Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Lidice, Czech Republic

Monday the 28th, was a public holiday so it was fitting that on our way back from Plzeň we stopped off to visit Lidice.  Lidice is a small village, northwest of Prague.  During WWII, the village was completely destroyed by the Nazis.  Here's what happened...

In 1942, Lidice was a one-road village with a Baroque Catholic church, a school and some family homes.  During the war, all of Czechland was part of the Nazi Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.  The protectorate was under the control of Reinhard Heydrich, one of Hitler's favorites.  The Czechoslovak government-in-exile, in London, dispatched two resistance fighters, one Czech and one Slovak to Prague.  On May 27th, they attacked Heydrich's motorcade in Prague.  Heydrich died eight days later.  Hitler was so enraged that he ordered his troops to "wade through blood" to find the killers.

Bodies at the Horák Farm
There was a supposed connection from someone in the village to one of the killers.  Therefore Lidice was to be destroyed.  Hitler gave four orders.
  1. Execute all adult men.
  2. Transport all women to a concentration camp.
  3. All children suitable for Germanization were to be placed with SS families in the Reich.  The rest of the children were to be dispatched.
  4. Burn down the village and level it entirely.
Some of the victims
On June 10th, everyone in the village was rounded up.  All of the men were shot outside of the Horák family house.  All of the women were sent to the women's concentration camp at Ravensbrück, near Berlin.

Murdered children's memorial

The children not selected for Germanization were sent to the Chełmno concentration camp in Poland, where they were eventually gassed. 

Remains of the Horák Farm

The village was burned to the ground.  Explosives were used to level the remaining buildings.  Everything, including the cemetery, was bulldozed.  The village name was removed from all German-made maps.
U.S. WWII Lidice poster

Unlike other atrocities, which the Nazis kept secret, the destruction of Lidice was highly publicized.

Where the school was

Two weeks later, an even smaller village called Ležáky, on the opposite side of Prague, was also completely razed.  While both villages were destroyed, Lidice is the one that receives all of the attention.

At the end of the war, only 153 women and 17 children returned to Lidice.  In total, about 340 people were killed.

Lidice today
A new Lidice was rebuilt in 1949 about 1 km from the original site.  The original spot has a very good museum that chronicles what happened.  Where the village once stood is a lovely spot.  It's hard to imagine that there was once a village here.

The rose garden is the largest collection of roses in Central Europe.  Of course, the end of October is not prime time rose season.

In 2011, the Czech film Lidice was released.  I finally saw the film this year and it was really well done.

Gallery in the new Lidice

The Nazis didn't exactly succeed in wiping Lidice off the map.  Several towns, including one near Chicago, were renamed in Lidice's honor.

Lidice also became a common name for girls. 

Plzeň, Czech Republic

Plzeň, in western Bohemia and with 170,000 people, is the 4th largest city in Czechland.  It is 90 km (56 miles) west of Prague.

It is most well known as the home of Pilsner beer.  It is also the home of Škoda.   

The town was established in 1295 and went on to become part of an important trade route between Bohemia and Bavaria.

Plzeň, along with Mons in Belgium, has been selected to be a European Capital of Culture in 2015.

The main site at Republic Square is the St. Bartholomew Cathedral.  The original church was completed around 1340.  It was renovated following a fire in 1507 and being struck by lightning in 1837.  The church was given cathedral status by Pope John Paul II in 1993.

The spire is 102.6 meters (336.6 feet) and is the highest in ČR.  The views make it worth a climb up to the top.

The St. Mary's plague column was built in 1681 to commemorate those lost to the "black death".

The Renaissance town hall is over 500 years old.

In front of a bank is a socialist memorial.  As well as a memorial to the communist terror from 1948 to 1989.

The brewery museum is located in a 15th-century building with an original license to brew beer. 

The historical underground is an interesting sight.  It's a network of three story cellars built in the Middle Ages.  It's necessary to wear a protective hat in order to keep from hitting your head on the low ceilings.

The Great Synagogue was completed in 1892.  It is the second largest synagogue in Europe and the third largest in the world.  It was used as a storage facility by the Nazis during the war and was closed down by the communists.  It was reopened in 1998 after three years of restoration.

General Patton's 16th Armored Division of the 3rd Army liberated Plzeň from the Nazis on May 6th, 1945.  After the communists seized power in 1948, they went to great lengths to suppress knowledge of the U.S. Army's part in liberating Western Bohemia.

WWII Monument for Czech solders
Until 1989, it was taught that the Red Army alone liberated Czechoslovakia.  There's now a memorial that says "Thanks America".

There is now an annual Liberation Festival that takes place every May 6th and many American veterans return each year.  I need to check it out next year.

The Plzeňský Prazdroj brewery has produced Pilsner Urquell since 1842.  It has also produced Gambrinus since 1869.  

The brewery tour is among the most popular things to do in town.  It's pretty interesting to see the bottling plant and the vats where the beer is produced.

Enjoying the good stuff!!

However, the best part is getting to taste the unfiltered, unpasteurized beer.  

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Pilsner Urquell

Before I moved to Czechland, I only knew of one Czech beer in the USA - Pilsner Urquell.  It has always been one of my favorites.  Though I have to admit it does taste better over here.

Plzeňský Prazdroj is better known by its German name Pilsner Urquell.  First brewed in Plzeň, in 1842, this was the world's first pilsner beer.  Ninety percent of the beer produced in the world is a copy of it.  Today the brand is owned by SABMiller and it is the most popular beer in CŘ.

Back in the 1840s, the standard beer in Bohemia was top-fermented with a dark color and inconsistent quality.  Pilsner Urquell is bottom-fermented with a light color.  They say that the secret to the beer is its hops, soft water and fire-brewing.

Some places offer unpasteurized, unfiltered, beer from wooden casks without any added CO
.  This is about as close as you can get to how beer tasted back in the 19th century.  Absolutely delicious!!

Here's a 2004 commercial I found out on YouTube.

It's a three day weekend and so I'm off in bit to Plzeň.  I fully plan to visit the brewery.  I have a feeling that I'll be taking my family there when they come visit next year. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Visegrád Group

In 2004, the Czech Republic (and 9 other countries) joined the European Union.  However, before it joined the EU it joined the Visegrád Group.

The Visegrád Four is an alliance between ČR, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary.

Back in 1335 there was a meeting in Visegrád between the rulers of Bohemia, Poland and Hungary, to create new commercial routes and gain easier access to other European markets.

In 1991, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary formed the Visegrád Group to eliminate the remnants of communism in Central Europe and to overcome historic animosities.  It became the Visegrád Four once Czechoslovakia split in to ČR and Slovakia in 1993.    

The presidency of the group rotates each year in June.  The International Visegrád Fund was established in 1999 and today it has an annual budget of €7 million.  It is used to fund joint projects in the areas of culture, the environment, defense, transportation, tourism, energy and information technology.

Collectively, the group makes up Europe's 7th largest economy.  The 14th largest in the world.  

This also helps explain why so many of the products I buy at the store are all labeled in Czech, Slovak, Polish and Hungarian.

Update:  The V4 celebrated its 30th anniversary.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

3 Bros' Hostel

A couple of months ago I got a random e-mail from one of the guys that recently opened a hostel in Cieszyn.  He had read my blog, knew that I liked Poland, and had an offer for me.  I was welcome to come stay at the hostel and if I liked it then maybe I would mention it on my blog.  Not a bad arrangement.

The 3 Bros' Hostel is the newest in Cieszyn.  It's about half way between Prague and Kraków.

It only takes about 15 minutes to walk to from the train station in Český Těšín.

They had dorms with shared bathroom facilities, as well as, private ensuite rooms.

We had a private room, with our own toilet and shower, for four people.  I can honestly say that I've never seen a triple high, four person bunk bed before.

The hostel offers free towels, bedding, breakfast, Wi-Fi, unlimited tea and coffee, a computer with Internet access, and luggage lockers.  There's also a nice common room with books and games.

Adam was working the weekend we were here and he took great care of us.  He pointed out all of the things we should see in the city and gave us some restaurant recommendations.   Dziękuję Adam!

This is a really nice, clean hostel and highly recommended.  Definitely, completely different from my first hostel experience in Milan.

Disclosure:  We stayed here two nights.  Krasimir and I stayed for free.  Nat and Eric received excellent discounts.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Cieszyn, Poland

Cieszyn is on the other side of the Olza River.  It is home to around 35,000 people.  While lots of Poles live in Český Těšín, not many Czechs live in Cieszyn.
Same flag as Český Těšín

Well of the Three Brothers

According to legend the city was founded in 810.  The sons of a prince - Bolko, Leszko and Cieszko, met at a spring, after a long pilgrimage, and found a new settlement.  If the legend is true then this is the oldest town in Poland.

The Market Square dates back to 1496.  It is home to the 500 year old town hall.

The Neoclassical Hunting Palace was the residence of the Habsburgs.  It was built from 1838 to 1840.  Since 1947 it has been home to the Cieszyn Music School.  In front of the palace is a monument to the Silesian Legionnaires who've died for Poland.

Behind the palace is Castle Hill.  The tower dates back to the 12th century and you get a great view of the town.  The Romanesque Rotunda of St. Nicholas and St. Václav is from around 1180.  It is one of the oldest churches in Poland.

The Museum of Cieszyn Silesia is the oldest, continuously opened, museum in Central Europe.
Cieszyn is famous for the Cieszynka, a small-caliber hunting riffle used to hunt birds.  They were produced from the 16th to 17th centuries.  Only about 300 of them can be found in museums and collections around the world.

There is only one synagogue still standing in town.  The Nazis were not able to destroy it during the war due to its proximity to residential buildings.

The Old Jewish Cemetery was established in 1647.  There are over 1,500 graves.  The last burial was in 1928.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Český Těšín, Czech Republic

Town Hall
Český Těšín is on the west bank of the Olza River.  Until the end of WWI, in 1918, it was called Sachsenberg when it was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  The new countries of Czechoslovakia and Poland both claimed the entire area.  This was critical for Czechoslovakia at the time because the railway here connected Bohemia and Moravia with eastern Slovakia.
Same coat of arms as Cieszyn

A compromise was reached in 1920 where the city was divided between the two countries which left a sizable Polish minority on the Czechoslovak side.
Cieszyn on the left, the Olza River in the center, and Český Těšín on the right.

Bilingual street sign
The Czech city has about 25,000 people.  Poles make up just over 16% of the population.  According to Czech law, bilingual signs may be displayed in areas where officially recognized minorities make up 10% or more of the population.  It's kind of interesting seeing all of the street signs in both Czech and Polish.  There are no Czech signs in Cieszyn because there aren't enough Czechs living on the Polish side.   

In several of the shops, people spoke both Czech and Polish.  And while prices were posted in Czech Crowns you could also pay with Polish Złoty.

Friendship Bridge
There are no longer border guards separating the two cities.  Since ČR and Poland joined Schengen in 2007, you can easily walk back and forth between the two sides at either the Friendship Bridge or the Peace Bridge.

The Neo-Gothic Catholic Sacred Heart of Jesus Church was built in 1894.

The Anti-Fascist Coalition of International Solidarity memorial was established in 1979.  It is dedicated to the Czech and Polish army units killed from 1939 to 1945.

Masaryk Park

The statue of St. John of Nepomuk is one of the oldest statues in the city.  It dates back to the 18th century and is located in Masaryk Park.

The Těšín Theater was established in 1951 and moved to its current location in 1961.  It's unique because it contains two ensembles who present plays in both Czech and Polish.  It is one of only three theaters outside of Poland with a professional Polish ensemble.