The city of cable-netted sky

This article can be listened to in a form of a podcast. Click here: The city of cable-netted sky

When in Czech Republic, you can expect at least two things to happen to you. The first one, that you will be ripped off, mainly by taxi drivers. The prices in hundreds of Czech Crowns may confuse the best mathematicians… Let’s say however you managed to escape this one and found yourself in a bar.

Unlike in Paris, where it is worth paying for everything straightaway as prices go up as the night goes down, here, in Czech Republic there’s no need to worry about the price (unless the waiter decides to rip you off of course). The waiter brings you a little piece of paper that stays with you for the night somewhere in the middle of the table. You will not run away ‘cos the drinks are big and strong, they know it 🙂

Every time you order a pint, which in fact is almost a litre, you get a line drawn on that piece of paper. At the end of the night, your lines are simply added up and you get what you asked for. Only here, if you cannot afford it, you will clean the toilets instead. Funny or not, worth the beer!

Czechs are addicted to beer. Here note that there are Czechs and Moravians there. Those latter drink wine and are much friendlier in fact 🙂 I dare to believe it is due to the closenes to the Polish borders 🙂

While driving around you will notice plenty of fields of hops spread on the wooden constructions. Apparently Europeans drink 342 mln hectolitres of beer annually and so there is a good reason behind the new trend that has recently emerged, namely – beer tourism. And if that, where, other than Octoberfest, would you go? Of course to Plzeň (Pilsner), where one of the tastiest world beers has been produced since 1842. As the one of the first golden lagers, it conquered the world and gained the golden beer 70% of all beer lovers.

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The construction of Pilsner Brewery began in mid-September 1838, when a talented Bavarian brewer Josef Groll was hired to brew a new liquor. On November 11, 1842, the first barrels left the new brewery. And very quickly beer from Plzeň became a hit – not only among the inhabitants of Plzeň. The first batches of beer from the municipal brewery in Plzeň were soon sent to Prague. The pub where they were served quickly had to be resized. From 1856 it was exported to Vienna where it spread its wings even more among both, the many Vieniese Czechs as well as the aborigins.

The peoples of Plzeň were so intoxicated (wonder why!) by the success of their golden pilsner that they completely forgot to name it.

In 1859 the trademark “Pilsner Bier” was registered. In 1898, the brewery went a step further by registering its beer as Pilsner Urquell – meaning in translation “the original source/ spring of pilsner”.

Right now even beers brewed in Berlin and Amsterdam are called pilsners.

The popularity of the new beer continued to grow in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Soon, the brewery from Plzeň established the first subsidiary company, in which 20 well-known entrepreneurs invested. One of them was Emil Škoda, a prominent Czech investor and entrepreneur. That’s the one from Škoda Auto now produced by Volkswagen Group along with Audi.

Taking the opportunity I cannot stop myself from sharing this very common in the Czech Republic joke: Je to Škoda pane Škoda, že ta Škoda nepojede – lit. ‘It’s a pity Mr. Pity that this Škoda will not move off’.

To this day Pilsner Urquell, popular all over the world, is brewed only in Czech Plzeň in the same way and with the same 100% Czech ingredients since 1842. Its unique taste is determined by the Plzeň water, Moravian barley, SAAZ type hops and the unique Pilsner H yeast, which are “descendants” of the original yeast culture from which Josef Groll, brewed the first Pilsner Urquell in 1842. They are so valuable that their samples are stored in refrigerated safes around the world: in Prague, Paris, London and Johannesburg.

Every Easter the brewery in Plzeň brews a special party Pilsner Urquell, which is blessed by local priests, and then sent to the Vatican, where it goes to official events related to the celebrated holiday.

Vaclav Havel used to sip Pislner Urquell with The Rolling Stones, American State Secretary Madeleine Albright and with Bill Clinton, althouth l think Havel does not smoke cigars…

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It was a very sunny autumn day when we hit the road for Plzeň and the moment we neared the city I noticed something most fascinating. Being from Poland, I am very well used to trams and electric buses in the cities. Plzeň however welcomes you with a net of cables above your head. Anywhere you look, cables. Pretty fascinating and at the same time giving you a totally weird feeling. After all, we usually look at the sky without anything in between, of course unless it is a window or glasses….

And I have instantly fallen in love with this town. The traffic was unreal and very chaotic, caused by the presence of these cable trams and buses. It felt a bit fairytale-ish in fact. A bit like in an old fashioned amusement parks where something is turning around, something else goes up and down, other things swing, so here, you look left and there comes a car followed by a bus but they must suddenly stop because another one is coming, then the tram, etc etc. And majority of them attached to the cable! I only wonder how oh how can they not get tangled!

This was a few years back and now the city has a new fleet of modern vehicles but it all looks equally fascinating. It is best experienced while driving though, you simply have to get onto that carousel and allow yourself to… feel dizzy…

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After visiting the museum we strolled through the city admiring some truly fascinating architechture from across the centuries. There are a good few buildings to stop by and marinade over for a while, even just to absorb the beauty of the finishes, the old building techniques or the materials used to construct these edifices. Mesmerizing and decorative.

There is one more building there that is pretty special. Built between 1890-1893 Velká Synagoga, the Great Synagogue, the largest in Czech Republic, is the 2nd largest in Europe and the 3rd largest in the world.

Only this fot. Marcin Szala

The building was used for religious purposes until the IIWW when of course it was destroyed entirely. Later returned to the Jewish community, however during the Russian occupation it was given to the public. Only in 1995-98, it underwent an overall renovation and restoration and is now used for concerts and events. There is still a small room there left for the prayers of the local Jews.

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My favourite places in Plzeň were two, one was the total kingdom of embroidery floss 😀 and I stocked up for years to come. The other one was a little clothes shop run by the Korean ladies. I still have a dress I bought in there. I have never worn it yet in all 13 years or so but it is absolutely beautiful and I do not regret buying it 🙂 (if you are a woman, you know what I mean).

Being international, you got friends or acquaintances everywhere. So we do in Plzeň. As such, the rest of that day was spent in a very good company of a lovely man who made a fortune selling army clothes and collectors stuff. I was not in the subject but after a huge pint or two of Pilsner you just don’t mind the random men talk.

And the cable-net sky seemed even cooler after that pint. Of course I was not driving.

Na zdravi!

A mějte se krasně!

Zas brzo naschledanou.

Anka

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Bond’s Elbow

If you prefer to listen to this article, click here: Bond’s Elbow

A little town, only about 20 minutes drive to the border with Germany, where Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the author of i.e. Faust and The Sorrows of Young Werther, a romantic poet, writer, lawyer, philosopher and public servant in the 18th century Germany, used to visit and reside.

In his 70s he was deeply in love with a teenager, Ulrike von Levetzow whom he used to meet with in Carlsbad (Karlovy Vary – a nearby city) and Marienbad (Marianske Lazne) but whom he never even proposed to due to opposition from her mother! Geee, good woman!

From that time we have the Marienbad Elegy though, so nothing wasted. Especially that he soon after fell in love with a Polish pianist, Maria Agata Szymanowska, so the guy was full of feelings and did not waste the time for tears.

Anyway, from all that we have a lovely restaurant in this little Czech town, that is called Loket, named after Herr Goethe, and it is at the table of this very restaurant where Daniel Craig aka James Bond 007 meets Vesper Lynd for a chat with their MI6.

I’m talking about Casino Royale, 2006.

Although the town pretends to be an unknown location in Montenegro, unfortunately the makers forgot to change the name of the hotel on the opposite side of the square and it screams Bílý Kůň (Hotel White Horse) in the movie. See for yourselves 1’40”:

The rest of the movie was filmed in a nearby Carlsbad (Karlovy Vary) and in Prague (Praha).

So Loket… hmmm… literally translated as Elbow from Czech. Here you have it where the River Ohře takes a sharp turn just before a huge rock on which the castle and the old town are built and this very turn resembles the shape of an elbow.

There are old town walls here surrounding the rock which are great for a sneaky kiss actually as not too many people go there really 🙂 Well, you may be observed by the spooky looking goats that live on the rock. The weirdest of things I have seen. They have black eyes with tiny, very bright yellow slits.

These days goats don’t like their rock that much and they tend to run away, which happens to be a local attraction.

On the opposite side of the river you will see a beautiful open air amfitheatre where some great shows take place; theatre plays, concerts, etc. Every year it hosts a National Czech Opera Festival.

Imagine you’re sitting in one of these amphiteater seats and it’s dusk and in front of you, just about 10 metres ahead accross the river, you have this… Hrad Loket – Loket Castle.

You should know that Czech Republic is a country that issues maps of castles and palaces as there are so many of them there.

The castle was built mainly for one purpose; to defend the borders with Germany. This was around 10th century however the first written mention of it dates back to two centuries later. As such, the actual ruler who built the fortress is also unknown and there are three names on the plate here. The general statement is that the castle was built in the 12th century by King Vladislav II and it was renowned as the Key to the Kingdom of Bohemia.

The rotunda and the tower come from the original Romanesque era but the majority of the building dates back to the pre-16th century Czech Gothic.

It is from here that the famous Roman emperor and bohemian King Charles IV, yep the one from the Charles bridge in Prague, used to go on his hunting sprees and this is where and how Karlovy Vary have come into life. See my other blog post here:

The Castle was believed to be the one which once conquered, meant the conquest of the entire country. It belongs to the town since the 16th century. From 1898 it is a museum.

The castle’s collection of precious minerals includes a fragment of the Loket meteorite also known as Elbogen. It fell in Loket around 1400 and weighed about 107 kg. For scientific research it was cut into smaller pieces. These fragments are in the possession of several museums in Europe and North America.

Visitors can see a chamber of torture in the underground, a collection of arms and diverse old military equipment as well as an extensive collection of the 19th and 20th century porcelain.

Loket is a tiny town with a huge history. Because of its location, want it or not, it became a melting pot of the Czech and German people and cultures. As west of the Czech Republic is very rich in minerals many skilled German workers lived in the area for hundreds of years, invited by the cities, due to their knowledge of mining.

In 1811 Fridrich Mohse, German geologist and minerologist, discovered kaolin in the area. This mineral can be used for production of porcelain and paper. 5 years later Mrs Josefa Haidingerová and her two sons built the first pottery factory which initially functioned as a branch of a, then famous, vienese porcelain factory to only one year later gain independency and continue to function for over a century.

Unfortunately 19th and 20th centuries saw plenty of cruelty here. Many of the German settlers were forced out of their properties as a result.

Loket often turns into a backround for Czech, German, Polish, Russian historical movies and among them you may also find some telling the actual story of its own inhabinants.

The beautiful Sokolovsky Les (Sokolov Forest) that surrounds the town has seen many terrible scenes too in the past. Now however, together with the Ohři river it is a wonderful recreational destination where one can enjoy free time actively by trekking, mountain biking, rafting, kayaking and many more.

The central section of the main street resembles a square and it is the very heart of Loket’s Old Town. The main landmarks are the Baroque town hall from 1696 and the Column of the Holy Trinity. There are a few hotels and restaurants on the square including the previously mentioned Goete.

The End…. but to be continued….

Anna, Agent 008

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