Monthly Archives: October 2011

Making your Czech home a castle – and stumbling on history

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If there’s one thing the Czech Republic has in abundance – apart from topless canoeists* and cakes intended to be eaten at breakfast – it is castles.

Explore the Bohemian countryside by car and you’ll find that even the most modest village (including the one where Czechman was born) has a zamek, even if it’s where the local kids had to do gym class back in the dark days of Communism.

A sceptical English lady knows better than to believe everything she reads in the press, but one particular recent front page article from Lidové noviny did catch my attention.  Apparently it is possible to buy a chateau for the same price it would cost to buy a modest flat in a Prague suburb. My Czech is only good enough to get the general gist so I can’t promise whether said castle would have all the mod cons that a spoilt and Western woman such as myself has come to expect – central heating, running water, that kind of thing.

Chateau Angličanka? Sadly not.

However, despite the potential drawbacks, there is something appealing about the idea of inviting people to come and stay in the West Wing of your palace rather than offering them an inflatable sofa bed in the living room.

One day perhaps.

In the meantime, Czechman and I have pooled our collective financial resources and purchased a modest flat in Prague 7. Chateau Angličanka did require some renovation. Notice I said “renovation”, not “reconstruction”!

There was an abundance of nasty wooden panelling halfway up all the walls in the living room.  The kitchen had been installed long before Ikea was even a twinkle in a Swedish man’s eye. There were several layers of linoneum covering with headache inducing geometric patterns to be dragged to the skip. And even though it isn’t a castle, we still had to have new central heating installed. Even the chunkiest leg-warmers couldn’t keep me feeling toasty otherwise.

Lifting up that lino did lead to an interesting discovery.  Sadly the floorboards weren’t lined with gold but we did find lots of old newspaper:

These are pages from Rudé Pravo, the daily national newspaper which acted as a Communist mouthpiece. They date from the 1950s, a decade during which the regime carried out show trials of key party members such as Rudolf Slansky.

I feel hugely unqualified to say anything much about the terrible crimes committed by the regime at that time. However, there is something eerie and oddly moving about stumbling across a tiny piece of history from that period.  If you are interested in learning more about what happened at that time, then I strongly recommend Reflections of Prague by Ivan Margolius. His father, a leading member of the Communist party and a co-defendent in the Slansky trial, was executed following a show trial when Ivan was just seven.

They say that in a city like Prague, history is all around you but somehow it all becomes more immediate when you stumble across a small piece of it in your new home.

If this is all rather too serious in tone for you, fear not loyal readers. Next time I’ll offer a personal perspective on the perils and pleasures of topless canoeing through South Bohemia  – complete with photographic evidence.

I’m joking, of course.

*If you are in doubt as to the veracity of this claim, please see the comments section of my last post.


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