I was not the only Hunka to revisit the land of our forefathers in the early 1990s. In early 1993, my father visited Europe for the first time in my company — he was, at the time, 63 — and, after visiting Budapest, Prague, and Vienna, I told him that of the three I liked Vienna most; he disagreed, to my surprise.
“I prefer Prague,” he said with a shrug. “Vienna is a city for old men.”
I think I understand what he meant, though I confess the implications temporarily stung. Prague, although further to the west geographically than Vienna, was nonetheless a somewhat less formal city culturally despite Prague’s years of Soviet occupation; Vienna’s push to appeal to a more youthful cohort of tourists was still a few years in the future (its MuseumsQuartier, for example, didn’t open until 2001), and because of the cramped nature of Prague’s Staré Město, that city possessed more mystery and therefore more of a sense of possibility — an earthier possibility, too, even in its literature. The interwar literary masterpiece of Vienna was Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities, an urbane, high-culture satire redolent of café intellectuals; Prague’s was Jaroslav Hašek’s The Good Soldier Schweik, a ribald, subversive satire redolent of anarchic working-class beer-swillers. (In more recent years, one might see the same difference in the work of Thomas Bernhard and Bohumil Hrabal.)
In neither of my journeys to Europe so far have I been able to get to places like Poland and Ukraine; the larger cities of those nations, too, appear to share in that unique Austro-Hungarian milieu; their literatures lean closer, it seems, to Hašek and Hrabal than Musil and Bernhard. I’ll be travelling to the region again later this year, and it doesn’t seem that a journey to Krakow will be possible, nor to Lviv. I doubt I’ll book tickets to the latter soon to commingle with the ghosts of Hunkas past, but hope to do someday, if it still exists.
Or maybe it’ll be sooner than I think. Ukrainian YouTube personality Orest Zub, based in Lviv, has been posting an eye-opening series of videos about the Russo-Ukranian War from a street-level perspective, and most recently “How safe (or dangerous) is [it] for Americans to visit Lviv, Ukraine,” recorded only four weeks ago, reveals an Austro-Hungarian capital still relatively untouched by the war (though Zub doesn’t ignore the criminal suffering that Russia has inflicted on the country over the past decade). I’m tempted to book a train and hotel. You can see the video below, and his other videos can be found here.