The archduke with the dragon tattoo

The archduke with the dragon tattoo

Franz Ferdinand, the Austrian archduke whose assassination by a Serbian nationalist in 1914 set off World War I, has always been more famous for his death than for his life. But, as Der Spiegel recently reported, thanks to rediscovered and newly published travel diaries from his 1892 journey around the world, readers will be able to get a new look at the complex personality of the young heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne — who was at once an avid hunter and a conservationist, at once supercilious and vocally anti-imperialist.

Judging by Der Spiegel‘s report, the 2,000 or so pages of notes, written in a "powerfully elegant" style, give a fascinating account of an adventure that, though high-profile at the time (the entourage at certain points contained over 400 people), seems to have largely been forgotten.

FF (as the archduke signed his name in his notes) was just 28 years old at the time of his journey. Here are some highlights from this not-so-typical grand tour:

  • Getting a dragon tattooed on his arm in Japan
  • A tiger hunt in the foothills of the Himalayas, with 203 elephants
  • Bargaining with a cannibal woman for a bag of nuts
  • A battle with a lizard in Ceylon ("I approached the lizard as St. George approached the dragon.")
  • Tropical birds flying out of a cake, and champagne in the jungle with the Nizam of Hyderabad
  • The hunting list: sting rays in India, crocodiles in Jakarta, kangaroos in Australia, vultures, koalas, skunks, and storks

According to Der Spiegel, FF had nuanced opinions about the United States, which he saw as both heroic and ruthless. On one hand, he wrote, "Citizens of the Union" have the potential "to be larger than life, to be Übermenschen." On the other, he found the Wild West to be disappointing. He lamented the shrinking forests and the suffering of the Native Americans. Moreover, the "hoped-for grizzly bears refused to run in front of his rifle, cowboys cavalierly put their feet on the table in his presence, and smoking was prohibited everywhere."

This is going to be some fantastic reading.