Oscar Mathisen
Speedskating - Oscar Diary


A hundred years ago today, Oscar Mathisen and his two companions passed (hopefully) comparatively undisturbed eastwards along the Elbe, or Labe as the river preferentially is named in these regions today. Around 2AM the train (probably) turned south to follow the Zwittawa (Svitava) river down to Brünn (Brno), which they reached around 5. Here they were (probably) disturbed by new passengers again, as their “smokescreen” had (must have) dissipated by then. And moreover, the train had travelled less than an hour after the departure from Brünn when there was another “Umsteigen” as the Bohemian third class carriages were to be replaced by Austrian ones. Plus, customs officers were rummaging through the luggage of our heroes again for the n’th time. As usual, the 2nd class carriages were not exchanged, and their passengers could continue undisturbed.

It was dawning on the third day, the day of arrival, when our three skating friends reached Vienna, the empire capital. We might guess they fancied some sightseeing, but of course they had to catch the next train, and anyway their sleepless eyes weren’t too receptive to sights, however monumental they might be. Soon they were on their way to Graz, stopping briefly at Wiener Neustadt and Neunkirchen on the Steinfeld plain. Then the train passed into the mountains, following the river Mürz, and the railway line became curvy and scenic.

(If I am inferring correctly from the implications Oscar is making in his book,) The Gleinalp track that would have taken them directly to Klagenfurt didn't exist then, so they had to follow the route south to Graz, which they (may have) reached around 2PM, and from there to Marburg, today’s Maribor. But (apparently, if I have inferred correctly) before they could get to Marburg, our friends were exposed to another set of customs officers, and yet another “Umsteigen”, for the above-mentioned reasons, on the Slovenian border. (Of course, the empire had to gain the income for its monuments some way or another.)

Anyway, our tired travellers took great courage from the fact that in Marburg, the last leg of their long journey was starting. They left the wintry Slovenian town (I imagine) at sunset, and again the line became scenic in the twilight as it wound through the hills of Pohorje. Of course, they had to enter Austria proper again, and according to the usual procedure. But this didn’t bother our travellers too much now. They had only one thing on their minds: the beds waiting for them at their destination.

The eve was moonless, and no heavenly objects mirrored in the Klopeiner See (it looks much smaller on Google Maps than in my old atlas) as they clattered past. But finally the darkness was relieved by lights glimmering up front, visible through the windows as the train banked in the curves (their carriage probably was windowless, but there were windows in others), the lights of Klagenfurt.

The national champion and his teammates, the two Mathisen brothers, gladly left the train behind and the wheezing and the steely grating noises of the railway station, heading for the hotel and the room(s?—probably not) kept ready for them by the European Championship organisers. No meals. No unpacking. No writing or cabling or phoning home to say they had safely arrived. They just got their keys, headed straight for their room, located their beds, changed into their pajamas and went into a comfortable, dreamy sleep.