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.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

The pearl of Western Ukraine

The Colonel was also smiling and then issued these orders: “Prepare for Švejk a military fare-card via Lvov to the Zóltance station, which his march company is to reach tomorrow, and issue to him a new government-issue uniform from the warehouse, and 6 crowns and 82 pennies in place of the mess for the road.” (from Švejk, translated by Zenny Sadlon).

As mentioned in the previous blog entry: Lviv (Львів) hardly merits a stop because of it’s significance in Švejk. It is mentioned eight  times, but as can be seen from the above quote: the plot never actually takes place here. The Good Soldier quickly passed through on his way from Vojutyči to Žovtanci where he re-joined his company, eager as he was to serve his emperor until his body was torn to pieces. But as stated in my ‘Motivation’ for this journey: this trip was not all about one theme, and in beautiful Lviv I allowed myself a pause on my trek. That said; Lviv also served as a perfect base for a day-trip to nearby Žovtanci where the great novel ended due to Jaroslav Hašek’s untimely death.

By the time Švejk passed through Lviv the city had already changed hands twice. On 3 September 1914 it fell to the Russians after the collapse of the k.u.k army in Galicia. There was little fighting and war damage as the Austro-Hungarian forces hurriedly abandoned the city. The scenario was similar on 22 June 1915 when the Central Powers returned. Again there was little fighting in the city itself and the Russian’s hadn’t started to apply the scorched earth tactics they used later that summer.

Lemberg erobert

Wien, 22. Juni.
Amtlich wird verlautbart:
Unsere zweite Armee hat heute nach hartem Kampfe Lemberg erobert.

Der Stellvertreter des Chefs des Generalstabes.
v. Hoefer, Feldmarschalleutnant

This was my third visit to Lviv and will not be the last. It is a city which feels Central European despite the Cyrillic alphabet and visible remnants of Soviet times. Still many things have changed since Austrian rules ceased in 1918. At the time it was a multi-ethnic city made up mainly of Poles, Ukrainians, Jews and Germans. The Poles were the largest ethnic group and maps from the era often show the city named as Lwów. The German name Lemberg also appears, mostly on older maps. The Russian name Lvov for obvious reasons became wide-spread after the Soviet Union grabbed the area in September 1939. This is also the Czech name of the city and obviously the one Hašek used.

Testimony to Lviv's Jewish past
During interwar Polish rule, the ethnic diversity of the city was maintained although Polish dominance became more pronounced at the expense of the other nationalities. WW2 and its immediate aftermath turned everything upside down in this part of the world. The relatively enlightened Habsburg rule made way to the more nationalistic Polish rule, but worse was to come. The Holocaust tragedy is well known, but less known are the mutual massacres and ethnic cleansings Polish and Ukrainians subjected each others to during the same period. This left Lviv a predominantly Ukrainian city although Russians and other former Soviet nationalities still make their mark.

Arriving on an early morning train from Sambir, I found myself in a for me totally unknown place, the “primiski voksal” (suburban station), which I had no clue where was. Fortunately I immediately discovered that it was next door to the main station. From there it is a half hour walk down to the centre and with a heavy back-pack and 30+ degrees it was hard work. I had no pre-arranged place to stay, and the first hotel I found was nice and expensive, so I walked on, increasingly budget-conscious. Very central, very ugly and very cheap was Hotel Lviv, a perfect choice it seemed. It reeked of dreary "socialism” in every corner; from the grumpy staff, the creaky lifts, the general shoddiness and even the “minder” on the ground floor. But with a perfect location and miniscule rates it served its purpose. Without hassle I got a hot and stuffy room on the 8th floor with a perfect view of “stare misto”, the old town. As it goes I regard hotels as places to sleep and nothing more.

The old town in Lviv is a delight, and I spent my time sightseeing, and being on-line in some excellent cafés and pubs. One of them was “Hasova Lampa” (Гасова Лампа), with good beer, inventive design, good rock music, decent food and a relaxed atmosphere. The music was clear and loud, particularly in the toilets! Slightly pricey but there was no sight of any Soviet surliness on any of the faces. It seemed to be popular with students. Another favourite was “Bar Dominik”, but this one was without Wi-Fi so I slipped into deep thinking and sublime beer instead. The “Černihivske bile” wheat beer is as good as its model Hoegaarden, a pure joy, a reason for any beer lover to go to the Ukraine. Both brews are incidentally owned by ABInBev. Big companies don’t necessarily make crap beer, big can also be beautiful. That said, ABInBev does make some incredibly poor brews too. Due to my natural politeness I shall refrain from mentioning any particular brand. But if you are curious, here is a clue: one of them is named after the city which is mentioned most often in my favourite novel...

With Vasyl and Švejk
Not to be forgotten: Švejk is well-known in Lviv, it is the only place in the world with TWO statues of him. One of them is on a bicycle, a word which is hardly mentioned at all in the novel. The other statue is of him sitting, and he has little in common with the figure known from Josef Lada's drawings. This soldier is slimmer and less of a caricature. Jaroslav Hašek only ever saw one drawing of Švejk, and this one was totally different from the small and chubby figure that spread across the world later. In 1925-26 Lada made a series of drawings for the newspaper České Slovo and it is those who have become associated with Švejk ever since. Translator Zenny Sadlon and scholar Martina Winkler are amongst those who argue that Lada's drawings have cemented Švejk's reputation as clown. For people who have read the book properly, this should be less of a problem. It ought to be completely clear that this is no comic strip, it is a novel about human stupidity and surviving it all. And much more...

Lviv has undergone marked changes since I first visited in 2004. A lot of repair work has been done and the city also hosts football matches during Euro 2012. This has led to much needed investment in infrastructure. The abolishment of visa requirements has drawn the tourists, and this gem of a city deserves every tourist it can get!

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