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 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 visited a few 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 fortunately I was 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.

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