Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

Letter from Europe

  • — Issue 2009/5 posted by hidden europe on

The Bohemian city of Liberec is much in the news this week as it hosts the Nordic World Ski Championships. Liberec has an improbably old-style hotel, called Imperial, that is an amazing throwback to the past. Its foyer still displays an old communist era map of a united Czechoslavakia, and the interior furnishings look like something straight out of a Soviet film set.

article summary —

Dear fellow travellers

The Bohemian city of Liberec is much in the news this week as it hosts the Nordic World Ski Championships. And there is snow aplenty with over forty centimetres lying in the streets of the city and very much more on the surrounding mountains. Liberec is an odd sort of place, some aspects of the city oozing modernity, but elsewhere still eerily redolent of the old Czechoslovakia.

An awful saga of cancelled trains meant that hidden europe developed a more intimate relationship with the Hotel Imperial than we had ever anticipated. The place is an amazing throwback to the past, with the foyer still displaying an old communist era map of a united Czechoslavakia, and interior furnishings that look like something straight out of a Soviet film set. But the drinks were cheap and our vantage point afforded a fine view of two huge apartment blocks in violently clashing colours - one in two-tone orange and the other in two quite nauseating shades of pink.

For travellers who want to get a feel of life as it once was, the Imperial is quite a find, and we are grateful to the hidden europe reader who tipped us off about this hidden gem. Liberec has other quirky attractions. It was here that Tomás Bata, a cobbler from Zlín in Moravia, opened his first ever retail shoe shop. Bata went on to head a footwear empire that spread across Europe. The original Liberec shop has long gone but its successor, a remarkable nineteen thirties period piece by Vladimir Karfík, still stands. It was Karfík who designed the Bata headquarters in Tomás Bata's home town of Zlín. At the time of its completion just before the Second World War, the Zlín skyscaper was the second tallest building in Europe.

Our favourite Liberec café is definitely the Posta, up the hill from the Bata building and just beyond the extravagantly ornate town hall. From outside the Posta, grey net curtains do little to entice, but this place is a jewel. Enormous chandeliers and wonderful fin de siècle interior design. We hesitated on entering, fearing that the Posta might be impossibly posh and pricy. But on the contrary, it is a place for beer and coffee, pizza and ice-cream - all served in decadent surroundings from another age.

Eventually the trains started running again, and we trundled off north through the snowy mountains to Frydlant, a small Czech town that just deserves to be much better known. It is tucked away in the far north of Bohemia, close to the border with Poland. The town has a fabulous castle, all turrets and mock battlements, and some sources say that this building inspired Kafka's novel The Castle, a surreal account of one man's battle with bureaucracy. Who knows whether the Frydlant connection is true or not. But the castle in the town certainly fits the bill, and visitors to Frydlant who know the Kafka novel will easily see in the rambling fortress many elements that recall passages in the novel.

In our next e-news, we shall preview the contents of the March/April 2009 issue of hidden europe. Meanwhile, do check our website where you will find the table of contents for the first two dozen issues of the magazine, plus an archive of over 130 back issues of hidden europe e-brief.

Nicky and Susanne
(editors, hidden europe magazine)

This article was published in Letter from Europe.

About The Authors

hidden europe

and Susanne Kries manage hidden europe, a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine. Nicky and Susanne are dedicated slow travellers. They delight in discovering the exotic in the everyday.