Szabadka Unlimited, 4. Globetrotters

We will be not the first globetrotters in Szabadka/Subotica. The really unlimited character of the city – and of the whole contemporary world – is indeed indicated by the fact that, according to the news of a hundred years ago, globetrotting was an established industry in the already multinational Szabadka, which was open to everything new. It was pursued by the most various nations: mysterious Turkish diplomats, adventurous Serbian lads, German postcard sellers, Chinese idol figurine peddlers, as well as Transylvanian Gypsy vendors who guarded masses of silver museum pieces at home, in the Carpathian mountains. Postcards and coffee houses, as we will see, played a key role in this profession, and that’s good, because otherwise where else would have a journalist of Szabadka run across so many kinds of wanderers? Therefore we illustrate our report with postcards depicting coffe houses, but this time not from Szabadka – from where our only postcard on a café was already shot off in the previous post – but from the whole contemporary world, where just the Szabadka globetrotters could reach. Nevertheless, we will also get to know some surprising news on the city as well. Would have you thought that at the turn of the century a real Turkish café worked in Szabadka, and that the Gypsies from Transylvania purchased in the Jewish shops of Szabadka the authentic masterpieces of Transylvanian folk art en gros?

Bácsmegyei Napló, 14 July 1912

From vice-consul globetrotter. Mehmed’s mysterious guest
Our correspondent. Szabadka, 13 July

In this week, an interesting person stayed for two days in Szabadka. A middle height stranger with black English moustache and in elegant tourist dres, who, however, did not live in one of the red-carpet hotels in Kossuth Street, but in the modest room of a Turkish tavern in Jókai Street. Perhaps we will never get to know who this mysterious stranger was in the reality, so we will have to accept what he told about himself. Maybe everything he told was just a tale, and perhaps he has a much more interesting and sensational past, which he wanted to hide behind the fancy tale of another biography

Mehmed’s coffee house.

About 2-3 months ago a strange label was nailed above a shop door:

Arnaulovich Mehmed’s
Turkish coffee house

In fact, it is but a common tavern. The street side room is not much different from any other pub in Szabadka. Only the last, small, only a few steps wide and long room is interesting. The walls of this room are covere with Turkish carpets, Turkish cushions replace the chairs on the floor, and the guests are served with some strange-shaped coffee sets. This is the Turkish coffee house in Szabadka. Its usual guests are some clerks, painters and journalists. At Mehmed you get excellent black cofee, like in no other place, and superb, cheap wines.

The mysterious stranger.

A week ago, the visitors of the Turkish café found an interesting guest at Mehmed. He was a middle height, slightly stooped 35-ear-old man with a high forehead, piercing eyes and English moustache, wearing a modern, elegant tourist dress. He speaks in French, German, Russian and Turkish. He lived in a small courtyard room. In the evenings he sat in the larger room of the tavern, and while talking with the owner, he was watching the guests. First he behaved in the most reticent way with the guests of the “coffe house room”, just as the owner, Mehmed avoids any more intimate contact with them. Perhaps he has something to hide, and he suspects them to be detectives. Mehmed’s guest replied to the interest of the company only after a lengthy questioning. But what then he told about himself was almost unbelievable, it was so romantic and interesting.

The Turkish general’s son.

The stranger called himself Achmed Reif Bey, and told his life story as follows:

He was born in Constantinople. His father served as a general in the Turkish army. The boy was educated by a German-born military officer calle Henrik Schuller. As a result of this education, after the completion of the secondary school, Achmed Reif Bey went to university to Paris.

He stayed six years in Paris, and during that time he received a doctorate in jurisprudence. In Paris the young bey became a completely Western-minded person. He participated with a particular interest in the actions of the International Socialist and Philantrophic Society, as one of the most enthusiastic members of the association. In addition, he worked with particularly high ambitions in the interest of the small group which was the nucleus of the triumphant New Turkish movement.

The vice-consul.

After the completition of his university studies, Achmed Reif Bey returned to Constantinople. Not much later he was assigned to the Embassy in Belgrad with the protection of his father, where he soon became a vice-consul. He also married there the daughter of the former Serbian minister Popović, with whom he received as dowry a sizable estate in Temes County. The services of the young man with a Western education were often used in diplomatic missions. Thus he often traveled to Vienna, Berlin, St. Petersburg and Moscow. In the meantime he remained a fervent supporter of the International Socialist and Philanthropic Society.

The bet.

In 1907 Reif Bey spent a longer holiday in Paris. On one occasion, at a meeting of the Philanthropic Society they debated whether it is true that the Turks are one of the laziest races. Reif Bey obviously claimed the contrary, and in order to prove his truth, he accepted a bet to go around the world in eight years together with one friend, mainly on foot. The sum of the bet was 750 thousand francs: this much receives Reif Bey if he realized what he promised. He did it the more willingly, because a globetrotting adventure like this was one of his old favorite ideas.

In 1908 Reif Bey and his friend began their journey. They have hitherto traveled around America, Africa and Western Europe, partly on foot and partly by train, as Reif Bey receives a significant amount from home, but in the terms of the bet only a specific amount for a year.

The journey was recently marred by an incident. A month ago, while climbing a rock around Strasbourg, Reif Bey’s companion fell down, and suffered severe injuries. Thus Reif Bey continues his journey alone.

The Bey knows Mehmed still from his position of vice-consul in Belgrade, because Mehmed had a Turkish coffee house in Újvidék [since 1920 Novi Sad], often visiteby the members of the Turkish consulate in Belgrad. So Reif Bey stayed at Mehmed, because he especially wanted to watch the life of the lower classes, and the tavern in Jókai Street is especially suitable for that.

Who is Reif Bey?

Whether all this is true, it would be difficult to determine. Reif Bey’s registration certificate in French and German is really issued for the name of Reif Bey. He also has French language certificates that he is a foreign correspondent of the large Constantinople newspaper “Aden”. He is obviously a very intelligent man, truly educated in the Western sense, nevertheless the true purpose and direction of his way can be also different from what he told. One thing is sure, that he is not an ordinary rogue globetrotter.

As a very characteristic and in many ways justifying circumstance, consider the following:

Achmed Reif Bey’s traveler’s suitcase is the finest and most expensive British factory product. It includes a perfect and expensive drug set, and high quality instruments of fine workmanship, which all show that Reif Bey really cannot be a poor man.

From Szabadka he continued his way by an express train to Bucharest, Russia, Asia and Australia.

Bácsmegyei Napló, 3 April 1912

The adventures of a Bačka globetrotter in Turkey
Our correspondent. Szabadka, 2 April

About half a year ago, a 23-year-old high, black-haire young people, Petko Daškalov from the village of Stapar, with two elementary school classes, came to our editorial.

He stated that he was going to go on a journey around the world, and he asked us for stamped postcards for the purpose of reporting. He told so fantastic things on his journey and plans that we gave no credit to his words, and we believed that he, as most of the so-called globetrotters, would travel around the world through the coffee houses of New York, Abbazia, Ceylon and Japan in Budapest. In order to get rid of the fast-talking globetrotter, we gave him some postcards. Petko Daškalov thanked the cards, and then he proudly set on his way around the world.

Since then we have not heard anything about Petko Daškalov. We also forgot the case, until the post brought two postcards from him today. The cards are dated from Rogatica on the 29th of the past month. In one of them Daškalov informs us to have hitherto wandered about Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Macedonia, the Sanjak and Bosnia. He went through lots of adventures everywhere, and was in danger of life lots of times. Now he is going to go to Herzegovina, Montenegro, Italy, and from there to America.

In the other postcards he describes his Turkish adventure. The letter written with a deficient orthography is as follows:

Dear Editorial! I inform you that I was arrested in Turkey, in the city of Pristina, and I was put in prison for 24 as they took me for a spion. And when I certified myself, they set me free, and I went to Skopje where a Turk shot at me, because I was suspicious to him, and I ask you to address your letter to Mostar, Poste Restante. I greet you, Petko Daškalov, Tourist

Petko Daškalov has thus honored his word. He is traveling around the world, and who knows, after which adventures and experiences will he got back, perhaps as a world-famous rich person, to his native Ósztapár.

Bácsmegyei Napló, 17 December 1911

The globetotters. Those who walk about the world with railway ticket
Our correspondent. Szabadka, 16 December

In the streets of Szabadka we know well those eccentric-looking people in strange dress who spread about themselves that they walk around the world by bet. The one wears shorts, but long-stem shoes, the other an empty duffle bag on the back, of the third the hair and beard lacks constantly and consistently the barber’s intervention, but all of them have postcards in the hand.

The spontaneous question as to why the postcards are necessary to walking around the world is explained by these eccentric globetrotters. All of them have bet that they would support themselves by selling these postcards. They go from one city to another, and as the world is round, slowly they get back to where they started from. This is why after two or three months one encounters in Szabadka the same globetrotters who now should actually walk in Calcutta.

One of these globetrotters is Imre Fiebig, who has visited several times Szabadka. He says he is a German mechanical engineer, has a whole-year railway ticket, and when the weather grows colder, he moves up to the capital. In Budapest he walks from coffee house to coffee house, covering huge distances. From the Abbazia to the New York, from there to the London, the Ceylon, the Palermo, the Fiume, everywhere selling his postcards.

And when the weather becomes milder, he takes the train, traveling from one city to another, and as soon as he gets out of the wagon, he is converted into globetrotter, and starts to beg

This is also an existence, isn’t it.

“Sátoraljaújhely in the night – Central Coffee House”

Royal Coffee House, Nagyvárad, 13 October 1912 11h 31m – “The Gypsy is now playing
«I cannot dream, my dear, but about you… etc.» While, thinking about you,
I send you infinite kisses on the hand, h. i. Weiterschütz …
Kiss the hand, unknowingly”

Bácsmegyei Napló, 15 October 1911

Ancient masterpieces among the Székely Gypsies
Our correspondent

Those brown-faced, black-eyed people who from time to time appear on our streets to sell the products of Székely folk industry, at home among the Transylvanian mountains live a peculiar life, very different from our own. There are even Sabatarians among them, and their villages are full of hitherto undiscovered and unknown historical monuments.

There is only one modernity in these itinerant traders. Namely, that whatever they sell as Székely folk industry, is all Austrian and Czech products. The public wants cheap things, and they do not want to pay for the work the Székely women and girls invest into a carpet or tablecloth throughout the year. Therefore the Székely Gypsies bring us cheap ware. They buy the Székely folk industry directly from the factories.

These Székely Gypsies usually make shopping in Szabadka. They buy their wares in the Kállay Albert Street shop of Elijah Braun, and they go with them around all Hungary. Most of them have no money when coming for the merchandise, so they bring something to put in pawn. The pawn objects of the Székely Gypsies are ancient silver ware and valuable antique goldsmith’s works. Once they sell their merchandise, they redeem them from the pawn.

Yesterday a particularly valuable silver tankard left Szabadka in this way. Its owner is the Székely Gypsy Tócsi Máté from Bécsfalva, Udvarhely county. The tankard is divided in three parts and has three handles. Each part has a different portrait. The inscription of the first one is:


The second portrait, according to its label, is


And the third one


The tankard, whose capacity is about two and a half liters, was probably the common drinking cup of the three Hungarian lords. They drank of it when they came together to be grieved above the fate of the homeland.

As to how this beaker came in the possession of the Székely Gypsies, Tócsi Máté told us that he already saw it at his grandfather, and it was left to him by his father. The bottom and the handle of the beaker seems to be a more recent work, but it is also clean silver, just like the other, ancient parts of the tankard.

A lawyer in Szabadka wanted to purchase the valuable tankard. The Gypsy, however, did not want to part of it for any money. He told that this was his children’s inheritance. He also told that at home he had about a half ton of other silver ware. But the other Gypsies in his village had even more.

It would be interesting to recover the works of art in the possession of the Székely Gypsies in Bécsfalva.

My ethnographer friend, Péter Berta is just working on the recovery of these treasures. Not in Bécsfalva and not in the Székely mountains, from where the “poharas cigányok,” beaker-holding Gypsies have disappeared in the past century, but in one of the most archaic Transylvanian Gypsy community, among the Gabor Gypsies. The Gabor Gypsies in Maros/Mureș and Kolozs/Cluj county still jealously guard and leave from father to son their Renaissance silver beakers and tankards, which they only sell in the hardest financial difficulty, only to each other, and on those occasions they change hands for several hundreds of dollars. Péter, who over the past twenty years learned their language and they accepted him in their community, presents through an incredibly interesting series of articles (also in English, as he mainly publishes in British anthropological journals) the complex and ritualized working of this prestige item economy, and its power of organizing their community and culture – I hope that he would sometime publish a summary also for Río Wang. Inspired by the above report, he sent now his study (in Hungarian, but with many illustrations) in which he collected the references to these “Gypsy treasures” around the turn of the century, which also prove that these treasures were then much widely possessed by the Transylvanian Gypsies and stood in the focus of their culture than nowadays. Such unexpected findings emerge in the century old, still really unlimited Szabadka.

„Három világvándor, 1920 februárja óta tartó föld körüli útjukon”