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Traveling Before Travel Was Easy

These days, we often take it for granted how easy it is to traverse the globe. Of course, we still face barriers, with the biggest one to overcome often being the budget. However, with cash in the bank ready to be spent, it is a simple matter of a few Google searches to find suitable flights, ferries, or routes to take.

The idea of a campervan has been in our culture now for over 100 years, though some of the early designs might not really be recognizable as such! Tied up with the evolution of the campervan has been the insatiable explorer that lies at the heart of all of us. To throw your belongings in your vehicle, hit the road, and sleep wherever looks beautiful taps directly into that very spirit. It is easy to understand why the campervan has a timeless appeal and has done since it was first dreamed up.

It is hard to imagine a time when it was not possible to research travel opportunities easily with a phone in your hand wherever you are and, therefore, a trip to the other side of the world was a complete adventure when you could literally only imagine what you might find when you arrived. It is with good reason that such travelers were more often called explorers.

Here, we take a look at one such family, heading from one side of the world to the other at a time when journies like these were seldom undertaken. Here at Camperguru, we do not take our traveling opportunities for granted, and feel lucky every time we hop into our campervans and mobile homes that we are able to do it so easily! Hopefully this tale can also inspire us to embrace the unexpected surprises that life can bring and enjoy every day.

The Baum Siblings

Anna and Jiří Baum were born in Prague to Josef and Františka Baum, a middle-class, intellectual Jewish family. Jiří Baum (20th September 1900) loved nature from an early age and was attracted to foreign lands. He graduated from a grammar school, then from a business academy. During his studies, he went on a trip to Germany and other European countries. In 1921-1922 he went to the USA with his classmate Viktor Mayer on a one-year scholarship from the Czech-American Society in Chicago, where they traveled alongside their studies. First by bicycle, then by hitchhiking, and finally by an old Ford (book Tours of the USA, 1939). Then Viktor went to South America and Jiří to Prague.

He supported his interest in zoology by studying at the Faculty of Science of Charles University. In 1922, however, he embarked on another great expedition to Brazil to visit Victor, which he undertook with his sister Anna (7th May 1899), who also traveled extensively. During the trip, the siblings decided to establish a farm in Brazil together with Robert Pollert, Anna's husband. In 1923, they bought a plot of land near the town of Campinas, where they cultivated agricultural crops.

In the maternity hospital in Sao Paulo, the Pollerts' daughter Irene was born on 21 February 1925. Jiří returned to Prague, where he continued his studies. Farming in Brazil was not favored by the constant popular unrest, so the Pollerts returned to Prague, where they later owned a chain of shops. Their son Herbert Jaromír Pollert was born in Prague on November 1st, 1927.

First Expeditions to Africa

Jiří made his second major expedition during his studies and the first to Africa in 1927 with the botanist Albert Pilát to West Africa. He took a boat from Dakar to Conakry (the capital of French Guinea) and from there to the interior. However, Jiří fell ill with malaria and had to return to Prague. Pilate continued his explorations, first at the Niger River and then at the foot of Mount Kukulima.

In 1928 Jiří passed his doctorate in natural sciences – specialization in arachnology (arachnids), with the subject of his doctoral thesis being a monograph of the spiders of Bohemia and Moravia. A book about a trip to West Africa in the tropics near the Gulf of Guinea was published under Pilát's name during the Protectorate (1941) (both in 1945). In the same year (1928), Jiří set off via Germany to Marseilles and then by boat via Suez, Bombay, and Ceylon (Sri Lanka) to Singapore for another great expedition, this time to Southeast Asia. He traveled by car through the Malay Peninsula and was particularly interested in collecting insects. He went on to Siam (now Thailand) via Penang and from there by boat to Java, where an ornithological congress was held. He traveled all over the island as part of the congress participants' journeys. He ended his journey prematurely in Ceylon with symptoms of malaria. He described his recollections of the journey in his books for young people, Abdal's Adventurous Journey (published as Růžena Baumová, 1940), On the Banks of the Indian Ocean (1936), and translated and published the Malay tale Pa Belalang (1930).

In Jiří's apartment in Vinohrady, a plan was made for another expedition, this time to North Africa (1930), with National Museum zoologists Josef Mařan, Jan Obenberger, Karel Táborský and Václav Jan Staňek. In a car provided by Jiří, they drove through Tunis and Algiers. During the trip they acquired a large number of African animals, which later greatly enriched the collections of the National Museum.

In 1931 he undertook an expedition to Africa with the sculptor, ethnographer, and traveler František Vladimír Foit. They traveled in Foit's modified Tatra 12, the bodywork of which had been modified into an expedition special by Oldřich Uhlík's coachbuilder in Strašnice, Prague. This Tatra was the first car with a two-cylinder engine to cross the Black Continent. The journey began on 1 April 1931 and led to the port of Trieste, and from there by steamer to Alexandria, where they spent less than a month exploring the ancient Egyptian monuments. Via Cairo, along the Nile, they reached Aswan, by steamer to Wadi Halfa in Sudan, and on via Khartoum and Kodok to Stanleyville in what was then the Belgian Congo. Around Lake Albert, they continued to Uganda and Nairobi in Kenya.

Travel the old way

Here they met their compatriots the Lanyas. Their son Ludvík Lány not only “decorated” their car with traveling trinkets, but also convinced them to climb Kili Manjara (5 895 m). They climbed up to 5,500 m, but due to severe fatigue, they decided to turn back. They continued through Tanganyika to Victoria Falls in the former Northern Rhodesia and arrived in Cape Town in the then South African Union via Southern Rhodesia on 20 October 1931. From there they arrived in Southampton by boat on 31 October 1931 and happily returned to Prague via Dunkirk on 7 December 1931.

During the journey (eight months and six days – 24,000 km) Jiří devoted himself to studying and collecting fauna and described everything in books: The African Wilderness (1933), By Car from Prague to the Cape of Good Hope (1933) and in the children's book The Adventurous Journey of a Little Negro (1935). Before his African journey, Jiří met Růžena Fikejzlová, a traveler, future writer, and photographer, at Spanish language courses at the Spanish Club. Růžena graduated from a trade school in Chrudim (1915-1917), then worked as an accountant in a Prague wholesale store. She liked to travel and visited some European countries with a friend. She and Jiří corresponded during his African trip and after his return, on 17 June 1932, they had a wedding. Jiří gained in the person of his wife not only a good wife but also a great support, not only on his travels. She helped him to collect scientific material, process it, and take photo documentation. She was instrumental in the publication of many of Jiří's books, especially after the war.

Beyond the Ordinary

In 1933, they set off on their first joint journey in Tatra 54, which took them through Poland to the Baltic States and on to Finland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark. In 1934 they travelled through Spain and Morocco, where Jiří studied, photographed and continued to collect material for his zoological work. They set out on their biggest expedition in a six-wheel Tatra 72 with a four-wheel drive, petrol, and air-cooled engine, which reached speeds of up to 60 km/h (consumption 18 litres per 100 km). The Prague coachbuilder Oldřich Uhlík built a residential expedition car on its chassis with a kitchen that could be converted into a darkroom for processing photographic material.

Their journey began in front of the Prague Car Club on 23 December 1934 and led via Suez to Ceylon and Western Australia, where they arrived in February 1935. They arrived in Canberra in May and continued across Australia, where they also promoted Czechoslovakia on the radio, at talks in clubs, and even in a film that has survived.

On their return to Brisbane on 29 July 1935, they sailed by the Atsuta Maru along the southeastern coast of Australia to the Philippines and traveled through the island of Mindanao. The boat then sailed via Hong Kong to the Japanese islands of Kyushu and Honshu, where Jiří was engaged in insect collecting from August to October. From Yokohama, they continued via Hawaii to San Francisco. They visited Los Angeles, the Sierra Nevada, and Sequoia National Park and drove through the Mojave Desert. On the way back, they sailed through the Panama Canal to Jamaica, the Antilles, and London. They ended their journey on December 22, 1935, again in front of the Prague Autoclub. Jiří described the journey in his books Around the World by Car and Boat (1937), Hawaii Yesterday, and Today (1947). He also published a handbook of advice for travelers and emigrants, On Long Journeys (1939), and published his ornithological experiences in the book Birds of Great Prague (1955).

The Baums went to Africa and on their last trip abroad again in their Tatra 72 in 1938-1939. They drove through Austria already in the shadow of Nazi symbols. They set sail from Trieste, passed through Suez, and on along the east coast of Africa to the port of Lourenço Marques (today Maputo, Mozambique). They visited Massawa in Eritrea, Beira in Mozambique, Krueger National Park (the oldest in Africa), Johannesburg, Pretoria, the Kalahari Desert, the land of the Zulus, the Dragon Mountains, and ended their journey in what is now the South African port of Durban. In Africa, they learned about the seizure of their home's borderlands. For the return journey, they chose an Italian ship with many stops (they sailed for 70 days), which Jiří used to study the animals of the African coastal areas. Despite the warning signs, they returned to Prague on 13 March 1939, driven by patriotic feelings. This was two days before the German occupation and the declaration of the Protectorate (16 March 1939).

The War

Returning to his homeland, Jiří fell into the trap of the Nuremberg Laws and it was only a matter of time before they caught up with him. Some “freedom” within the framework of anti-Jewish measures was offered by mixed marriages, the members of which were to come later. But already in Africa they were determined to take some active part in the post-Monarchic scene. Since Růžena and Anna Pollertová had participated in the activities of the pre-war Women's National Council, where they also met JUDr. Milada Horáková, this may well have been their route into the left-wing resistance group RU-DA.

Anna soon became an important liaison between illegal groups and secretary of the resistance group Petition Committee We Remain Faithful (PVVZ). In 1939 she pawned her property worth 2.5 million crowns, which she used to finance illegal activities. A number of meetings of representatives of resistance groups were held in her apartment. Jiří also managed to photograph the plans for a new type of aircraft and the German atomic energy research at Albertov.

The Baums arranged the renting of two apartments in their house, used for secret meetings, and Anna obtained other illegal apartments for PVVZ members. Anna was aware that her activities in the resistance had to be carried out underground in order to remain safe, so she met with the Baums in the apartment of the owner of a dairy in Žižkov (Lucemburská no. 16). She spent one and a half years underground, though was arrested on October 21, 1941, and was imprisoned in Prague on Charles Square in the Prague Gestapo prison in the former Criminal Court building.

This was the last time the Baums saw Anna. It was in the window of the back wing in Lazarská Street, where they brought their son Petr (born 19 November 1941) in a pram so that Anna could still see him. Anna was handed over to the Small Fortress in Terezín and in September 1942 to the prisons in Leipzig and Dresden. However, she continued her resistance activities from prison in the form of Morse code messages embroidered in the hems of her clothes and linen. She was sentenced to death by the Special Senate in Berlin on 14 November 1944 for preparing treason. Her execution in Berlin-Plötzensee took place on 10 or 11 January 1945.

Jiří was arrested on 10 June 1943 on a denunciation “under a Czech name”, not for participation in the resistance, but for racial reasons. First, like Anna, he was in the prison on Charles Square, and then, on 17 August 1943, he was transferred to the Small Fortress Terezín. After two months, on October 22, 1943, he left Terezín and was probably taken back to the Gestapo prison in Prague and from there to the Nazi extermination camp Auschwitz in Poland. We can only speculate further. At the end of January, Jiří died at the age of 44. Our information was that he was in Terezín, from where he signed up for work in Warsaw, where he died of blood poisoning. Of that working group, it is said that all the others survived to see the end of the war.

The anti-Jewish laws caught up with Anna and Jiří's parents. Josef and Františka Baum were deported together on 12 February 1942 to the Terezín ghetto where they did not survive. The same fate befell Anna's husband, Rudolf Pollert. He was also transported to the Terezín ghetto where he did not survive. Anna's daughter and son, Irena and Herbert Pollert, were also transported to the Terezín ghetto. Irena was liberated there, but her brother Herbert was not so lucky.

Jiří's wife, Růžena Baumová, and her son Petr survived the last weeks of the war, including the dramatic events of the Prague Uprising in May 1945, in a makeshift apartment in Prague's Spořilov district. Then they moved to a house in Jihozápadní III. In the first years after the war, Růžena published her husband's books and her own until 1948. Petr Baum studied mechanical engineering, specializing in agricultural machinery. He had met his future wife then and married her on 20th August 1968. After school, he joined a research institute for a year and then left for an apartment in Neratovice and worked in Spolana.

From 1983 Petr Baum taught in Betlémská Street and his wife Marie worked as a teacher at the Folk Art School. In 1985 they emigrated with their children Jiří and Jana to Australia, where Petr Baum got a job as a teacher at a private school in Sydney. Petr's family still lives here today, and it is thanks to him that we have acquired these fascinating biographies!

Dr. Jiří Baum spoke eleven languages, the main European ones, but also Malay, Arabic, and Swahili. He traveled to five continents, took an incredible number of photographs, and collected valuable zoological material. He donated part of the collections and a professional library to the Institute of Zoology of Charles University, ethnological collections to the Náprstek Museum, and the National Museum for 250,000 specimens (rewarded with the title of honorary assistant). He described a number of new species bearing his name (Alleculodes baumi, Carabus baumi, Hydrobaumia, Phellinus baumii…). He has compiled his observations and travel experiences in a number of travelogues and has written books for young people or popular science works. Probably his best-known work is Around the Globe by Car and Boat (1937). The Stone of the Disappeared by Jiří Baum (Stolperstein) can be found in Prague's Přemyslovská Street No. 28.

Big thanks to Petr Baum for photos (colours are estimated by AI and might not match exact reality) and Luděk Sládek from Kam po Cesku for the inspirative text and tour to history of camping and world's events of the 20th century.

By Tasha and Tristan • March 2023

Tasha and Tristan are enthusiastic camper travelers, currently journeying in their orange vintage Mercedes van. Natasha, who previously lived in Borneo working for orangutan conservation, brings a minimalist lifestyle to their vanlife. The couple, without a permanent base, take on various projects across Europe, from pet-sitting to house renovation, earning enough for food and petrol. They constantly seek incredible camper stops to share with Camperguru members.

Check 26 Verified spots at Camperguru by Tasha and Tristan.

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