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 20 June 2010

Cryptography in Pannonia

At 8:15 PM on 30 June 1915 Jaroslav Hašek and his 12th march battalion set off for the front after reportedly having tried to escape the inevitable by going into hiding for a few days. Although his journey largely corresponded to Švejk's own, there is a difference: already from the call-up by the army there is a lag in time between Hašek and his literary creation. Švejk and his 11th march company left Brucker Lager around 22 May. The 11th march company is a fictive unit, each march battalion counted four (4) companies, and Hašek served with his Oberleutnant Lukas in the 4th march compnay.

In 2010 the journey from Bruck to Budapest was easy and comfortable and there is very little to report. The Pannonian landscape is flat and featureless. I made a stop in Mosonmagyaróvár, where the 11th March Company had it's own brief halt. At the time the station was called Moson, it only changed names in 1937 after the merger of the towns Moson and Magyaróvár.
The border crossing at Nickelsdorf-Hegyshalom was my own first meeting with the so-called Eastern Bloc back in July 1985. Little did I suspect that I would be back here under such circumstances 25 years later! At the time I had probably heard of Švejk but had little idea who his author was. In those days  there was passport control, visa control, cabin control, enforced currency exchange, you name it. The number of uniformed personnel was bewildering and it took ages to get through. Still Hungary was even in those days no big culture shock, it  partly felt as a scruffier version of Austria. It's lightweight communism made it in many ways similar to the west, the major problem for a tourist was the language. Nowadays you pass the border without noticing, at times even the ticket control was missing. But the language hasn’t become any easier!
Ludwig Ganghofer, a personal
friend of Kaiser Wilhelm II.
The next stop for Švejk was Győr, an attractive city which merited a two-day stop-over. It was also the scene of one of the classic  sequences of the novel: the hilarious ciphering blunder involving Ludwig Ganghofer's novel "Die Sünden der Väter" and Cadet Biegler’s resulting dream on the way to Budapest. The striving Adolf Biegler had humiliated Captain Ságner in front of the officers by revealing the ciphering blunder and was severely put in place afterwards, to the degree that he stuffed himself with cream-rolls and filled up with cognac. The result was devastating and his dreams were horrendous and it ended in a most unappetizing calamity.  The whole section reveals the author's amazing grasp of historical facts, we must assume he used Otto's Encyclopedia. He includes details of the history of cryptography, albeit with a few blunders, and the description of the Battle of Leipzig seems to be taken straight out of a text-book.
After Győr, I stopped in Komárom on the Danube, a place mentioned as part of the route but there is no further description of it. I walked, with my backpack, over to Komárno on the northern bank, i.e in Slovakia. In the times of Austria-Hungary it was one town, but has from 1920 officially been split with the Danube as the border. The train station is right by the Danube. I took the opportunity to dump my smelly sandals and buy myself a pair of brand new Slovak ones before walking back to Hungary. It should be noted that this part of Slovakia is nearly  entirely Hungarian-speaking although everyone also speaks Slovak (with a Magyar accent).

The final leg to Budapest went smoothly, the trains were excellent, on level with their Austrian counterparts. This was a stark contrast to the worn and graffiti-smeared stations. MAV, the Hungarian Railways, seem to have prioritised rolling stock above station maintenance. That makes for a smooth journey, but not for an aesthetic delight. Thus it happened that I arrived in Budapest with new sandals and in a much better shape than Cadet Biegler.

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