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.

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 28 May 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 its big church. There is no account in the novel about Švejk ever having been in Sedlice, but later he at least claimed that he went there.

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.

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 grandfather's 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 regularly 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.


  1. Excellent work. As for the last picture, THIS is how a glass of REAL BEER looks like ... It brings tears to my eyes ...

  2. Really great work, thanks.

    I have no prove, as you do, but I guess Hasek tried to desert...or saw someone do it, or thought about it, and the part oh Shvejk comes from here.

  3. I am pretty sure he tried to desert - for two good reasons: to avoid the slaughterhouse in Galicia and not having to fight for an authority he detested. He might have done several attempts later on, in Királyhida he is said to have hid in a hay-stack before departure to the front (Radko Pytlík).