Army found

This photo album of the Austro-Hungarian army, preserved in the Bibliothèque Nationale, was published in 1914 in Paris. It contains only nineteen large photos (you should click on each for details below), and not even from the best masters, but apparently from military photographers of more modest capabilities. Also their settings are not those dramatic compositions which would soon flood the readership of the hinterland in postcards, journals and “The Great War in Text and Picture”-type publications, but rather idyllic group and life pictures, far from any threat of war. They reflect that peaceful, tired glow of the army of the Empire, living its last years, which would be depicted so nostalgically by Joseph Roth, the former soldier of this army, in his Radetzky March. I do not have the book at hand for some relevant quotes, but anyway it is better read it all for a more complete picture.

The image list of the volume does not specify where the pictures were taken: this was probably a military secret. Nevertheless the first photo can be possibly identified: according to the Czech Elektronická encyklopedie historie, the Cadre Headquarters No. 28 of the Empire was in Písek. The center of the city is already walkable in the Google map. I have tried to identify the building, but have not yet succeeded.

1. Gate of a cadre headquarters

Meanwhile, Két Sheng – who, in connection with the appearance of the Austro-Hungarian artillery in the Holy Land (here and here) made himself an expert in the organizational structure of the Empire’s army – found out that since the regiment numbering of the Landwehr and of the K.u.K army ran parallel to each other, the above cadre heaquarters No. 28 was not in Písek (that one belonged to the Landwehr), but in Prague, in Malá Strana, in Pod Bruskou Street, which was so named because it ran above the Bruska brook forced under the level of the street.

Click for a full-screen map

The barracks on Hurtig’s map in 1885

The predecessor of the barracks – writes the “Welcome to the old Prague” blog – was built shortly after 1683 as the first Austrian fort in Prague. This first building was demolished in 1763 to make way for a new one planned by military architects A. Haffenecker and J. Jäger, completed in 1779 for the Nr. 28 Humbertův Regiment (named after the Italian king Umberto), but called only “Pražské děti”, that is the Boys of Prague by the locals, as the majority of the soldiers came from the good families of the city. The regiment was disbanded in 1915 by Franz Joseph, after a part of its soldiers on the Russian front went over to the enemy: but on this we will write more in detail in the post planned about the Czech legion fighting in Russia. The barracks were pulled down most probably in 1922, and today the Prague trams transformer stands in its place. Its memory is preserved on the one hand by the “U Bruských kasáren”, that is, the street named after the Bruska barracks starting at its corner, and on the other hand, more enduring than any street, by the story of the most renowned Prague soldier of the Monarchy:

“If we had some genuine nut liquor here,” the army chaplain sighed, “that would fix my stomach. Captain Šnábl in Bruska has such a nut liquor” … “Ask Captain Šnábl where he buys that nutty liquor and buy us two bottles.”

(Jaroslav Hašek: The Good Soldier Švejk)

After this Prague intermezzo, let us see the other eighteen pictures of the album.

4. Infantry patrol at rest

19. A fire-fighter from Sarajevo

5 comentarios:

Languagehat dijo...

Wonderful, and nostalgia-inducing -- Prague is one of the cities I would most love to revisit. I spent a happy week there in 1996, and an even happier one at the start of 1998 (in the course of which I vastly improved my Russian). I'm not sure I walked down Pod Bruskou (incidentally, it is colloquially called "Myší díra" [mouse hole] by the locals), but I had a wonderful and romantic dinner at the Pálffy Palace restaurant around the corner (my date and I had a bottle of Mandelstam's папского замка вино).

It wouldn't be a Hat comment without a nitpick, so: "on the Malá Strana" should be "in Malá Strana" (Malá Strana is a neighborhood).

Studiolum dijo...

Yes, Prague is my love, too. I worked there in the National Gallery for a couple of months in the early 90s (see this) and since then I regularly go back (it’s only a couple of hours from Budapest). I loved the Pálffy Palace restaurant, too, and I can imagine how happy these two weeks were for you. But I am sure the happiest thing is that you have not returned there since 1998. Downtown Prague has since become so terribly commercial/touristic that it certainly would be a delusion for you. I recommend you to keep your dear memories; I also do so.

Thanks for nitpicking, as always. I am so much used to say “na Malej Strane” in Czech that I automatically translated it to English, too.

Languagehat dijo...

Downtown Prague has since become so terribly commercial/touristic that it certainly would be a delusion for you.

Heh. I'm sure you're right, but they were saying the same thing in 1998!

Studiolum dijo...

Sure. Old times are always good times. But for me, who have known the city since the early 80s, it was somewhere around 2000 that the number of drunken British tourists per square meter and old bookshops / traditional hospody converted into pizzerie per downtown streets exceeded the level of tolerableness.

SR dijo...

It is a common law that as long as a city is poor, you'll find old bookshops, craftsmen and fruits dealers in the streets — and once the town's getting richer, pizzerie (and drunken British tourists). Of course, with a crisis, it's the end for pizzerie and tourists (and still also for bookshops, I fear).