From Janko Kráľ to the father of the steam turbines

The brigand, poet and inventor meet… And do you know where? Obviously in the Janko Kráľ Museum in Liptovský Mikuláš! Today, we’ll have a look at the next part of our TripTip, which we already started in the previous article. Previously you could read about probably the best-known Slovak brigand. And now we’ll together learn something about not very simple history of our nation, which was accompanied by Janko Kráľ and his poems and represented in the world by inventor Aurel Stodola.

After we learned the fascinating but sad history of the Carpathian brigand Juraj Janosik and spent a moment in his torture chamber, we continued our tour. From the underground of an old burgher house, we walked up a massive staircase lined with a chronological map of important years connected with the life of Slovak, Aurel Stodola – the father of steam turbines. When we went upstairs, we found ourselves in a room where a human skull stared at us. The first room is dedicated to the oldest history of the city, which we discussed in the previous article. The next one represents the pride of Liptovs for their typical craftsmanship – tanning = processing leather and leather products.

This heart of Liptov has always been key to our national history, especially in the 19th century. Not only one of our most significant poets Janko Kráľ was born here, as well as the inventor, who stands behind the first flexible prosthesis of the human hand, Aurel Stodola, but also the Requests of the Slovak Nation were written here – document showing the opinion that perhaps a small but proud nation does not want to be just a nation of plebeians. But let’s take it from the beginning!

Life of young Kráľ (EN: King)

In the spring of April 24, 1822, Janko Kráľ was born in this town under the Tatras peaks. He spent his childhood in the town of his origin Liptovský Mikuláš and later applied for the lyceum in Levoča. And he changed several schools. After his studies in Levoča he studied at the Lyceum in Kežmarok, but finally he went to the Lutheran Lyceum in Bratislava, where coincidentially Ľudovít Štúr worked as Deputy Professor. And this is where his journey of Štúr’s poet began. He wrote here his first poems, first works, mainly on Slavic and national topics. Since this generation of poets represented pan-Slavic reciprocity, they were very dissatisfied with the hostility of the Russians and Poles. That is why Janko Kráľ attempted a symbolic reconciliation in his poem Zlomok (En: Fraction) about the Fight of the Russians with the Poles, which has a happy ending and the fighters from both sides will reconcile.

His studies in Bratislava ended soon, when him together with other 20 students ended his studies at the Lyceum in Bratislava as a protest against the dismissal of their teacher Ľudovít Štúr from his post of deputy professor. He returned to the lyceum in Levoča, but studied in the comfort of his home and probably even in his room, which is showed to the people in the exposition of Janko Kráľ Museum. We can find there common subjects from that perion, school supplies and among other things there is also a bust of this romantic poet.

At that time he was already well-known and recognized at home, and even actively participated in the establishment of the Tatrín association, which museum we also visited. It is possible that he wrote his most famous poem in a room similar to the one you can visit in the museum. The poem which every Slovak surely remembers from school desks. It is Duma Bratislavská. But soon a revolution broke out! People fought against Magyarization and even this romantic poet fought with both, the weapon and the poem in his hand. But soon he was captured and could only recite his most famous poem Duma Bratislavská in Hungarian captivity…

Ten prešporský zámok pekný murovaný —
čudujú sa z neho na Dunaj tí páni,
čuduje sa z neho aj záhorský šuhaj:
ako pekne tečie ten povestný Dunaj.

(An excerpt from the poem Duma Bratislavská, not available in English)

How Slovaks didn’t want to be strangers in their own country anymore

A few years before the revolution, the Tatrín association we already mentioned was founded, with museum which belongs to the Janko Kráľ Museum in Liptovský Mikuláš. The poet Janko Kráľ himself took part in his establishment. The association was based in the evangelical vicarage of M. M. Hodža, right here in the heart of Liptov. After a tour (either a memorial house or Janosik’s torture chamber), or directly after purchasing a ticket, a lecturer will take you to the Tatrín museum building. Hodža’s vicarage is about three minutes walk from the box office, but it took us a little longer due to the icing and bad weather conditions that were currently in this region under the Tatra mountains.

After we arrived, our guide, who was even a graduate historian, showed us one of the most important pieces of our national history. The place where the institution that supported cultural life in Slovakia was located, was responsible for publishing and distribution of books in the Slovak language and it also contributed to improving the literacy of the local population. But the most important thing is that its members have written one of the most important documents of the Slovaks. This document is the Requests of the Slovak Nation.

The Requests of the Slovak Nation became a national program and with their 14 points accurately described the current requirements and needs of the Slovak nation. They also demanded the release of the poet Janko Kráľ. They were written on 10 May 1848 in Liptovský Mikuláš. You can also find these requests at the museum and your guide will tell you more about them. But in the meantime, to give you an idea of what an ordinary Slovak person in the mid-19th century was worried about, let’s briefly summarize each point:

I.  In spite of the oppression experienced by our ancestors, in the first point they forgive those who deny them freedom and demand nothing but the equality and brotherhood of all nations in the Kingdom of Hungary and their own identity.
II.  They demanded that every nation had an equal representation in the Diet of Hungary.
III.  But they also wanted to be their masters, just as every nation should be, and so they demanded their own national – diet of a country.
IV.  People should be faithful to their countries, and that is why they wanted to punish the “betrayal of the nation” within the Kingdom of Hungary.
V.  Székesfehérvár. Do you understand that? Even the Slovaks did not understand in the 19th century. But Stoličný Belehrad sounds better! And that is why another requirement was to abolish the law ordering the use of only the Hungarian language and permission to use national languages.
VI.  Being able to speak Slovak in the authorities and in public life is something we could not do without. But what would that right be for if this language was not taught? 6th point demanded the establishment of Slovak schools, grammar schools and one university.
VII.  However, they did not forget their southern neighbors, even though they were not generous to the Slovaks. The lucky number of seven was about the creation of Slovak faculties at Hungarian schools and vice versa so that nations could understand each other.
VIII.  „Those who beat their swords into plowshares usually end up plowing for those who kept their swords,“ Benjamin Franklin said a century earlier. In this spirit was also the following point – the creation of a national guard that would prevent the independence and sovereignty of the Slovak nation. And, if necessary, it would carry the red-and-white flag proudly into the fight, flag they had also asked for in this point.
IX.  Feudalism was a left-over from the Middle Ages. A new era was coming. Our ancestors wanted to embark on a new path of democracy and demanded that everyone at the age of 20 could vote for their elected representatives.
X.  Freedom of the press and of speech goes hand in hand with democracy. Here we can see that a few decades ago the Štúrs have been ahead of their time demanding the abolition of censorship.
XI.  Rulers, you are useless! That’s something Jánošík said to the rulers in the movie, and maybe not just in the movie. Even the 19th-century Slovaks realized this, and so they demanded the complete abolition of serf dependence and the return of land to the hands of the common people.
XII.  They did not forget about their friend Janko Kráľ, who repeated the Duma of Bratislava in the dungeon and they asked for his release.
XIII.  When a Slovak sees wrong, he stands up against it. And so they demanded freedom for the Polish nation, living under Austrian rule in Galicia, and again for all nations in Hungary.
XIV.  Ask politely for something and say thank you is something our parents, grandparents and even great grandparents taught us. It is for their upbringing that we should honor them and thank them, as well as everyone who will support this path of freedom, which the Slovaks asked for his imperial Majesty Ferdinand V, his Majesty the Hungarian Palatine, as well as the entire Diet of Hungary .

The Slovak flag from the Requests of the Slovak Nation, first used in a theater performance on April 23, 1848 in Brezová pod Bradlom

Whoever feels like a Slovak, catch the sword and stand up with us

Unfortunately, they were not successful with the emperor or the Diet of Hungary. But after the revolution broke out, the Slovaks led by Ľudovít Štúr, Jozef Miloslav Hurban, and the army commander – Captain Ján Francisci, armed a Slovak army consisting of several thousand volunteers, founded the Slovak National Council, and in three expeditions they pushed Hungarian Guard out of Slovakia for more than a year, and they did everything they could to prevent Hungarians from ruling. However, after the dissolution of the army, the events returned to old ways and unfulfulled promises from the new emperor Franz Joseph I brought the Slovaks back to where they were before, for another decades.

Despite that Slovaks didn’t have their own countra, freedom and Magyarization, they managed to fight, became visible, and as written in the Declaration of the Slovak Nation (which we have already mentioned in our special TripTip), contribute to the general progress of humanity. And in the spirit of this idea, our nation was represented by the Slovak inventor, professor, engineer, constructor, writer, doctoral student, member of the French Academy of Sciences, holder of the highest honor of the German Gold Medal of the James Watt, which is the Nobel Prize of engineering. You would say that someone so important and studied came from England, France, or maybe the United States. Wrong! This undoubtedly intelligent and strong-minded inventor came from Liptovský Mikuláš. It was Aurel Stodola.

A Slovak who taught Einstein!

The exposition of the museum, which was once again guided by our willing guide, is dedicated to him. Or guide told us how Aurel Stodola was born into a respected tannery family on May 11, 1859. His father was even a local mayor. He graduated all of his studies with excellent results and his teachers described him as a gifted, contemplative and hard-working student. From his youth he had the predisposition to become a respected person. As a 17-year-old he studied at the Technical University of Budapest and after reaching adulthood he went to study in Zurich, Switzerland.

He was undoubtedly a polytechnic genius who made himself and Slovakia famous for the creation of the first movable artificial hand, for those who lost their own and needed a prosthesis. Except that, he created something even more significant. He became the father of steam turbines. In addition, he also invented a heat pump that currently heats the Geneva City Hall in Switzerland. And the last cherry on the cake is that Aurel Stodola taught one of the most important scientists in the world. His student was Albert Einstein himself! He lived until he reached a beautiful age of 83 and died in Switzerland in 1942.

Liptovský Mikuláš is surely a city that is, has always been and will always be closely linked with our nation and history. Such a small town was the scene of such important events and recognized so many important Slovaks that you probably had no idea about it until today. It is said that a nation which does not know or forgets its past has no future. We should not give up on our nation, our country, and we should be proud of our history. It hides more than we can imagine. Aurel Stodola, despite the tremendous success worldwide, as a world-renowned inventor who has achieved high prestige, did not forget where he came from. Always, until the end he claimed Slovak nationality. In 1939, when the Slovaks for the first time in history acquired their own state, unfortunately for a terrible price, he wrote as an 80-year-old in his letter:

“My feelings for my nation have not cooled. When I was invited to college in Zurich, I clearly highlighted my origins and I have been emphasizing it ever since. ”

Let’s appreciate our history, appreciate what we have and learn about the historical events that led us to it. Aurel Stodola never forgot and never stopped appreciating his native land. So we never forget …

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