View of a seemingly lonely light fort with some trees in the middle of a grass field. It is late autumn, the sky is clear but the sunset is rather misty which is quite common in this part of the world and this time of the year. The Jizera Mountains are to the east. Right between the setting sun and the crescent moon there could be seen the Ještěd Mountain with it's famed hotel - if it wasn't for the mist. The fort is a reminder of a sad chapter in Czech history, starting with one of the most sophisticated fortification systems in the world and ending with signing the Munich Treaty, which meant the forts were never allowed to be used for their purpose. Just a few hundred meters from this one there are more in the woods.
The Czech Republic is a cool little landlocked country south of Germany and Poland, with a national addiction to pork and beer. Potatos, cabbage, and dumplings are close behind them, and they also have this great bar food called "utopenec." It means "a drowned man," it's pickled sausage with onions, perfect with some dark wheat bread and beer. The Czech bread is legendary, like a meal all by itself.Czechoslovakia first became a sovereign state in 1918 when it declared independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The state of Czechoslovakia lasted until the "Velvet Divorce" of 1993, which created Slovakia and the Czech Republic.It was occupied by Germany in WWII but escaped major damage, unlike most other European cities. The nation's capital, Prague, retains some of Europe's most beautiful Baroque architecture as well as one of the largest medieval castle complexes still standing. The President of the Czech Republic has his offices in the Prague Castle even today.There was a coup d'etat in 1948 and Czechoslovakia fell under Soviet rule. For fifty years Czechoslovakia was a Socialist state under the USSR, subject to censorship, forced atheism and even the arrest of jazz musicians!In 1989, communist police violently squashed a pro-democracy demonstration and pissed everybody off so bad that a revolution erupted over it, finally ending the Communist rule.The next twenty years saw rapid economic growth and westernization. Today in Prague you can eat at McDonald's or KFC, shop for snowboarding boots and go see a punk rock show.The Czech Republic took over the presidency of the European Union in January 2009. This instantly created lots of political drama because the President of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Klaus, is a renowned Euroskeptic.We anxiously await the outcome of "President Klaus vs. the Lisbon Treaty", a world heavywieght fight sceduled for spring 2009.Text by Steve Smith.