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.

21 Comments

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21 Responses to Making your Czech home a castle – and stumbling on history

  1. blabous

    Welcome to the peninsula! Our renovation included a removal of a red linoleum and the same newspaper 🙂 The wooden floor will look great after a bit of sand paper treatment.

    • girlinczechland

      @blabous
      I am proud to inform you that the floors have already had the sanding and varnishing treatment and they look fantastic! I don’t want this to turn into an interiors blog but perhaps I could put up a few photos now I’m a proud homeowner 🙂
      GIC

  2. Hi GIC
    My wife is a regular peruser of Czech real estate magazines and her observations would concur with those of the writer of the Lidové noviny article that you refer to in the first part of your post. Once you get a very short distance away from Prague itself, the price of property drops dramatically. The urbanization and gentrification of the countryside which has occurred in the last 20-30 years in the UK, resulting in a house in a village being more expensive to purchase than an equivalent one in a city suburb, has not yet happened in the Czech Republic.

    With regard to your finding copies of Rudé Pravo from the communist era whilst renovating (not reconstructing) your newly purchased modest flat, my wife & I have recently had a similar experience. Whilst walking through the early 1930s model housing estate on the top of Baba hill in Prague 6, we went past the bottom of the garden of one of ‘Bauhaus’ style houses there, which had been completely gutted in preparation for renovation. Lying against the garden fence, having no doubt been blown there from the house by the wind, was an edition of Rudé Pravo dating from the early 1980s. It too, had probably been used by a previous owner of the property to insulate it or keep out the draughts.

    Finally in this comment, may I apologize for being the person who first mentioned a woman canoeing topless along a river in the Bohemian countryside, which has since gone viral in the comments section of your previous post! All I was doing was retelling the experience of an American woman who I know well, who has married her Czechman and has, as you rightly wrote, had to embrace ‘the great outdoors’, together with everything else that goes with it. I wasn’t trying to titillate the readers of your blog, (probably the wrong verb to use), though obviously I did.

    • girlinczechland

      Hello Ricky,

      It’s indeed interesting to compare trends in UK and CZ property prices. What I find really interesting is the way in which owning a second home of any kind now – even a country cottage which is in fact more a tumbledown shack – means that you’re wealthy whereas owning a “cottage” or chata here in the Czech Republic is perfectly affordable and doesn’t mean you’re “hogo fogo” (hoity toity) at all! Sorry to throw in the Czech but I do like that expression: I learned it from watching the Homolka trilogy which I highly recommend.

      As for the topless canoeing, there’s no need to apologise: if I may be allowed to mix my metaphors, I think I fanned the flames by encouraging others to comment via Twitter. I also think a post on different attitudes to nudity could be really interesting so thanks for the inspiration!

      GIC

  3. Are you sure that all our villages have chateaus? I must have missed something! 🙂

    • girlinczechland

      Hello Martin,

      Perhaps not *all* villages have full-on chateaus (the word ‘zamek’ is a tricky one to translate in my view – sometimes ‘stately home’ fits the bill better than ‘chateau’ in my view) but there seem to be a far higher concentration of castles/stately homes around than in England. Someone should do a survey of the ratio of such buildings per capita – or perhaps they already have!

      GIC

      • I can tell the difference between a “Zamek” and a “Hrad”, – but there IS a problem when you put it into English. My Czech colleagues laugh at “Stately home” because to them it has implications of homes run by the state to look after people who are unable to look after themselves (and that’s putting it nicely!). Yes, I think that we must use the French word: “Chateau”, in rather the same way as “Dobrou chut” translates best as “Bon apetit!”,

      • girlinczechland

        Hi Richard,

        Perhaps you are indeed right: for the most part only native speakers would know what a “stately home” is and so the word “chateau” will just have to do. Zut alors!

        GIC

      • Well, there are some. But definitely not 6000 of them as there are municipalities. 🙂 At first, I thought you were talking about churches — of which we really have loads and loads everywhere. :))

      • girlinczechland

        Hello Martin,
        Perhaps I’ve fallen into the trap of thinking Czechman’s village = all villages in the Czech Republic (they have a mini zamek where Czechman did gym class back in the day). However, I still think generally it’s fair to say there are more castles dotted around Czechland than there are in England 🙂
        GIC

  4. Rob Maybin

    I take it this was some homework for us prior to our visit next week. Must admit I can’t wait. Hopefully will come prepared for coldish weather!! Great blog as usual. Rob

    • girlinczechland

      Hey Rob,

      Thanks very much for the encouraging words and we’re very much looking forward to showing you all the sights next week! Bring warm clothes, comfy walking shoes and an adapter for your shaver/hairdryer!

      GIC

  5. Sarka

    I’m always happy to read and see (lots of) photos about renovations, how it looked before, how it looks now, what was difficult, plans for the future. I enjoy the fact that something is improving (whatever it is, not just your flat, living… but anyone’s). I’m looking forward to this blog.
    It would be also interesting to know if there are any differences between Czech and English styles and ways of renovating… furniture, colors preferences and so on.

  6. Hi, I am a new follower to your blog and I just wanted to say how envious I am of you! (in the nicest possible way) We travelled there by train a couple of years ago and still talk about how we wish we didn’t have to leave!

    • girlinczechland

      Hello Sharon,
      Thanks for the positive feedback: as a fellow expat blogger you’ll understand how much I appreciate getting nice comments from readers. Hope you manage to settle into Bangkok soon: it sounds very exotic!
      GIC

  7. Oh my goodness. This is fantastic! What awesome history you’re encountering :). I really cannot wait until I am able to explore more of the Czech Republic beyond Prague, there is so much out there! Also, who wouldn’t want a castle?! That’s wonderful.

    • girlinczechland

      @genevieve

      Czechman’s mum loves the idea of owning a castle but only if all her family would live in it with her too 🙂 What a cutie!

      GIC

  8. Good luck in your new home. I’m moving back to Blighty myself after my 4 year oddyssey in Ireland.

  9. “long before Ikea was even a twinkle in a Swedish man’s eye” You are so funny :-))) Welcome to Holešovice! I don´t live too far from you 😉 Would love to see some photos of your new nest.

  10. Kultakutri

    Reacting to a sceptic up there: there are around 4500 castles in Czech Republic. Castles, like the medieval thingies (hrad, tvrz), although many are mere ruins somewhere in the woods. Castellology aka castle science is thriving and there are many research and conservation efforts going on… I have no idea about the number of chateaux but there are many.

    FIY, the difference between chateaux and castles is that castles’ function was defense. Not necessary primarily so but there were walls, keeps, crenellations, whatevs. Chateaux could be compared to Italian Renaissalce villas, they came in fashion around the same time, and their function was primarily residential.

    Check out for books by Tomáš Durdík, I’m sure some were published in English, too. He’s a leading castle expert, has nice writing style and at least in person, he’s incredibly funny.

    (And should you ever be in Olomouc, let me know. I’ll show you around. We have a castle, too.)

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