1918. The yearning of many Czechs and Slovaks for life in a common, sovereign state became reality. Czechoslovakia, a new republic on the map of Europe, took its first step with hope on the journey through history and soon won international respect and recognition. 2018, a century has just passed since the events of the time. The map of Europe has changed many times in this period. The borders of our countries have also changed. In spite of this, the year 1918 remains a breakthrough year in our modern history. 100 years is a beautiful, round anniversary, let us celebrate it! Let’s recall the interesting stories and visit the places that remind us of our common history (Czech and Slovak history).
Stories of the legions
The pre-condition for establishment of the state besides the idea, yearn and diplomacy was also military power. This was embodied by the Czechoslovak Legions – the military corps created abroad during the First World War, mainly in Russia, but also in France and Italy. After the war, the legions represented a force that not only militarily intervened in many territorial disputes, but from which the members of the gendarmery, castle guard and Czechoslovak intelligence service were also recruited. And the current legion monuments? For example, Gočár’s rondo-cubist building of the former Legiobanka in Prague on Na Poříčí, but also the mobile museum – a reconstructed legendary legion train in which our soldiers coped with the Trans-Siberian Railway. A monumental memorial tomb was built at Vítkov to commemorate the legionnaires and to celebrate the courage of the Czech nation.
Roof of Slovakia
Although the High Tatras occupy a small area they have, however, always been the symbol of Slovakia. This was expressed for all Slovaks by poet Janko Matúška, when he wrote text to the melody of the folk song that reads “There are flashes above the Tatras”, whose first verse later became a component of the Czechoslovak Anthem. And when the Košice- Bohumín railway was completed, the Tatras were all of a sudden a very close travelling distance from Moravia, Silesia and actually also from Bohemia. The Tatras were discovered by tourists, athletes and spa guests, and their enthusiasm persists. After all, the highest Slovak mountains truly fulfil all of the alpine criteria as steep and jagged rock formations, long crests, mountain lakes, and high waterfalls can all be found here. It is no wonder that they are protected as a national park.
Czech glass has been a sought-after item for centuries, but the glass works only became popular throughout the world with the rise of ground and engraved Czech crystal. The magnificent gems include magical secession ornaments, fragile Christmas decorations, fairy tale imitation jewellery, chandeliers and decorative figurines. In the inter- war period, the use of glass in architecture increased substantially, also historically – from Functionalist buildings to the vitrages of Prague Cathedral. The first Czech glass-making school was established in Železný Brod in 1920. Kamenický Šenov, Nový Bor, Jablonec nad Nisou and other glass-making centres can boast museums that will amaze you.
In the footsteps of T. G. M.
Tracing the footsteps of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk would be a task worthy of the greatest travellers of the last century. From his birthplace and youth in Southern Moravia, through Vienna, Geneva, Paris, London, the United States of America, not to mention the Siberian mission and Japan. So, let’s take a short-cut. From the permanent exhibition devoted to Masaryk in his home town of Hodonín, through Prague Castle, where he not only performed official duties, but which he also modernised with the aid of Slovenian architect Plečnik, to the Village of Lány in the Kladno region, where the President Liberator rested at his summer seat – Lány Château, and which is also the site of his other museum exhibition and finally also his grave at the local cemetery.
The long journey of Škoda
The glory of Czech cars under the Škoda brand began to unfold in 1925 when the Plzeň corporation acquired the car manufacturer Laurin & Klement in Mladá Boleslav. Today, Škoda is one of the most conspicuous and best-selling Czech brands on the world market and one of the largest employers in the country. You will comfortably get acquainted with the history of the brand with the winged arrow emblem in the ŠKODA Museum in Mladá Boleslav. It is a modernly conceived exhibition on 1,800 square metres of exhibition space. Come and see, for instance, the first Voituretta, the racing specials and the future vision of the motor vehicle.
The town of hops
Just as Prague is full of hundreds of towers, Žatec is full of chimneys. Although they are not one hundred, they are however equally unmistakable in the panorama of the town. Most of them were used in hops preparation technology – the sacred local ingredient, without which the Czech beer industry would hardly be a jewel in the national treasury. The name of the local entertainment centre – the Cathedral of Hops and Beer, which adjoins the Hops Museum, corresponds to the somewhat blasphemous canonisation of the climbing herbs of the cannabis genus. Žatec hops really deserve their museum and “cathedral”. Without exaggeration, these hops are the best in the world.
Astronomer turns general
The Slovak hero of the establishment of the new state was undoubtedly Milan Rastislav Štefánik. Masaryk’s “twin-brother” in the pilgrimage through exile, organisation of the legions and effort at establishment of Czechoslovakia. The co-founder of the Czechoslovak National Council, a soldier in every sense of the word, General of the Czechoslovak Armed Forces and Military Minister and educated and respected astronomer. His further career in the public life of the First Republic was cut short by an air crash in which he was killed in May 1919 in Bratislava, paradoxically upon return to the country from exile. His memorial is commemorated by the giant barrow on the peak of Bradlo, not far from the town of Brezová pod Bradlom, and the monument in Bratislava, which was rebuilt in 2009 after a lot of peripety.
City full of horses
One of the most difficult and oldest continental races takes place every autumn in Pardubice. The first year was in 1874. In the year of the Centenary Anniversary of the Republic, the Great Pardubice Steeplechase (Velká pardubická) shall take place for the one hundred and twenty eighth time. The horses must not only overcome 31 obstacles on their way to the finishing line, which also includes the legendary Taxis Ditch, but must also run a distance of 6,900 m. In 1929, riders who saddled several horses at once also entered the race course. The motorcyclists. In time, they shifted from the horse race course to the regular dirt track and established the oldest dirt track competition in the world under the name of the Golden Helmet (Zlatá přilba).
Austrian Manchester – the nickname of Brno at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. The textile industry brought money into the city and the money brought in world renowned architects. The most famous of them, Mies van der Rohe, built one of the most beautiful villas in the world for the Tugendhat family. A Functionalist work of art, which is inscribed on the UNESCO Heritage List. The German architect was proficiently contested by a Czech tied to Brno – Bohuslav Fuchs, but he was not the only one. The list of Brno’s modern architectural monuments is extensive and includes almost four hundred buildings, from private exhibitions, through cafés, churches to the monumental pavilions of the Brno Show Grounds.
The phenomenon of Baťa
Baťa. The synonym of successful business associated with social conscience and empathy. The footwear giant, which achieved global success, built houses, schools and a hospital for its employees. Zlín is currently one large museum of Baťa’s influence and prudence, architectural vision and business courage. The spectacular Zlín museum “14th building of the Baťa Premises” offers a wonderful journey through the history of the Baťa brand and family. Enthusiasts may also visit the famous high-rise building, which in its time was astonishing in terms of its technical facilities. The complex of the workmen’s houses and the ambitious Baťa Canal project still serve their purposes to date. In Slovakia, the operations of the Baťa Company are commemorated, for instance, by the towns of Partizánske (earlier Baťovany) and Svit.
Fortified border region
With trepidation, resolve and certainly also fear, the men assumed duties during the mobilisation of 23 September 1938. Within a few hours, they occupied the newly built fortifications in the border region. Seven days later, they returned home with tears in their eyes. The Munich Treaty surrendered the border region to Germany without any battle. Even today, fans of military history can find thousands of smaller and larger bunkers, type 37 light fortifications, infantry log cabins, modern strongholds and fortresses, especially in Eastern Bohemia and Northern Moravia.
Theatre and freedom of expression
The 1960s. The gradual relaxation of repression against any opinion other than that declared by the Communist Party was first clearly discernible on the scenes of the Prague theatres. The first signal was the success of the Laterna Magika multimedia theatre, which astonished the world at Expo 58 in Brussels. The newly established Drama Club (Činoherní klub) was a surprise without big revolutionary gestures, but with artistic freedom and wonderful inventions. In the Theatre on the Balustrade (Divadlo Na zábradlí) Václav Havel, a scene-shifter with an incredible future, was successful with absurd theatre. The journalists and writers started writing without censure. It did not take long.
The Prague Spring
After twenty years of coldly fierce class struggle unleashed by the Communist government, the atmosphere started warming up in 1968. Culture and business started blooming, and the atmosphere became more relaxed throughout the country. It was found that the purpose of co-existence need not be a battle, that one who is not with us need not be only against us, and the world does not end in West Bohemian Aš. The whiff of freedom, the so-called Prague Spring, ended precisely on 21 August of the same year in the early morning hours. The soldiers of the five armies of the Warsaw Pact invaded Czechoslovakia and occupied the important authorities, news editorials, radio, and the entire country for a long time in co-operation with local collaborators. The protests in the streets did not help at all, not even the human torches.
Two republics in one state
Two republics in one federation. This was the direct consequence of the dramatic development after the Prague Spring. On 1 January 1969, two states were officially established inside the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, specifically the Czech Socialist Republic and the Slovakia Socialist Republic. However, it was only a formal framework; the reality was again gradual strong centralisation under the control of the Communist Party. The federal arrangement in 1990 and especially three years later proved to be inadequate in terms of upholding national interests and emancipation. But a completely different chapter of history was already being written. Two new sovereign states were established on 1 January 1993: the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic.
Negotiations on the Czech Republic and Slovakia
Anyone who would follow the conversation of two men who took off their perfectly fitting jackets in the heat of August 1992 and sat down in the shade of the trees in a garden of Brno’s Černá Pole, would have got the impression that they were only sharing some confidential stories. But both men, respectively prime ministers of the Czech and Slovak governments Václav Klaus and Vladimír Mečiar, were actually negotiating the division of Czechoslovakia at Tugendhat Villa. For some, it was a sad parting, yet for others only hope and expectation. For the entire world it was a peaceful, friendly parting. Two sovereign states were born within Central Europe.
Steel heart and black gold
The mining and metallurgical industries already belonged among Czech tradition from the Middle Ages. This was confirmed at their peak in the Northern Moravian metropolis of Ostrava, which gave the town the title of the “steel heart of the republic”. Although this heart is currently beating with a softer rhythm, part of the town has however turned into an open-air industrial and deep underground gallery. Here, you can personally experience the feelings of a miner from a change of clothes in the historical chain-locker rooms, through an authentic descent into the mine in a lift, to the constricted atmosphere of the shaft at the Michal Mine. And after passing through the path of conversion of ore to iron, you can treat yourself to a cup of coffee at the apex of the former blast furnace in Dolní Vítkovice.
Václav Havel Airport Prague
It is known about Václav Havel (1936–2011) that in spite of the fact that he loved visiting foreign countries, he considered flying as a necessary evil. And it may thus seem paradoxical that this airport carries his name. Yet what else other than an international airport, this “gate to the world”, better symbolises the free and unencumbered movement of people and thoughts, thus the values recognised by this temperamental fighter for freedom, human rights and the first President of the Czech Republic?
However, the Václav Havel Prague Airport is not only a place for departures, arrivals and transfers – within the framework of official excursions, it also offers an opportunity to see the back areas of the airport that ranks among the most modern in Central Europe from close quarters.