Friday, September 26, 2014

Podyji Nat'l Park - Telc - Day 18

Sunday, September 21
Much of our journey in the Czech Republic skirts the border with Austria. Today in the forest it is not obvious where one country ends and the other begins, but that was not the case for many years before 1989.
We began our day with a drive to South Moravia to see the Podyji National Park.
We started in the village of Lukiv and hiked through some pine, spruce and deciduous forests and ultimately came to the ruins of an old castle - Novy Hradek (1319 ft).
This castle is noteworthy for several reasons:
First, it was built in 1358 by the brother of the famous Czech emperor Charles IV and was used as a hunting lodge. In the next century, another castle was built next to it which became part of a series of castles that were built during the 15th century to defend the borders.
Secondly, it has not been inhabited for 250 years and the last owner lost it in 1920 due to land reform. The state took it over and tried to run a tourist club. 
Third, when the communists took it over, they built a wire fence right through it, eliminating any possibility of using it for the public. They wanted to destroy the castle, but it was too expensive so they left it alone.
Fourth, after 1989, the state took it over again and decided to leave it as an aspect of nature.  The castle has provided a support system as well as some diversity to the environment. For example, the mortar used contains limestone which is a contrast to the normally acidic soil in the area, allowing some different plant life.
We prowled around the ruins, going into some of the remaining enclosures, and then climbed to the top where we could see the ruins of the tower of the newer castle. From here we could also see the the Dyje River, which makes an "S" from this angle. 
We had a picnic lunch seated on wood stumps in the castle courtyard, but, unfortunately, it started to rain.
Then we continued our hike back to our green bus and it was a short drive to the tiny town of Cizov near the Austrian border. There we visited the only stretch of the "Iron Curtain" that has been preserved. It was an eerie thing to see and not as forbidding as what it had actually been.
Lada, our guide, was 22 when the border opened so he was quite knowledgeable. He said that originally there was a fence along the border. But that was too easy So they kept moving the fence until it was 3 miles from the border. That way, if you got across, they still had time to find you. Secondly, they put up one fence, then 2 and then 3. The one in the middle was electrified until the mid 60s. They also put in mine fields, but they ended up maiming or killing the guards.  All the inhabitants of the land between the Iron Curtain and the border were forcibly removed and their villages demolished. A total of 390 people were killed on the Czechoslovakia border between 1948 and 1989 while trying to escape. However, a total of 655 border guards also died here, although only 10 died in conflicts with border violations. The others died from suicide, electrocution, drowning, or accidents with guns.  The Iron Curtain stretched 7250 km from the Baltic Sea to the Adriatic Sea and 930 km lay in Czechoslovakia.
Why escape?
In 1948, when the Communists were elected in, 20,000 people immigrated. Then a train full of people ran through the border, and the wall started going up. In the 1950s, there were 15 million people in the country. Of those, 262,000 were sent to jail, 80,000 were sent to work camps.  Everyone was taught to be suspicious of one another and you had to be careful what you said even with your children. Lada told us some personal stories that were very sad.
The we boarded our bus for about an hour's ride to Telc, our home for the next 3 nights. We checked into the Hotel Anton and had dinner there. We were all tired so an early evening.

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