hidden europe 3

Back to the wall: Ústi­ nad Labem

by Nicky Gardner


hidden europe visits Maticní street, home to some of the Czech Republic's Roma people

It was five years ago this summer that Czech workmen built a new wall in the zoo at Ústí nad Labem, a rather grey industrial city about an hour north of Prague. The wall is intended to do no more than separate one species from another, just as walls in zoos often do. This particular wall is a wall with experience, having already been deployed elsewhere in the same Czech city. It is no ordinary wall. It is the Maticní wall, a divide designed to separate Czechs from the Roma citizens who lived on the other side of the road. hidden europe has been back to Maticní street.

Ústí nad Labem may have its redeeming features, but these were not immediately obvious as we waited for the bus down the hill towards the eastern suburb of Nestemice. The locals claim with some pride that Marlene Dietrich was a regular visitor to Ústí, but in fairness the actress' perceived affection for Ústí was probably only due to the fact that her husband, Rudolf Sieber, came from the town.

On the main road, the bus decants its load at the intersection, and everyone else rushes to the connecting services. No-one except us lingers. For our route is different... south along a neglected little road called 'the First of May', which looks as though it has nothing to celebrate at all. It leads south to the railway line. There are only three other people in the street, and two of them are pushing prams, which hints of some fertility in this urban wilderness.

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