Litoměřice, Czech Republic

I traveled into northern Bohemia close to the German border this morning to visit the city of Litoměřice (pronounced Lee-tow-mare-sheetza in Czech). The city’s name is Leitmeritz in German. That will be an important angle later.

Most cities and towns of any importance in Central Europe have a large square and it’s there you find the greatest concentration of historical sites. Litoměřice had a plague column in the middle of its square, which isn’t uncommon in this part of Europe. It was erected to give thanks for the end of the epidemic.

It’s estimated Black Death killed half of Europe’s population between 1347 and 1351. So yes, a column to celebrate that you survived makes sense.

I noticed a strange tower on the top of one building and decided to get a closer look. Luckily, I arrived just in time for the 11 a.m. tour. The rich family that owned this house on the square had a tower built in the shape of a chalice to celebrate the region’s wine industry. A chalice is now the symbol of the city.

The town council would meet regularly inside the tower. Evidently they wouldn’t leave until a decision had been reached on some important issue of the day. It was rumored that they would also retire to the tower to drink without being bothered (ha).

Of course I loved climbing the old wooden stairs and ladders to the top. The tower had eight sides and eight small windows to look out in every direction.

This land was historically the home of the Sudeten Germans. After the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire following World War I, the new nation of Czechoslovakia was formed, lumping together Czech, German and Slovak ethnic groups. The Sudeten Germans longed to be part of the Reich.

With the rise of the Nazis in the 1930s, the Czech army began building defensive fortifications along this border. In 1938, Hitler trumped up mistreatment of the minority Sudeten Germans in Czechoslovakia to threaten military action. To avoid war, the Munich Agreement ceded the Sudetenland to Germany without a shot being fired. The Czech fortifications were rendered useless and Hitler took the rest of Czechoslovakia in 1939.

After the war, the German civilians were violently expelled from Czechoslovakia. Today, the Sudetenland is overwhelmingly Czech. I still noted German influences visible in the city.

For lunch I followed my tried-and-true strategy and located a local place one street off the main square. I’d nearly finished my first Pilsner Urquell when the schnitzel and tomato salad came out (they quickly brought another).

There were two teenage boys in the table next to me. Czech beer is served with a frothy foam head and they were enjoying mugs of what I assumed was a dark beer. I thought the drinking age was 18 here but just passed it off as cultural differences. When the waiter passed, I pointed and asked if I could try the dark beer. He laughed and told me it was Kofola.

Kofola is something of a national obsession in the Czech Republic. The carbonated soda was created here during the days behind the Iron Curtain when Pepsi and Coke weren’t available. It’s held its own evidently. I’ve seen it in every store and in ads all over. I’ll try it and report back.

We passed a town between Litoměřice and Prague that made me laugh. Yes, it’s pronounced “hardly”. How would you like to tell people you live in Hardly?

I also noticed a pattern when we passed through stations without stopping. Without fail, the station masters (recognizable in their red Czech Rail hats) stood outside their door and inspected the train as it rolled by.

I always waved.

……….

Thanks for coming along on the trip. If you have questions or suggestions, tweet @JasonRMatheson. Missed an entry? Click here.

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I prefer to travel slow. Enjoy history, design, architecture, cars, sports digital. Auburn alum, Sooner born.

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Jason R. Matheson

I prefer to travel slow. Enjoy history, design, architecture, cars, sports digital. Auburn alum, Sooner born.