A New Way to Explore Czech Monuments

 

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Vila Stiassni, in Brno, one of several monuments available to view and explore through a new 3D website launched recently.

Very recently the National Heritage Institute (Národní Památkový Ústav) of the Czech Republic launched a new website that allows you to explore various heritage sites around the country in 3D online.

The site works with both traditional mouse control and touch screen technology and can be used with virtual reality technology as well.

Follow this link to the site and have a bit of fun exploring. I hope it will be successful and we’ll see it grow and develop:

http://www.pamatky3d.cz/

 

 

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New Czech Law Sticks it to Scammers!

Very recently, the Czech government passed a new law that puts more power in your hands when dealing with dishonest money exchangers. The law was put in to help combat money exhange scammers which are rampant in the centre of Prague. However, it’s a national law and can be applied anywhere in the country.

Very simply, the new law gives you the right to demand your money back within three hours of a bad exchange. You can involve the police if need be.

This video by the Honest Guide guys will tell you more:

https://d.tube/#!/v/honestguide/xy6v5zxt

 

We’re Getting Noticed Again!

Time to Show Some Gratitude

Very recently, Beyond Prague was noticed by a couple of parties and I’d be remiss in my duties as a blogger if I didn’t thank them publicly.

travelosource logo

Firstly, I would like to thank the Travelosource website for visiting Beyond Prague and thinking highly enough of it to place a link to it on their page of Czech Republic travel resources.

In the sidebar, you’ll notice their logo. Clicking on it will take you directly to their Czech Republic page.

 

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I also wish to thank the people at the Čezeta scooter company for paying a visit and linking my recent article about their scooters to their Facebook page.

It’s always great when those who I write about take notice and show their thanks.

The reciprocal effect is that through linking that article to their Facebook page, I got a big spike in my blog stats and the article became the blog’s most shared article literally overnight.

 

 

Made in the Czech Republic – Čezeta

Get on Your Pig and Ride! 

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An example of a 501 series Čezeta. The 501 was the first of the classic Čezeta line and debuted in 1957.

Motor scooters are a very popular way that many people around the world choose to get around, particularly in crowded cities where parking for traditional four wheel cars tends to be at a premium. Indeed, the entire point of the motor scooter as a vehicle has always been a balance of economical operation and effective utility.

The real heyday of motor scooters was from the immediate post World War II years to the late 1960s. Two of the earliest and best known motor scooters of this period came from Italy in the form of the Piaggio Vespa and the Innocenti Lambretta. Both types of scooter were immediately popular as the time period they debuted in was marked by recovering post war economies around Europe where many things, particularly petrol, were strictly rationed in many places

Through the 1950s, many more companies around the world began producing motor scooters as demand for them was growing. Through the late 1950s and into the early 1960s, the motor scooter truly came into its own as a popular vehicle with youth in many places as it came to be a symbol of status and affordable freedom for young people with lower paying jobs. The scooter became an inseparable part of the Mod subculture which was popular in Great Britain through the late 1950s to the mid 1960s.

The Čezeta debuted in 1957 and was the former Czechoslovakia’s contribution to this golden age of motor scooters. Immediately distinguishable from its contemporaries by its very different design which included a long front section ahead of the driver that terminated in a single headlamp, this aspect of the vehicle’s design would see it given the affectionate nickname of “Pig” in its homeland. Indeed, with its long snout, the Čezeta resembled that farm animal more than anything else.

The Čezeta exists in both a classic and a modern line. The classic line was produced from 1957 to 1964 and encompassed three versions.  The Čezeta was revived in modern form in 2017; though the classic shape has been kept, the modern version is a very different breed of pig from the classic.

Let’s spend some time with the Čezeta:

The Right Man for the Job 

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Another angle on a 501 series Čezeta, showing the lines that gave it the nickname of “Pig”.

The Čezeta was designed by Jaroslav František Koch (1893-1983). Born in a small village near Prague, Koch studied industrial design and spent the First World War and immediate post war years working for aircraft companies.

Koch was an accomplished motorcycle racer and was responsible for designing the legendary Praga BD 500 series of motorcycles which were produced between 1927 and 1935.

In 1940, shortly before being hired by Česka Zbrojovka (ČZ) at the company’s Strakonice factory, Koch took out a patent on a scooter of quite revolutionary monocoque design. A Monocoque design uses the vehicle’s body shell to give structural inegrity and strength rather than a separate internal frame that the body shell could be attached to. The biggest advantage to the monocoque frame was savings in materials and weight.

ČZ Strakonice became one of the world’s most prolific and successful producers of racing motorcycles from the immediate post World War two years to the mid 1980s. Koch was truly in his element and it was during his time at ČZ that he designed the Čezeta.

A Scooter Apart

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An example of a 502 series Čezeta with trailer attached.

The design of the Čezeta was a clear departure from those of its contemporaries. Other than satisfying the requirements to classify as a scooter for licensing purposes and giving young people in the former Czechoslovakia and other former Socialist countries in Europe a taste of affordable freedom that western scooters were giving to the youth in other parts of the world, the Čezeta was a very different animal indeed as scooters went.

Aside of the aforementioned monocoque body design and “snout” on the front, the Čezeta also featured a notably longer wheel base than other scooters. The advantages of all these features gave the Čezeta a very strong structure, better ergonomics for both driver and passenger as well as improved cargo carrying ability. The “snout” was the key to the Čezeta being able to carry more than other scooters as it allowed the fuel tank to be put out front in a position over the front wheel, thus freeing up more cargo space under the seat. It also created space for a small luggage rack to be mounted on the front section of the scooter.

The classic line of Čezeta scooters comprised three series: 501, 502 and 505. The 501 and 502 were scooters in the truest sense while the 505 brought the utilitarian qualities of the vehicle to the fore.

The 501 series was built between 1957 and 1960 and was built in six sub-variants which were primarily differentiated by changes to the engine and its cooling system.

Debuting in 1960, the 502 series brought a number of improvements including better suspension and engine starting systems. The 502 also brought with it a modest increase in maximum speed and significant improvements in cargo and passenger carrying ability in the form of an available trailer and the ability to be fitted with a side car. The sidecar itself was made by a company called Drupol and was given the name “Druzeta”. The 502 series was built until 1963 and existed in four sub-variants.

An interesting chapter of the Čezeta story occured in 1960 when the NZeta debuted. The NZeta was a license produced version of the Čezeta made in New Zealand from imported Čezeta components and 25% locally made parts in accordance with import laws at the time. NZeta production lasted for three years.

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The 505 series changed the scooter to a transport vehicle first and formost.

Built between 1962 and 1964, the 505 series took the front end of the 502 series and married it to a steel rear frame to create a tricycle vehicle with an emphasis on transport. The 505 could be fitted with a variety of rear cargo sections that included flatbed and cargo box options as well as a van body with a completely enclosed cabin for the driver.

The 505 series had a maximun hauling capacity of around 200 kilograms which made it quite useful for small delivery and courier work as well as light transport around agricultural and industrial sites.

All members of the classic Čezeta line could be fitted with an optional clear plastic windshield for increased protection from debris.

The “Pig” Today and Learning More

Roughly 20 years after the last Čezeta was built, ČZ Strakonice faded from the motorcycle manufacturing landscape and the scooters they produced became collectible rarities. Today, the best chance of seeing one of these classic scooters is at a vintage automobile event or automobile museum in the Czech Republic.

The rights to the Čezeta  name and design were purchased by Prague based British expatriate, Neil Eamonn Smith. Smith set up the Čezeta Motors s.r.o. company in 2013 to begin the production of a new generation of scooters under the Čezeta name. The first of this new generation debuted in 2017 as the series 506.

While the new generation of the scooter has faithfully kept the look of the classic line, everything else is different. The 506 series is fully electric rather than petrol powered and has a composite material body shell over an internal frame as opposed to the metal monocoque construction of the classic series.

The new Čezeta is planned to be limited production only and built to order by individual buyer. As such, the new series is aimed for those with a taste for nostalgia rather than a want for utility.

The following links will take you to articles that will give you some further reading about both classic and new Čezetas:
http://www.bbc.com/autos/story/20151231-electric-power-for-an-icon-of-the-atomic-age

http://www.tresbohemes.com/2018/06/the-return-of-the-iconic-cezeta-scooter/

These articles contain some interesting reading on the NZeta.
https://www.aa.co.nz/membership/aa-directions/features/weird-and-wonderful-new-zealand/a-beauty-like-no-other/

https://www.stuff.co.nz/motoring/bikes/91860773/could-the-iconic-nzeta-scooter-return-with-electric-power

Things People Grow

While taking a break between larger posts, I decided to participate in one of the various fun photo challenges that some other bloggers run.

This photo is on the theme of “Things People Grow” for the photo challenge run by Cee Neuner on her photography blog.

I took this picture in June of 2018 near the small village of Koněšín in the Vysočina region of the Czech Republic. The area has a lot of poppy farms around and this seemed to be one of the last flowers left intact in the fields when I passed by it:

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To see more of Cee’s blog and what other people may put up in this and other photo challenges there, follow this link:

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Things People Grow

Plzeň – Western Crossroads

History Happens Here 

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The Renaissance town hall an other historic buildings on Republic Square.

Located in the western reaches of Bohemia, approximately 90 kilometres south west of Prague, lies the city of Plzeň.

This is a city that has played a significant part in not only a number of national historic events, but also several international ones. It is also the birthplace of two iconic Czech brands known worldwide: Pilsner Urquell and Škoda.

First mentioned historically in 976 and officially made a municipality in 1295, the city has served as a centre of business and trade from its earliest days and played a very important role on the trade route linking Bohemia to points in Bavaria.

Plzeň was the nerve centre of Catholic anti-Hussite activity during the Hussite Wars which lasted from 1419 to 1434. It was beseiged three times during the Thirty Years War; successfuly by German forces between 1618 and 1621 and unsuccessfully by the Swedish in 1637 and 1648.

The city saw a significant surge in industry through the latter half of the 19th century that included the establishment of the Škoda Works in 1859, a company that would grow to become the country’s largest and most powerful engineering company for a number of years.

The late 19th century also saw an influx of Jewish families to the city which created an additional cultural influence in the city alongside residents of Czech and Germanic ethnicities.

Plzeň was geographically part of the Germanically influenced Sudetenland area. After the end of the First World War and the establishment of a free Czechoslovakia, there was a strong movement within the region to be made geographically a part of Austria rather than Czechoslovakia. Despite being made part of Czechoslovakia, Germanic influences remained and are still visible today alongside Czech and Jewish influences. In fact, perhaps the most obvious sign of retained Germanic influence can be seen by the use of the old German spelling of the city’s name “Pilsen” for international purposes.

It doesn’t take long after arriving in Plzeň to realise that it’s a city that wears its history on its sleeve.

Architectural Abundance

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Saint Bartholomew’s Cathedral, the city’s Gothic centrepiece.

If you’re a fan of architecture, Plzeň has much on offer for you. It is quite possible to organise your own self guided tour of various districts of the city that have notable architecture in them.

The centre of the city has been a cultural heritage preserve since 1989 and a host of different architectural styles are readily visible both in the centre and points beyond. Baroque, Classicist, Gothic, Modernist, Moorish Revival, Renaissance and other styles intermingle with each other to give Plzeň a very unique architectural face.

A very popular attraction to visit while in Plzeň is a series of restored Modernist interiors that some of the city’s wealthy industrialists from the interwar period commissioned from famed architect, Adolf Loos (1870-1933).

The Loos interiors are notable for their spaciousness, a hallmark of modernist style, and the variety of high quality materials used in their construction. Exotic woods along with high grade stone and glass figure prominently in the interiors.

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Looking into one of the Loos interiors.

It should be mentioned that if you wish to visit the Loos interiors, it is best to book ahead as they are popular and tours fill up quickly. Additionally, tours are not an everyday occurence.

As many of the people who commissioned Loos to create these interiors were from the city’s Jewish community, they represent more than just the Modernist architectural style; they also represent the influence of the Jewish community in Plzeň from the late 1800s until the Second World War.

Beyond the Loos interiors, the Jewish influence gave the city two other Architectural gems; one you have to look for and the other you can’t avoid: the Old Synagogue and the Great Synagogue.

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The Great Synagogue.

The Old Synagogue is towards the south west corner of the centre and tucked away from view in a courtyard near Smetana Park. It is possible to view the interiors of the Old Synagogue and a unique monument to victims of the Holocaust.

On the western edge of the centre, you’ll find the monumental Great Synagogue with its eye catching Moorish Reivival facade and interiors.

This is the largest synagogue in the country, the second largest in Europe and the third largest in the world.

Besides being a stunning architectural attraction, it is without a doubt the city’s most visible testament to the wealth and influence the city’s Jewish population had prior to the Second World War.

Thank You, America 

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The monument to American military units who liberated the city in 1945.

A short walk from the Old Synagogue will lead you to the monument to the American army units who liberated the city in May of 1945.

Plzeň continues to show gratitude for its liberation in the present through its annual Liberation Festival in May.

The festival includes a convoy of historic vehicles and many people in military uniforms of the period. If military history is your thing, a visit to the city in May could be worth looking into.

The city also has a museum dedicated to General George Patton, who led the liberation. However, the museum has been closed for renovations since May of 2018.

A Pause for Thought  

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The meditation garden on the city’s southern edge.

After a day of walking around and taking in Plzeň’s attractions, you might want to take some time to relax a bit.

The city has a number of parks you could use to take a breather, but one is particularly special.

On the city’s southern edge, you’ll find the meditation garden that includes a memorial to all victims of evil.

The beautifully landscaped and tranquil garden was the life’s work of Plzeň resident Luboš Hruška (1927-2007).

Hruška was a soldier who was caught while trying to escape the newly Socialist Czechoslovakia in 1949 and was sentenced to 18 years of hard labour.

He was transfered through a number of prisons and labour camps before receiving an amnesty in 1960. As a result of the cruelty he endured and saw others endure in prison, he resolved to convert a fruit orchard he had inherited from his parents into a monument to all victims of evil regimes.

Upon his release, he set to work clearing that land and learning the fundamentals of landscaping and plant care. The garden includes a number of different plant species as well as pilgrimage path with 12 unique sandstone sculptures as well as a chapel.

The garden can be reached by public transport and some walking.

The Nation’s Beer Capital 

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The trademark main gate of the Pilsner Urquell brewery.

Even though I’ve written a dedicated blog post about the legendary Pilsner Urquell brewery, which is a major tourism draw in the city and I heartily recommend visiting it, there’s more to Plzeň and its beer culture than this most famous of beers.

Beyond the brewery, there is also a beer museum in the centre of the city in the old municipal brewery building.

Additionally, there is no shortage of pubs around town where you can try a wider variety of beers. Definitely have the Pilsner Urquell experience while you’re in Plzeň, but by no means limit yourself to that one brand.

Paying a Visit and Learning More 

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Another echo of the past can be found in the Socialist Realism art prserved in the main train station.

Over all, Plzeň has a fairly relaxed atmosphere and doesn’t come across as touristy. It has a respectable range of accomodation and dining options to suit a variety of tastes and price ranges.

The main toursit information office is beside the town hall on Republic Square and is stocked with a good range of souvenir items and brochures for attractions. We found the staff friendly and helpful.

While Plzeň is well connected by both rail and bus to points of interest around it, getting to the city itself from points further away can be time consuming. Travelling by train from Brno took us roughly five and half hours each way and involved a transfer in Prague. The trip was worth it, but quite long relative to the physical distance between Brno and Plzeň. I have it on good authority that the trip takes almost as long by car.

This link will take you to the city’s official tourism information page:
http://www.pilsen.eu/tourist/visit/the-best-from-pilsen/the-best-from-pilsen.aspx

This link will take you to a travel blog with a focus on Plzeň:
https://plzenguide.com/

These links will help you see the city from an architectural focus. The first is for the city’s architectural manual, which includes maps for self guided touring and detailed information about the various buildings you can see. The second is the dedicated page for the Loos interiors where you can book a tour:
http://pam.plzne.cz/en/
http://www.adolfloosplzen.cz/en/

Pilsner Brewery – Behind the Beer

To the Source 

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The trademark gate that leads into the Pilsner Urquell brewery.

On November 11 of 1842, in the West Bohemian city of Plzeň, a watershed event took place when the first glasses of Pilsner Urquell beer were served to the public during the annual St. Martin’s Day festivities.

Prior to that date, nobody had seen beer of its clarity or tasted beer of its crispness and balance. Modern beer had arrived.

The beer was an immediate hit locally and had achieved international acclaim within a few short decades. The beer world would never be the same following the introduction of this very influential brand.

Pilsner Urquell was the world’s first pale lager and became easily the most copied beer in the world. Around two thirds of the beers the world knows today were influenced by Pilsner Urquell.

All of this renown and prestige most certainly begs the question of exactly what lies behind this legendary brew that not only enabled it to take the world by storm, but keeps it so respected in the modern age.

Happily, a trip to Plzeň will give you access to the historic Pilsner Urquell brewery. Tours of the brewery run regularly in Czech, English and German languages and give one a very good overview of what makes this beer what it is.

The New Standard 

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General view across the brewery area from near the gate.

Upon passing through the historic entry gate, we were struck by the mix of historic and modern buildings on the site. This is a company clearly in touch with their roots and they wear their pride on their sleeves.

Individual registration for the 100 minute long tours happens in the clearly marked visitor centre.

The tour starts with a historical overview of how Plzeň’s over 200 independent brew houses were consolidated into a single municipal brewery in the early 1840s under the watch of Bavarian brewmaster, Josef Groll (1813-1887).

This part of the tour also outlines how Groll developed and perfected the recipe for the new beer and the awards and accolades that he, his beer and the brewery had bestowed upon them following the beer’s introduction.

Starting at the Finish 

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The cavernous bottling hall.

From the visitor centre, our tour group was taken across the brewery area by bus to the packaging facility. Along the way, our guide pointed out the various historic buildings on the site, what they had been used for and the period they were in use for those purposes. The amount of historical preservation here is remarkable.

The packaging hall is immense in every regard. Our group boarded a lift that our guide informed us was the largest passenger lift in the Czech Republic. Once on the upper floor, the guide rattled off some utterly astounding figures for how many bottles, cans and kegs could be filled and sealed per hour here.

From there, the group went out on a balcony that overlooks the floor of the sprawling packaging hall. While workers cleaned one bottling line, a seemingly endless line of bottles were travelling along an adjacent line to be filled.

It should be noted at this point that there is no guarantee that you will always see bottling in progress on a tour.

Fermenting the Revolution 

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The modern, computer controlled brewing hall equiped with classic copper vats.

Our next stop on the tour was the brewing hall. It was here that were learned exactly what makes Pilsner Urquell the unique beer that it is.

First, all of the ingredients are Czech in origin. Plzeň’s own water, known for its softness, gives a smooth texture. Special hops from Žatec, in the north west of the country, give the beer low bitterness and notable aromatic qualities.

Special strains of brewer’s yeast and Bohemian barley are also part of the recipe.

Aside of ingredients, special triple malting and cold fermentation processes also contribute to this beer being unique.

As we passed through the modern, computer controlled brewing hall, our guide drew our attention to the large copper vats that dominated the room. In spite of its high material cost as well as labour and time intensive maintenance regimes, copper is still considered the ideal material to brew beer in.

Getting Old School 

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Part of the brewery’s extensive and historic underground tunnel system.

After looking at the modern side of things, it was time to balance the tour with a look at the historic end of the business.

Keeping things cold is the key to good lager and prior to the advent of modern refrigeration methods, keeping things deep underground was the best way to keep them cold.

The brewery built an extensive network of underground tunnels for keeping things cold in their early days. Our tour finished by taking a look at a small fraction of this tunnel system.

Here, we were shown older brewing methods and told a great deal about the use of oak casks in the brewing process prior to the use of metal containers.

The brewery still makes small batches of their beer by these traditional methods and the tour ends with a free sample of unfiltered and unpasteurised Pilsner Urquell beer tapped straight from an oak cask.

Gifts and Grub 

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Cold brews and good food at the brewery restaurant.

The tour lets off at the brewery’s sizable and well stocked gift shop. Here, you can browse a wide variety of apparel and other gift items emblazoned with one form or another of the Pilsner Urquell trademark.

I would recommend first going to the brewery restaurant, Na Spilce, however.

Not only does the legwork of a 100 minute tour develop an appetite, but if you indulged in the free sample of unfiltered and unpasteurised beer at the end of the tour you might want to get a pint of the modern item for comparison while it’s still fresh on your mind and palate.

We very much enjoyed our post tour lunch at Na Spilce. The beer was as fresh as you would expect for being right at the source and the food was top notch.

Paying a Visit and Learning More 

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Pilsner Urquell: You tried it and probably liked it. Now you understand it.

Plzeň is not the easiest of Czech cities to travel to. While there is a direct train between Prague and Munich that stops there, if you’re going to the city from anywhere else in the Czech Republic that is a significant distance away you’ll likely be in for a longish trip regardless of your mode of transport.

That said, once you’re in the city, the brewery is very easy to reach on foot from Plzeň’s historic centre.

If you go there as an individual or only two or three people, you likely won’t need to reserve a spot on a tour ahead of time. Tours run regularly and you can browse the gift shop or have a pint in the restaurant to pass the time if there’s a wait for your tour.

If you’re a beer fan and in the Plzeň area, a tour here is a must. Even if you’re not a beer fan, it’s a fascinating look into one of the most influential products to ever come out of the Czech lands.

This link will tell you all you need to know about tour schedules and prices:

http://www.prazdrojvisit.cz/en/tours/pilsner-urquell-brewery-tour/