The last trolleybus

The solemn start of the trolleybus service, 1949

“The trolleybuses say farewell to Prague – Prague says farewell to the trolleybuses”, 1972

Originally I only wanted to publish these two photos side by side as two terminals of a nostalgic story. At most I would have liked to search for why the numbering of the trolleybuses started with 51 in Prague. Is there some obscure story behind it, such as behind the numbering of the trolleybuses starting with 70 in Budapest? I could not discover it – hopefully our Czech readers would help –, but I clearly saw that none of the two pictures are a terminal, but only a stop in the convoluted history of the Czech trolley, so richly documented by its fans on the net that I rest satisfied with a couple of pictures and references before getting off this vehicle which in have come to like so much in the meantime.

Electrical transport, as throughout the Monarchy, started in the 1890s in the Czech cities as well: we know how much Kafka loved to watch from his window the trams of Prague. However, the “rubber-wheeled tram”, as they called it, was still a rarity at that time. České Budějovice, that is, Budweis was the first among Bohemian cities where it was introduced, on 27 October 1909: the special reason was that the city council was reluctant to create a tram rails intersection at the crossing of the two busiest roads, today’s Pražská and Strakonická. Therefore the “electric omnibus” of the Daimler-Stoll company was introduced along the latter, between the Old Town and the Sv. Otýlia cemetery, writes the site dedicated to the history of the local trolleybus, which was only available from Google cache, so I have carefully saved it. This page shows the first member of the fleet in front of the cemetery:

And on this photo, found on the modern website of the municipal transport company, the same vehicle in the company of the competitor:

For the sake of the atmosphere, let us see the competitor too, on the main square and on the bridge next to the theater:

The trolleybus stopped exactly on the day of the outbreak of the war, when Švejk was still sitting in the Kalích, so he could not take it when joined up the 91th Infantry Regiment in České Budějovice. However, if he managed to return home “after the war at six o’clock”, then he might have had this delight, as in Prague they launched in 1936 a trolleybus very similar to that of Budějovice.

During WWII the trolleybus service ceased, and it only started again in 1949 all over the country, just as elsewhere in the socialist countries, probably in terms of a central Soviet plan. From the several vintage photos let us see here only the start of the first line in Brno, numbered 21, from Přemyslovo náměstí on 30 July 1949.

In the next two decades the trolley enmeshed almost all cities of Bohemia, and its modern fans keep in evidence their lines and their history stopping in the early 1970s but starting up in 1991 again in Prague, Teplice, Pardubice, Zlín and elsewhere, as that of the narrow gauge trains in Spain or Hungary. In Zlín they even had decker trolley buses, and it was there that the young chauffeur-conductor couple drove to the church on a flower-covered trolley bus in 1949. If you want to travel about this story, take a ride on one of these websites.

The last route of trolleybus number 51 in Prague on 15 October 1972, Sunday

Bulat Okudzhava: The last trolley, 1957

Когда мне невмочь пересилить беду,
когда подступает отчаянье,
я в синий троллейбус сажусь на ходу,
в последний, в случайный.

Последний троллейбус, по улицам мчи,
верши по бульварам круженье,
чтоб всех подобрать, потерпевших в ночи
крушенье, крушенье.

Последний троллейбус, мне дверь отвори!
Я знаю, как в зябкую полночь
твои пассажиры, матросы твои
приходят на помощь.

Я с ними не раз уходил из беды,
я к ним прикасался плечами...
Как много, представьте себе, доброты
в молчанье, молчанье.

Последний троллейбус плывет по Москве,
Москва, как река, затухает,
и боль, что скворчонком стучала в виске,
стихает, стихает.
When I cannot overcome misfortunes
any more, when despair rises,
I get on a blue trolley
the last one, a random one.

Last trolley, run all over the streets
drive round all the boulevards
pick up all who have suffered
a crash, a crash in the night.

Last trolley, open your doors to me!
I know that in the chilling midnight
your passengers, your sailors
will come to my help.

More than once I came out of trouble
while touching them shoulder by shoulder
Imagine, how much kindness there is
in the silence, in the silence.

The last trolley is floating over Moscow,
Moscow, like a river, falls asleep
and the pain, throbbing in my temple like
a young starling, calms down, calms down.

9 comentarios:

languagehat dijo...

I stuck my head into U Kalicha when I visited Prague, but it was horrible, a tourist ripoff joint coasting on their Schweik fame. Fortunately there are many, many wonderful beerhalls in that great city that preserve the old atmosphere and the great beer, even if they didn't have the luck to be mentioned in the novel!

Studiolum dijo...

In the 80s it was one of the very homely pubs. All of them – including U Dvou Koček, U Fleků, or U Zlatého Tygra, Hrabal’s headquarters – turned posh and touristic, together with the complete Old Town of Prague. You have to go to Libeň or Smíchov to feel something from that air.

Effe dijo...

and that air was already dirrefent from the one you could find in Povídky Malostranské by Jan Neruda.
Cities are chameleons.

Effe dijo...

dirrefent = different :-)

Anónimo dijo...

I also fondly remember U Fleků from the 80s. Haven't been back to Prague since 1997, so I was a bit sad to learn how much everything has changed.

Regarding numbering of trolley bus lines: these tended to be viewed as something between trams and normal buses, so many cities started their number series at a point above the likely future maximum of tram lines. In Stockholm – where we had a few trolley bus lines until 1964 – the first of them was numbered 31.

MOCKBA dijo...

The Prague trolleybus survives in Crimea, where the intercity trolley lines between Simferopol and the coast resorts continue to use Škoda models. (One recent addition is a customized Zlata Praha trolleybus, complete with a bar serving Czech beers :) ).

BTW Okudzhava's song title is often misunderstood as "the last chance", as some sort of an anguish about something which is never more. But of course his "Last Trolleybus" is just last for this night, and it will be there again tomorrow night, and it's about hope and healing rather than about loss.

Studiolum dijo...

Wow, that’s a great chance! This summer I’d like to make a Crimean tour, so I will certainly test it. I will add this information to the Hungarian version, too.

As to the title, it is certainly so. The last three strophes stress this so much that I wonder who might misunderstand it.

Studiolum dijo...

Per Sandstrom: Yes, this might be the real solution. In most cities where I observed this around the world, numbering usually started from 1 (tram no. 1, bus no. 1), and the only exception, Budapest (where the trolley started with 70) had a political reason, so I did not think about this more reasonable and practical explication.

Unknown dijo...

Some one has picture or notice od a italian trolleybus Alfa Romeo in trial run in prague in 1950 and expose t the annual Fair?