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Czech travellers – part 2

photo: Jan Welzl (eskymo)

Every nation has its famous personalities, whose names universally evoke adventure, exotic countries, travelling and newly discovered phenomena, and the Czech Republic is no exception. The second part of our “travelling series” will trace the steps of Jan Eskymo Welzl, adventurer, traveller, hunter, story-teller, Eskimo chief and mainly the invincible lover of the North.

Jan Welzl was born on 15 August 1868 in Zábřeh na Moravě (Map). When only 16 he set out from his home to gather experience all over the world. He went on foot passing Vienna, Janov and he even crossed the whole Balkan Peninsula. After a short stop in Zagreb, he had to endure the obligatory three-year military service, which he later described as the most difficult years of his life. Fate later brought him to Hamburg, where he was employed as a stoker, machinist and a helping hand in the kitchen of an overseas cruiser. Through a series of coincidences he was present at the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway in Irkutsk. That was where Welzl, who had craved spiritual freedom all his life, was struck by an interesting idea that was to change his life. He decided that he will cross Siberia and reach the Arctic Ocean. He hunted bears at one of the New Siberian Islands, traded with furs and even made a living as an apt craftsman or delivered post and goods with a pack of dogs throughout the Arctic Region. He gained much recognition in the region and was appointed the chief and highest judge in 1903. His name was known all over the North and was nicknamed Arctic Bismarck. The native Eskimos called him Moojok Ojaak (“Bear Eater”).

In the first half of the 1920s, he was wrecked with his ship the Seven Sisters in the Pacific Ocean. He saved nothing but himself and the American authorities, for whom he was a foreigner without any ID, sent him back to Europe. He therefore appeared in his native city of Zábřeh again after thirty years in 1928. It was at this moment that he decided to make use of the experiences from his journeys and contacted the editors of the Lidové noviny newspaper, with whose help the book that made him immortal was created. 

Welzl could not resist the desire to return to the icy northern plains and set off once again. However, his voyage ended at the Canadian-American border in Dawson, where he settled until his death, occupying himself with inventing the perpetuum mobile. He died on 19 September 1948 at the age of 80.

The humoristic “Welzling” (Welzlování in Czech) festival annually takes place in his hometown Zábřeh. Welzl is also the honorary citizen of the city, in which you will find his statue and a museum dedicated to his life.

Author: Petra Hubálková
Added: 02.11.2012

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