Our Notes & References
Fascinating manuscript account of a long wander through the Russian Empire, “with no money” at the turn of the century. Richly illustrated with postcards, photographs and other traveller’s paraphernalia – and apparently unpublished as a whole.
The tourist-enthusiast Emil Pohlig set off on a long trip through the Russian Empire with the minimum funds in around 1897-1901. The route went through Poland, the Baltic States, Ukraine, West-Central Russia and the North Caucasus. Halfway through his journey, he published four diary entries about his experience in March-April 1900 in a German newspaper whose cut-outs with his remarks are included in this hefty volume.
The diary itself generously gathers 81 pasted-on postcards, including 10 coloured ones, each with an assigned number and most with a date or a comment in the author’s hand, several original photographs (one of Pohlig himself, as a soldier, on the front pastedown, and several portraits in memory of his new friends), three calling cards from both German and Russian acquaintances, a traced and hand-drawn map of his route, and several sketches, including a half-page hand-drawn portrait.
Written in a rapid, assured hand, the text is copious: it discusses thoroughly the Russian history, captures life in different locations, and documents in detail Pohlig’s own activities and impressions. The author seems to be particularly interested in local peasants as he often writes his reflections over their appearance, hard life, and lack of literacy, based on his encounters with them in remote villages during his stops between larger cities. Pohlig pasted almost two dozen postcards featuring different city and village types; one of his published diary entries is devoted to Leo Tolstoy’s contemporary attempts to improve the peasants’ life (Pohlig’s chapter on this is illustrated with portraits of the author).
Often Pohlig recounts some expected misfortunes of a foreign tourist in rural Russia: once on a journey with a drunk carriage driver, his carriage fell into a gully several times and arrived in a wrong town where he got robbed. Nevertheless, he continuously expresses his gratitude to his hosts in numerous destinations (with a few exceptions). The postcards with city views include different locations in Poland, Mitau (Jelgava, modern-day Latvia), Riga, Dorpat (Tartu, modern-day Estonia), Narva, St Petersburg, Kursk, Kharkiv, Kyiv, Moscow, Saratov, the Caucasus (Piatigorsk, Zheleznovodsk, Kislovodsk and their surroundings), Ekaterinodar (modern-day Krasnodar), and Kerch (Crimea).
A table of contents is neatly written (by a different hand?) on the upper fly-leaf and mentions three ‘volumes’, while the last page mentions ‘end of the first volume’: there may be therefore two other volumes, covering further adventures. However we are not aware of these further volumes, it is not clear whether Pohlig actually went to those other places or wrote more memoirs, neither could we find his travel accounts as a separate edition in print.