This train could bring an ordinary citizen of Chernivtsi or Lviv to Vienna within 24 hours, the city which had seemed as distant as the moon. Hence, the year 1866 was for the people of Galicia what Neil Armstrong's steps were for the people of the Earth in 1969.
Chernivtsi, Stanislav (Ivano-Frankivsk), Lviv, Przemyśl, Krakow, and Vienna got connected by one route and one aesthetic field. The things remained so all the way through to the great catastrophes of the 20th century, when the single cultural space was torn apart, leaving behind only disparate memories and Franz Joseph's portraits hidden under the bed.
We invite you to visit these six cities to see what has changed on this route, what is to be expected, and whether the mythologized link between them is still alive. Among the remnants of the former Empire, in the lands of Galicia and Lodomeria, we will be looking for the Austrian Atlantis.
The German Cultural Centre in Chernivtsi is in the very centre of the city. The front door is always open, which is not at all typical of the post-Soviet space. But the history of the building shows itself in the wooden beams in front of the entrance and the door painted red (in the Soviet times, floors, ceilings and doors were sometimes painted dark red. Often, even a high-quality parquet floor would be painted over).
In the hallway, young people are already waiting for the beginning of the German club, which is moderated by a German named Daniel; he has come from Jena, a city in the east of Germany.
Taras Prokhasko, a writer, says that the Galician common law, which was shaped mainly in the Austro-Hungarian times, is still very much tangible in Ivano-Frankivsk. 'The social agreement is important here. The unwritten rules are a lot more powerful in Ivano-Frankivsk than in Southern or Central Ukraine,' Mr. Prokhasko explains. While the railway to Chernivtsi was being built, the Austro-Hungarian Government was guided in its actions by the fundamental principles of democracy. The government officials knew that the Empire was multinational; therefore various conflicts had to be resolved by soft methods.
For example, the government encouraged the establishment of a number of organizations, societies, etc., and, as a result, a civil society emerged. In the 19th century, the Austrian Empire brought in the culture of initiatives to the Galician lands. However, according to Yuriy Andrukhovych, that practice reached its climax only under the Second Polish Republic: 'The Polish government was pursuing a very aggressive policy towards Ukrainians, trying to assimilate them. Those attempts were fiercely opposed – not only through terror (the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army), but also in legal ways – through the development of the civil society'. In any case, Galicia today is at the forefront of changes in Ukraine.
We are travelling to Lviv, the capital of the crown land Galicia. It was there that in 1855-1856 the Galician nobility decided to start negotiations with the Austrian government on the construction of a railway from Przemyśl to Lviv and Chernivtsi. However, the Austrian officials believed that it would be more reliable if the railway belonged to the state, rather than to private owners. Still less did they want it to be the property of the Poles, whom the Austrians did not depend on too much. This was conducive to a confrontation between the government officials and the Galician nobility. But the financial crisis which followed forced the Government to agree to share the costs with the Polish nobility.
At the same time, many German investors were involved in the construction of the railway. Thus, the Austrian state maintained its control over the Vienna-Chernivtsi railway. Unfortunately, because of financial difficulties, the tracks were only laid to Lviv. And then the Chernivtsi community leaders decided to ask the Kaiser to extend the railway to Bukovina.
White tablecloths, newspapers, the scent of coffee, and even Sacher cake. We are at the Viennese coffee house in Lviv, which existed as far back as the Austro-Hungarian times and, as historians say, was very popular.
We expect to plunge into the atmosphere of imperial times; instead the atmosphere comes along with new visitors – office workers and Turkish tourists.
'I'd like some cabbage wraps!' someone in the room is saying.
Snowflakes are hovering above the San River, evoking, apparently, Stepan Bandera's spirit. For how else can one explain the fact that a bookstore next to the river has a whole shelf of books such as Volhynia on fire (the Volhynia tragedy is the mutual ethnic cleansing between Poles and Ukrainians in Volhynia in 1943-1944), UPA Murderers (UPA – Ukrainian Insurgent Army), Lviv, a Polish City (some Polish nationalists argue that Lviv is a Polish city and that Ukrainians must give it back to Poland), etc.
Janna Komar, the organizer of the exhibition 'The Myth of Galicia', says that some Polish people do not accept the fact that Lviv now has a history which is not Polish. Older people are under the impression that the life in Lviv stopped in 1939, and they cannot believe that the city is still vibrant and developing.
Mrs. Komar says that the myth of Galicia in Poland and the myth of Galicia in Ukraine are two different things. 'In Ukraine, the myth of Galicia is more important at this point in history.'
Interestingly, Ukrainians would not only come to Austria for a weekend, but they also took an active part in its public life. We have met a grandson of Volodymyr Zalozetskiy, a deputy from Bukovina in the Austro-Hungarian parliament. Volodymyr Zalozetskiy's descendant does not speak Ukrainian, and he has only been to his grandfather's native Chernivtsi twice. He has the same name as his famous ancestor, and he has heard a lot of romanticized stories about those old times.