pdf Volume 7 Issue 2 CONTENTS

The Formation of Global Tourism from an East-Central European Perspective

Sarah Lemmen
Christian-Albrechts-University of Kiel
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This article traces the formation of tourism to non-European regions from the late nineteenth century to the end of the interwar period with a focus on its East-Central European and specifically its Czech perspective. Tourism to Africa and Asia—considered here to be the culmination of “global tourism” in the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century—has been generally regarded as part and parcel of the imperial endeavor: empire shaped both the infrastructure and the practice of overseas tourism. By focusing on Czechs as “non-imperial” tourists to non-European regions, this article traces their travel experience as defined by different coordinates: no imperial identity would determine their behavior abroad, and no reasoning of economic nationalism would favor the visit to certain world regions over others.

Following an overview of the globalization of tourism and its interconnectedness with the imperial project, this article focuses on the specifics of Czech tourism to non-European regions. Some specifics have very practical implications, such as the language skills that generally catered rather to a Central European than a global environment, or the average travel budget that was lower than that of travelers from Germany, Great Britain or the United States. Others suggest a Czech identity that was drafted in contrast to the imperial “other” and outside the colonial dichotomy of “rulers” and “ruled.” While Czech travelers profited from a strongly imperial tourist infrastructure, they often professed a general skepticism toward imperial rule.

Keywords: travel; tourism; globalization; East-Central Europe; Czechoslovakia; empire; Africa; Asia

The “Golden Age of Travel” in East-Central Europe

In 1932, Vladimír Hýl, a young teacher and cultural critic from the Czechoslovak city of Ostrava, displayed an unwavering belief in modernization when he formulated a history of advancing means of transportation that would enhance tourism around the globe:

In modern times, the world is shrinking and [thus] enables everyone to get to know her. Distances are soon to be meaningless. While sailing ships still required up to three months to reach America, [and] the first steamship needed fourteen days, [today] the fastest steamship manages the distance in five days and the airplane in eighty hours!1

From today’s perspective, even the stated flight time seems incredibly high and thus lets us continue this narrative of increasing speed and global density up to the present. Yet, this quote highlights the rapid change of overseas travels starting with the first passenger ocean liner launched in 1838, continuing with the faster and more regular ocean liners from the 1870s onward, and passing on to the first transatlantic passenger flight from southern Germany to New Jersey in 1928—only a short couple of years before Vladimír Hýl described the shrinking of the world in such enthusiastic terms.2

The rapid development of the means of transportation, both in travel time and mode as well as in the regions covered, led to a globalization of tourism that by the late nineteenth century had reached all continents and was soon to be criticized for producing a global “mass tourism” to destinations such as Cairo or Aswan.3 Although in his statement Vladimír Hýl was overly optimistic in his assessment that just about “everyone” could go and see the world, he did catch the zeitgeist of the interwar period as a time when even long-distance travels were slowly opening for a growing middle class. Trips to see the pyramids of Egypt, the exotic bazaars of Tunis and Algiers, the famous Buddha of Kamakura or the Taj Mahal in Agra had come into reach for growing social strata not only in London and Paris, but also in Vienna, Budapest and Prague.

This article traces the formation of tourism to non-European regions from the late nineteenth century to the end of the interwar period with a focus on its East-Central European and specifically its Czech perspectives. There are good reasons for the concentration on this region. The globalization of tourism, as the inherent claim suggests, affected virtually all world regions. But it did not affect all of them in the same way. And while around 1900 it was more likely for a European to embark on a leisure trip to India than for an Indian to explore Europe, it was also more likely for a member of British society to travel overseas than it was for a citizen of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy or, during the interwar period, of one of its successor states. Local customs, economic capital and political power played a role in choosing travel destinations, in finding travel accommodations and not least in interpreting and understanding travel experiences. This article will focus on the local appropriation of global processes—or “glocalization”4—when examining Czech tourism to non-European regions in this “golden age of travel” from the late nineteenth century and throughout the interwar period.5 By doing so, it will challenge some general assumptions on the relation between tourism and imperialism.

Tourism to Africa and Asia—as will be considered here the culmination of “global tourism” for the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth century—has been generally regarded as part and parcel of the imperial endeavor. Research on the entanglement of tourism and empire has strongly argued the case that overseas tourism evolved in the wake of imperial outreach, while at the same time reinforcing imperial power.6 The building of infrastructure—railroads, shipping lines—in regions of imperial influence helped create efficient and safe tourism in locations that had been difficult to reach, while tourist infrastructure and its main protagonists —Thomas Cook & Son and others—became central financial and political players overseas, reinforcing imperial interests.7

At the same time, the entanglement of tourism and empire was also reflected in the practice of tourism. Focusing on tourists mainly from Great Britain—not only as the country with the largest overseas empire at the time, but also as the “inventor of tourism”—and from other empires, numerous studies show that these “imperial tourists” were coined by the imperial experience while at the same time they were given a vital role in (direct and indirect) empire building.8 For one, “empire tourism”—e.g. visiting destinations inside the empire—was the common way of traveling, both because imperial tourists may have had stronger ties to these places, but also because imperial tourism was strongly promoted for both economic reasons and in support of imperial identity. Touring the Empire therefore was denoted for British travelers as “buy British, see British, travel British, parade British,” and was part of enforcing imperial power and maintaining the existing world order.9 Travel destinations, choices of travel mode, and behavior on location were affected by an imperial identity and controlled by an imperial network. Looking at it from a reverse angle, travel experience was also tainted by the imperial: while imperial tourism offered a glimpse of the exotic, it was also embedded in a familiar context, as British currency and foods, customs and social routines were “available to British tourists across the Empire, especially in port cities and colonial capitals.”10

To be sure, “imperial tourism” was not the only option for British travelers, although certainly the most frequent one.11 Research has suggested, however, that imperial identity was generally not shed outside the empires, and that the choices and actions of the travelers were indeed imperially informed: independent of their travel destination or motive, it has been suggested, British travelers shared a British imperial mindset, which with “its triumphant rhetoric, [. . .] and colonialist vision [. . .] contributed to ways of seeing the world.”12 Imperial identity, then, coined travel experience and world views both inside and outside the empire.

This concept of “empire tourism” and imperial identity, as historian Gordon Pirie points out, was surely not a purely British phenomenon, but (however in lesser scope and degree) also valid in Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain.13 In contrast, Czech tourists—as well as those from Hungary, Poland and Austria among others—could not rely on imperial networks and infrastructure overseas or seek the familiar in the exotic.14 This is not to say that Czech—and other non-imperial—travelers were neutral bystanders: they took advantage of the imperial infrastructure and thus, inadvertently, also took part in the European imperial project. They, as much as any other tourist, were part of this form of “un-invited visiting,” of “creating inequality between ‘hosts’ and ‘guests.’”15 For the local populations, therefore, there might not have been a great difference between a Czech and a British traveler, as European travelers generally and inadvertently supported the existing imperial order.16

At the same time, however, the experience of non-imperial tourists was embedded in and defined by different coordinates: no imperial identity would coin their behavior abroad and no reasoning of economic nationalism would favor the visit of certain world regions over others. This would influence both decisions on where and how to travel and the experiences made on location. As the literary scholar Wendy Bracewell has argued, in contrast to British and French imperialist travel writing, “accounts of travel from Europe’s eastern peripheries suggest different relations of knowledge, representation and power, rather less monolithic or polarized.”17 Eastern European travelers, as Bracewell further argues, did not travel in a contextual void, but neither did they adopt all perceptions of the places they visited from Western discourse, as they “may find themselves working with a pre-existing vocabulary of images and stereotypes, but they are far from voiceless.”18 Although certainly not immune to notions of European superiority, East European tourism to non-European destinations certainly did not encounter a familiar environment: The “non-imperial tourist” was dealing with a different set of issues than imperial tourists, some of which were highly practical.

By telling a story of the emergence, development and experience of Czech tourism mainly to African and Asian destinations from the late nineteenth century to the end of the interwar period, I am asking how a world that had been built around imperial interests was appropriated by tourists without any stakes in the empire at hand. While looking specifically at Czech tourists, the underlying question is if (and how) a non-imperial tourism was different from an imperial tourism. In that sense, the arguments and the underlying concept may be valid for other “non-imperial tourists” from Poland, Hungary or interwar Austria.

This article is based to a large part on Czech travelogues published from 1890 to 1938 as well as on articles that were published in contemporary journals and magazines as part of a public discourse on tourism and its importance for the Bohemian lands as part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, as well as later for Czechoslovakia. Without access to quantifiable data on Czech tourism abroad, the steady increase in the publication of travelogues as well as the heightened public debates on tourism and the growing number of commercialized package tours to popular tourist destinations give not only an estimate of trends—of tourist destinations, of travel incentives, etc.—but also an evaluation of how tourism was experienced.

The Globalization of Tourism

Travel connections between continents have always existed, in the form of trade relations, expeditions or diplomatic missions. The specific form of long-distance tourism spanning several continents, however, in its understanding as a leisure activity and relying on the predictability of financial and temporal investment as well as a certain comfort, evolved from the European core of tourism during the nineteenth century.19

The eventual globalization of tourism—its outreach beyond the European continent—was strongly connected to the imperial project.20 Tourism—in contrast to the more adventurous and individualistic (as well as more expensive) earlier forms of long-distance travel—relied on favorable political stability and heavy infrastructure: tourism expanded in the wake of what came to be called “railway imperialism.”21 The speed with which the growing railway network soon connected all continents is remarkable, and it changed international and intercontinental relations as well as the means and speed of transportation and forms of control. In terms of tourism, railways not only considerably enhanced the number of travelers, but they also redefined travel destinations, as travelers would follow the train tracks and therefore were less inclined to venture “off the beaten track.”22 In short, railways enabled tourism to non-European regions on a large scale, while at the same time streamlining tourism to certain destinations and certain forms of travel.

Tourism as an Imperial Project

Only some regions outside of Europe or North America had been established as regularly frequented tourist destinations by the middle of the nineteenth century. One of the earliest and most important certainly was Egypt. The vital train connection between the Egyptian port of Alexandria and further inland to Cairo opened for instance already in 1854, reducing the travel time between these two cities from four days to a mere four hours, thereby connecting the Egyptian metropole to a global transport network and enhancing its history as one of the most popular tourist destinations outside Europe.23 This early date also serves as a reminder that British imperialist outreach did not necessarily predate the financial involvement in infrastructure and the advent of tourism, but rode along with its expansion. Muhammad Ali Pasha, governor of Egypt, was quite a driving force himself in the modernization of Cairo and the accommodation of European tourists.24

Other regions central to European interests and eventually to European tourism obtained railroads during the second half of the nineteenth century, intensifying in the last three decades. The railroad system in Africa was concentrated at first mainly in the north, expanding rapidly from Egypt to Algeria and Tunisia. By the turn of the century, the African continent had 20,000 kilometers of railroads, connecting vast regions by regular schedule.25 A similar timeframe can be established for India, which in 1860 only had 1,350 kilometers of railway tracks, while in 1900, this number had increased 25-fold, with the central train connection between Bombay and Calcutta opening in 1870.26 In South America, similar to Australia, railroads were first introduced in the 1850s, although railway construction accelerated only in the 1880s.27 Only few world regions, such as the vast Chinese empire, remained with virtually no railroad network until the turn of the century, a fact that both hints at the limited influence of European imperial powers in China and accounts for the relatively small number of European tourists during the nineteenth century.28

While the advancement of tourism largely followed European imperial outreach, it went eventually from imperial byproduct to establishing its own driving force. Two of the most famous passenger train services exemplify this trend of an increase in catering to a luxurious form of tourism and to well-paying customers: the famous Orient Express connected Paris—and Vienna—with Constantinople beginning in 1883. The Trans-Siberian Railway, built in the years 1891–1914, finally connected Moscow and eventually all of Europe overland with Vladivostok at the Pacific Ocean.29

The railroad network was complemented by the simultaneous establishment of regular travel routes by seaway. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 facilitated the direct connection by sea from Europe to Asia. Direct and regular ferry connections on steamships were introduced from Trieste to Port Said in 1869, Bombay in 1870, Singapore in 1880, Hong Kong in 1880, Shanghai in 1881 and Yokohama in 1892, enhancing the global transportation network considerably.

By geographical convenience, it was quite common to hail from East Central Europe. Not only did the trains to Constantinople or to Russia and then on to East Asia stop in Vienna, in Budapest or in Warsaw; but after the opening of the Suez Canal, the Austro-Hungarian port city of Trieste had become a central hub for transportation to the Southern Hemisphere. In its wake, Austrian Lloyd became the leading shipping company on this route for passenger travel.30

In the span of a couple of decades, European tourism to places such as Cairo, Algiers and Bombay had become both considerably faster and safer, more projectable in terms of time and finances, and last but not least, significantly more comfortable if not outright luxurious. By the late nineteenth century, the “golden age of travel” had been heralded for the European tourist.31

An Empire Equipped for Tourists

This apparent accessibility of the world was celebrated and promoted by the tourist industry. In 1890 a brochure by the travel agency Thomas Cook & Son dubbed Cairo “no more than a winter suburb of London.”32 Less possessive, but implying a similar direction, the Czech travel journal Do světa commented retrospectively in 1932 on the immense pace with which tourism had taken over the world and Czech society in particular:


While less than a quarter century ago, a trip to Venice was considered a large expedition that only those could accomplish who were not only blessed with wealth but also with great courage, today even the members of less affluent social strata are returning from Aswan in Upper Egypt or from [the Algerian] Biskra as if from a short excursion.33

This perception, of course, was not only due to the easy accessibility of foreign shores and to the calculability both of time and financial means, but to the emergence of a wide range of tourist infrastructure of European provenance and—again—in close relation to the imperial project. In colonial and tourist centers, an array of luxury hotels was built, such as the well-known Shepheard’s Hotel in Cairo or the Mena-House right at the foot of the Egyptian pyramids.34 Restaurants and cafés with European fare provided for the culinary well-being of the travelers.35 The first office of the British travel agency Thomas Cook & Son in Cairo (opened in 1872) signaled another feat in the history of global tourism, offering package deals to its clients with measured exotic exposure and a heightened degree of security.36 Soon even trips around the world could be booked as a package tour.37 By the turn of the century, as the historian Robert F. Hunter argues, “there were two empires on the Nile—Britain’s military occupation, and Cook’s Egyptian travel,”38 and both profited from one another: tourism had conquered the world.

Another layer of tourist infrastructure soon followed suit: the exploration of long-distance and global tourism to Africa and Asia was soon taken up by prominent travel guides such as the German Baedeker Guides or the British “red books” by John Murray when they took non-European travel destinations into their repertory, with John Murray offering a first decisive list of “must-sees” of Egypt already in 1847, of Syria and Palestine in 1858 and of India in 1859. Karl Baedeker concentrated on non-European regions somewhat later, focusing on Syria and Palestine in 1875 and on Egypt in 1877, but omitted India altogether until as late as 1914—a hint at the different status of India in the British and the German context as well as the role imperial interests played in the choice of travel destinations.39 Another popular series of travel handbooks, the German Meyers Reisebücher, adhered in 1907 to the globalization of tourism with the publication of a “travel-around-the-world guide.”40 Czech tourists, however, had to make due with foreign-language guides for quite a long time: the first Czech-language travel guide to the Near East and North Africa was published only in 1936.41

The impact of this rapid globalization of tourism was immense—on the regions affected by it, on the travelers and on the local population, as well as on the power dynamics between them. A tourist in a fancy hotel or a European café in Algeria or Morocco during the interwar period could only marvel at the fact that less than a lifetime before, until the 1880s, certain North African regions could only be visited “disguised as a Muslim or a Jew,” as a tourist duly noted in 1928.42 In fact, some of the famous expeditions to explore and conquer the “Dark Continent” had taken place only a couple of years before the advent of the tourist: the 1880s still saw the second Africa expedition by Moravian explorer Emil Holub or the Emin Pasha Expedition by Henry Morton Stanley. Shortly thereafter, the adventurous and troublesome expeditions were exchanged for hotels and railroads, the constant uncertainty of exploration replaced by an exact itinerary and precise timetable. The era of the explorer was mostly over—now focusing mainly on the polar regions—and the tourist came to stay.

The Specificity of Czech Tourism

It is self-evident—if under-researched—that long-distance tourism to destinations in Africa or Asia even in its early phase was not limited to British, French or other “imperial tourists,” but was also enjoyed by a growing number of citizens of the Habsburg Empire and its successor states.

Czech tourists were part of global tourism from the very beginning—quite literally, as various travelers confirmed who took trips along railroad lines that had been built only shortly before.43 This experience, however, was limited in access to certain social classes. While extensive data on the quantity and social class of travelers from the Czech lands is not available, a look at the authors of travelogues suggests that until World War I, long-distance travelers from the Bohemian lands generally had an upper middle-class background. The well-known educator and writer Josef Kořenský, also acclaimed to be the first Czech to travel around the world (in 1893–1894), or the lawyer and journalist Jan Josef Svátek are representative travelers of this time both in social and professional background.44 Researchers and pilgrims were among the travelers, but—specific to the Czech case—there were neither members of the nobility nor public servants. The interwar years offered a democratization in tourism. The opening of travel destinations for ever more tourists, the lowering of the prices through competition and the increased catering not only to the higher society, but also to an ever more mobile middle and even lower middle-class enabled larger segments of society to travel abroad and even beyond the borders of Europe.

The expansion of tourism also led to an infrastructure around travel needs in the Bohemian lands and especially in interwar Czechoslovakia. Travel agencies opened in urban centers, such as the travel agency Čedok (founded in 1920), offering package tours abroad,45 while the Brno-based travel agency Do světa advertised three organized trips to Northern Africa and the Near East in 1927 alone.46 Other institutions followed suit to meet the growing demand.47 At the same time, journals and magazines sprang up that catered to the growing interest in travel to foreign countries.48 The tourist infrastructure met growing demand: the travel magazine Do světa discussed in its first edition in 1926 the “significance of [Czech] travel abroad“ and stated confidently: “Our travel activities are increasing.”49

Thus, Czech tourism developed in line with a general European trend to “get to know [the world],” as Vladimír Hýl is quoted at the beginning of this article. For a number of reasons, however, traveling turned out to be different for, say, a Czech teacher than for a British colonial officer, and these differences, I argue, were reflected both in the travel experience abroad and in the discourse surrounding long-distance tourism. The choice of travel destinations and travel mode, the language skills and financial abilities coined the travel experiences. A different mode of traveling than that of “imperial travelers” was noted by the tourists themselves and interpreted from a Czech perspective.

Travel Destinations and Financial Means

British tourists, as has been stated, were encouraged to travel the British Empire. Similarly, for French citizens, “[c]olonial tourism was represented as a duty.”50 While this was not an exclusive model of traveling, it certainly was a recurrent one.51 For Czech tourists, however, there was no “self-evident” travel destination in non-European regions. If we take the corpus of published travelogues as an indicator of popular travel destinations, we can determine, out of a sample of almost 100 Czech travelogues on non-European regions published between 1890 and 1938, the preferred destinations for global tourism.

In many ways, Czech tourists followed the travel routes set by imperial infrastructure, and not least by the recommendations of the widely consulted travel guides by Baedeker or Murray. However, they did not follow any imperial pattern. Egypt was and remained the most often and most regularly visited country throughout the entire “golden age of travel,” relying on the extended tourist infrastructure and fairly easy accessibility as much as on the fame of its ancient tourist sites. A trip to Egypt—which included a longer stay in Cairo and a ride to the pyramids, and often entailed an excursion down the Nile to the sites of Upper Egypt—was sometimes combined with a trip to either Algeria and Tunisia, or to Palestine. In the interwar period, various Asian countries such as Japan, India, China and Ceylon had become popular travel destinations at least for more affluent tourists.

Czech tourists, therefore, traveled to the same destinations as “imperial tourists,” if without the focus on one empire or another. However, they generally had distinct access to them. On average, Czech tourists had markedly less financial means than their British or German counterparts, a fact that clearly influenced their travel experience. The—admittedly fragmentary—data suggests that especially in the interwar period, Czech tourists were strongly recruited from professions such as teachers, university professors, journalists, as well as university students or artists. Not only did these professions come with a rather moderate income—although, almost equally important to long-distance traveling, with above-average vacation time—but, in international comparison, Czech spending capacity was limited. Although the national income of Czechoslovakia was higher than that of neighboring Eastern European countries or of Italy, it was somewhat below that of Austria and Germany and clearly below that of Western European countries or the USA.52 A comparison of incomes of some of the relevant professions in Prague, Berlin and New York for the second half of the 1920s show a distinct difference: while teachers in Prague earned about 1,500 Kčs, those in Berlin earned about twice as much and in New York triple that amount. This ratio applies to the income of university professors as well.53 These numbers suggest that in internationally frequented tourist centers that catered to the needs and means of the “imperial tourists,” the average spending power of Czech travelers was considerably lower than that of tourists from Western Europe or the United States.

Accordingly, a trip to Cairo, and even more so to India or Japan, was still an expensive undertaking for the average Czech tourist. The Brno-based travel agency of Jaroslav Karásek advertised a four-week roundtrip tour to Alexandria, Cairo, Aswan, Luxor and Jerusalem for 17,900 Kčs,54 while a four-week trip to Tunisia and Algeria was offered for 6,750 Kčs.55 Even the less expensive tour was four and a half times the amount of the monthly salary of a teacher in Prague. Especially during the interwar period, Czech tourists often opted for a more cost-effective solution by choosing to travel second class. This travel mode was a common topic in the travelogues. The luxurious grand hotels were generally traded for small boarding houses, the comfort of a first-class passage was rejected for the somewhat simpler second-class transit. The distinction of travelers according to social class and financial means was discussed by Czech tourists, who realized that the luxurious hotels were “adapted to the needs of the upper ten thousand,”56 and catered, as was made explicit, to the budgets of tourists from Great Britain or the United States.57 The Czechs, however, were “the only tourists traveling second class,” as the pioneer in Czechoslovak-Moroccan relations, Jan Kořínek, claimed in 1928.58 The travelogues offer a view of a European two-class society following an East-West divide, with the imperial tourists living the high life in the colonial metropolises, while Czech tourists shared the simple boarding houses with other Central and East European travelers, or as one of the travelers noted in 1935, with “Russians, Jews, [and] Poles.”59

Language Skills and Language Problems

Central to travel preparations was the gathering of information. While travelers from imperial nations could generally rely on published information in their mother tongue and thereby partake in a national discourse on those travel destinations, Czech travelers—and with them many others from “small nations”—had to make due mainly with literature in a foreign language, a situation that changed only slowly in the interwar period.

The main Czech encyclopedia of the time, Ottův slovník naučný (1888–1909), comparable in scope, depth and relevance to the Encyclopædia Britannica,60 gives ample evidence of the language distribution of the available literature at the time. The dictionary entries for “Africa,” “Asia,” and “America,” published in the first two volumes in the years 1888–89, refer to only seven literature references in Czech out of 116 mentioned altogether, adding up to six percent of the cited literature.61 The supplement edition of the encyclopedia from the interwar period consulted literature in Czech to a greater extent. The same dictionary entries now referred in 12 percent of all citations to Czech language publications. The majority of references, however, was still made to literature in German, followed by English and French.62 All in all, the increase of Czech-language literature was embedded in a general increase of specialist publications. While the article on “Asia” in the first edition of 1889 still noted that there were “only very little publications on all of A[sia],” the second edition, published roughly 40 years later, came to the conclusion that “[t]he literature on A[sia] has been increasing lately to such an extent that one can only mention the most important works that either reflect on the entire continent or on large regions.”63

The limited amount of literature on non-European regions available in Czech had practical as well as discursive implications. For one, it was not until the interwar years that a national discourse on those regions could flourish with a regular exchange between experts on these subjects. The travelogues under scrutiny here exemplify this change in their mentioning of preparatory literature. In the late nineteenth century and throughout the first two decades of the twentieth century, literary references were mostly made to publications in German or English. Josef Kořenský, for example, referred mainly to travelogues and academic treatises in English and German in preparation for his trip around the world in 1893/94, referring only to the Czech writings of the Indologist Otakar Feistmantel.64 In 1901, the explorer Enrique Stanko Vráz again mentioned for his preparations of a trip to Siam works by European, American and even Siamese authors, but not a single book in Czech was part of his preparatory reading.65

It was only in the interwar period that the corpus of literature in Czech on non-European regions—both academic studies and travel descriptions—had reached a critical mass that could serve as a starting point for discussion and cross-references, and the amount of coverage varied strongly from region to region. The sculptor František Foit, who in 1932 traveled by car from Cairo to Cape Town together with the botanist Jiří Baum, stated that he had read “everything” that was related to Africa, and listed books by the Moravian explorer Emil Holub along with publications by the US-American film maker Martin Johnson and the French writer André Gide about his travels to the Congo and Chad.66

Only in 1934 could the physician Jaroslav Přikryl in his travelogue about Ceylon and South India refer—in addition to novels by Jules Verne, Rudyard Kipling and others—to literature mainly by his fellow countrymen and regional specialists Jiří Daneš (geographer), Karel Domin (botanist), Otakar Nejedlý and Jaroslav Hněvkovský (painters who lived in India for several years and wrote extensively about the country and their experiences there), Otakar Pertold (Indologist), and the explorer and widely published traveler Enrique Stanko Vráz.67

The limited amount of literature in Czech also had very practical implications, as the knowledge of foreign languages determined the accessibility of knowledge about those regions. The Czech school system, however, was focused entirely on Central European needs and traditions: in the Bohemian lands, language education concentrated mainly on German as well as on French in higher education. This focus continued throughout the interwar period. Proficiency in English, on the other hand, was limited to a small minority. In fact, English was not a mandatory school subject throughout the interwar period. The consequences of this educational decision in a global perspective were implied by Bohumil Pospíšil, a frequent traveler to Asia, when he warned in 1935 about the lack of interest in the English language at home and an ignorance toward its growing importance in a globalized world: “English was, is and will be the Alpha and Omega of all success east of Suez and west of Gibraltar. No declaration in French by our academics—[only] half savants in all practical matters—will be able to replace that.”68

Czech Choices in the Face of an Imperial World

In describing and debating their role as tourists in international contexts, Czech travelers reflected on their cultural and national identity and argued for an understanding quite different from that of an “imperial traveler.” It was in this discourse—led both in travelogues and in contributions to journals and magazines—that the Czech identity was drafted in contrast to the imperial (rather than the non-European) “Other,” both in social and in political terms.

A first vector in the discussion of national identity related to considerations on social status. Paired with a moral claim, the prototypical Czech tourist tended to stress his middle-class identity in open contrast to wealth and lavishness, but also to the political power of the imperial traveler. This was strongly linked to the more modest mode of traveling chosen by most middle-class tourists. The decision to stay in unassuming boarding houses rather than in grand hotels, to travel second class rather than first, as discussed above, may have been a financial necessity, but in the travelogues, it was presented as a moral choice. This is most evident in those passages in which Czech tourists write specifically about their choice of the small, yet comfortable boarding house over the luxurious hotels,69 or when a tourist opted for the cheaper mode of transportation, as did the engineer Josef Zdeněk Raušar on his way from Djelfa in Algeria to an oasis lying to the south in 1930. Choosing between two buses with different equipment, he stated that for Czech tourists, “the smaller one, the normal [bus] will do.”70 Other travelers stressed that they chose consciously and “with pride” second- or even third-class tickets for both train and boat passages.71 The specificity and singularity of this way of traveling was emphasized when as early as 1892 another traveler described how he tried to obtain a second-class ticket for the boat passage from Asyut in Middle Egypt up the Nile River—in vain, as it turned out: the captain persuaded him to go first class instead, as “for a European,” anything but traveling first class was inappropriate.72 Other travelers—if only a few—forewent European amenities altogether, as the writer Bohumil Pospíšil, who during his trip to China in 1935 stayed at local hostels, and explicitly called out this breach of expected behavior for European travelers when he stated that he “reduced the reputation of the white race” by living “like a native.”73 The refusal to accept certain norms as laid down for the imperial traveler, and therefore ignoring the maintenance of power as expected of metropolitan tourists, was frequently emphasized by various Czech tourists.74

This general insistence on traveling second class allowed a second interpretation that usually connected this form of traveling with a widespread topos in Czech national self-perception during the interwar period, namely its democratic identity, strongly linked with the topos of a “small nation.”75 In the travelogues, the Czech “democratic principle” (demokratičnost)76 was argued as a world view that held all people as equal. More than once did this idea come up in a debate over a ride in a rickshaw; arguing that a “democratic” Czech should not be pulled by another human being, as Karel Cvrk noted in 1923 on his trip through Ceylon: “A Czech, who is used to equality-liberty-fraternity, is usurped by a strange feeling when here in Colombo he is supposed to be pulled by a man.”77 In the same year, but this time in Japan, the journalist František Václav Krejčí commented similarly about a rickshaw runner that “it is contrary to our Czech democratic principle to see a man doing the work of a horse for us.”78 In these quotes, an understanding of democracy and equality that encompassed all men across the globe was highlighted as an inherent feature of Czech nationality.

Finally, colonial life—the social etiquette of the European upper classes in imperial centers—was distinctly criticized. Czech tourists noted not only the strict dress codes for Europeans that seemed inadequate for the local climate, but also the restrictive social rules that prohibited even superficial contact between men and women in public, or the tediousness of colonial life.79 The sculptor František Foit noted in 1930 with some annoyance on his trip from Cairo to Cape town via the British-dominated city of Omdurman in Sudan that “nothing is allowed, everything is guarded and there is a fake morale everywhere.”80

This general skepticism toward local practices of European behavior in China, in Egypt, or in Algeria—though not necessarily shared by all travelers—was quite a common feature in Czech travelogues and is traceable beginning in the late nineteenth century until the end of the interwar period. This did not, however, imply a fundamental criticism toward imperial outreach or colonialism as such. Rather, the legitimacy of European involvement abroad was only rarely discussed and even less criticized; the political status quo was rarely questioned. This might be somewhat surprising as, since the late nineteenth century, the Czech national movement had been strongly based on an anti-Habsburg sentiment that declared the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy to be a “prison of nations” and therefore phrased itself often as oppressed. Only to a limited extent would this interpretation influence the perspective of European imperial involvement abroad.

Generally, most tourists acknowledged the benefits of modernization for the purpose of travel in vast regions of Africa and Asia, and connected these to the influence of the European imperial powers: railroads, tourist infrastructure and technology were clearly marked as a European influence on otherwise “medieval”81 or backward regions of “silence, sadness and hunger.”82

In the end, it was an in-between position that was taken by most travelers, who neither went “native” nor identified wholly with the imperial powers. As the zoologist Jiří Baum confessed in 1933:


The Czech nation can probably only sympathize with the natives, who were deprived of independence and the right to self-determination by the colonial governments, but on the other hand it is hard to dismiss that it is more comfortable to travel in all those world regions where the higher positions are held by Europeans.83


The “golden age of travel” saw the expansion of European tourism to most continents. The spread of the railroad network and tourist infrastructure in many ways streamlined travel as it created transportation hubs and tourist centers in certain parts of the world while others were—for the time being—left aside. Imperial endeavor was the motor of this homogenizing development, and in many cases it coined destinations, transport and lodging as well as food, rule and etiquette. Tourist infrastructure in colonial or imperial settings largely catered to “imperial travelers,” offering the familiar in the exotic while avoiding the “uncomfortable immersion in non-European cultures.”84

Non-imperial travelers, however, could not access all the infrastructure and especially the identity politics connected to “imperial tourism.” As generalized as some of the arguments had to be—not all British travelers were supporting imperial interests, not all Czech tourists were opposed to a higher level of comfort—the argument could be made that a different relationship to imperial power influenced the practices and experience of traveling in an imperial context, and therefore offered a different appropriation of these global processes. Economic means, language skills and access to knowledge influenced the choice of travel destinations as well as the travel mode: Czech tourists often shunned the luxury hotels and the elegant social events and rather opted for the less costly pension or boarding house and chose a second-class ticket instead of first class for their voyage. However, these choices were not based purely on economic considerations. Rather, the travelogues suggest a cultural argument, as they were debating the suitability of behavior abroad in the light of national identity. The self-understanding as a democratic and largely middle-class nation seemed for instance to demand the choice of simple, second-class travel. This also entailed a certain skepticism toward imperial rule, although its benefits for tourism were readily acknowledged, as modernization in the form of railroad tracks and imperialism were viewed as intrinsically linked. This discrepancy was not resolved during the travels. Instead, Czech tourists generally opted to stay outside colonial society and rather associated with fellow compatriots or Central European emigrants who frequented the same hostels or restaurants.

In hindsight, the interwar period turned out to be the most suitable for getting to know the world, as Vladimír Hýl suggested in the quote appearing at the beginning of this article. By the time the “golden age of travel” came to an end just before World War II, the coordinates of travel had shifted, changing from leisure to flight. Some of the most popular tourist destinations on the African, Asian and American continents now became safe havens for those lucky enough to escape Central Europe. The postwar era saw new milestones in the history of public transportation, but it did not, however, see an upsurge in intercontinental tourism. By the time Mr. Hýl had turned 50 years of age in 1948, flying had become a frequent mode of traveling across the Atlantic, with its duration reduced to a mere 15 hours. At the same time, however, he might have had a hard time getting a travel permit: in the face of increasing political tensions, travel across the descending “Iron Curtain” became highly curtailed and strongly controlled. Freedom of movement was regained only in 1989, though is now again restricted mainly by economic means.



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1 All translations by the author. Hýl, Ze tří dílů světa, 150.

2 This article is based on research for the following book: Lemmen, Tschechen auf Reisen.

3 The following travelogues were among those in which contemporaries commented on the growing number of tourists to non-European locations: Matiegková, V objetí sfingy, 58–59; Nordan, “V zemi pyramid,” 585. The history of European tourism beyond Europe is reflected in Withey, Grand Tours and Cook’s Tours, especially Chapters 8–10.

4 Robertson, “Glokalisierung.”

5 Gregory, The Golden Age of Travel.

6 As an example of general agreement on the entanglement of “tourism and empire,” see the round table discussion among leading historians published in the Journal of Tourism History. Baranowski et al., “Tourism and Empire,” 1–2, 100–30. For further literature cf. footnote 8.

7 Cf. Hunter, “Tourism and Empire.”

8 From a growing literature, see as examples Berghoff, Harvie, Korte, and Schneider, The Making of Modern Tourism; Canton, From Cairo to Baghdad; Clifford, “A Truthful Impression of the Country;” Dupée, British Travel Writers in China; Lowe, Critical Terrains; Nash, From Empire to Orient; Youngs, Travellers in Africa; Furlough, “Une leçon des choses;” Martin, “German and French Perceptions.”

9 See Gordon Pirie’s contribution in Baranowski et al. “Tourism and Empire,” 106.

10 Ibid.

11 James Canton suggests that travel and travel writing were so intricately linked that even the number of published travelogues on certain regions were in correlation to the outreach of the British empire. Canton, From Cairo to Baghdad, 2.

12 Barkan, preface in Dupée, British Travel Writers, here viii. Research on British travel has generally concentrated on the long nineteenth century, mostly setting aside the question of how long-distance tourism changed during the interwar period, when the social composition of long-distance tourists was slowly changing to a broader range of middle- and upper-class representatives. Conceptual research on travel abroad during the interwar period, however, seems to suggest that imperial outreach was still a vital driving force. Foregoing the British empire in favor of other world regions, cf. for example, Skwiot, “Itineraries of Empire”; Furlough, “Une leçon des choses,” 443.

13 Pirie’s contribution in Baranowski et al. “Tourism and Empire,” 106. For the French case, cf. also Furlough, “Une leçon des choses,” 443.

14 Travel and tourism in the Czech lands and the First Czechoslovak Republic is a growing research field, although tourism outside Europe (and many European tourist destinations) have not been sufficiently researched yet. Michael Borovička, Cestovatelství; Rychlík, Cestování do ciziny v habsburské monarchii; Štemberk, Fenomén cestovního ruchu. Post-1945 tourism is contemplated in Mücke, Šťastnou cestu . . . ?!. As an example of a popular tourist destination abroad, see Tchoukarine, “‘The Sea Connects,” 139–57. Other Central European histories of tourism include Keller, Apostles of the Alps; Haid, “‘Eternally Will Austria Stand’.” Judson, “‘Every German Visitor’.”

15 Shelley Baranowski’s contribution in Baranowski et al. “Tourism and Empire,” 117.

16 It is not surprising, then, that—as has often been noted—for locals the nationality of the foreigner was quite irrelevant, and therefore, as Edward W. Said stated, “the non-European [. . .] saw the European only as imperial.” Italics in the original. Said, Culture and Imperialism, 196.

17 Bracewell, “The Limits of Europe,” 65.

18 Idem, “East Looks West,” 15.

19 The difference between a “traveler” and a “tourist” has already been stated by contemporaries throughout the nineteenth century, using “tourist” pejoratively as inferior to “traveler” both in status and in class terms, as John K. Walton summarizes: tourists were seen as “following guidebooks to experience prescribed sensations in shallow ways which were inferior to the deeper insights of the independent and better-educated traveler.” Walton, “British Tourism Between Industrialization and Globalization,” 113. In contrast, tourism here is understood as a cultural rather than a moral category, referring to kinds of leisure travel that rely on organization, predictability and affordability for a broader social stratum and adhere to a certain performance and social behavior in the realm of the given infrastructure of hotels, railways and travel guides. For an overview of the establishment of tourism throughout the world, see Withey, Grand Tours.

20 See the discussion on this special relationship by Baranowski et al. “Tourism and Empire.”

21 A term and phenomenon that is discussed in detail in Davis, Wilburn, and Robinson, Railway Imperialism.

22 Buzard, The Beaten Track.

23 Abu-Lughod, “The Origins of Modern Cairo,” 433.

24 An overview of the early history of tourism in Cairo—and the role of Muhammad Ali in its onset—appears in Anderson, “The development of British.”

25 Rossberg, Geschichte der Eisenbahn, 135.

26 Brailey, “The Railway-Oceanic Era.” Cf. also Sethia, “Railways, Raj and the Indian States.”

27 Rossberg, Geschichte der Eisenbahn, 168–86.

28 China had only about 650 kilometers of railroads by the turn of the century. By 1910, this number had increased more than tenfold, though it was still small in relation to the size of the empire. Rossberg, Geschichte der Eisenbahn, 117; Spence, In Search of Modern China, 310–12. Specifically concentrated on the impact of imperial ambitions of European powers for Chinese railroad planning is Otte, “‘The Baghdad Railway’;” Davis, “Railway Imperialism.” Worth reading is Urbansky, Kolonialer Wettstreit.

29 Stolberg, “Auf zum Pazifik.”

30 For a first (and colorful) overview of the history of the Austrian Lloyd company, see Winkler and Pawlik, Der Österreichische Lloyd.

31 Gregory, The Golden Age of Travel.

32 Quoted from Withey, Grand Tours, 262.

33 [o.A.], “Význam cestování v cizině,” 1.

34 Mayer, Egypt, 116.

35 British influence on restaurant cuisine was especially noticeable throughout the world (and beyond the borders of the empire), though not to everybody’s delight. In the interwar period, a Czech traveler to Japan noted: “English cuisine is so similar anywhere in the world that the menus in Africa, India and Japan are almost identical.” Krejčí, Jaro v Japonsku, 41.

36 Hunter, “Tourism and Empire,” 35–36.

37 Thomas Cook offered trips around the world once a year beginning in 1872. By the 1890s, these trips included Australia and New Zealand. Withey, Grand Tours, 284 and 292.

38 Hunter, “Tourism and Empire,” 44.

39 Goodwin and Johnston, “Guidebook Publishing in the Nineteenth Century;” Hauenstein, Wegweiser durch Meyers Reisebücher; Hinrichsen, Baedekers Reisehandbücher, 163–66.

40 Wislicenus and Floeßel, Weltreise; Hauenstein, Wegweiser durch Meyers Reisebücher, 148–53.

41 Businský and Štrunc, Balkán, Palestina, Egypt.

42 Jan Kořínek writes how the Czech nature researcher Enrique Stanko Vráz in the years 1880–1883 could only travel in the clothes of a Moroccan Jewish man through Morocco. Kořínek, Maroko, 9.

43 The author František Klement went by train from Jaffa to Jerusalem only one year after this railroad line had opened in 1894. During the same year, Jiří Guth boarded a train in Algeria on a connection from Constantine to Algiers that had been introduced only shortly before. Klement, Z Jaffy do Jerusalema, 60–61; Guth, Na pokraji Sahary, 35.

44 As examples of travelogues in which the authors also describe their modes of travel, see Kořenský, Cesta kolem světa 1893–1894; Svátek, V zemi Sv. Kříže. For information about Josef Kořenský, see Kunský, Česti cestovatelé, 125–29.

45 Štemberk, Fenomén cestovního ruchu.

46 Cf. the advertisement in the journal Do světa 2 (1927).

47 For an introduction to tourist infrastructure catering to non-European regions, see Macková, “Turistické kluby.”

48 The magazines Do světa (1926–1927), Širým světem (1924–44) and Letem světem (1926–35) catered to the growing interest in worldwide tourist destinations. Literary periodicals included travel reports on a regular basis, such as Světozor (1904–43) or Zlatá Praha (1884–1929).

49 [N.a.], “Význam cestování v cizině,” 1.

50 Furlough, “Une leçon des choses,” 443.

51 Most literature on travel during this period is, in fact, on imperial travel. An exception is Perkins, “So Near and Yet So Far.”

52 Slapnicka, “Die böhmischen Länder,” 49, and Lacina, Zlatá léta československého hospodařství, 233.

53 Drahomír Jančík gives the following numbers: while a university professor in Prague earned 3,250 to 5,500 Kčs, his colleague in Berlin earned the equivalent of 9,600 Kčs and in New York even 11,200 to 16,800 Kčs. Similar relations are to be found for the teaching profession, with an income of about 1,500 Kčs in Prague, 3,040 Kčs in Berlin and 4,960 Kčs in New York. Jančík, “Vnitřní obchod,” 193.

54 As advertised in 1927: “Naše výpravy. Čtvrtá výprava do Egypta a Palestyny,” Do světa 1/4 (1927): 25–26.

55 “Výlet na Saharu,” Do světa 1/4 (1927): 26–28. Similar prices are given for trips with the Prague-based Klub přátel Orientu [Club of the Friends of the Orient], which in the 1930s offered package tours to the Near East for 6,950 Kčs. Letter to the regional authorities dated July 9, 1935. Archiv hlavního města Prahy [Prague City Archives], Fonds Klub Přátel Orientu 1930–1939.

56 Krejčí, Jaro v Japonsku, 40.

57 Ibid., 26; Domin, Dvacet tisíc mil po souši a po moři, 3, 23; Foit, Autem napříč Afrikou, 74; Mayer, Egypt, 78; Raušar, K palmovému háji, 33.

58 Kořínek, Maroko, 12.

59 Pospíšil, Čínou za revolučního varu, 118.

60 Sayer, The Coasts of Bohemia, 96.

61 [N.a.], “Afrika (výzkumy)”; [N.a.], “Amerika (dějiny)”; [N.a.], “Asie (dějiny objevení),” 875.

62 [N.a.], “Afrika”; [-le], “Amerika,”; [-le.], “Asie,” 294. A more detailed analysis appears in Lemmen, Tschechen auf Reisen, 127–33.

63 [p.], “Asie (dějiny objevení),” 875; [-le.], “Asie,” 294.

64 Kořenský, Cesta kolem světa 1, 421, 472, 474.

65 Vráz, Cesty světem, 190.

66 Foit, Autem napřič Afrikou 1, III.

67 Přikryl, Putování po Cejlonu, 7–8.

68 Pospíšil, Čínou, 164.

69 Doubek, Dvě cesty Spexoru do Afriky a Asie, 31; Foit, Autem napříč Afrikou 1, 17.

70 Raušar, K palmovému háji, 27.

71 Jiřík, K pyramidám, 13.

72 Fait, “Na vlnách nilských,” 9.

73 Pospíšil, Čínou, 4.

74 Shelley Baranowski’s contribution in Baranowski et al. “Tourism and Empire,” 117.

75 The topos of democracy has been strongly linked to Czech national identity, as Peter Bugge has shown. Bugge, “Czech Democracy 1918–1938.”

76 As used by Krejčí, Jaro v Japonsku, 5.

77 Cvrk, Cestování po světě, 126.

78 Krejčí, Jaro v Japonsku, 5.

79 Especially critical is Foit, Autem napříč Afrikou 1, 140.

80 Ibid.

81 Novák, Indické povidky, 7.

82 The state to which these regions would revert if European influence were to recede, according to one of the travelers, the diplomat Zdeněk Němeček. Němeček, Dopisy ze Senegambie, 125.

83 Baum, Africkou divočinou, 43.

84 Comments by Shelley Baranowski in Baranowski et al. “Tourism and Empire,” 116.