Plzeň is ground zero of the global lager explosion – it was invented here in the 1830s (ever wondered what the Ur in Pilsner Urquell stood for?) So much to answer for…
There’s a museum dedicated to General George S. Patton, commander of one of the three mighty Allied army groups that smashed across the Rhine into Germany in early 1945. It was one of his units that fought their way across the mountains from Germany into Bohemia in early May and liberated Plzeň. Apparently as the GIs came into town they swapped chocolate for beer. When profusely thanked by the citizens for their arrival, they responded by saying “you’re welcome! it’s OK! never mind!”
Patten then got himself into trouble for publicly suggesting that, now the Germans were sorted, the Allies should take the war straight to the USSR. That’s a big historical what if, and could well have been disastrous, but when you consider that Plzeň was handed straight over to the Soviets and had to deal with that for 44 more years (including the distortion and suppression of the American role in its liberation), you can see why the people here might have admired him enough to establish a museum in his honor.
There’s another synagogue too:
apparently the third biggest in the world, after one in Jerusalem and the one I visited last year in Budapest. Of course that made sense back in the 19th century, but now it seems awfully large, and much of the lushly patterned painted decoration has peeled off the ceiling, leaving the brickwork exposed. There are still bullet marks near the altar from 1945. I wonder if the people who fired those shots imagined their traces would still be showing 67 years later?
Also a church, with a tower from which the photo at the top of this post was taken:
Even my Czech was good enough to read the sign warning people not to climb under the influence of alcohol or hallucinogenic drugs.
There was a beer museum too, but it was really boring.
Lager town two: České Budějovice is probably better known by its German name of Budweis – after which the American brew, the Big Mac of fizzy beers, was named. Even though the Budweiser name had been in use for centuries in Bohemia, Anheuser-Busch, with the sense of arrogant entitlement that American corporations muster so well, spent over a decade after the Velvet Revolution trying to sue the Czech minnow’s ass over use of the name it had itself pilfered back in the 19th century. In Europe, fortunately, it lost.
Anyhow, it too has a nice town square:
and a sense of civic humour:
Strangely, though, it had been invaded by Falun Gong, white hippies meditating cross-legged in the street while an Asian woman handed out leaflets about persecution and human rights.
They were doing the same – why this part of Bohemia? – in Český Krumlov, a tiny place with a completely intact Renaissance centre and castle (the latter with an infectiously enthusiastic and knowledgeable tour guide), and a small brewery, Eggenberg, making tastier beer than its more famous counterparts.
The Viennese painter Egon Schiele lived here for three months in 1910, until the townsfolk slung him out for his, erm, Bohemian lifestyle and for painting pre-pubescent girls. Naturally today one of the town’s main draw cards is a museum bearing his name. This is what Český Krumlov looked like to him: