An Incredible Journey by Max Reisch – Review
By Rich Barnett
These days any sort of global travel is nothing terribly special, but the post-Great War period, up until the outbreak of the Second World War, saw many explorations of what were then far-flung, mysterious and consequently misunderstood nations – those emotions topped-off by some romanticism, perhaps.
From 1914 to 1939 numerous expeditions tackled Asia and Africa, as well as the Poles: Shackleton’s South Pole trip and Mallory’s fatal tackling of Everest spring to mind, and here is another lesser-known, but equally fascinating journey to add to that list.
In 1935 22-years old Austrian student Max Reisch took time away from his studies to travel across Asia by car, travelling through Iraq, Afghanistan, China, Vietnam and China, before going to Japan and then on to the USA.
Reisch had already travelled from Vienna to Bombay on a Puch motorcycle, and the grateful manufacturer offered him a car – albeit a small-engined, 35 horsepower Steyr-Puch ‘100’ model, for the journey. The company’s agenda – not only (hopefully) a successful journey and the attendant publicity it would generate, but the fact the journey would act as a laboratory to test components and the materials they were made from could never be replicated at the factory.
Clearly such a journey wasn’t easy and Reisch’s story details the officious border guards he met along the way, but in a self-deprecating, appreciative way. There were car troubles too, mainly centred on the rear axle and the differential, whose work was clearly cut out on the more-than-rough tracks-masquerading-as-roads of China.
“Far more than just a travelogue”
Reisch and his travelling companion, 19-year old Helmuth Hahmann, took the (literally and metaphorically) rough with the smooth along the way, and their approach to the locals was clearly one of respect and interest. That approach is explained throughout the book and today’s trustafarian travellers could do well to take note.
Numerous visits to collect visas, source fuel, repair the car, and be feted at numerous soires add to the story’s flavour, making this far, far more than just a travelogue.
Plaudits should be given not only to Reisch, whose enthusiasm brought the journey to fruition, but to translator Alison Falls, who has managed to preserve the trip’s flavour without the stilted prose too many translated books suffer from. The result is an uplifting read ideal for both those with wanderlust, and those with an interest in cars.
A highly, highly recommended read.
‘An Incredible Journey’ by Max Reisch is published by Veloce, £14.99