A tale of two Czech defence systems

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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:


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:


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:


‘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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18 Responses to A tale of two Czech defence systems

  1. Thank you for this post! For many reasons 🙂

  2. Paul Oxenham

    Prague, Prague, Prague, Prague, Prague………….
    Maybe in your next post you can spare a thought for the thousands who were left without homes and property or who are still cleaning up their houses a month later!
    Yes, most expats live in Prague, but some don’t.

    • girlinczechland

      Hi Paul,

      At the start of paragraph four I acknowledge that not everyone escaped the floods this time. I live in Prague; the blog is told from my perspective. I’m not talking about most expats, I’m talking about my own experience. Sorry if that caused offense.


    • Miles

      I sympathize with you and your friends, but man, you sure managed to capture the native anti-Prague sentiments precisely. You know, the syndrome of disgruntled Czech villager: “Prague took away all our money to build their silly metro! Prague made us pay higher taxes! People in Prague do nothing, they live off our work! All the newspapers care about is Prague! Prague should be sold to Russians and hauled away to Siberia, or something! All that comes from Prague is bad laws, and weekend tourists in smelly cars! We’d be better off without Prague!” I’ve been hearing this stuff for nearly forty years now, and your portrayal is spot-on. 😀

  3. Paul Oxenham

    I understand that you didn’t mean to cause offence, but it hit a nerve. I have many friends who were, and still are, affected by flooding. It’s a sensitive issue. I didn’t mean to be impolite. Things like this don’t actually hit home until you experience it.

    • girlinczechland

      Hi Paul,

      I think you’re right – it’s impossible to have any idea what it’s like how devastating an event like this can be until it affects you directly. Even the tiny taster I had – packing my bags just in case of evacuation, wondering whether our building really would be flooded as it was in 2002 – was pretty unpleasant. I’m annoyed with myself though, as while I was writing the post I did try to have in mind that the world does not revolve around Prague and that many people elsewhere have suffered very badly but it seems I didn’t quite manage to make that crystal clear. Ach jo 🙁

      Anyway, I hope your friends are slowly getting back on an even keel.


  4. Paul Oxenham

    You can’t please all of the people all of the time. Keep up the good work 🙂

    • Indeed, you cannot please everyone… You always have to choose what you write about, and, especially on a blog, you inevitably write from your own perspective. Comments are good for clearing that up! Good luck, both of you!

      • Paul Oxenham

        Thanks Hana. You’re right, blogs are written from a single perspective and having a comments box isn’t there just for people to say thank you, you’re wonderful. I have long admired Girl in Czechland’s blog and have written many positive comments over the years. I have even used it as a teaching tool! I will continue to follow her travels and see if you makes it to Krkonoše this winter 😉

      • girlinczechland

        Hello Paul,

        You are indeed right: the comments blog isn’t just for people to leave gushing compliments – although of course those are very welcome! Seriously though, I think in general I’ve been very lucky that there’s been such a positive response to the blog overall especially given the high number of trolls stalking the internet looking for victims 🙂 I’m glad the blog has been of use for your classes and I promise there will be some fresh posts soon!

        Keep reading!


  5. Hana Minerva via Facebook

    I’ve found this sneak hilarious 😀 … ‘your meaningless office job’…. that certainly should get you reading crowd

  6. Well I am bored, and my job is somewhat meaningless at the time (just waiting for some stuff), but I have already read it 🙁

  7. Michaela

    Paul, I think you should calm down. GIC is really taking it from her own perspective. Maybe you should’ve suggested she would visit a different fortress as well and focus more on a different history or talk about different “sports” than mushroom picking or however it is called in other posts, that she shouldnt have tried skiing but snowboarding, not in Krkonose but in Sumava (just examples, I dont remember how it was written in these posts in the past).

    Please leave her alone, ok?

    • girlinczechland

      Hi Michaela,

      Thanks for leaping to my defence – it’s really very sweet of you! However, I do sympathise with Paul (and his friends who’ve suffered far more than I did). Perhaps the post could too easily be misinterpreted as being too Prague-centred which, as I already said, I didn’t intend it to be.

      I do think perhaps, that I should probably also consider making the whole blog a bit less Prague-focused. I mean, yes, obviously, I live here and there are The Village People, GIC’s much-loved co-stars, but a few readers have suggested in the past that I should somehow do more to talk about Czechland beyond the capital. Perhaps I should do a bit of Couchsurfing this summer and get exploring!


      • Michaela

        I dont know. had you lived in a little village, would he accuse you of talking too much about the countryside and not talking about the czech culture, museums, cinema, cafes? i mean what is “wrong” with your blog? it is your blog and it is the way you want it. it is not an official testimony of how the life in the Czech Republic is. it is your life and how you live it. also, not all the stories from outside Prague are always so interesting, sadly.

        should the czech newspaper too, write mostly about the local farmers, auto-mechanics, sick pigs, new shops opened, etc.? I mean anyway.. you experienced something which was bad for you and you blogged about it. yes, there are worse cases, but you have not experienced that one. it is kinda like if you said “i had been robbed” and someone accused you of: dont complain so much cause you know, there are people who had been raped!

        just my point of view….

    • Paul Oxenham

      Now you come to mention it, Stachelberg is a very interesting fort. It’s near Trutnov, and from here you can make your way up to Snezka and see the whole line of bunkers which were build, initially, to prevent the German invasion. Skiing, of course, is better in Krkonose, and is always full of Prazaks at the weekend 😉 As for mushroom picking, I would never say anything against it! I did it myself in Scotland as a young boy 😉
      Take it easy, Michaela. The reason for having a comments box is for everyone to share their opinion. This is all I did, and will continue to do. Most will be positive, but some will be negative. The world can’t be full of lambs. 🙂 Preji hezky den 🙂

  8. Hi GIC,

    Apologies for not leaving a comment on your blog for quite some time. However, I could point out that the same is also true in reverse 🙂 But I understand you did give my post about ‘Getting over the ‘ová’ http://rickyyates.com/getting-over-the-ova/ a nice plug via Facebook recently, which gave me a lot of additional visitors. Thank you!

    It is a little coincidental that we should both be writing about the same things recently – the Prague floods of early June & the border fortifications built in the 1930s which, because of the Munich agreement of September 1938, were never used for the purpose for which they were built.

    I’m sorry you got a bit of flak here, for only writing about Prague & I’m glad to see that others came to your defence. As a blog writer, you can only write about your experiences and if you are spending most of your time in Prague, that is inevitably what you write about. But as has been suggested to you, there is so much more to see & experience elsewhere in Czechland. So do get out & about if your can, and write about what you see with your usual quizzical eye & sideways look 🙂 I for one, will look forward to reading your observations.

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