The Czech Republic has a rich history of automotive design and production. With names like Škoda, Tatra and Praga known worldwide for years and many other manufacturers over the years with their own output; Czechs have all the reason in the world to be proud and nostalgic of their automotive heritage.
The annual Brno Revival vintage car event is a showcase of not just domestically designed and built autos, but also of many international brands.
June 20 of 2020 was the date for this year’s edition of the event, here’s a some pictures of a few of the homegrown machines on display:
As of today, a number of the quarantine measures the Czech Government put in place starting on March 13 to contend with the Coronavirus outbreak are being eased.
While the two metre distance rule between people is still expected to be observed in public, it is no longer compulsory to wear a mask while outside and can maintain proper distancing. For now, you still need to wear a mask when going indoors in public places or when using public transportation.
Hotels have been allowed to open while pubs and restaurants have been allowed to reopen their interior areas.
Castles and chateaus are reopening as are public swimming pools.
Elementary school children are being allowed to return to classes of reduced size and at their parents’ discretion.
To keep updated on changes, the following English language news sites can be useful:
When the term “Steel City” is heard, many places around the world may come to mind. Many of these places retain their reputations as steel cities well after production of the metal has fully ceased or been much reduced there.
In the Czech Republic, no place is more deeply associated with steel production than the north eastern city of Ostrava, most specifically the Vítkovice district of the city. In this area of the city, you will find the sprawling site of the Dolní Vítkovice ironworks.
As a functioning ironworks, the facility was permanently closed in 1998. However, the Dolní Vítkovice site has a history of iron production that reaches back to Austro-Hungarian Empire.
The first ironworks on the site was established in 1828. Due the rich bituminous coal and iron ore deposits in the Moravian regions, the site was a logical place to establish an ironworks. It was created upon the order of Archduke Rudolf Johann Habsburg (1788-1831); the Archduke was also the Archbishop of Olomouc. Following Rudolf Johann’s death, ownership of the ironworks and foundry passed first through the hands of Archbishopric of Oloumouc and ultimately into the hands of the Austrian branch of the Rothschild banking family in 1843.
The Rothschild era of ownership saw constant expansion and modernization of coal mining as well as iron and steel production at the site. It grew to be the biggest and most important iron and steel production site in the Austro-Hungarian Empire and was a key producer of armaments for the Austro-Hungarian military until the end of the First World War.
With the exception of the economic downturn immediately following the First World War and the Great Depression, the coal, iron and steel operations at Vítkovice took the interwar years in their stride and stayed strong.
Rothschild ownership lasted until the annexation of Austria by Germany in 1938.
The Vítkovice Mines, Steel and Ironworks Corporation, as the company had been known under Rothschild ownership, was nationalized following the Second World War and renamed Vítkovice Ironworks State Property in 1946.
Modernization and expansion at Vítkovice continued through the Socialist era and the company was involved in many projects at home and abroad. This was a trend that would continue into the post Socialist period.
As it did for all companies in former Socialist countries in Europe, the fall of Socialism brought much change to Vítkovice in the way of company structure and diversification of operations. With a strong reputation built over more than a century of continuous operations, Vítkovice continued strongly into the post Socialist era with fabrication of steel structures at home and abroad. The actual production of steel, however, was another matter.
In 1998 the blast furnace at the company’s iron and steel works was run for the last time, closing a chapter of company history over 160 years long. While the Vítkovice company survived, the foundry at Dolní Vítkovice fell into disuse and the ensuing layoffs of employees in the nation’s coal mining and steel industry plunged Ostrava and much of the north east of the country into high levels of unemployment.
Happily, through the early 2000s up to the present, the fortunes of Ostrava have changed for the better as several domestic and foreign companies have discovered it to be a good place to set up offices and do business.
To Scrap or to Save?
Even before the foundry and associated industrial sites were shut down, there had been much debate over what to do with them. While many people pushed to have it demolished and sold for scrap, many others drove to have it preserved as part of the nation’s industrial heritage.
Ultimately, those who pushed for preservation were victorious and the Czech government proclaimed it a National Heritage Site in 2002. It has been on the country’s list of tentative UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 2001 together with other associated sites as “The Industrial Complexes at Ostrava”. The push for UNESCO listing comes from the area being unique in that the facility was so large the entire steel making process from the mining of the coal to the finished iron and steel could be done in one place and that it was done on that spot, uninterupted, for so long.
Given how inextricably linked coal mining as well as iron and steel industry is to not only Ostrava’s history, but also to the entire north east of the Czech Republic, it made perfect sense to preserve the facilities at Dolní Vítkovice. Doing so has given the city a tourist draw to compensate for what was lost after the facilities were closed.
If you’re interested in industrial monuments, Ostrava is definitely the place to go when you’re in the Czech Republic. This is not only because of the monuments, but also because of the distinctly working class and non-touristy atmosphere of Ostrava.
Dolní Vítkovice has the nickname “Hradčany of Ostrava”. The nickname is in reference to the Hradčany district of Prague, where Prague Castle is located, and speaks volumes for how important the Dolní Vítkovice area is to Ostrava and how much of the city’s history is tied to it.
Rust Never Sleeps
The transformation of Dolní Vítkovice from disused industrial facility to the tourist attraction, interpretive centre and multi-function area of today started with the establishment of the DOV Group in 2007. By 2017, the complex as it is today was complete and was given the name DOV.
It’s possible to take a guided tour of the foundry that will show you the path taken from raw ore to finished steel. Tours are available in English, German, Polish or Russian for groups of ten or more by prior arrangement. If you are alone or part of a smaller group, you can rent an MP3 player with a commentary in English, German or Polish and follow along with a Czech language tour. The commentary on the MP3 corresponds to a series of numbered points along the tour route.
Beyond the opportunity to tour and learn about the history of the site, DOV offers a number of cultural activities around the year that include music performances and art exhibitions among other things. The largest music festival in the Czech Republic is held annually on the Dolní Vítkovice site. The Colours of Ostrava is a multi genre music festival of international scope and a very popular event on the city’s calendar.
There are also cafés, science centres and the Bolt Tower which sits atop the former Blast Furnace 1 and provides a panoramic view over Ostrava and to points beyond.
The Bolt Tower was completed in 2015 and was named in honour of decorated Jamaican sprinter, Usain Bolt.
The connection between the champion sprinter and Ostrava comes from his multiple visits to the city for the annual Golden Spike athletics tournament until his retirement from competition in 2017. The city’s stadium, where the tournament is held, is also in the Vítkovice district.
The city and the sprinter made very positive impressions on each other and he was on hand in 2015 to put his autograph on a wall when the tower was opened and named after him.
Paying a Visit and Learning More
Visiting Ostrava and Dolní Vitkovice is quite straightforward. As the country’s third largest city, Ostrava is easily accessible by road or rail. Additionally, Ostrava also has an international airport.
Once in the city, Ostrava’s public transportation system has four tram lines that can take you directly to the Dolní Vítkovice site.
While Ostrava has a number of accomodation options to offer, there is a hotel directly on the old foundry site. Hotel VP1 is quite a comfortable hotel with friendly and helpful staff. With four tramlines stopping practically on its doorstep, the hotel is a good option for an extended visit to Ostrava as you can access many other areas of the city with ease.
The following links will tell you more about the area and its history:
This link will take you to the Colours of Ostrava music festival website where you can see a number of pictures of the site as a backdrop to the festival: Link to Colours of Ostrava website
This will take you to the website of Hotel VP1. It’s only in Czech, but will show you the accomodations on offer. It is possible to book a room there in your language through online booking sites: Link to Hotel VP1 website
Since ancient times, many cultures have celebrated the coming of spring in various ways. On contemporary calendars, these celebrations have been placed on or near May 1st.
In many countries, May 1st is a national holiday marking International Workers’ Day. The use of the date as Labour Day and to celebrate workers goes back to the late 19th century.
The Czech Angle
May 1st is a national holiday in the Czech Republic and the Czechs have their own ways of marking it.
During the period of Socialism, people in the former Czechoslovakia were forced to participate in massive May Day parades. However, a tradition that goes back to the late 19th century has been kept alive by Czechs from before the Socialist era up to the present: kissing your sweetheart under a blooming tree.
Czechs generally see May 1st as a day of love. In the last week or so of April, trees typically start flowering and legend says that girls who are not kissed under a blooming tree on the day will wither and die within the year.
By tradition, cherry trees are the prefered trees to kiss under. However, other trees in bloom can be substituted if cherry trees aren’t available. For people picky about their kissing trees, birch or apple are seen as the next best thing to cherry. Some people aren’t so particular though and will kiss under any convenient blooming tree.
Along with kissing, many people might also recite the poem “Máj” by Czech romantic poet, Karel Hynek Mácha (1810 – 1836). The poem is a Czech literary classic.
Not all Czechs engage in the kissing tradition. For many, it’s just a nice day off from work.
Do you know the classic Czech film “Tři oříšky pro Popelku”? Perhaps you know it by its English title “Three Wishes for Cinderella”.
This 1973 film that was created jointly by the film industries of the former Czechoslovakia and former East Germany is easily one of the most successful of Czech films as far as export is concerned and is considered a Christmas classic film on television in several European countries as well as at home in the Czech Republic.
Two castles figured prominently as sets in the film: Moritzburg castle in Germany and the subject of this article, Švihov castle in the Czech Republic.
Stronghold in the South
Located south of the city of Plzeň, in the south-west corner of the country, Švihov castle is a Late Gothic style water fortress.
Originally owned by the powerful noble house of Rýzmberk, the castle’s present appearance dates to a rebuilding that took place in the late 15th and early 16th centuries following the Hussite Wars.
That reconstruction was overseen by prominent architect of the time, Benedikt Rejt. Following the reconstruction, the castle was the most important and well fortified of its type in Bohemia. Consisting of inner and outer sections as well as two moats, it would have taken a very determined and well equiped adversary to stand a chance of successfully laying seige to it.
The castle changed hands in 1548. However, due to poor management, the House of Říčany who had purchased it were forced to sell it just fifty years later. The castle’s last noble owners, the venerable and prominent Czernin family, held the castle from 1598 until it was seized by the state following the Second World War.
Decline and Resurgence
The fortress showed its strength during the Thirty Years’ War when it was unsuccessfully besieged by the Swedish army twice.
Following the war, the castle’s demolition was ordered by Emperor Ferdinand III of Habsburg. While the demolition was started and cost the castle a significant part of its outer section as well as its moats, the Czernin family were able to obstruct and prevent the complete destruction of it.
While the Czernins were able to save some of the castle, they were not able to preserve the strategic and defensive importance of it. Švihov retained some economic importance, though entered a period of decline in the 17th century that would last into the early 20th century. In official records, it was classified as a ruin by the 1920s.
Švihov survived the Second World War and a renewed interest was taken in it after it was taken under state ownership following the war. As early as 1947, plans were already being put in place for the restoration of the castle.
By the mid 20th century, the castle had been opened to public visits.
A Look Inside
The castle interiors are mostly of Late Gothic or Rennaissance style.
Key points on a tour of the castle interiors include ceremonial rooms, armory, banquet hall, dance hall, chapel, administrative rooms, cellars, the guardroom and the kitchen among other rooms.
Along the course of a tour, you will see a selection of valuable paintings that date to the 16th century as well as some rare and valuable tapestries.
Another aspect of the castle interiors is a tour specific to the architecture and and structural elements of the entrance tower. It’s a unique opportunity to get a look at such aspects of castle construction.
Let’s Meet Popelka!
Not everything at Švihov is dedicated to the castle’s ancient history, there is also a display of costumes and props that focus on its place in popular contemporary Czech culture as a set for the “Tři oříšky pro Popelku” film mentioned at the start of this article.
The costumes used in the film are particularly celebrated and this exhibition will give you a chance to get a close look at some of them. The costumes in the film were designed by Theodor Pištěk, who went on to win Academy Awards in 1984 and 1989 for Best Costume Design in the Miloš Forman films “Amadeus” and “Valmont” respectively. Pištěk also designed the uniforms worn by the Prague Castle Guard.
If you’ve never seen “Tři oříšky pro Popelku” in its original Czech version or one of its translated versions, I heartily recommend that you do so. If you grew up with the animated version made by Disney, Popelka will be both familiar to you and a breath of fresh air at the same time.
The Czech variation on the classic fairy tale draws somewhat on the Grimm Brothers’ version and is credited to Božena Němcová (1820-1862).
While the titular character of the Disney film is the stereotypical damsel in distress, biding her time passively in miserable circumstances while waiting to be saved by the dashing prince, Popelka is a good bit more determined, proactive and self-reliant in playing a part in extricating herself from servitude to her stepmother and stepsister.
In the 2014 to 2016 timeframe, the film got a full digital restoration and improved subtitling.
Paying a Visit and Learning More
Švihov offers a few different guided tour options. These tours are in the Czech language, though it is possible to borrow guide booklets in other languages to help you follow along if you are not a Czech speaker.
The castle is relatively easy to get to by road or rail if you are travelling from Plzeň. By road, it’s south of Plzeň on the E53 motorway.
There is also some rail service between Plzeň and Švihov. However, it is a bit of a walk from the town train station to the castle. Additionally, it is best if you make yourself familiar with rail options back to Plzeň before you travel as the Švihov train station is small and there likely won’t be anyone around to ask for information if you don’t speak Czech.
The Coronavirus quarantine continues and, as a result, the traditional Easter markets that take place across the Czech Republic every year have been cancelled for 2020.
I decided, as with my last post, to let pictures do the talking. I went into my photos and found a variety of easter eggs from Easter markets past to give you a splash of colour and take you through the week leading up to Easter:
If you’d like to read and see more about Czech Easter traditions, please follow this link to my existing article on the subject:
Today, I give you a splash of colour to take your mind off the quarantine and other Coronavirus related madness. I took these photos on Bíla Hora, a hill not far from where we live in Brno, and the adjoining Julianov district of the city:
Like just about every other country these days, the Czech Republic has been gripped by the fears associated with the current Coronavirus outbreak. The Czech government has recently put a series of extraordinary measures in place in hopes to minimise the effect that the outbreak has on the country and people.
The purpose of this article is to let you know what’s being done and give you further links to see how it affects you and your relationship with the Czech Republic whether you are a citizen, foreign national with residency status or a tourist.
30 Day State of Emergency
On March 13 of 2020, the Czech government declared a state of national emergency that is planned to last for 30 days. The effects are as follows:
From March 16 of 2020, the Czech Republic will close its borders and place a ban on all travel for both citizens and foreign nationals that will last the duration of the state of emergency.
Czech citizens or foreign nationals returning to the Czech Republic from abroad will be quarantined for 14 days if they have travelled to a “high risk” country. They may also be quarantined if they return from a “safe” country, but show symptoms of infection.
The following countries are considered “high risk”: China, South Korea, Iran, Italy, Spain, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, the UK, Denmark and France.
Exemptions to this rule have been made for the following groups:
Truck and bus drivers
Emergency services workers
Pilots and aircrew
Until further notice, the Ministry of the Interior has suspended the issuing of all visas for the country.
This link will take you to a page set up by the Ministry of the Interior that outlines in detail the obligations of foreigners in the Czech Republic with regards to Coronavirus: Ministry of the Interior link
Life in General:
The extraordinary measures have had the following effects on day to day life in the country:
On the morning of March 14, the government ordered all shops, restaurants, pubs, casinos and gaming establishments to close completely until at least March 24. Exemptions to this are as follows:
Supermarkets and grocery shops
Drugstores and pharmacies
Any public events that attract crowds of 30 or more people have been banned.
Fitness centres, swimming pools, entertainment centres, galleries, music and social clubs and public libraries have all been closed until further notice.
Primary, secondary and post secondary education facilities have all been closed until further notice.
Offices and other non-public places of work are not affected thus far, but some are encouraging their employees to work from home wherever possible.
Police are carrying out quarantine checks to ensure that nobody who has been confirmed infected is breaking their quarantine by going out into public. There is a 3 million Czech Koruna fine for those who break quarantine.
With the closing of the country’s borders on March 16, no tourists from either “safe” or “high risk” countries will be permitted into the country. If you are already in the country, you will be permitted to exit the Czech Republic but will not be allowed back in during the period of emergency.
The closures that have affected the public places listed in the previous section of this article have also been enforced upon chateaus, castles and other tourist attractions across the country.
If you are a tourist in the Czech Republic during the emergency period, the Ministry of the Interior link provided earlier in this article is certainly worth looking at.
Panic tends to grip people and overtake common sense in situations like epidemics and they tend to forget very simple things they can do to protect themselves and others.
Good basic hygiene is the first line of defense against infections. Wash your hands well and keep them away from your face if you haven’t washed them recently. This video from the World Health Organization demonstrates good hand washing technique:
Always carry hand sanitizing gel or sanitary wipes with you in case you are not near a washroom where you can access running water and soap when you need to clean your hands. When you are using public transportation, for example.
Of course, information changes all the time in situations like this. The following links will help you to stay informed of the latest developments on Coronavirus and the Czech Republic:
This link will take you to Radio Prague’s English language site. The site provides regularly updated news at the national level in a variety of languages: Radio Prague link
This link will take you to a special page set up by the Ministry of Health. It has a regularly updated selection of downloadable .pdf documents in English on Coronavirus in the country: Ministry of Health link