The Five Stages Of Belief In Lviv: #1 Obsession – Antoni Schneider & The Encyclopedia Of Everything

A good argument could be made that obsession is little more than ambition taken to extremes, ambition to do something way beyond what has ever been done before. Obsessions by their very nature are all consuming. Thus obsessives find their lives for better or worse (usually worse) ruled by a person or goal they have become fixated upon. The obsession rules the person rather than the other way around. In effect they become a slave to their obsession. At some point they usually come to regret their obsession, wishing they could eradicate it from their thoughts and memory. This is impossible until the obsession has run its course. Obsessives are capable of doing great things, achieving the impossible. Conversely, they are more often than not, defeated by the impossible. The problem with obsessives is that they believe less in themselves, than they believe in their obsession. One of the greatest obsessives in the history of Lviv was a man by the name of Antoni Schneider. He imagined a project of such scale that it scarcely seemed possible. That did not stop Schneider from trying to create and eventually be defeated by The Encyclopedia of Expertise On Galicia.

An Exhaustive Encyclopedia of a Make Believe Province
The Austrian administered province known as the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria was just short of a hundred years old when Schneider announced his project in 1868. While the land that made up the province had existed since time immemorial, the idea of the Kingdom was created from an old and obscure claim made new. The Austrians took the name from a medieval title held by King Andrew II of Hungary who had conquered the region during the 12th century. Though the Hungarian crown lost the land in rather short order, the title came in handy for the Austrians over 500 years later. They felt the need to show a legitimate historical claim to the region. This was in response to the fact that they had taken the region in the first partition of Poland. To rule the inhabitants, they needed legitimacy. Since Austria also ruled Hungary, they decided to excavate the old Hungarian claim to the kingdom from the dustbin of history. The Austrians spent a considerable amount of time and effort recreating Galicia in their own image. In this way they made history and also made it up.

Antoni Schneider

Antoni Schneider – An excessive man with an obsessive mind

A multi-volume encyclopedia cataloging in exhaustive detail every aspect of the province would further legitimize Galicia. Schneider’s idea was his own, but it was certainly informed by this process. The encyclopedia would be a mammoth undertaking. Schneider was to shoulder nearly all of a superhuman workload. It would provide holistic coverage of the province, with everything from history to statistics to scientific topics receiving in-depth coverage. He professed that the encyclopedia was his way of paying homage to his “fatherland”. This seeming labor of imperial love came from a man who two decades before had been part of open rebellion against the Habsburgs. Oddly enough, Schneider was ethnically half-German and half-Polish, but the encyclopedia was to be a Polish language work. This made sense from both a political and readership stand point. Political, since the province had just gained autonomous status. Poles would heretofore be the ruling and administrative class in Galicia. To gain a wide readership it would be written in Polish, since that was now going to be the lingua franca of the province.

A Most Ambitious Madness
One can only speculate to the degree that manic imagination and frenetic energy played a role in Schneider’s conception of the project. He was largely self-taught. Due to family financial woes he was unable to complete high school. For a time he worked as a clerk for a literary journal, gaining some valuable real world experience in the writing profession. Schneider then became caught up in the 1848 Hungarian Revolution fighting on the side of rebellion. This landed him in jail, but it turned into a fortuitous stroke of luck. He shared a prison cell with a Hungarian historian, Joseph Teleki. Their conversations must have encouraged him to do research and learn more about the past. After he was freed, Schneider toured the countryside around Lviv taking an interest in among other things, castles and ruins. Then in the 1860’s he started publishing articles of stories about places in Galicia. This all led up to the encyclopedia that was to provide a one stop resource for detailed knowledge of almost any subject pertaining to Galicia. The fact that one man conceived and then attempted to carry out this idea speaks volumes about Schneider’s mindset.

Cover to Antoni Schenider's Guide to Lwów - published in 1871

Cover to Antoni Schenider’s Guide to Lwów – published in 1871

Unfortunately even the most enduring obsession has its limits.  Schneider openly stated that the project would take thirty years to complete. That turned out to be a low estimate as the actual production of the first two volumes would show. The volume dealing with letter A took three years to write and was published in 1871. In the same year Schneider also published a Guide to Lwów (Polish name for Lviv). The letter B volume appeared in 1874. At this rate the entire project would take another 72 years to complete. In 1874 Schneider was already 49 years old. Sometime during these years it must have dawned on him that there was no way he would ever complete the encyclopedia. The euphoria he had first experienced with his grandiose dream abated. Subscriptions to the encyclopedia lagged. There was a decided lack of public interest. It turned into an all or nothing enterprise. Sure volumes A and B had been completed, but this was only equivalent to less than ten percent of the entire project. What was the use of doing a volume C? It was just another drop of knowledge in an unfathomable ocean of information.

The Darkest Side Of Obsession
Schneider’s dream descended into darkness. It was a failure made that much worse by obsession. His life had become the encyclopedia, without it he was nothing. He was unable to come close to finishing the project, even though he continued collecting information for every subject of note. His information gathering expanded to the history of the Bukovina province, adjacent to Galicia. All of this work has provided a rich archival source that is still used by researchers today, but what good did that do Schneider at the time? His thoughts of the future would have been aligned with the fact that his life’s work could never be completed. In 1880, he committed suicide by shooting himself. This was the final, mortal blow to a dream that had died long before. Schneider had not been able to finish his work, but it had finished him.

Some Like It Not – Billy Wilder: Fame, Fortune & Fate (From Galicia To Hollywood To The Holocaust)

“To know me, you must think of me in terms of what Austria was like in 1906, when I was born. Austria in those days was a huge monarchy of 56 million people – the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The monarchy seemed indestructible.”– Billy Wilder

One of Hollywood’s greatest movie directors, Billy Wilder, came from a land far away from the sun baked streets and glittering fame of southern California. He was born Samuel Wilder in 1902, the second son of Max and Eugenia Wilder in the town of Sucha, located in the northern reaches of the Carpathian Mountains. The area was then part of the Austro-Hungarian crown land known as the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria. The Wilders were Jewish and like many of their ethnic kin in the area made a living in trade. Their son Billy (his mother is said to have nicknamed him Billy after the famous Wild West showman Buffalo Bill Cody) would follow in the footsteps of so many Galician Jews by eventually immigrating abroad, first within Europe and later to the United States. In Hollywood, Wilder would enjoy an amazing run of success with hit films such as Double Indemnity, Sunset Strip and Some Like It Hot. When it came to Galicia though, Billy Wilder was part of a human wave of Galician immigrants that might best be summed up as “Some Like It Not” concerning their homeland. Over a million Galicians fled abroad in search of opportunity and success, the kind which Wilder found in Hollywood. Yet those early years in Galicia had a long lasting effect upon the way he saw people and drama. It provided fertile ground for Wilder’s later creative instincts. For it was in the wilds of Galicia that he had his first encounters with the dark, duplicitous side of human affairs.

Billy Wilder

Billy Wilder (Credit: Norman Seeff)

Human Natures – Childhood In Galicia
The village of Sucha, Austria-Hungary (present day Sucha Beskidza, Poland) was transformed by the coming of the railroad during the latter part of the 19th century. The state-owned Galician Transversal Railway arrived in 1884, placing a railway station at the village. The line ran just north of the Carpathians, connecting the villages and towns it ran through with the wider world. The railway turned out to be a double boon for Sucha. While the main line ran east-west, at Sucha a branch line was also constructed heading north to the city of Krakow. The village thus became a vital railway junction. Travelers changing trains spent hours at the station. They could also now travel in comfort and with ease to enjoy the natural beauty of the Carpathians.

The Wilders were able to take advantage of Sucha’s new found prominence, as proprietors of a café and cake shop at the village’s station. Eugenia Wilder’s family (the Baldingers) also owned a resort hotel in the area. It was here that Wilder first learned about the less desirable traits of humanity. In an interview given later in life, he remarked on his childhood experiences in the hotel, “I learned many things about human nature – none of them favorable.” What he must have witnessed and sensed as an impressionable young boy at the resort can only be imagined, but it also provides an explanation for the moral ambiguity and satirical wit that was characteristic of his films. Wilder learned to view people with a lens filtered through cynicism and mistrust.

Sucha, Austria-Hungary - railway yard and station

Sucha, Austria-Hungary – postcard showing railway yard and station from World War I

“I Can’t Remember Anything About It”
The best thing that ever happened to Billy Wilder in Galicia was the day he left it. This was both the saving and making of his life. He had no idea of his future or that of Galicia at the time his parents moved the family to the fading imperial capital. He would complete his schooling in Vienna and take up a career in tabloid journalism. Soon he moved on to Berlin where he wrote film scripts until the Nazis took power. A short stint in Paris brought him his first work as a director before he left for the United States in 1934. A fortuitous move that ended up leading to a memorable filmmaking career. He would go on to win numerous Academy Awards as both screenwriter and director, while producing a bevy of box office hits.

Unfortunately some members of Wilder’s family, including his mother Eugenia stayed behind in Europe, ending up back in the lands that had once been part of the now vanished Galicia. During the interwar period Galicia had become part of Poland. When the Germans invaded at the start of World War II the eastern Polish lands were subjected to some of the worst excesses of the Holocaust. Later in life, Wilder would refer to what had happened in his homeland when he said, “The town where I was born is still there, but the country is gone. I can’t remember anything about it, but I guess my mother pushed my baby carriage on a street that is called Billy Wilder Avenue or something like that. If I had stayed there, I wouldn’t be here to tell the tale.” His mother was murdered in the Kraków-Płaszów concentration camp and his grandmother died in the ghetto at Nowy Targ, both were less than 60 kilometers away from Sucha.

Train station in Sucha Beskidzka

Final Call – The present day train station in Sucha Beskidzka (Credit: Nils Öberg)

Lost Worlds
After World War II ended Billy Wilder had another personal encounter with the Holocaust. As reported in his New York Times obituary in 2002 “In postwar Germany, Mr. Wilder was a colonel in the United States Army who oversaw a program that prevented former Nazis from working on films or in the theater. When asked by the director of the traditional Passion play in the town of Oberammergau if a former Nazi, Anton Lang, could play Jesus, Mr. Wilder responded, ”Permission granted, but the nails have to be real.” This scathing comment was spot-on, but offered little solace for a man who had seen the destruction of several members of his family along with his entire country. Billy Wilder was one of a kind, so was the Galicia he had known and that had vanished forever.

Monumental Distortions – The Mickiewicz Column in Lviv (Part Two)

Polish sculptor Antoni Popeil designed what many now call the best Mickiewicz monument in Europe. Popeil’s vision called for a column 21 meters in height, surmounted not by Poland’s greatest poet, but by a flaming torch symbolizing the idea of inspiration. Further down the column stood a 3 meter tall sculpture of Mickiewicz being given a lyre (a metaphorical reference used to show a poet’s skill) by a winged angel, the genius of poetry.  The column would be constructed with Italian granite from Milan, the foundations would be granite and the figures cast from bronze. Popeil had been educated in the Fine Arts in Lviv, Vienna and Florence. He was a highly accomplished artist whose creative talent was nearing its peak.

The winged genius of poetry brings Mickiewicz a lyre on the column

The winged genius of poetry brings Mickiewicz a lyre on the column – Design by Antoni Popeil

Of Ceremonies & Wars – The First Four Decades of Mickeiwicz In Lwow
The design may have been done, but the monument was far from completion. Funds would have to be raised in order to pay for the column. Among the fundraising activities that occurred were theatrical and musical performances, the latter featuring works from famous Polish composers. Jubilee chocolates, stationary and commemorative postcards were all sold to cover construction costs. The city and local population chipped in with important monetary contributions. At this time, 49% of Lwow’s population was Polish and an even greater percentage were Polish speakers since much of the city’s large Jewish population spoke the language. Lwow’s aristocratic and middle classes rallied around the building of the monument. The Mickiewicz column was in essence a Polish monument.

The monument was finally unveiled at a grand ceremony on October 30, 1904. Thousands were in attendance at the event. The city set aside 20,000 crowns for expenditures. Visitors came from as far away as the cities of Krakow, Stanislaw (Ivano-Frankivsk) and Chernivtsi.  None other than Mickiewicz’s oldest son, Wladyslaw was in attendance. The festivities lasted two days with a wide range of events. The ceremony was a signal success. The column was now well on its way to becoming one of the most memorable landmarks in the city. The monument somehow still occupies the same place today as it did in 1904, despite the fact that it was witness to no less than four wars, two of which were among the most violent in human history.

Mickiewicz Column in Mariyska Square, Lwow

Mickiewicz Column in Mariyska Square, Lwow – early 20th century postcard

The Monument Endures, The Polish People Do Not – Creating Lviv
In a bizarre twist, the square in which the column stands was given Mickiewicz’s (Mitskevycha in Ukrainian) name by perhaps the most anti-nationalist regime of the 20th century. After the militantly atheist Soviets occupied the city in the latter part of 1939, they took down the St. Mary sculpture which had adorned a fountain near the Mickiewicz column. They then renamed the square for the great Polish poet. This was done despite the fact that all the while they were carrying out a murderous persecution of Polish intellectuals and crushing nationalist resistance. The renaming stuck. What vanished instead were the Poles of Lwow.

As late as 1944, a majority of the city’s population was ethnically Polish. In the aftermath of World War II somewhere between 100,000 to 140,000 Poles were forcibly relocated to what had once been Eastern Germany, but was now Western Poland. Demographic statistics give a bleak summary of the changes that were undertaken in Lwow. The proportion of Poles in the city dropped from 63% in 1944 to 10% in 1950 to 4% in 1959. Poles did the same thing to Ukrainians in what is today southeastern Poland, but they attempted to resettle and assimilate them (i.e. make them Poles) in the northern and western parts of Poland. Today ethnic Poles are less than 1% of Lviv’s population, but they certainly make up the greatest number of tourists visiting what was once known to them as Lwow. The Polish language can be commonly heard on a summer’s day in the center of Lviv. A city largely defined by Polish culture for several centuries, now only has Polish visitors, monuments and architecture to show for their once outsized presence.

The Mitskevycha Column still stands today in Lviv

The Mitskevycha Column still stands today in Lviv (Credit: Jan Mehlich)

Nationalism In Another Nation
The defining symbol of Polish national feeling still stands with the Mitskevycha column at Mitskevycha Square. If the column has made it this long it is most likely to stay. Anti-Polish feeling in western Ukraine has waned, especially in the face of a growing Russian threat in Eastern Ukraine. The Poles have been strong supporters of Ukrainian sovereignty and independence. Old historical wounds from the World War II era have slowly begun to heal. Mickiewicz is still a symbol of Polish nationalism, but with modern Poland’s increasingly friendly relations with Ukraine, there is no longer a feeling that the monument is an imposition. Now it feels more like a tradition, one that surges through the past and into the present of this beautiful city. Nevertheless, Poles and Ukrainians look up to the column today with very different feelings. To Ukrainians, Mickiewicz and Lwow are a thing of the past. To Poles, Mickiewicz and Lwow continue to be part of who they are.

Click here to read A Monumental Proposal – The Mickiewicz Column In Lviv (Part One)

A Monumental Proposal – The Mickiewicz Column in Lviv (Part One)

For a man who never visited Lviv or as he would have called it, Lwow, Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz sure has a lot of staying power in the city. Mickiewicz is revered as Poland’s greatest bard, a man whose name is synonymous with Polish romantic nationalism. Among his many literary accomplishments, he composed its epic national poem, Pan Tadeusz. His words and deeds have been revered by patriotic Poles ever since the mid-19th century. Because of Mickiewicz’s well-deserved reputation it is quite strange that one of the finest monuments ever constructed to honor him still stands today in Lviv. Placed close to the city center, visible to tens of thousands of Ukrainians that pass by the area on a daily basis, the Mickiewicz column as it is known soars above the urban masses. Even stranger is the fact that Lviv’s Mickiewicz column survived Soviet, Nazi and another Soviet occupation of the city. The fact that it still stands today in a city that now has only a smattering of Poles is nothing short of improbable. To discover Mickiewicz at the heart of what has been called “the most Ukrainian city in the Ukraine” is a strange and fascinating find.

Mickiewicz Square in Lviv - a view from above

Mickiewicz Square in Lviv – a view from above

Partitioned From The Partitions – The Exile Of Adam Mickiewicz
During the late 19th and early 20th century nationalism was rising all across the Austro-Hungarian Empire. As the Habsburgs tried to keep their empire from splintering into many disparate constituent nations they allowed certain ethnic groups to celebrate their own languages, customs and heroes. Ethnic Poles in the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria (present day southeastern Poland and western Ukraine) were allowed self-government. This freedom helped lead to a Polish national revival. Poles controlled the provincial administration in Galicia and were virtually autonomous. They also had the weight of numbers on their side. They made up a majority of Galicia’s inhabitants. In Eastern Galicia the story was different. Poles were the majority only in the city of Lwow (the city was officially known at this time by its German name of Lemberg), Ruthenians (same as Ukrainians) were a large majority of the rural population.

Polish dominance of the growing city of Lwow was good enough though, since it was the home of social, economic and political power in the region. Because of this, it is little surprise that the Poles decided to raise monuments in honor of an exalted national hero in the city. The year 1898 was slated to be a special one for Poles memorializing Adam Mickiewicz. It was the one hundredth anniversary of his birth to a family of impoverished gentry in what is today Lithuania. At that time, the region had just become part of Russian ruled Poland. Mickiewicz would spend his entire life fighting for a reconstituted Poland. This led to a literary life lived largely in exile, first in Russia, then France, Switzerland and back to France. Eventually he would die far from his beloved Poland while in Constantinople.

The childhood home of Adam Mickiewicz in Navahrdudak, Belarus

The childhood home of Adam Mickiewicz in Navahrdudak, Belarus (Credit: Krochmal-commonswiki)

Casting A Memory – An Idea Ahead Of Its Time 
One place Mickiewicz did not live was Galicia. The only time he made a trip into Ukraine was on his way to Crimea during his exile in Russia. Nevertheless, Poles in Galicia had their imaginations captured by his patriotic verse.  They may have been split from their fellow Poles by the partitions, but Mickiewicz’s words united them.  Following his death in 1855, Mickiewicz’s fame continued to grow. Austrian Galicia was home to millions of Poles who revered his life and work. It was also the one region where Poles were given a generous amount of freedom to express their culture. Lwow became the epicenter of a surge in Polish nationalism.

The first proposal for creating a monument to his memory in Lwow was in 1856, a year after Mickiewicz’s death. It would be almost a half-century before the idea finally came to fruition.  Just over four decades later a committee was formed in Lwow to oversee the design of a monument to honor Mickiewicz. To show just how revered a figure the poet was, the committee decided that the winning design would be placed on Mariyska Square (St. Mary’s Square) in the city center. A sculpture of St. Mary, known as the “Mother of God”, that already inhabited the site would be moved to another area of the square to make room for a Mickiewicz monument.

Adam Mickiewicz in his later years

Adam Mickiewicz in his later years

Building Up To Greatness
The committee soon announced a competition for a monument project. The main motif of the monument should be a column in honor of the poet and built on Mariyska Square of our city. The monument must be no less than twenty meters in overall height, and must be made from material that can withstand all changes of our climate – either red or grey granite, whichever the Committee supplies to the artist. In the end, the cost of the monument should not exceed 60,000 golden rynskych, including the material which the Committee will supply. Models or drawings, made to an overall scale of 1:3, should be sent by September 15 of this year. The first prize is 1000 crowns, and the second is 500 crowns.” The winner did not disappoint.

Coming soon – Monumental Distortions: The Mickiewicz Column In Lviv (Part Two)

Mickiewicz Square as it looked in Lwow prior to 1904

Mickiewicz Square as it looked in Lwow prior to 1904


An Austrian Misery – The Kingdom of Galicia & Lodomeria (Part One)

The Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria, it is a name that gleams and sparkles while rolling off the tongue. The name conjures up images of castles and manor houses, a quasi-magical land. The reality could not have been more different. The Kingdom existed from 1772 to 1918 as part of the Austrian Empire and then as part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. For nearly a century and a half it was a byword for backwardness and poverty, the opposite of modernity. To a great extent such a reputation was spot on, but the wild ideological swings, violence and tumult that befell the area following the Empire’s disintegration made many look back at the Kingdom as a force for good rather than repression, an island of stability in a region that experienced constant upheaval. The truth was rather different, more complex and rather depressing.

Map of the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria in 1800

Map of the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria in 1800 (Credit: TheLotCarmen)

The Netherworld Of Austria’s Empire – A Rural Frontier
Where did that glittering name, the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria come from? It was largely artificial, just like its borders. The idea of a kingdom sounded good, but was really a misnomer. The title implied independence, but there was no stand-alone Kingdom. Put simply, Galicia and Lodomeria were Latinized versions of the names Halychyna and Volyn, the historical regions that made up the territory. Located in what is today southeastern Poland and western Ukraine the territory was taken by the Habsburgs during the First Partition of Poland in 1772. The name they gave it may have been impressive and lent a veneer of sophistication, but it did not change the true nature of the place. The name was symptomatic of what the Habsburgs wanted the place to be, rather than what it was. In 1772 the newly created kingdom had a diverse and complex population of 2.2 million. The aristocrats were Polish, the peasants either Mazurians (Poles of Western Galicia) or Ruthenians (Ukrainians), the Jews low level merchants or poor farmers and ethnic Germans the administrators of this ethnic mix. The aristocratic element made up about 3% of the populace, while the overriding majority of the population consisted of peasants who worked, but had little control over the land. In the late 18th century, seven out of every ten inhabitants of the kingdom were serfs. Rural backwardness was endemic to the region.

Austrian ignorance and indifference toward the area did little to help matters, especially early on. For a place that was always viewed as a netherworld by the Austrians, Galicia was strangely hard to ignore. It was their largest province, with 25% of the entire land base of the Austrian administered portion of the empire. Between 1772 and 1843 the population doubled. By the turn of the 20th century it had risen by another two-thirds, increasing to seven million. At the start of World War One, another million inhabitants had been added. Yet in the decades prior to the outbreak of World War One, Galicia was exporting people by the millions to points all across the globe. The reasons for this were many, but can best be summed up as a lack of opportunity and grinding poverty. Some historians have called Galicia the poorest part of Europe at the dawn of the 20th century. There was even a pejorative Polish phrase that characterized the province’s dire condition, “bieda galicyjska” which translates to “Galician Misery.”

East Galician Peasants

East Galician Peasants

Rich Earth, Poor People – The Galician Conundrum
In actuality, Galicia was not the poorest part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire when it came to income. Eastern Hungary had a lower average income per person, but Galicia’s personal income level was not much higher. It was on par with Transylvania. This is deceptive. Average income is just that, an average. Income of the elites can pull the average up. The major difference between Galicia and a place such as Transylvania was that the latter had large tracts of inhospitable, mountainous land with its more fertile areas plagued by an extremely short growing season. Conversely, Galicia was blessed with bountiful land, an astonishing 96% of which was considered productive. Half of the province contained rich black earth, ripe for agricultural fertility. Unfortunately, the archaic socio-economic system made the entire province a developmental disaster. Caught up in this disaster were its people.

At the top of the pecking order were the landed gentry, a ruling class made up almost entirely of ethnic Poles. They controlled the most fertile agricultural land and almost all of the forests. In the mid to late 19th century they also managed to gain control over the political apparatuses of the province. Following the defeats of Austria in Italy in 1859 and the Austro- Prussian War of 1866, power was decentralized in order to keep the empire from falling apart. Galicia was given a wide degree of latitude in managing its own affairs. The Polish ruling class took advantage of this to entrench their power base. All laws made in the province were almost entirely to their benefit.  Language laws were constructed to benefit the Poles. In 1867 the official language of the schools became Polish, 1868 it became the official language of the courts and then in 1869 the official language of the province. That did not mean that all Poles were aristocrats, far from it.

Ruined castle of the  Potocki family - Polish aristocratic residence in Pomorzany, Eastern Galicia (Western Ukraine)

Ruined castle of the Potocki family – Polish aristocratic residence in Pomorzany, Eastern Galicia (Western Ukraine) (Credit: Замок в Поморянах)

Land Without Livelihood
In western Galicia, a majority of the Polish speaking population were peasants, but Polish speakers, whatever their socio-economic status had many more opportunities. Eastern Galicia’s population was made up of predominantly Ukrainian peasants. In the first decades of the 20th century “only” two-thirds of Galicia’s Poles were involved in agriculture, whereas 94% of Ukrainians were still working the land. Meanwhile hundreds of thousands of Jews lived in towns and cities or immigrated. Many Jews were involved in money lending, which made them especially reviled by the impoverished peasants who became deeply indebted to them. They took out loans in order to survive, but often ended up losing the only thing they owned, land. What was a peasant without their land? In Galicia that was a question no one, ruling class nor subjects, could answer.

Coming soon: An Austro-Hungarian Tragedy – The Kingdom of Galicia & Lodomeria (Part Two) 

The Unexpected Arrival – Lviv’s Railway Station: A Palace Of Transport

Ukraine is supposed to be poor and relative to the rest of Eastern Europe that is certainly true. Compare it for instance to Poland, a nation it is close to, both geographically and historically. In the early 1990’s, the average GDP per person in Poland was the same as in Ukraine. Twenty-five years later, Poland’s GDP per person is three times greater. And Poland is not even the most prosperous of Eastern Europe’s nations though it is getting there. Most western visitors to Ukraine must first travel through Poland. Once across the border they expect to be greeted by gutted factories and wooden plows, a place where wagon carts outnumber automobiles and peasant headscarves are still in fashion. To be sure there is some of that, but less so in western Ukraine. Visitors to that part of the nation are pleasantly surprised. Most of them first stop at what is widely considered Ukraine’s most beautiful and historic urban environment, its cultural capital and most westernized city, Lviv. If first impressions really are everything, than Lviv certainly knows how to make a good one. It all starts at the main point of arrival for visitors, the city’s magnificent Art Nouveau Railway Station. The structure brings together the best of Austro-Hungarian architectural eclecticism with a touch of eastern exoticism.

The exterior facade of the Lviv Railway Station

The exterior facade of the Lviv Railway Station – a magnificent restoration (Credit: benhamburg)

A City & Its Station – Reflections Of Grandeur
In transport and commerce location is literally everything, the same holds true for tourism today. Regarding railways, Lviv or as it was known in the mid-19th century, Lemberg (the city’s German name) was chosen to host the first railway line constructed in what is now Ukraine. Lemberg was in the right geographic place at the right time. It was a hub for multiple trade routes across the region and was a major city in the Austrian ruled province of the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria. The Habsburgs wanted to further cement their control over their eastern frontier. The best way of doing this was to bind Lemberg into the empire’s burgeoning railway network. One of the main tentacles of control in those days was railway lines that could reach into the empire’s most distant outposts. A city like Lemberg would not only need a large rail yard, but a station to match. In 1861 as the line between Lemberg and Przemysl was completed, a Neo-Gothic style station was also erected. While the architectural style was appealing, contemporary photographs show what looks like an extended manor house.

Lemberg's (Lviv's) first train station - more like a rambling manor house than a hub for transport

Lemberg’s (Lviv’s) first train station – more like a rambling manor house than a hub for transport

The station worked well for a time, but was ill-suited to deal with the booming growth that Lemberg experienced in the late 19th century. In the forty-three years between the building of the first station and a newer one, the city’s population doubled to 160,000. It would become the 4th largest city in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. A station to match its growth and importance was needed. This is exactly what would happen with the design and construction of a new station that would be opened in 1904. The man selected to design the new station was an ethnic Pole, Wladyslaw Sadlowski, an architect who had graduated from Lemberg’s Technical Academy. His vision was a grand design that would be a sort of palace for mass transport. It soon became known as the Dvirets, which means palace in Polish. A large main hall was placed on a horizontal axis and topped with a steel and stained glass dome. This spectacular entrance fronted two rail yards which were covered with a glass and steel landing built by Czech masters.

Lemberg Railway Station - historic postcard

Lemberg Railway Station – historic postcard

The Class System In Miniature
Among other things the station included first, second and third class waiting areas which were a microcosm of the existing class system in Austria-Hungary. The first class area included luxuriant Viennese furniture and was modelled after an English gentleman’s club. Second class was styled after the interior of German burghers (merchants) homes in Galicia and the third class was the most basic, with wooden furniture. Anyone with a third class ticket was also not allowed entry through the station’s front portal. Those who wanted to wait for arrivals on the platform had to pay a fee. Then there was an area for royalty and VIP’s. A description of this comes down to us from the American war correspondent Stanley Washburn who visited the room after the Battle of Lemberg at the beginning of the Great War. Washburn called it, “a suite equal in every way to the Emperor’s private apartments in his own palace. Heavy carpets, richly tapestried walls, daintily concealed electric lights, and rich and heavy furniture, completed as luxurious an apartment as any potentate could desire. A hundred feet away beyond the partition lay the soiled and dingy figures of the wounded men who pay the price of empire.”

The end of the empire in 1918 meant that the once luxurious station became a battle zone for control of the city between Ukrainian and Polish nationalists. The Poles won out, but the station suffered badly, it was not until 1930 that it was completely repaired. This was followed by a brief, peaceful respite until the morning of September 1st, 1939 when the sound of the Luftwaffe bombers filled the air above Lwow (the Polish name for Lviv). This was the beginning of the Second World War. The railway station was a prime target, bombs exploded on and around it. This inflicted massive damage, as did the later period of the war when the Soviets and Germans fought for control of it in 1944. By the end of the war, much of the station was a semi-ruin. The question became whether to gut and totally rebuild it or salvage what was left. Photos from that time show rubble strewn about. All that remained of the beautiful bolted steel dome that had once crowned the entrance hall was its bent frame. The station was only saved due to a concerted effort by the locals. It would not survive the onset of Soviet totalitarianism unscathed though. The interior was redecorated in Stalinist Empire Style. The three class system represented by different waiting rooms was gone, in favor of a style and system whereby the individual was crushed by an all controlling state. The railway station’s interior was representative of the changes that Lvov (the Russian name for the city) was undergoing.

Lviv Railway Station's platforms

Lviv Railway Station’s platforms – a spectacular point of arrival (Credit Tomasz Kuran)

Everything Has Changed & Nothing Has Changed
Like every other empire in the city’s tumultuous history, Soviet control eventually vanished. The railway station was all the better for it. For its one hundredth anniversary in 2004, it underwent a restoration that dismantled the Stalinist style and recreated much of the stations former grandeur. To visitors arriving at the station it might appear that not much has changed from the glory days of Austria-Hungary in the early 20th century. Like everything else that is part of Lviv’s past this is deceptive. A scaffolding of the past has been resurrected, a city and its most prominent point of arrival born again. What the station went through to arrive at this point is lost on new arrivals, but that makes it no less instructive as to the nature of Ukraine as it exists today.