Autumn 2021. In theory we could travel to other continents, but destinations we had in mind such as Japan or the United Kingdom were impossible to plan ahead. Instead we organised a rail trip to Eastern Europe, travelling to Berlin, Gdańsk, Wrocław, Karlovy Vary, Pilsen, Bratislava, Poprad, Vienna, Linz and Salzburg. By travelling to Germany, Poland, Czechia, Slovakia and Austria, we explore an area which was in the (not too distant) past bonded together by the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation and by Austria-Hungary.
Pilsen or Plzeň is the fourth most populous city in the Czech Republic with about 175,000 inhabitants. It’s situated bout 90 kilometres (56 miles) west of Prague in western Bohemia. The city is known worldwide for pilsner beer, created by Bavarian brewer Josef Groll in the city in 1842.
Plzeň was first mentioned as a castle in 976. It became a town in 1295 when King Wenceslaus II granted Plzeň its civic charter as a ‘Royal City’ and established a new town site, some 10 km (6 mi) away from the original settlement, which is the current town of Starý Plzenec. It quickly became an important town on trade routes leading to Nuremberg and Regensburg. In the 14th century, it was the third-largest town in Bohemia after Prague and Kutná Hora.
During the Hussite Wars, it was the centre of Catholic resistance to the Hussites. Prokop the Great unsuccessfully besieged it three times, and it joined the league of Catholic nobles against King George of Poděbrady.
The underground tunnels helped the city to keep besiegers away.
In 1468, the town acquired a printing press. The ‘Trojan Chronicle‘ (‘Kronika trojánská‘), the first book published in Bohemia, was printed on it.
Emperor Rudolf II made Plzeň his seat from 1599 to 1600. During the Thirty Years’ War the town was taken by Peter Ernst, count of Mansfeld in 1618 after the Siege of Plzeň and it was not recaptured by imperial troops until 1621.
Albrecht von Wallenstein made it his winter quarters in 1633. The town was unsuccessfully besieged by Sweden in 1637 and 1648. The town and region have been staunchly Catholic despite the Hussite Wars.
From the end of the 17th century, the architecture of Plzeň has been influenced by the Baroque style. The city centre has been under cultural heritage preservation since 1989.
In the second half of the 19th century Plzeň, already an important trade centre for Bohemia, near the Bavarian/German border, began to industrialise rapidly. In 1869 Emil Škoda started up the Škoda Works, which became the most important and influential engineering company in the country and a crucial supplier of arms to the Austro-Hungarian Army. By 1917 the Škoda Works employed over 30,000 workers.
World War II
Following Czechoslovak independence from Austria-Hungary in 1918 the German-speaking minority in the countryside bordering the city of Plzeň hoped to be united with Austria and were unhappy at being included in Czechoslovakia. Many allied themselves to the Nazis after 1933 in the hope that Adolf Hitler might be able to unite them with their German-speaking neighbours.
Following the Munich Agreement in 1938, Plzeň became literally a frontier town, after the creation of the Sudetenland moved the Third Reich borders to the city’s outer limits. During the Nazi occupation from 1939 to 1945, the Škoda Works in Pilsen was forced to provide armaments for the Wehrmacht, and Czech contributions, particularly in the field of tanks, were noted.
Between 17 and 26 January 1942, over 2,000 Jewish inhabitants, most of Plzeň’s Jewish population, were deported by the Nazis to the Theresienstadt concentration camp.
The German-speaking population was forcibly expelled from the city and indeed all of the rest of Czechoslovakia after the end of the war in 1945, according to the provisions of the Potsdam Agreement. All of their property was confiscated.
The large square is colourful. We had a quick look around and lunch at Štipec.
2021 Rail Tour of Imperial Europe
- POTSDAM 2021 | Schloss Sanssouci.
- 1945 Potsdam Conference’s Cecilienhof Palace.
- Potsdam 2021.
- REVIEW | InterContinental Berlin.
- BERLIN 2021 | Pergamon, ‘Das Panorama’.
- BERLIN 2021 | Humboldt Forum in the Berlin Palace.
- BERLIN 2021 | The Bundestag in the Reichstag.
- Berlin 2021.
- By train from Berlin to Gdansk via Szczecin.
- Stopover in Szczecin.
- REVIEW | Restauracja Ritz in Gdańsk.
- REVIEW | Holiday Inn Gdansk.
- GDAŃSK | Museum of the Second World War.
- GDAŃSK | European Solidarity Centre or Europejskie Centrum Solidarności.
- A walk through Gdańsk.
- Gdańsk 2021.
- POLAND | PKP Intercity Gdansk to Wroclaw via Warsaw.
- Wrocław Museum of Architecture.
- The Dwarfs of Wrocław.
- Poland 2021.
- By train from Wroclaw to Karlovy Vary.
- Karlovy Vary.
- REVIEW | Hotel Imperial Karlovy Vary.
- Czechia’s Great Spa Town of Europe Františkovy Lázně.
- CZECHIA | Pilsen Historical Underground Tunnels.
- CZECHIA | Pilsner Urquell Brewery Tour.