Zen Recreations

Czech the Diary

Posts tagged with “prague”

It was October 28, 1992, and I was walking along the river in this town in North Moravia where I had recently settled. In the distance I could hear music that sounded like a military parade about to get underway. It turned out to be an army band playing before a handful of spectators while a listless, unformed regiment stood in formation. North Korea it sure as hell wasn’t, and the dreariness of the occasion was especially surprising given that it was Statehood Day, celebrating the creation of Czechoslovakia. The lack of excitement, as I learned, had to do with the talks then going on about that very country about to split apart.


Sure enough, on January 1, 1993, Czechoslovakia ceased to exist. It was now the Czech Republic and Slovakia, two countries with different flags, currencies and governments. And yet October 28 went on being the national holiday of statehood because independence in 1918 was so closely associated with both the first president Thomas Masaryk and the Czechoslovak legion of World War I fame, which had thumped the Red Army as they made their way back home from Siberia. For the centennial in 2018, there were plenty of exhibitions around the country marking all the exploits that led to independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

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I have to admit that when I came to the Czech Republic for the first time, I had no clue about the great beer here. It was just assumed that Germany had the finest brew by virtue of Oktoberfest. Germany was in fact my first stop towards me eventually  settling down in Europe and naturally I was looking forward to my first beer in a pub there. I fell in with a group and ordered what they were having. We got the beer, did the customary zum Wohl, I took my first healthy swig and…what the hell? It had a strange taste and even worse aftertaste. The group informed me that it was Hefeweizbier, meaning made out of wheat. Wheat? Where was I, Kansas? The group told me that if I didn’t want breaded beer for the next round, I should order Pils. And just what grain are we talking about here? Not to worry, they said, Pils is a generic term for any beer besides the wheat stuff. I have to say, though, that Hefeweizbier grew on me and came to be my beer of choice until I moved to the Czech Republic.

   As it seems so obvious today, the word Pils comes from Pilsen, the city in western Bohemia that first produced the lagers that are the standard today. I had my first Pilsner in Prague and that was it. No more wheat. My only reservation was all the foam, which has more suds than a kid’s bath. But I found out that’s the way the Czechs like and expect it and you couldn’t meet a single one of them whose biggest complaint about their trip to America was the lack of foam in the beer. They were absolutely stunned. In a Czech pub, you order a beer on tap and wait 15 minutes for 60% of the foam to settle into something drinkable. In America, the damn thing is ready in 10 seconds. Too soft-drink like.

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