In Český Krumlov, we had a wonderful guide show us around the town – a town steeped in historical intrigue. Our guide had grown up in the vicinity and being inquisitive types, we quizzed her about topics outside the bygone days. In particular, as it falls within our lifetimes, we wanted to understand what it was like growing up under a communist regime.
Český Krumlov is in the border country, only a few kilometres from both Germany and Austria. Not far from the town, we were told, had been a no-go area where, being brutally frank, if you ventured there, you would be shot on sight. Our guide was 12 years old when the Velvet Revolution happened and communism was toppled. But she remembered as a child enquiring what happened beyond the barbed wire and the soldiers. She described her parents response more as a sense, than with actual words. That sense being that nothing existed beyond the barricades.
Later that day we visited a wonderful photography museum. Pre-communism, the commercial photographic studio produced postcards of the beautiful countryside on the border between the then Czechoslovakia and Austria. Lakes and mountains were very popular with the public and the postcards sold well. When the Communists came to power, the entire postcard collection was taken by the secret police. There is serious conjecture that this was because potential defectors might be able to use the postcards to piece together an escape route.
Both these accounts have really stuck with us as we vividly remember our view of the Cold War, sitting only 800 miles away in the UK.
Whilst we’ve been in Český Krumlov, there has been a Presidential election in the Czech Republic. It is quite possible that the buzz about the election that we’ve encountered, at levels that are far in excess of what we experience in the UK, is because of that very recent history. In fact this is only the second open Presidential election by the people in the country’s history.
We’re so grateful to hear these accounts, that are so powerful, of a world that was so near and yet a world apart. And we wish the citizens of the compassionate, forward-thinking, enterprising Czech Republic that we’ve witnessed, all the very best in their new-found and hard-fought democracy.