Where Gumbo Was #228
The scene of Puzzle #228 may have seemed familiar: It's not the first time Gumbo's been there, or even the first time a puzzle has been set there, although Puzzle #68 featured the castle rather than the whole town.
No surprise, therefore, that we got correct answers from several Gumbo members. In order, George G (on Day 1!), GarryRF, PortMoresby, Professor Abe and Roderick Simpson. Congratulations to all.
Because it's not our first time to look at Cesky Krumlov, I've focused below on some of the less-noticed aspects, and nearly avoided the castle entirely—although it is such a looming presence above the town you couldn't really omit it if you wanted to.
Our visit was a brief one, last spring, with a shore excursion from a Viking River Cruise. After a quite good walking tour, we had time on our own for lunch, and in my case, a long wander around the edges and alleys of the town.
Like so many other small cities of Central Europe, Cesky has a long and checkered history, changing hands among royal and noble families and changing populations. It was first settled in the middle of the 13th century at a strategic ford in the Vltava River, which also passes through Prague.
Over the years, it waxed and waned in importance; the castle grew over time as well. But although Cesky was for a time the capital of the Duchy of Krumlov, it never attained major city status. During nearly all its existence, although it was founded by Czech nobles, its population was mainly German; it's in an area quite near the border of Czech-speaking Bohemia and German-speaking Austria.
A gold rush along the river in the late 15th century brought even more Germans, who settled to work the now-exhausted mines. By 1910, the population was 85% German-speaking. In the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after World War I, Cesky Krumlov was supposed to be part of Austria, but was seized by the new Czech government.
The area gained fame in the late 1930s as part of the Sudetenland, German-speaking areas of Czechoslovakia that were claimed by Hitler in 1938. The last private owners of the castle (and much of the town since 1719) were ardent opponents of the annexation, and gave large sums to defend Czech rule. As a result, their properties were seized by the Gestapo shortly after Germany took over.
After World War II ended, the Czech government took ownership of the castle, and the area's German-speaking population was expelled to Germany and Austria. That aspect of the town's history doesn't show up in the tourism brochures, not even to be blamed on the post-1948 Communist regime.
So, when we found this excellent restaurant, featuring traditional Czech food that was not entirely distinguishable from nearby Austrian and German food, we were not surprised to find it named for the hero of Jaroslav Hasek's The Good Soldier Svejk, a man who lived in a world where nationality and empire and stupidity constantly crossed paths, forcing ordinary people to find ways to cope. A good read, or a good re-read, by the way.
The town lies mostly below the castle, allowing a variety of interesting views, both looking down from above, and up from below.
Walking the streets and among the shops, you could be in nearly any town of its age and area, with familiar Baroque, Renaissance and Gothic architecture.
But when you come to the river, it's almost hard to believe you're in the same town, with a less monumental scale, and, well, the river.
In all, a pleasant place to spend a day, and perhaps more—although, to the sorrow of local hotel operators, it appears that only a small fraction of the visitors do. An assistant in the local tourism office told me that nearly all the town's visitors come on day trips from nearby larger cities.