17th September 2019
Peter Heywood visited Lviv on the ‘Ukraine & Moldova: Europe’s Wild Frontier’ tour in July 2019.
“I suffered the misfortune,” said Svejk to his superior officer, “That I sat down at a table and started drinking one glass of beer after another.”
After scouring the streets of Lviv’s Old Town, I finally found a bronze statue of ‘The Good Soldier Svejk’ sitting at a table in the Café Vienna. Similar statues depicting the hero of Jaroslav Hasek’s anti-war book have recently appeared in a number of towns throughout the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, Lviv included. The towns all have one thing in common; they were visited by the good-natured Svejk as he blundered, by train and bicycle, across Europe in World War I in a futile quest to find his army unit. On this occasion, my own quest turned up two more pieces of Svejk street art including a wrought iron bicycle rack in Lviv’s picturesque town square.
Also in the town square, I found another connection to military history in the form of the underground “Kryivka” café-bar. Here, I sought entrance by hammering on a bolted door and, in passable Ukrainian, providing the not-so-secret password “Glory to Ukraine!” to an armed guard visible through an eye-level shutter. On entering, I was provided with a free shot of vodka by the guard who was dressed as a World War II partisan prepared to resist any Nazi occupiers who might arrive in search of refreshment.
Away from the Old Town, I stopped at the Café Shtuka (“The Art Café”), styled on an original Austro-Hungarian café of the same name located near the university. As I sipped my cappuccino to the sound of tango music, I remembered Svejk’s exhortation to his fellow drinkers in a café somewhere on his endless wanderings in search of the front line.
“Let’s meet in this café at five’ o’clock after the war!” cried Svejk.
They all agreed enthusiastically, neglecting, of course, to ask Svejk how they would know on which date to turn up. I doubt whether he’d given any thought to the question and, even if he had, I suspect that something would have happened to prevent his attendance.