Sunday, 26 August 2012

Crossing the Iron Curtain

My Czech house is only a few miles from where the Iron Curtain used to be. After the collapse of communism the Czechs tore down this symbol and means of their oppression. The minefields were cleared, the watchtowers and the multiple barbed wire fences were torn down. So there is very little left for the interested visitor to see. 

Of course if you're looking, you will occasionally come across remnants: rusty iron hedgehogs from which barbwire would have been hung, concrete anti-tank barriers and the ruins of houses which were cleared to create the no-go zone several kilometres deep which ran the length of the frontier. Having understandably wanted to clear away these painful memories, the Czechs now find that a new generation has grown up, which has no memory of the past and to whom the story of a dark time in the nation's history needs to be told. Visitors also ask to visit the historical remains of the Cold War. 

One of the best places to visit is Bucina in the Sumava. It's a strange haunted place on the German border. You cannot access it by car as the area is still protected. Instead you approach by one of the minibuses from nearby Kvilda or on foot or bike. If you want to come by coach you have to arrange to pick up a permit. Even the process of doing that reminds you of a scene in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy. Clutching a numerical code on a piece of paper, you search a derelict building before finding a hidden wallsafe. You tap in the code, the safe door opens and you take the pass within. 

There is virtually nothing left of Bucina, the village houses and church were torn down to remove hiding places for those trying to cross the curtain. In among the grass and wildflowers low ruined walls and farmhouse floors are just visible. In the grounds of the one building there (a newly built hotel looking across the Sumava towards the Alps) you will find a reconstructed segment of the Iron Curtain together with information panels. 

A track takes you past the ruins of Bucina and over a small stream via a small wooden bridge. A board announces that you have just entered Germany. In a matter of minutes you have done what hundreds of Czechs died attempting to do.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Czech beehives

One of the guests on my Hussite tour was a fan of beehives. As Czech beehives are a common sight on the edges of woods, I promised to point them out to her, whereupon all the beehives in the Czech Republic decided to hide! Once I had left the group at the airport ready for their flight home, of course Czech beehives seemed to be everywhere.

Unlike in the UK, Czech beehives are usually come in groups or should I say in swarms. They are sometimes in a bee equivalent of pigeonloft several hives high. These are often brightly coloured, each hive in the beeloft a different colour creating a rainbow against the background of dark pine trees. Sometimes they sit on old lorries and are presumably driven to good pollen sites.

Czech honey is wonderfully tasteful. You can and should buy it from stalls set outside cottages or on the side of the road, because this artisan honey has the best flavours, full of the flavour of the local pine woods or flower meadows.

At the Wallachian Open Air Museum we came across these wonderful examples of hives. They created in  hollow trunks (reproducing where bees might naturally nest) with a convenient access door at the back for the beekeeper. The entrance to the hives are via the mouths of the carvings on the front.     


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