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, 26 May 2010


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.

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