Monthly Archives: June 2013

A tale of two Czech defence systems

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flooddefenses2

At the beginning of June, Czechland went on the defensive. The incessant rain ceased to be merely a nuisance as the threat of major flooding  became a very real possibility.

You’ll understand that this was particularly worrying as despite being British, I don’t own a pair of wellies. Or a canoe.

Like many other Prague residents, I spent several days glued to the news, crossing fingers and toes that the heavens would close.  As we live only a short distance from the river, Czechman and I even had our bags packed ready for evacuation. Scary stuff.

As you will no doubt be aware, the rain did stop in time – for most of the Czech Republic at any rate. Prague did not suffer massive wholescale damage – in other words, a repeat of 2002.

Prague floods 2013: picture taken from Libensky Most

Prague floods 2013: picture taken from Libensky Most

In my life so far, I’ve never been within so much as even the vaguest reach (to my knowledge at least) of a natural disaster. It was a strange experience. Metro stations shut, parks closed, police tape everywhere. The vague feeling of helplessness.

Anyway, it did seem to me that the authorities were reasonably well-prepared this time. And Praguers can all breathe a collective sigh of relief that these hastly erected metal barriers you see in the picture above managed to keep billions of tons of cubic water at bay.

It was a close run thing though as you can see:

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Back in 1938, Czechland – or Czechoslovakia as it was known at the time – was busy building a very different kind of defense system: a vast network of bunkers similar to the Maginot Line constructed in France along the German border.

As part of this year’s summer holiday with the Village People (aka Czechman’s parents), we visited Fortress Hanička in the Orlické Hory. Hanička isn’t quite as photogenic as your average Czech fairytale castle but the tour of her underground passages did make for an interesting day trip. Here’s what the old lady looks like from outside:

bunker

Thanks to the agreement made at Munich in 1938 by a certain Neville Chamberlain with Adolf Hitler, these fortifications were never put to the test. Instead they were simply handed over to the Nazis once they came to occupy the Sudetenland as agreed by the Western Powers.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Hanička didn’t entirely go to waste though. The Germans used the main bunker for target practice so that they could see how difficult it would be to destroy the similar fortifications in France. Here you can see a wall that has been damaged by repeated shelling:

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‘Ironic’ doesn’t even begin to cover it.

Once the tour was over, we sat on the bit of grass you can see in the picture and ate sandwiches. I’d like to think that I looked at that wall and considered myself lucky to be in that particular spot in 2013 rather than in 1938 but I suspect that’s just a retrospective gloss.

It is 75 years this September since the Germans annexed the Sudetenland.

Neville Chamberlain with that infamous piece of paper in his hand.

Neville Chamberlain with that infamous piece of paper in his hand.

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Liberty, Equality and a disposable camera: the Migrant Visions Project

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disposable cameraRemember this thing? Yes, it’s a disposable camera – once an essential piece of kit for any holiday, now an amusing retro artifact occasionally seen left scattered around the dining tables at weddings so that guests can take blurry shots of each other in various stages of inebriation.

Ahem. Anyway, even in the digital age, the humble disposable camera can play a role in a significant international artistic project – such as the latest international photographic exhibition to hit Prague, Migrant Visions.

The idea behind the event is simple: take foreigners of different ages and from different walks of life in three European cities – Cluj, Munich and Prague – and give them a disposable camera with which to record their own unique perspective on the place which they’ve adopted as their home. Oh yes, and in case that weren’t interesting enough in itself, chuck in a theme for the participants to use as inspiration: liberty, equality and fraternity.

As dedicated readers will know, this blog attempts to be a sideways view of life from a foreigner’s perspective, so it seems appropriate that I give a bit of free publicity to a project which has the same aim – albeit in images rather than words.

So, here goes.  If you happen to be in the Czech capital between now and June 29th, do stop by the foyer of the National Technical Library in Dejvice and take a look at the ninety pictures on display. The quality is generally very good indeed given the rather low-tech equipment the migrants were given to work with and the project’s aim is a laudable one: to promote cross-cultural understanding.

Hurrah for that.

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