we were to go to Letňany, to, well… drink beer.

At the platform a surprise waited: Eero Balk. He is the Finnish translator of Švejk and a professional translator of Russian, Slovak, Ukrainian and Czech. He also has a special interest in the Sorb minority in East Germany, which language and culture are under threat.

I suddenly realised that I was surrounded by Finno-Ugrians. László then commented on the logic that we were all communicating in Czech, which is neither particularly Finno-Ugrian nor Germanic. After visiting the three beer tenths, and becoming even more Finno-Ugrian we continued to Žižkov where an unofficial photo session took place by the statue of Hašek at Prokopovo náměští. The evening was rounded off with a few equally unofficial Pilsners at U vystřeleného oka (At the shot-out eye).
The next day, on 16 May, Hans-Peter and I followed Švejk's trail from Hradčany to Karlín where he was to happily serve Feldkurat Otto Katz. Walking through the tourist masses in Malá strana and Staré město was stressful, but from Dlouhá třída onwards it was quiet and pleasant. Ferdinandová kasárna in Karlín, where Katz served, is now derelict, located just beyond the railway viaduct. We also had a beer in a pub right under the railway, a place where we as tourists felt rather unwelcome. I'm sure though that Švejk would have been understanding and explained the štamgasty that some tourists can't help being tourists.
In the evening we met Prague-based Norwegian journalist Terje Englund at Restaurace Bruska  in Dejvice. He is the author of two books: The Czechs in a Nutshell and Spionen som kom for sent (The spy who arrived late). The former is a guide for foreigners to Czech culture, in the ironic tone Czechs are familiar with. He told us that feedback from Czech readers was good but that they didn't like his comments about Czech food. Englund is a vegetarian! When I got my own meal his terse comment was: “That's disgusting!” The second book is about Czechoslovak espionage activities in Norway during the cold war.
The next day, 17 May, I didn't celebrate the Norwegian national holiday as would have been right and proper. Instead I said goodbye to Hans-Peter and then walked back to Florenc to take photos of some placed we'd missed the day before. I got a quite a few stares when I photographed the former pub U marianského obrazu which only can be described as ready for demolition. But by now Švejk was firmly in place at Otto Katz's flat in Karlín and was ready for new adventures.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Lipnice nad Sázavou

Apart from Prague, Lipnice nad Sázavou is the place which is most closely associated with Jaroslav Hašek. The author moved here on August 25th 1921 and lived here until his death on January 3rd 1923. He is buried here, he wrote three of the four parts of Švejk here., and one of only two Jaroslav Hašek museums in the world is located here. In the early 60's a bust of him was erected below the castle, and in 2008 a full size statue was revealed to great celebrations.

Most important of all, the pub where he wrote most of Švejk still exists and is owned and run by his descendants. They bought the derelict property,  restored it, and in 2002 re-opened it as a pension and restaurant. It is still thriving and offers comfortable rooms, and a smoke-free restaurant which offers solid Czech food and  classic  Czech beers, all at reasonable prices. For Haškologs and Švejkologs Česká Koruna is the inner sanctum. It has also hosted two international conferences on Jaroslav Hašek and a number of other events. Lipnice will  for  me mark the symbolic finish  to this journey, come October 2010.

The immediate reason for this May 2010 trip to Lipnice was a surprise visit from Germany. Some time in spring I noticed that my Švejk-pages got a huge number of hits from Ewe-Tel Gmbh, Bremerhaven. Some time later I received an e-mail from Dr Hans-Peter Laqueur who informed me that he had done basically the same thing as I have done over the last 18 months: collecting and analysing the facts that Jaroslav Hašek used to create the backdrop for his novel.

I have concentrated on the people and the places mentioned in the novel, Hans-Peter's project is even more ambitious; it contains sections on literature references, the reception of the novel, and a chronological analysis. Whereas I have worked with the Internet firmly in mind, Hans-Peter Laqueur started the work before that age, more than 30 years ago. It has - at very varying speed - been going on ever since. I dare to claim that outside the Czech Republic, no such thorough research into the realia behind Švejk exist at all. It would be a great asset for the many German-reading admirers of Švejk if it was ever published.

The day after Hans-Peter's arrival on 12 May, Richard Hašek drove us to Lipnice where we spent 24 hours in grey weather, but in such a place the weather is of minor importance. On 1 May a new beer was introduced to the the portfolio at Česká Koruna, Haškův ležák, a non-pasteurised lager brewed specifically for this pub. It is  made by Pivovar Bernard in nearby Humpolec. It was  a monumental occasion. The beer went down very well indeed.

Later in the evening two K.u.k. Soldaten from Olomouc arrived in full uniform and appeared in the door through the tones of "Za Cisáře pana". One of them was Michal Giacintov, the other hid under a secret name. They had travelled 200 km from Olomouc to meet a curiosity from the North, so I had every reason to feel honoured. Later four Hungarians arrived, led by distinguished Bohemist László Polgár. There will be more on him in the next letter.

The evening progressed wonderfully: by the authors statue salutes and toasts were given in Jaroslav Hašek's honour and I'm sure the Hašek would have taken  part from his spot  in the corner of the cemetery if he could. In the morning Richard drove his two guests back to Prague and our friends from Olomouc took the other direction.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

The Good Soldier Švejk and the July Crisis

The first six chapters of Švejk take  place during the July Crisis of 1914. It starts with Mrs Müllerová's famous remark: Tak nám zabili Ferdinanda, carries on to U kalicha where Švejk gets arrested by state-police detective Bretschneider. Then our hero spends time at Police Headquarters in Bartolomějská ulice, goes through a friendly interrogation at the Regional Criminal Court, spends happy days at the lunatic asylum Kateřinka, has a short visit at Salmovská police station and is again sent to Police Headquarters before he is finally released/thrown out with the words "May the Devil take you". He then returns home via U kalicha. By now Austria-Hungary has declared war on Serbia and we are entering August 1914.

Ninety-six years later, on 10 May 2010 I official started my own journey in the footsteps of Jaroslav Hašek and his hero Josef Švejk. The obvious start-off point was U kalicha where Švejk and landlord Palivec were arrested by police detective Bretschneider after both had made indiscreet remarks about the recent assassination of Franz Ferdinand and even about His Imperial Highness, Franz Joseph I. Palivec's famous and ill-conceived remark about the flies having defiled a portrait of the Emperor was to provide disastrous. The remark has gone down as a classic in Czech popular culture.

Today U Kalicha  (At the Chalice) is very different from what it was in 1914, but the location at Na Bojiští  is the same. In the 1950's the pub was expanded and revamped and was already during communist rule a major tourist attraction. After the property was handed back to the former owners in the early 1990's, the restaurant has been owned by brothers Pavel and Tomáš Töpfer and continued the tradition of catering for  tourists. The prices are about twice the normal Czech average so the place has few regulars. Still the food is Czech through and through and so is the Pilsner beer. It is believed to be co-incidental that Hašek choose this place is the starting scene for Švejk's adventures. He was apparently never  a regular here (although he was in numerous other taverns).

Around midday on this day in May 2010 the tourist groups hadn't arrived and at U kalicha there were two guests. One was a Norwegian tourist nosing around; the other guest was Prague born and bred Richard Hašek. He was engaging in a conversation with landlord Pavel Töpfer, not to be confused with Palivec. The two had immediately recognised each other. Mr Töpfer sat down at our table and joined in an amiable conversation. From what I understood the two gentlemen discussed business models, as they both to varying degrees make a living in the shadow of (and living from the fame of) the famous author.

I was greeted with a menu in Norwegian, and it had  surprisingly  few errors. Many menus in my home country are far worse, even in "native" Norwegian places. Pavel Töpfer showed us a book he is busy writing. Here  he  describes (among other things) people he has met during his forty years in the restaurant business. The book has pictures of notabilities ranging from Václav Havel to Nursultan Nazarbayev. Virtually every visitor of note has been here, so the commercialisation of Švejk is very successful in this particular place. Not that this is a bad thing in itself; it does after all propagate the fame of the novel across the world. There is a surprise in the book: Pavel Töpfer describes Norwegian and Swedish guests as noblesse! This is a reputation they don't have elsewhere, particularly not on the beaches of the Mediterranean or Alpine ski resorts. The explanation might be that Norwegian and Swedish visitors to Prague more often than not are elderly or at least grown up people - not the standard Scandinavian piss-head abroad. According to Mr Töpfer the worst are the Poles who buy one beer and share it between four, and Germans who always insist on paying separately, creating a logistic nightmare when they arrive in bus groups.

The day progressed splendidly. Richard and I walked round some of the places associated with his grandfather. We visited U kotva across the former county regional court, and had innumerable Pilsner beers at the classic U Jelínků. After this I had to throw in the towel, fast resembling a Scandinavian piss-head abroad myself. The next morning Richard dutifully reported that he had arrived home at 2.30 AM and had put the washing on! Czech beer is not only excellent, it doesn't give you a hangover either. The next day I was therefore fully fit to retrace the first six chapters of Švejk and take some more pictures.

Monday, 10 May 2010

When the lights went out

This blog entry deals with history.
The famous novel Švejk starts off with one of the most infamous political assassinations of all times. Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian and Hungarian thrones, was killed in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914. It was the pretext hard-liners amongst the Austro-Hungarian governing elite  needed to put Serbia in its place, in effect occupy and subdue it, perhaps even incorporate it in the empire. They blamed the Serb government for the crime, which in retrospect has proved unfounded. The last thing Serbia wanted was another war. The country was nearly bankrupt after the Balkan wars of 1912 and 1913, and was no military threat to the Dual Empire. Franz Ferdinand himself had in 1913 warned against attacking Serbia: he called them a bankrupt bunch of murderers of royals. He was right on both accounts: King Aleksandar Obrenović was assassinated in 1903 but Franz Ferdinand didn't know that he himself was to follow.

The threat was of a political nature; Austria-Hungary had large South Slav minorities within its borders; Slovenes, Croats and Serbs. These could be expected to have mixed loyalties or  even worse. Many of them in fact had; amongst them the members of the Bosnian Serb terrorist group  "Crna ruka" (Black Hand) which eventually carried out the killings in Sarajevo. They were only one of several groups which identified more with states beyond the border than with the Emperor and Kings' multi-ethnic empire. These included Italians in South Tyrol, South Slavs on the Balkan Peninsula and Romanians in Transylvania. There were even some Germans in the Empire which could be described as disloyal. One of them was later to become notorious; Adolf  Hitler despised the Dual Monarchy, and opted to become ein Reichsdeutscher.

Back to the outbreak of the Great War. Teaching Serbia a lesson wasn't just about Austria-Hungary and Serbia. The latter's main ally, Russia would not quietly accept a shift in the Balkan equilibrium of power. Russia was in turn allied with  France, which in turn had its Entente Cordiale with the  British Empire. Austria-Hungary itself had a powerful ally in the German Empire that already on 5 July gave full backing to deal with Serbia. So the scene was set for a large conflict. During the July crisis in 1914 attempts at diplomatic solutions were made, but powerful circles, particularly amongst German military strategists actually wanted a conflict. They were worried about the rising power of Russia. Despite her archaic and inefficient regime, Russia's industry was developing fast and the infrastructure was expanded  rapidly. The population also increased at a much quicker rate than that of Germany. All those developments did of course raise concern in Berlin.

On 28 July 1914 Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia and by 4 August all the major European powers were involved. A chain of serious political miscalculations led to a human disaster only eclipsed by the Second World War (which also can be viewed as a result of the unsettled grievances caused by WW1). Thus the hawks in Vienna headed by Chief of Staff Conrad von Hötzendorf, got more than they  bargained for; a quick and effective campaign to "teach Serbia a lesson" ended with a disastrous war and the eventual collapse of the multi-ethnic Habsburg Empire. The country which the war was initially waged against, Serbia, lost 25% of her population. These sufferings were worse than what any other nation experienced in any of the world wars.

An important reason why many military strategists were keen on a war was that they expected it to be short. This is even reflected in Book One of Švejk, by obrlajtnat Lukáš, when he explains the war situation to hop trader Wendler. One notable exception to this view was British Foreign Secretary Edward Grey:

A friend came to see me on one of the evenings of the last week — he thinks it was on Monday, August 3rd. We were standing at a window of my room in the Foreign Office. It was getting dusk, and the lamps were being lit in the space below...My friend recalls that I remarked on this with the words, "The lamps are going out all over Europe: we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime."

Tragically Sir Edward Grey was right. The war lasted for more than four years; around 15 millions were killed, millions more were wounded physically and mentally, the material damages were  enormous. Four established empires collapsed, and the conflict destabilised Europe for the next 40  years, and paved the way for two inhuman dictatorships; Hitler's Dritte Reich and Stalin's only slightly less obnoxious Soviet Union. Sir Edward Grey died in 1933 and he never saw the lamps lit again. He  lived just long enough to experience Hitler's ascendancy to power in Germany. Thus he was spared 12 years of total darkness.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Amongst the right people

For someone undertaking a mission to follow the steps of Jaroslav Hašek there could could be no better place to stay than at Havlovská 45, in Dejvice, Prague. Not that the location in itself is ideal; that despite being in a leafy and quiet suburb. It is far from the centre and cumbersome to get to. The reason for staying at Hanspaulka had more to do with who than where. This is where Richard Hašek lives. He is co-chairman of the International Society for the immortality of Jaroslav Hašek, an expert on the author, and for good measure also his grandson. He also owns an impressive private library which contains most of what exists on literature about Hašek and nearly all translations of Švejk. Moreover he is a profesionální vnuk, i.e. professional grand-son, and spends of lot of his time promoting his grand-father's work, taking part in arrangements all over the Czech Republic and also as far as Hungary, Slovakia and Poland. He regularly appears in newspapers and has even been spotted on television.

Richard Hašek played an important role in me getting to the idea of doing this journey at all. On 1 April 2008 I received a surprised phone call. It was Richard on the other end and he invited me to a Hašek-conference at Lipnice nad Sázavou later that month. My only claim to being a "Švejkolog" at the time was a quick and poorly planned trip in the footsteps of Švejk in 2004, so I felt like Barack Obama must have felt when he learned that he had been awarded the Nobel Peace Price. In the company of seasoned Hašek-experts it was like just having graduated from kindergarten. However, the conference was a huge inspiration. Soon after I started to develop my own web-pages about Švejk and a month or so later I started  to conceive a  journey in the foot-steps of Hašek.
That afternoon in early May 2010 Richard welcomed me with a Vodka Švejk from Bugulma, the town in Tatarstan beyond the Volga where Jaroslav Hašek served as a Red Army deputy commander in late 1918. I was also given a small glass bust of the author to hand over to the museum in Bugulma on behalf of the society. This was a piece of the luggage I didn't want to loose between now and late August at all cost! The official and solemn ceremony took place in the holiest of holy shrines, in the library upstairs in Havlovská 45, where Jaroslav Hašek's spirit radiates from every square-centimetre of book-shelf.
The next days were spent planning, scanning documents, and celebrating the 1945 liberation of the Czech and Slovak lands. The joint celebration took place in Dejvická ulice on 8 May. I also had time to be a tourist on my own in the stunning Czech capital, a city I never get tired of, where there are new things to marvel at around every  corner, the city where the supply of quality beer never dries up. It should also be said there was time for visits to various hospody with Richard and his mates. Moreover Richard is a good friend and a good host and there was as usual no halt in the conversation at the breakfast table or in the pubs. Common topics of interest were plentiful, his grandfather aside.

Last but not the least should be mentioned Jaroslav Šerák. Nearly two years ago we stumbled across each other on Google Maps, discovering that we were essentially doing the same thing; creating a map illustrating the route of Švejk. Since then we've been in contact at least a few times a week, and Jarda has been the person who has assisted me more than anyone else in my work on the web pages. On Sunday 9 May I was invited home to Liboc, where we did some important work getting Pavel Gan's documents scanned, and then having an enjoyable meal with wife Jana and daughter Michaela.

One Velkopovický Kozel after the other was went down, we toasted to the famous words "Gott strafe England", not with Austrian war liqueur as would have been right and proper, but Fernet Branca! We had planned to meet again several times, but unfortunately Jarda got an ear infection which put a stop to all  planned activities. We kept in contact on the phone and e-mail and should hopefully meet again in October.