He experienced the horrors of two wars and during this time he also covered an immense geographical area. The trip described in this blog is an attempt to retrace his steps from Prague across the Eurasian continent to beyond Lake Baikal in Siberia. The first part of the trip will follow the precisely described route of Josef Švejk, Hašek's inspired literary creation. I left home on April 30 2010 and was back on October 29.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Švejk in Copenhagen

That the capital of Denmark was to feature in this trip is entirely down to events on an island which until 1944 was ruled from Denmark. With the air full of invisible volcanic ash, with air traffic authorities on their teeters, with the airlines bellowing for subsidies from already indebted governments: I lost my nerve and settled for a safe trip by boat and train down to Munich.

Although it's difficult to connect Denmark to Švejk, the country is at least mentioned in the book. In 1864 Prussia and Austria colluded to wrestle Slesvig-Holsten (Schleswig-Holstein) away from Denmark. A short war followed and Denmark was powerless against her mighty southern neighbours. This was actually the last war Austria ever won. Two years later the victorious powers fell out, and Prussia defeated Austria almost as easily as the two had brushed aside Denmark. The Battle of Königgrätz (Hradec Králove) was to prove significant, The Hungarians exploited the situation to claim parity with Austria and in February 1867  the Vienna Accord was signed and Austria-Hungary came into existence. The event is commonly known as Ausgleich and is extremely important with respect to the theme of this blog. There will of course be more on the political and historical backdrop to the novel later.

The ferry arrived around 9 AM in Nordhavn, and it was quite a walk to Hovedbanegården, Copenhagen's main railway station. Walking in this city is always a pleasure; the traffic volume is low for a place of this size, the number of pedestrians and cyclists correspondingly higher. As it happened I took a break at  Café Under Uret and enjoyed an excellent Randers Bryghus Pale Ale as I  drafted this post. I wanted to write a few lines of what I wished this blog to be and concluded that I didn't know:

It was only last week that I decided to write a blog covering the trip.  Clearly the main focus will be Jaroslav Hašek and his anti-hero Josef Švejk. This obviously involves travelling so it will be a travel blog. It includes fragments of history, so it will partly be a history blog. It involves spending time in pubs as Hašek would have done, so there will be traces of a beer blog. In the pubs, trains and various lodgings people will meet and these will feature in the blog, that is if they permit me to write about them. I can't exclude the possibilities that I will write about totally unrelated topics as well; like the FIFA World Cup 2010. In short: let's just call it a blog and let time show what will come out of it. Rest assured though; the main theme is, and always will be: the satirical genius Jaroslav Hašek, his work, his travels, his life and his times.

Having eight hours to spare in Copenhagen, I visited Cafe Svejk in Fredriksberg. It is the only Švejk-café in Denmark and one of at most five in all of Scandinavia. It is more of a typical brown Danish ølstue than a Czech hospoda although there are some Švejk-related posters on the wall, amongst them a beaming Heinz Rühmann in his role as the Good Soldier. To judge from the café's web-site, the satirical aspect of the novel hasn't quite sunk in but it is all redeemed by the excellent unfiltered Bohemia Regent, the best Czech beer I've ever tasted outside the lands of Bohemia an Moravia. The train to Munich left at 17:41. There were carriages destined for Amsterdam, Basel and Munich and thus no room for errors.

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