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, 30 June 2010

Up the Laborec valley

The Laborec valley near Brestov.
Švejk's journey through  Upper Hungary went along the Laborec Valley, in the far east of current Slovakia. Former Upper Hungary was  in fact almost identical to current Slovakia and  was ruled by Hungary for more than 900 years. The Czech, Slovak and Rusyn part of what from 1919 was to become Czechoslovakia had never been a united territory until that year.

The Laborec Valley still has a large Rusyn minority and also a large gypsy contingent. The Rusyn language is close to Ukrainian and during WW1 the Rusyns were, apart from the Czechs, considered the least reliable of the Dual Monarchy's subjects. They identified more with their Russian "adversaries" than with their Emperor and King. This is reflected in Švejk when the author describes how the Rusyns in Humenné were treated by the Hungarian state police after the Central Powers had re-conquered the area from the Russians in May 1915. The scenes from the Laborec Valley also include the first impressions of war damage, from Trebišov up the valley to Medzilaborce. I will get back to this in an imminent entry which purely covers the events on the Eastern front from the outbreak of war until July 1915.  At this time Jaroslav Hašek had reached at the front by the river Bug and Švejk would also have been there if the author had been able to finish his classic.
The points along the route in Slovakia mentioned by Hašek are Lastovce, Trebišov, Michalovce, Humenné, Brestov, Radvaň and Čabyna. As the author  most probably based his description on military maps from before the war (with Hungarian place names), the names, translated to Czech, are often bungled but still recognisable. This is the assumption of Antonín Měštän and sounds plausible.
I started off by walking from Sátoraljaújhely across to Slovenské Nové Mesto and in ten minutes I was in Michal'any where I back in 2004 had a few wonderfully tasty  and hallucinogenic Gemer Pivo. The beer was so outstanding that I instead of continuing to Trebišov, my sense of direction got muddled, and the misfortune happened to me that  I ended up on the train back to Nové Mesto.
The brewery in Rimavská Sobota has since been closed and the label is now owned by the Heineken group who brew it somewhere else. Nowadays the exquisite flavour and hallucinogenic effect is a distant dream. Have you ever noticed those  features in a Heineken? Still Heineken make some good beers in Slovakia, where they have a large market share. Zlatý Bažant can easily compete with the best Czech beers and Kelt and Corgoň are also excellent. The other big player is SABMiller with it's Šariš. Some of  their Czech beers are widely available and popular (Pilsner and Kozel). Still the Slovaks have not fully adopted the Czech beer culture despite 70 years of co-habiting. There are few if none of the classic hospody of the Czech Republic, and electronic receipts are used in place of the famous Czech paper tab.
I walked the 3 km from Michal'any to Lastovce. The village is quite extensive, with a sizable part of the population being gypsies. The station is  tiny, little more than a concrete shack full of flies and dozy passengers. I stumbled across a tiny but pretty pub where the owners let me in for an excellent Corgoň desítka despite it being two hours before they officially opened! It was an excellent welcome to Slovakia which  Hašek would have enjoyed. The next stop was Trebišov, who welcomes the guests with an ugly and dilapidated station. Unfortunately the town fits the picture, a collection of dreary socialist constructions strung out along one central street. I was only too well aware of the fact that this was only the first of several towns and cities of this type that I would visit in the next few months. There was still a noticeable difference from most places I had been to in Hungary; there was more bustle and it appeared altogether wealthier. The same could be said of Michalovce and Humenné.
In Michalovce I decided to watch Slovakia-Netherlands in the station cafe. Here the station was impeccably clean and modern but that was of little comfort as someone stole my camera while I was busy supporting his national team (he surely wasn't Dutch). Some might conclude that this misfortune happened because I was in "gypsy country". To that I can add that my fellow football fans in the cafe all seemed to the decent, white, patriotic Slovaks, proudly supporting their nation.
Petr Tymeš, Petr Procházka and Josef Švejk
A few days before Richard Hašek had put me in contact with the local český spolek in Humenné and two of them welcomed me at the station, carrying huge Pentax cameras. The brave soldiers  were Petr Tymeš and Petr Procházka and I was driven to the improbably named Hotel Alibaba. I had stayed at this high-rise monstrosity in 2004, then it had the more appropriate name Hotel Chemes, associated with the chemical plant which by 2010 was out of business. Humenné station was also the scene of the famous episode where Švejk saves his obrlajtnant from embarrassment by gulping down a whole bottle of "cognac" in one go.
In many ways Humenné is a typical purpose-built "Soviet" town; a mix of ugly high-rise, good town-planning and bankrupt industry. All is not gloom though: the central Námestie Slobody is a pretty enough pedestrian area and the local Skansen (open-air museum) is well worth a visit. The surroundings are pleasantly green and hilly like the rest of the Laborec valley. The town can also pride itself on the first Švejk statue in the world, erected in 2000. Since then a number of Švejk-statues have popped up; in Sanok, Przemyśl, Skelivka, Lviv, Kolodno, Omsk and St.Petersburg. When will the greatest of all Czechs be similarly honoured in his own homeland?
On the second day I went back all the way to Lastovce to retake all the photos I had lost the day before. This time I walked through Michalovce and it was not the grey communist town I had expected, it actually was far more agreeable than Trebišov. In it's attractive main street there was even a Švejk-pub but it was too early to visit it, and now my photo-activities had priority.
In the editorial offices of Pod Vihorlatom with
Marián Šimkulič and Anna Šimkuličová.
The stay in Humenné was a delight, not least because of the welcome I was given by the český spolek members. Petr Procházka even invited me along to the editorial offices of the local weekly, Pod Vihorlatom, where he is employed. I was interviewed by editor Anna Šimkuličová, not without language-difficulties, and was also told the story of how the Švejk-statue came into existence, and about various Švejk-arrangements, often in co-operation with enthusiasts in Poland and Hungary. There had been big arrangements, and celebrities Radko Pytlík and Richard Hašek from far-away Prague had taken part. I was given a tour of the Skansen by Jarmila Bříská, český spolek chairperson and teacher at a local college. The showed me around the Skansen, which has a good collection of wooden buildings from the region, amongst them one of the typical wooden churches.
On the third day the the two Petrs saw me off by the Švejk-statue on the station and took some more pictures. On the station premises alone there are four pubs, two of them are named after Švejk and they open at 6 in the morning! This is so workers can get the best possible start to the day when arriving to town from the surrounding area. Both serve excellent and fresh beer, the Kelt and Zlatý Bažant is a delight.

Further up the valley, visits to the small places of Brestov nad Laborcom, Radvaň nad Laborcom and Čabiny were compulsory stops. I managed Brestov and Radvaň on the way to Medzilaborce, walking between the first two with full equipment. On this sunny day in June 2010, it was hard to imagine the devastation Hašek describes. Green hills, green fields, peaceful villages and the clean Laborec river were images far removed from the horrors of devastated landscapes, rotting bodies and ravens going for the eyes of the dead.
I stopped in Medzilaborce for two nights, visited Palota up by the Łupków pass, and  then traced back to Čabiny. The first was strenuous because in Budapest my friend László Polgár had given me a Diet Coke bottle of Hungarian moonshine and I had dared to sample it the previous night. The result was considerable physical unease and slight mental disruption.  These sufferings  lasted almost the whole day, even the 12 km walk down from Palota was no cure.  Only the pleasant atmosphere and good Šariš in the pub in Čabiny restored my self-perception as a fundamentally sane person. My optimistic outlook for the next 4 months  also returned.
Andy Warhol in Medzilaborce
Medzilaborce is another dreary town with high unemployment rates and depressing architecture. The population is mixed Slovak, Rusyn and Gypsy and there are even some signs in Cyrillic letters. Orthodox churches are found all over the region. The main attraction of Medzilaborce is the Andy Warhol Museum of Modern Art. I didn't visit it this time but had done so in 2002. It is a huge museum for such a small place and the art inside is modern indeed. Back in those days I got  so confused with all the modernity that I on my way out mistook the baskets labelled respectively  "špinavé" and “čisté" for artistic creations. I even took pictures of them, thus recognising their importance in the world of art. Then I discovered that they were baskets for plastic shoe-covers; the words simply meaning "dirty" and "clean". Philosophically speaking I must have had certain problems in separating art from utility, and maybe also literature from reality. Maybe it's all one big Whole, so I was perhaps right after all? Warhol himself was actually born in Pittsburgh in 1928, but his parents had emigrated from nearby Miková in the years before.
Medzilaborce and Poland is separated by the Łupków Pass. The crossing was opened for railway traffic again in 1999, but services have since been cut back and now there are only trains at weekends during the summer-season. I just managed to watch the first half of Germany's mauling of Argentina before setting off across the Carpathians. Diego Maradona may be God to some people, but "La Mano de Diós" seems by now far too shaky to hold the steering-wheel of the great Argentinian football nation.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Good trains and soggy fields

Plaque at Sátoraljaújhely station
Švejk's journey through North-Eastern Hungary in May 1915 was an on-going story of waiting for the promised goulash. The journey is not described in detail, and only in Sátoraljaújhely is there any development: the goulash and the potatoes are finally distributed. The stay in Sátoraljaújhely starts with a description of how honvéd hussars abuse a group of Polish Jews. Then another conflict erupts between Švejk and Dub. The idiotic  lieutenant claims that destroyed weaponry is Russian even though it clearly has the inscription Wiener Neustadt. Then Švejk pulls  an insanely long anecdote for Lukáš to the effect that the obrlajtnant makes the following comment: "I’m coming to the conviction that you don’t respect your superiors at all". Lukáš was getting to the core of Švejk; how would a through-and-through anti-authoritarian writer create a figure that would genuinely respect his superiors? The trip through Hungary also illustrates the bungling of logistics in the k.u.k army. Hašek hardly exaggerates in his description of affairs; historians can point to even more incredible stories! To be fair, this type of mess was not a uniquely k.u.k problem; it happened in all armies, particularly the Russian.
A fine Honvéd Hussar
This may also the moment to explain the term honvéd, which occurs repeatedly. This word is known to all football fans of the older generation, and readers of Švejk will be familiar with it. The term simply means Home Guard and is an equivalent to the Austrian and German Landwehr, and Norwegian Heimevernet. In English literature, the term "territorial army" is also used. The honvéds were in fact much more than a home guard, they took actively part at the front and was an integral part of the army. The term honvéd hussar refers to the cavalry of the home guard. Honvéd still exists and is now in effect the Hungarian armed forces.

The football team Honvéd referred to above was the famous 1950's team that provided players like Ferenc Puskás and was almost identical to the national team that crushed England twice in 1953 (7-1, 6-3). They miraculously failed to win the World Cup in 1954. How Hungary for such a short period shot to the top of world football is a mystery. Obviously there was a lot of talent, but the single-minded concentration of resources in one club would also have played a part. There were parallels to this scheme in the Dynamo Kiev of the 1970's and the Dynamo Berlin of the 1980's, but none of these were as dominant as Honvéd and Hungary. The football club Honvéd still exists but is not a major force any more, not even domestically. CSKA Moscow and Soviet Ice Hockey in the 1970's is perhaps the best comparison to the Honvéd football team of the 1950's.
The nearest I came to see a honvéd hussar was the sight of two statues by the entrance to the military history museum in Budapest. But now, it's time get rid of the smell of horse-dung and get back to  the diesel odours of the MAV locomotives. From Hatvan I set off early to continue my station hopping. The first stop was Kal-Kápolna, a place which is not mentioned in Švejk, but which Jaroslav Hašek mentioned in a poem. It distinguishes itself with arguably the ugliest railway station in the world. It is so hideous that only the Central Committee could have designed it. I missed out on the compulsory sör at this stop, because the only place open was a stinking dive with totally pissed gypsies. Enjoyment is an integral part of beer-drinking, but here I couldn't envisage this being the case.

Tracks by Tiszalúc
Füseszabony was more cheerful, and it is also a bigger place. There I finally indulged in a good Sopronyi. At Miskolc, which Hašek calls Miškovec, it was time for a meal. The station was clean and modern as befits the third largest city in Hungary. The city never saw any fighting during WW1 but was hit by a terrible cholera epidemic.

There were still three hops to go. Trains are good and frequent along this route so I normally had an hour at each station to nose around and enjoy the symbolic beer. Tiszalúc, the stop after Miskolc, is tiny. Hašek mixed it up with Tiszalök, which can be easily verified by looking at the railway maps. The station "facilities" here were so disgusting that I instinctively clenched my nose, backed out, and performed my smaller bodily needs outside.
Mezösombor is another small place, but here I had to walk into the village centre as the station was more or less out in the fields. There are three small churches in town which all look the same. I had my beer in a bar where I was regarded as biggest curiosity since the Ottomans were driven out. The people in the bar were very friendly and I regretted not knowing more than those ten words of Hungarian. "Nem tudom" was used all to often. As I moved further east, the damages from the recent floods were noticeable. Many fields in the Tisza valley were still under water. The railway line had also been damaged, so the last part of the trip to Sátoraljaújhely was by rail replacement bus service.
Sátorljaújhely and Sátor
Sátoraljaújhely was the final stop in Hungary, and this border town was already familiar to me. I stayed here on  my mini-Švejk trip in 2004. At the station there is a plaque commemorating the Good Soldier Švejk. Sátoraljaújhely is a pleasant if unspectacular town, set below the Sátor mountain. Sátor means tent and the name of the town is literally "New town below the tent".  After the treaty of Trianon the town was split and the part on the eastern side of the small river was given to Czechoslovakia. It was simply a move to give Czechoslovakia direct railway access to Zakarpatia (ceded to the Soviet Union in 1945). The population here in the Semplin region was then almost one hundred per cent Hungarian. The town is closely associated with Lajos Kossuth, the hero of the 1848 revolution and struggle for independence from Austria. Moreover it is the birthplace of two famous porn stars.

The hotel where I stayed in 2004 had gone out of business, so in the end I asked some men outside a bar if there were places to sleep. There was, and a  drunk man showed me the way, incredibly without any trouble or verbal diarrhoea (which I wouldn't have understood anyway). The pension was cheap and friendly, so many thanks to my inebriated benefactor! The next day I walked over to Slovenské Nové Mesto, the part of town ceded to Czechoslovakia in 1921. At the Hungarian side of the border there is a Trianon monument, and in the Slovak station someone had replaced the Slovak names on the railway map with Hungarian ones. Sandbags from the floods were still laying around, and the water levels must have been incredible. The whole lower part of the two towns had been under water.
Švejk and Hašek are very popular in Hungary, despite the authors general animosity toward s the country, or at least it’s officialdom. He is still not as hostile as he was towards the Austrians, and lets Švejk exclaim that some Hungarians can't help being Hungarians. My problem in Hungary was  entirely my own: I don't know the language, but in this I'm not alone. If it hadn't been for László Polgár and his friends in Budapest, it could have been a very lonely nine days in the footsteps of Švejk. The practical things work though, many  people know some English or German, so the tourist is not totally lost. I was impressed by the trains, a lot  faster and more comfortable than their Czech and Slovak counterparts and equally cheap. The highlight in Hungary will still be the days in Budapest, meeting a lot of people with the same interests as myself and otherwise  enjoying the beautiful Hungarian capital. 

Friday, 25 June 2010

Still no goulash

In May 1915 the 91st regiments 11th march company's onward journey from Budapest was fraught with difficulties. The field kitchen had been left behind in Királyhida and supplies were scarce. This hit the gluttonous Baloun more than anyone else, he often ended up stealing food from his superior, obrlajtnant Lukáš. He had now become his putzfleck (servant), after Švejk had been promoted to company Ordonnanz (messenger) by obrst Schröder after his heroic deeds in Királyhida. His promotion was much to the horror of Rechnungsfeldwebel Vaněk.

The train stopped at station after station, but the promised goulash was only dished out in Sátoraljaújhely. Švejk had in Hungary become the arch enemy of reserve lieutenant Dub, a Czech but still the price idiot of the k.u.k army. As a loyalist he is mercilessly pilloried by Hašek who he lets Švejk routinely and effortlessly outwit him. The professional officers also despise him, primarily because he is a pillock, secondly because he is a civilian.

I set out from Budapest intending to stop at every station mentioned in the plot, and I think I succeeded. I also intended to have a beer at every stop, and failed narrowly. Not that it was a big loss; Hungarian beer is a step down from the quality I had become accustomed to in the Czech Republic and Austria. It's adequate but nothing more. Sopronyi is probably my favourite.

My first stop was Isaszeg, a place which might have been meant as Išatarčsa, but we don't know. Then I went to Gödöllő and took the HEV to Kistarcsa. HEV was the worst train I'd been on so far; slow, rattling and sprayed with graffiti (and so were the stations). I was dragging my backpack with me and didn't even stop for a beer to celebrate Švejk's "stolen" hen. Back I went to Gödöllő, the summer residence of Sissi. The grand station was built especially for the Hungarian Queen and in Budapest it was even arranged so that she could travel through the city directly from Vienna. The old station is now used as little more than a toilet and her Royal Highness would not have approved of the odours.

With Czech cyclists at Hatvan station
I then continued to Aszód which was just a break on a bench, the station bistro was closed. It was getting late when I got to Hatvan so I decided to stay overnight. There the station bistro was open so I could finally enjoy a sör. At the palyaúdvar bistro a pleasant surprise waited: a group of happy Czech cyclist from the Liberec region entered and the tone was set. They had never met a švejkolog before, and certainly not a Norwegian one. They had cycled from Košice down through Slovakia and Hungary and already had a week behind them, plagued by mosquitoes after the recent floods. I was treated with pivo and in an upbeat mood I went looking for a place to sleep. It looked grim but with help from two German-speaking young ladies I was directed to Újhatvan where the comfortable Panzio Koruna was my salvation. It was already 11 pm.

The trains on this routes were excellent, on level with the Austrian ones, and indeed of the same make. On the other hand Hatvan’s extremely subdued atmosphere was striking, very similar to most places I had been to in Hungary during the last week. The country was suffering a severe economic crisis at the time, which even a tourist without a degree in economics could notice. Not being an economist I couldn't  even explain it. Maybe Hungary didn't stick to the advise of the economists at OECD, IMF and the World Bank? Closed shops abounded, the level of activity was low, and the railway toilets smelly.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Bohemists in Budapest

The Hungarian Parliament
Budapest is another important city on this trip and it features much more in Švejk than Vienna does. Švejk's march company spent around 48 hours here, waiting for clearance to carry on towards the front. Their stay can be dated exactly; they were in Budapest when Italy declared war on Austria-Hungary, so the date was 23 May 1915. It is clear that the plot is set on and around a military railway station in (or near) Újpest on the northern outskirts of the city. Still it is not explicitly stated where the station it was.
The whole setting might have little do to with Hašek's own stay in Budapest, which was more than one month later and much shorter. Particularly the fact that Ferencvaros was the principal military station in Budapest suggests extensive mystification  and there are other snippets in Švejk that don't correspond to reality. Hašek was also probably locked up when he was here so his otherwise clear view might have been impaired. That said, during times of war, other railway stations surely would have been used, particularly for transit transports like this one. Even Radko Pytlík doesn't know where Hašek really was, but writes that he left for the front via Rákos. This station is on the main line towards Hatvan it so doesn't exclude either Újpest, Rákosrendezö, Ferencvaros or any other candidates. Only the records of the 91st regiment could possibly shed light on the matter,
Interviewed by Radio Kossuth
In the novel, the departing scene from Budapest is when sergeant Nasáklo is left behind at the station in "Išatrača", haggling with a prostitute. First, there is no place called Išatarča and if it is a misspelling of Kistarcsa (as the Hungarian translation assumes) it still doesn't add up. There was no railway station in Kistarcsa in 1915, so could Hašek have meant Isaszeg? Kistarcsa (or Isaszeg) also plays another role: Švejk was accused of stealing a hen here, and had done so by walking from the military station. This is even more confusing because he was supposed to have walked there, stole the hen, and was brought back in an hour! Whatever combination you choose is impossible.
Budapest is also the place where one-year-volunteer Marek re-joins the company and assumes the position of Battallionsgeschichteschreiber, a duty he fulfils admirably by writing the glorious history of the battalion, in advance! This is just what Hašek himself did! Cadet Biegler disappears from the plot as he is left behind in a cholera clinic after his excessive enjoyment of cream rolls and cognac, muddled up with dreams of military glory and the stench of hajzly.
The magazine "Bohemia"
I arrived at Budapest Keleti on 21 June 2010. There was a lot of building activity around the station so it was as messy as Wien Südbahnhof, if not worse. My panzio was only 2 km away and it was no problem to get there on foot. The days in Budapest was spent sightseeing, watching football, going to the Military History Museum and most importantly; spending time in the company of the bohemists of Budapest, headed by László Polgár. He has already featured in my blog entries from Lipnice and Prague. The Hungarian bohemists publish their own magazine Bohemia and from the name it's obvious that the magazine is dedicated to all things Czech, whether it be beer, literature or other forms of culture.
At Söröző Ferdinand in Pest they serve good beer from Benešov including sedm kuli, named after a famous remark in Švejk. It had never tasted this dark beer on tap before and it tasted good. At Ferdinand it also happened that I was interviewed by Magyar Radio, in a language not my own and with the promise of getting airtime in August, dubbed into Hungarian. Thus I might never know what I actually said. László Polgár had also arranged a meeting with another group the day after, at Bem söröző, over on the Buda side. Some of them spoke good Czech, a few others were busy learning. I was actually given a lot of help in my "fact finding" in Budapest, particularly the old railway maps turned a few assumptions upside down. Thanks again László, you are my friend forever!
Another important task was a visit to the Military History Museum high on the hills of Buda. This excellent museum complements its sister institution in Vienna by focusing from the Hungarian side and it also has a revealing section of the economic consequences of the war. The pictures of church-bells being collected and melted down for military purposes tells more than a thousand words. I also got acute toot-ache when I saw a vivid picture of a Feldzahnarzt and his terrified clients. But if you’re destined for the slaughterhouse I guess toothache is a minor matter.

Éljen a Király! László Polgár and
our King Ferencz József I.
The consequences of the war were disastrous for Hungary. The Treaty of Trianon which came into effect in 1921 deprived Hungary it of 71% of her territory and 65% of the population. Millions of Hungarians were left as subjects of other states, and the treaty caused resentment which is simmering even today. Trianon squares and Trianon monuments are found all over the country. In the aftermath of WW1 there were also wars with Czechoslovakia and Romania. In 1919 there was a short-lived soviet republic led by Béla Kun., with a resulting civil war and terror.
Needless to say I had a great stay in Budapest, and every evening there was time for a beer or two with László Polgár. The last night I was even shown round the library of the Czech Embassy where he works as a librarian every Thursday, and rounded off at Ferencz József Söröző which was only right and proper.

The next day I did a few visits to strategic places like Újpest and Rakospalota before paying Kistarcsa a brief visit on the HEV suburban railway, via Isaszeg and Gödöllő. By now I was already on 11th march company's route towards the front, but not sharing their desperate wait for their goulash. They were hungry after only getting 10 deka Emmental cheese and a few post cards with motives from war cemeteries.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Literary shit-houses

Stink wie a' Haizlputza,
wie a'bescheißena Haizlputza.
Cadet Biegler's dream on the way to Budapest reveals some of the difficulties facing translators of Švejk, so during the train journey to Budapest it was time to ponder these. Švejk is regarded a novel that's impossible to translate; the dual-level  Czech language has in itself few parallels abroad. There are further factors like the unique multi-cultural mix of the Austro-Hungarian empire, the huge number of geographical, literary and historical references, the snippets of foreign languages the author inserts, more and more as the novel develops. A further complication is the author's intended and unintended errors in the foreign language. How do translators address these challenges?

One choice would be to keep much of it in the original language. This approach runs the risk that the target audience wouldn't understand it. Russian, Ukrainian, Polish, Hungarian, Finnish and Swedish translations use this method to varying degrees. The second approach, used by all three English translations (and many others), is to translate nearly all of it. The penalty here is that the original variety and colour is  lost. Obviously there is no ideal solution, although I would personally prefer the original text left in there, supplied with footnotes. However, not even this is always possible. How does, for instance, a translator deal with the word bešprekung, used by Švejk? It is an adaptation of the German Besprechung (meeting). How can this be conveyed accurately in English or other languages? There are many instances like this throughout the novel.

I have consulted five translations during my work on Švejk, and in some cases all of them struggle. An example is the word Haizlputza which appears during Cadet Biegler's infamous dream on the way to Budapest. Putzfleck Batzer exclaims, after discovering that Biegler has shitted himself: Stink wie a’ Haizlputza, wie a’ bescheißena Haizlputza. This expressions is only one of the many that has caused translators immense problems. I don't know of anyone apart from Grete Reiner who got it right (and she only had to correct Hašek's errors), as she was doing the German translation. First there are misspellings by Hašek. Secondly, the phrase is not in (High) German but Bavarian, so what does this mysterious and no doubt smelly word mean? The correct spelling is Haislputza, so let's merrily lift the etymological toilet lid and seek the smelly truth somewhere down there.

A splendid Hajzl from Šumava
The first syllable Haisl is straightforward; it is the Bavarian variant of the German diminutive Häuserl, literally "little house". In fact it often means toilet, deriving from the times when outdoor wooden shacks served as toilets. The Czech language has even taken up the word in the form hajzl, although the meaning is not "little house" any more. The second syllable -putza indicates cleaning, so it is easy to jump to the conclusion that this is something (someone) that cleans toilets. However, a source from St.Johann near Wörgl in Austria suggests  otherwise: Haislputza : (m) feines Heu, das früher als Toilettenpapier-Ersatz verwendet wurde. We still can't be 100 per cent sure that the meaning of the word in Böhmerwald (now Šumava) was the same as in Tyrol, but it very likely was. The author might not necessarily have picked up the expression from just that area, he knew people from all over Austria and a comparison between the novel Švejk and his earlier writing suggests that he mixed “facts” quite freely.

In other words, it was thin grass that in the past was used instead of toilet paper. It is also a male noun, something that's far from intuitive. From this it follows that the translation to  British English could be something like (on the  level of vulgarity Batzer used). Stinks like an arse-wipe, like a shitty arse-wipe.

The problems the translator faces is thus on multiple levels:
  • He must have noticed that Batzer was from Kašperské Hory. This is stated directly by the author, so that’s the easy part.
  • He must know that the dialect of Kašperské Hory (at the time Bergreichenstein) was a variety of Bavarian, i.e not High German.
  • He must be aware of Hašek's errors. Two are minor, one is significant: bescheißen doesn't make sense in the context used (zu bescheißen means to cheat/deceive).
  • He must finally be able to translate from Bavarian to the target language.
Finally a comment from Hans-Peter Laqueur on Reiner's correction of Hašek:
Reiner did correct Hašek here, and she was right to do so: In German, also in any local dialect, you'd never spell "Haisl" (= diminutive of Haus, in Bavaria and Austria synonymous for toilet, latrine) with a "Z". And "shitted-up" is "beschissen" (passive). "Bescheissen" (active) is a common slang word for cheating. And it is "stinkt", not "stink".

Now, imagine a novel of more than 200,000 words, sprinkled with slang, dialects, sociolects, foreign languages, thousands of factual references, literary quotes and it's understandable that no translation I know of took less than three years to complete. Still some translators have done an overall good job, even though they failed to clean their shit-house properly.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Cryptography in Pannonia

Győr
At 8:15 PM on 30 June 1915 Jaroslav Hašek and his 12th march battalion set off for the front after reportedly having tried to escape the inevitable by going into hiding for a few days. Although his journey largely corresponded to Švejk's own, there is a difference: already from the call-up by the army there is a lag in time between Hašek and his literary creation. Švejk and his 11th march company left Brucker Lager around 22 May. The 11th march company is a fictive unit, each march battalion counted four (4) companies, and Hašek served with his Oberleutnant Lukas in the 4th march compnay.

In 2010 the journey from Bruck to Budapest was easy and comfortable and there is very little to report. The Pannonian landscape is flat and featureless. I made a stop in Mosonmagyaróvár, where the 11th March Company had it's own brief halt. At the time the station was called Moson, it only changed names in 1937 after the merger of the towns Moson and Magyaróvár.
The border crossing at Nickelsdorf-Hegyshalom was my own first meeting with the so-called Eastern Bloc back in July 1985. Little did I suspect that I would be back here under such circumstances 25 years later! At the time I had probably heard of Švejk but had little idea who his author was. In those days  there was passport control, visa control, cabin control, enforced currency exchange, you name it. The number of uniformed personnel was bewildering and it took ages to get through. Still Hungary was even in those days no big culture shock, it  partly felt as a scruffier version of Austria. It's lightweight communism made it in many ways similar to the west, the major problem for a tourist was the language. Nowadays you pass the border without noticing, at times even the ticket control was missing. But the language hasn’t become any easier!
Ludwig Ganghofer, a personal
friend of Kaiser Wilhelm II.
The next stop for Švejk was Győr, an attractive city which merited a two-day stop-over. It was also the scene of one of the classic  sequences of the novel: the hilarious ciphering blunder involving Ludwig Ganghofer's novel "Die Sünden der Väter" and Cadet Biegler’s resulting dream on the way to Budapest. The striving Adolf Biegler had humiliated Captain Ságner in front of the officers by revealing the ciphering blunder and was severely put in place afterwards, to the degree that he stuffed himself with cream-rolls and filled up with cognac. The result was devastating and his dreams were horrendous and it ended in a most unappetizing calamity.  The whole section reveals the author's amazing grasp of historical facts, we must assume he used Otto's Encyclopedia. He includes details of the history of cryptography, albeit with a few blunders, and the description of the Battle of Leipzig seems to be taken straight out of a text-book.
After Győr, I stopped in Komárom on the Danube, a place mentioned as part of the route but there is no further description of it. I walked, with my backpack, over to Komárno on the northern bank, i.e in Slovakia. In the times of Austria-Hungary it was one town, but has from 1920 officially been split with the Danube as the border. The train station is right by the Danube. I took the opportunity to dump my smelly sandals and buy myself a pair of brand new Slovak ones before walking back to Hungary. It should be noted that this part of Slovakia is nearly  entirely Hungarian-speaking although everyone also speaks Slovak (with a Magyar accent).

The final leg to Budapest went smoothly, the trains were excellent, on level with their Austrian counterparts. This was a stark contrast to the worn and graffiti-smeared stations. MAV, the Hungarian Railways, seem to have prioritised rolling stock above station maintenance. That makes for a smooth journey, but not for an aesthetic delight. Thus it happened that I arrived in Budapest with new sandals and in a much better shape than Cadet Biegler.

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).
 
Schönbrunn.
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.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Kudějologs in Olomouc

Hostinsky pivovar Moritz. Michal Giacintov to the left.
Matěj Zdeněk Kuděj was one of Jaroslav Hašek's best friends and in 1913 and 1914 they travelled extensively together. Kuděj was a notable writer in his own right, but little known abroad. He was also a keen traveller, and spent a few years in North America. His knowledge of English allowed him to do  translation work; Kuděj is the man behind Tarzan in Czech! I readily admit I haven't read a word of what Kuděj has written, and haven't read a line of Tarzan either but would still like to report on a unique hospoda in Olomouc: U Kuděje. It is owned by beer-expert, haškolog and kudějolog Michal Giacintov.
 
Those of you who read my earlier letter from Lipnice nad Sázavou might recognise his name, he was one of the two k.u.k Soldaten who had travelled 200 km to meet me! We got on very well back then and I was invited to visit Olomouc and decided that a detour from Vienna was within reach. After bidding farewell to Oddny and Jan in Vienna, I caught the Zagreb-Warsaw express from Wien Simmering to Břeclav and then a local train to Olomouc. There I was picked at the station up and spent two enjoyable days visiting the Giacintov family.
 
Olomouc, Horní náměšti
U Kuděje is indeed a remarkable pub. It features beers from small breweries only, one of them the local Pivovar Moritz which Michal partly owns. Despite being a traditional hospoda it draws many young people and is non-smoking. This pub is unique: it brings together good beer, good atmosphere, mixed clientele and good air quality. However much I love Czech hospody the latter two elements are often missing! A visit to  the brew-pub Moritz was next, another classic and very popular spot. The beer was, needless to say, good. We also went to a heavy-metal concert at the local Jazz Club. I am sure Matěj Kuděj would have approved.
 
Michal with daughter Emma at U Kuděje
Olomouc is a beautiful city, seat of the Archbishop of Moravia and it was also the Habsburg's retreat in times of trouble. This is where they spent their time during the Ottoman siege of Vienna in 1683. As a result the city is surrounded by a ring of fortresses, 17 in all. Until recently they were used by the uninvited socialist brother from the east, but are now partly converted to museums. We did a tour of the local Skansen and Fort 14, beset by mosquitoes after the recent floods and a week of tropical heat.
 
Near the Archbishop's palace Michal pointed at the barracks built by Maria Theresia, right next to it! It was a blatant provocation by the powerful Empress, the enlightened despot who would not tolerate a rival centre of power. We also visited another micro-brewery Svatováclavské, sat down with the owners for an amiable chat and a beer in midst of the deadly rivalry! The evening was rounded off at the classic U Kuděje with a slide-show about Czechs in the Romanian Banat, near the Iron Gate on the Danube.
 
As for Hašek and Olomouc, there is little to report. The city is not mentioned in the novel  at all, the nearest we get to it is Archbishop Theodor Kohn. He was of Jewish origin and suffered because of this, a fact mentioned in Švejk. As for myself and Olomouc, I'm very grateful for having  had this opportunity to visit the city, although it could be considered "off topic". So, if you ever go to Olomouc, make sure you visit U Kuděje and Pivovar Moritz.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Surprise in Eisenstadt

An unexpected bonus during the stay in Bruck was a meeting with Klara Köttner-Benigni, writer, historian and journalist. I had come across her name briefly in a book by Radko Pytlík, but was not aware of the magnitude of the work she had done on Jaroslav Hašek, nor of  her many  other activities. In connection with the UNESCO-sponsored 100th anniversary of Jaroslav Hašek's death in 1983, she did an extensive study on Hašek and Švejk in Austria. She also took part in a Hašek-conference in Dobříš in 1983 and has twice been awarded the Jaroslav Hašek price. Her study turns about every stone there is to turn on Švejk's stay in Austria and I relied heavily on her work in the previous blog entry "Švejk  in Királyhida".

Listening attentively to Klara Köttner-Benigni
Friedrich Petzneck and I were invited to Eisenstadt to met her and husband Walter Benigni one afternoon, but unfortunately Herr Petzneck couldn't go because he had just had an eye-operation. I jumped on the train and was met at Eisenstadt station by the Benigni couple. The destination was a cafe where I was treated to beer and food, and to use a cliché: time flied. Köttner-Benigni is now a lady in her early eighties and physically quite frail but her mind is still razor-sharp.

It turns out that Hašek was a theme she dealt with only temporarily, she had and has many other interests. Her particular focus was always on the Slovak nation, she has  been over there more than 300 times. She was also a pioneer environmental campaigner; in 1975, a planned bridge project across Neusiedler See was stopped, partly on her initiative. This made her a public enemy for a while, not dissimilar to Henrik Ibsen's Dr. Stockman. She has also chaired the Austro-Czechoslovak Friendship Association, which also made her suspicious in the eyes of the Austrian authorities. It was clear that Köttner-Benigni is  a person out of the ordinary, a fearless lady not  to be messed with (as Austrian authorities and others have found out).

Article in Burgenlãndische Heimatblãtter in 1983
In 1983, she and Konrad Biricz, a local historian from Bruck, collected material for the study on Hašek and she  could also tell a story from Radko Pytlík's visit in Bruck in 1983. In those days going abroad was not that easy for Czechs and he was accompanied by the cultural attaché of the Czechoslovak embassy in Vienna.  The "minder" was a nephew of Vasiľ Biľak, chief ideologist of the Communist Party. The Austrians authorities of course knew who he was so was refused entry to Brucker Lager! Pytlík on the other had was considered harmless enough to be allowed in. After the 1989 revolution, Köttner-Benigni lost contact with Pytlík. I was grateful to receive  a heap of books and material on Hašek in German, most of it I have never seen, and which would now be nearly impossible to get hold of (it was published in former East Germany).

Köttner-Benigni also told me of an encounter with author Lars Amund Vaage, who also takes an interest in Slovakia. I then mentioned Czech writer Ladislav Řežníček who has written a book named Bjørnson a Slovensko. The writer Bjørnstjerne Bjørsnon is held in high regard in Slovakia due to his support for the Slovak cause against Hungarian oppression in the later decades of the Dual Monarchy.  Köttner-Benigni didn't know of  Řežníček or his book, which was published this year in connection with the 100th anniversary of the authors death. Clearly there are experts on both Slovakia and Bjørnson out there which ought to get in contact with each other!

Day-trips from Bruck

NB! This is a more or less pure travel entry and covers day-trips to Bratislava and Neusiedler See.

Bruck and der Leitha with it's good railway connections is ideal for trips into neighbouring Slovakia and Hungary, as well as to Neusiedler See. These destinations are only half an hour away and Vienna still only around an hour. We set aside time for Bratislava and Neusiedler See, as I would be going to Vienna the week anyway and Oddny and Jan would go there whilst I was either sleeping or involved in some haškology.
 
Bratislava. Michalská ulica.
Bratislava is mentioned in Švejk but by it's former name of Pressburg. In 1914 the city was part of Hungary and known as Poszony. It had even been the capital of Hungary during the time the Ottoman Empire controlled Buda and Pest. In 1914 it was a multi-ethnic city; inhabited by Hungarian, Germans, Jews and Slovaks. The latter were actually a minority, only 20% of the population were Slovaks. With the creation of Czechoslovakia this changed. In 1919 the city was renamed Bratislava to to honour the brotherhood of Slovaks and Czechs. The city became increasingly dominated by Slovaks and Czechs as many Hungarians and Germans left. WW2, Holocaust and the following expulsions of Germans left the city predominantly Slovak although some Hungarians still remained.
Oddny and Jan. The Danube and Petržalka in the background
Our first day-trip was to Bratislava via Petržalka where the train from Austria stops. Situated south of the Danube, Petržalka is an enormous mass of paneláky, i.e. apartment blocks. It is not a pretty sight and for these tourists it only served as a stop to catch a bus into to the centre of Bratislava. The Slovak capital has now become a popular tourist destination and rightly so. Its old town has been brushed up and is pretty, although set on a much smaller scale than Prague. Bratislava was quite a contrast to the rather ossified Bruck. The latter seems to have gone to sleep for ever, whilst the former is coming alive after being dormant for 50 years or more. No wonder that Bratislava and Bruck are different though, one is a national capital, the other a provincial town.
 
Crossing the border is a dream nowadays as there are no controls and no hassle with changing money. Slovakia introduced the Euro from 1/1-2009. Back in Petržalka the men had a few pivo for under 1 Euro, but Oddny wasn't impressed with the inglorious setting of wrecked benches, concrete slabs and high-rise buildings. And then there were "these men drinking pivo". I could assure here that these men were just my thirsty Slav brothers, but I have to admit that they were far from being the aesthetic highlight of the trip.
 
Cyclists in Burgenland
Our second day-trip was of an entirely different nature: cycling from Bruck to Rust along the Neusiedler See. This shallow lakes, only 1.8 metres deep at the most, straddles the border of Austria and Hungary and the area is popular for cycling. The lake is mentioned in Švejk, more precisely by Vodička who had one of his many fights with the Hungarians here. The first major point after Bruck is Parndorf, a town partly inhabited by Burgenland Croats. There are a few Croats signs around, notably on the Town Hall. In Croat the towns name is Pandrof. Parndorf is an unusually drab place by Austrian standards; with it's wide avenues, low houses and lack of facilities for pedestrians and cyclists we had a feeling of having entered an American suburbia. This was further underlined by the existence of a shopping mall! Down by the lake we got back into Austria though; wine-growing villages like Breitenbrunn and Podersdorf are invariably pretty, and prettiest of them all is Rust. The latter is a major tourist attraction, famous for its many storks. The nests are visible on the chimneys all over the town.
 
Stork in Rust. Photo Oddny Ringheim.
It was a very hot day, the town square in Rust was totally deserted, no-one were sitting outside. We had a meal at the micro-brewery, unfortunately the beer was disappointing. The trip here had been tough, not only did we have the heat to contend with but also the wind against us. We decided to cycle to the railway station in Schützen am Gebirge, and take the train home. Unfortunately there was a bus replacement service from Neusiedl am See, so we got eight "bonus kilometres".
 
Margaret Thatcher once reported that "we have become a grandmother". Back in Bruck we learned that we had become uncles and an aunt to Jakob Hønsi, born precisely when we were admiring the marshes of the Neusiedler See. The news was celebrated in the beautiful garden of Schlosskeller Prugg with appropriate quantities of Gösser for the men and Holundersekt for the lady. Hardly have cold and tasty beer come in handier than on this hot summer day in Bruck an der Leitha. And I am convinced that Holundersekt was appropriate too.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Švejk in Királyhida

Vodička
Jaroslav Hašek dedicates almost three full chapters to Švejk's stay in Bruck an der Leitha and Királyhida, in fact one eight of the novel was set here. The author spent a month by the Leitha himself; or more precisely; in the exercise grounds of Brucker Lager. He mentions many places in the two towns: the camp, the Konservenfabrik (Meat canning factory), Schloss Prugg, the Zuckerfabrik, a photo pavilion and many other places inside the Lager. But more surprising is the mention of places that either seem to be pure inventions or more likely fragments of muddled-up facts. The attentive reader of  Švejk will in Book One and the start of Book Two have noticed Hašek's accurate, nearly scientific use of facts when creating the backdrop to his novel. There are very few, if any errors in the chapters set in Bohemia and I was expecting this exactness to be the case also in the rest of the novel, including the chapters set in Bruck and Királyhida.

Whilst discovering that many of the larger and well known institutions in the the twin towns on the Leitha are accurately described, I was surprised to find that not even one of the coffe houses, pubs and brothels he mentions could  be located with certainty. This statement is based on conversations with Friedrich Petzneck, documents by Wolfgang Gruber and not least a thorough study done by Klara Köttner-Benigni and Konrad Biricz in 1983. Hašek’s descriptions may fit with actual places, but the names don't (or vice-versa).. The street where the famous episode with Gyula Kákonyi happened, Soproni utca, actually existed but nobody lived there, it went right through the camp. Kákonyi had already appeared in  "The Good Soldier Švejk in captivity" (1917) but then he lived  in Poszony utca, another non-existent entity. This supports the assumption that "facts" from Bruck have to be taken with a pinch of salt. In Švejk, the ill-tempered sapper Vodička mentions a fight with Hungarians in a village called Pausdorf. This is place nowhere to be found, the author presumably meant Parndorf.

How could it be that the until now so accurate author suddenly became muddled? Firstly, he  was forced to risk his life for an authority he despised and it's understandable that the hated Bruck. He probably couldn't care less about sticking to reality. This is underlined by the fact that he grossly exaggerated the seamier sides of Bruck. There were at the time five official brothels in the twin towns, and surely some in-official ones, but Hašek described the twin towns as "one giant brothel". The description he gives of the Meat Canning factory is also blown-up. In fact it was a fairly descent establishment, although the standards might have dropped after the war  broke out. The stench he described was probably from a slaughtering yard behind the plant.

A second factor to consider is possible translation errors. In the novel, names of pubs and brothels have been translated to Czech from German or Hungarian by the author himself. Hašek's German was apparently very good but not perfect, his Hungarian much more limited. An example is "U bilé růže" (At the White Rose) where Hašek's description corresponds to the cafe-cum-brothel Zum Weissen Rössel. On the first floor there was indeed a Mannschaftspuff (brothel for the lower ranks) so it all fits except the name. My assumption is that the author simply mistranslated Rössel as rose, whereas in fact it should be horse. Today the building houses a innocuous Pennymarkt.

A study by Antonín Měšťan from the Hašek-conference in Bamberg in 1983 reveals these limitations in Hašek’s language and Jan Berwid-Buquoy also makes notes on similar translation difficulties. In the chapter Hašek in Deutschland from his book, he found that hardly any of the names Hašek uses in his stories from Bavaria in 1904 are correct (but still recognisable). The reason for this is logical. Hašek probably didn't see all these names in writing. Anyone who has been to rural Bavaria will understand that even a genius like Hašek would struggle with the local dialect, and I can assure readers that he would have had similar problems in Bruck! Of further further interest: Pytlík and Měšťan' reveal that Hašek didn't only rely on his memory; he used War Calendars, Otto's Encyclopedia and maps when he wrote his masterpiece. But in the case of Bruck and der Leitha and Királyhida he doesn't seem to have used  either, and even the bets of brains may miss a few details when trying to recall them from the top of his head six years later.

One day I was given a private tour of Brucker Lager by Wolfgang Gruber and camp commander Truppenübungsplatzkommandant Oberst Reinhold. It was very interesting although very few of the buildings from 1915 exist any more. The wooden barracks in Neuer Lager where Hašek stayed, were demolished shortly after the war. The Photo Pavilion is also history, and so is the Hauptwache where Švejk and Vodička would have spent time in the arrest. The oldest existing building is the Offizierscasino, which is mentioned explicitly in Švejk. The rifle range is also old, and still active. I have not been in a military camp since 1981, and life there seemed very relaxed. There can be no comparison between the officers of the current Austrian Bundesheer and the types that Hašek described.

Brucker Lager, Mannschaftsbaracke.
Hašek obviously grossly exaggerated the stupidity of the officer class in the k.u.k army, but he touches on an important fact that historians also observed (John Kenneth Galbraith was one of them). All sides in WW1 suffered from widespread incompetence in their higher military ranks. Those leaders ordered millions to march straight against the enemy's trenches, without ever getting out of  the stalemate. There are only few examples of good commanders: Mackensen, Brusilov, Foch to name a few. Hašek directly touches the core of this problem, despite his exaggerations. Many officers became officers because of their family ties and connections rather than their ability. So the Kraus von Zillerguts are by no means picked from thin air, despite the caricatures and exaggerations in Švejk.

In a previous letter I have mentioned two film versions of Švejk, with Rudolf Hrušinský and Heinz Rühmann as Švejk respectively. I have already raised my misgivings about both films for different reasons. The third and latest attempt on a movie was done by ÖRF (Austrian Broadcasting) in 1972 and 1976. It was an ambitious 13 part TV-series with Fritz Muliar as Švejk. Interestingly Muliar also had a role in the Rühmann film, but a minor one. The TV-series were  partly shot at Bruck Station and I got hold of some photos from the event. I have not viewed the series myself so instead I will let Hans-Peter Laqueur place his verdict:
Part 1-6 is o.k. Except for the end of part 6, when Švejk arrives at the front and gets involved in a battle it is very close to the book. The parts omitted (inevitable when making 6 hours of film out of the whole book) are sometimes disputable, but this first serial probably still is the best film production of the book available.

Part 7-13, produced a few years later, is not so clear. Parts 7-9 have a plot based on some other stories by Hašek as well as on the "Ur-Schwejk" stories of 1911, and filled up with Švejk's anecdotes not used in the original serial. Unmotivated re-appearances of Otto Katz (who takes the part of his predecessor Augustinus Kleinschrodt) and of Bretschneider (in spite of the fact that he had been eaten up by the dogs he had bought from Švejk)!

Part 9 ends with Svejk being taken prisoner by the Russians while trying to "conquer" a cow (Ur-Schwejk again?). Parts 10-12 are about Schwejks osudy as POW, as far as I know not based on anything by Hašek, they are quite nice, Švejk, though hardly telling any anecdotes, is by far more himself, than in the first three parts of the second series. - The last part, Revolution, Bugulma, return to Prague again is rather disappointing, motives taken from the Bugulma-Stories and a "Happy End" in Prague: Oberst Schröder (!?!) welcoming the returning soldiers and finally a meeting at the Kelch at six o'clock after the war.

To summarize: I'd have been at least as happy with only the first two rather than all four DVDs.