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IN THE LAND OF THE BOHEMIANS

IN THE LAND OF THE BOHEMIANS

Published October 8, 2004

There is little here to remind you of Soviet times. Walking through Prague, you feel firmly in the heart of Central Europe. In fact, with the EU constantly expanding, Prague has been mentioned as a potential future capital of the Union, with Brussels moving ever farther away from the centre geographically. Fear of the Russians has been replaced by annoyance with the Americans. About half of them have returned home, no doubt leaving when their parents stopped funding them, but a large number still remain and don´t seem to be doing much in the way of blending in. At the hostel, someone’s drawn an arrow above the toilet pointing down, with a caption reading “Americans.”

The word Bohemian is derived from Bohemia which, along with Moravia, was one of the two ancient provinces of the Czech Republic. The Czechs, led by Jan Huss and other reformers, were prone to rebellion against the pope. During the Hussite wars that followed, the Bohemians prevailed against the papal forces, but were in return branded as heretics and wild rumours circulated about them. Bohemian became an inter-European derogatory term. It was later picked up by the author George Sands and used to describe the lifestyle of the Romantics, giving it its current meaning. Even though the Bohemian movement, centred around Paris, ended with the First World War, the Beats of the 1950s, the hippies of the 1960s and eventually the expats in Prague of the 1990s all drew inspiration from the original Bohemian Romantics.

Prague Castle
In 1618, the Czechs threw emissaries of the Catholic Emperor out the window of Prague Castle. They landed in a pile of manure but survived. The incident helped trigger the 30 Year’s War. The war devastated Bohemia and Morovia along with most of Central Europe. The provinces remained Roman Catholic and lost their taste for rebellion. The castle is also where the crown of the Czech republic is kept. Legend has it that whoever dons the crown without being the rightful king of the Czechs will soon die. Apparently, the last man to attempt this was arch Nazi Reinhard Heydrich. He was gunned down on the street by Czech partisans 14 days later. The reprisals were terrible but fortunately, Prague castle still stands and can be visited.


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