Articles tagged:

Central Europe

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Faith and identity in the Slovakian hills

Next week, the Pope is visiting Slovakia and the world’s media will surely show images of His Holiness taking a leading role in what looks like an Orthodox liturgy. It prompts us to look at faith and identity in the Carpathians - the area where the Ukraine, Slovakia and Poland converge.

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Exploring Baedeker's Switzerland

by Nicky Gardner

The Baedeker series of guidebooks showed a remarkable consistency in presentation over many decades from the mid-19th century. But many guides were updated every couple of years, so how far did the content change? We compare two editions of Baedeker’s Switzerland, one from 1881 and the other from 1905, and find that the changes nicely reflect new social and travel pieties.

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The Juliana Trail: Slow Travel in Slovenia

by Rudolf Abraham

Launched in late 2019, the Juliana Trail is a long-distance walking route that encircles Triglav, the highest mountain in Slovenia. It’s a chance to engage with the varied landscapes and communities of the Julian Alps and, by encouraging visitors to explore the region around Triglav rather than just making a dash for the summit, it helps alleviate the pressure on Slovenia’s most popular peak.

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From Norway to Silesia

There are only about two dozen surviving Norwegian stave churches. Most of them, unsurprisingly, are in Norway. But curiously there's a fine example of a Norwegian stave church on the northern slopes of the Giant Mountains in south-west Poland. The church was purchased by the German Kaiser and transported from Vang in Norway to the Silesian hills in the early 1840s.

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The Hungarian Town of Sopron

Sopron is one of those places with a sense of being in the heart of Europe. One hundred years ago, this small town in western Hungary was much in the news. Few places were so shaken by the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It's a thought we contemplate during our journey by train from Berlin to Sopron.

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Russians in Bohemia

by hidden europe
Where would the spa towns of Bohemia be without the patronage from the great and good? The Romanov family's enthusiasm for taking the water has encouraged generations of Russians to visit the region.
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Bohemian Waters

by hidden europe
Here's a hidden europe briefing for first-time visitors to the Czech spa towns. Often referred to as the spa triangle, north-west Bohemia actually has more than just three spa towns.
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Dancing by the Danube

by Rudolf Abraham
In the town of Mohács, on the bank of the River Danube in Hungary, the single most important cultural event of the year is the Busójárás, which is part of a wider European Shrovetide tradition. Rudolf Abraham stopped off in Mohács to report on this extraordinary festival for hidden europe.
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Return to Marienbad: The Ghosts of Mariánské Lázne

by Nicky Gardner
Few place names resonate in the way that Marienbad does. The celebrated spa town tucked away in the hills of Bohemia is, like many of the traditional spas of central Europe, a place apart. Today the town is known by the Czech name of Mariánské Lázne and hints of a Habsburg past are draped with a soft veneer of Soviet-style central planning and the sharp edge of modern capitalism.
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Keeping loyal to Samnaun

We had assumed that the practice of diligently recording and publishing the name of visitors had long since died out until last summer we visited Samnaun. This really is one of Europe's most oddball communities. It is tucked away in the hills on the north side of the Inn Valley in Switzerland's Lower Engadine region.

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Puppetry in Prague: the Art of Bringing Wood to Life

by Rudolf Abraham
The art of puppetry is alive and well in central Europe. In the Czech Republic, puppetry is recognised as a key element of national culture. With some linden wood, textiles, paint and the skill of the puppet maker, it's just a matter of time before the magic appears. Writer and photographer Rudolf Abraham meets the men and women who pull the strings in Czech puppetry.
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The City by the Elbe: Torgau and the Reformation

by Nicky Gardner
This is at one level the story of a renegade monk and a runaway nun. But it's also the wider story of the Reformation in Saxony. Join us as we explore Torgau, a town on the banks of the River Elbe in eastern Germany which played second fiddle to Wittenberg in the Reformation. It is 500 years since Martin Luther kicked off a movement which was to divide the Catholic Church.
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Lidice shall live!

This Saturday marks the 75th anniversary of the Czech Resistance's successful attempt on the life of senior Nazi administrator Reinhard Heydrich. It was an event which had terrible repercussions; the Germans retaliated with ruthless force. Those repercussions were felt most awfully in the Czech village of Lidice.

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Hints of the East in Frantiskovy Lázne

Relaxation is compulsory in Frantiskovy Lázne, a small spa town in the far north-west corner of the Czech Republic. There are two outstanding churches, one a very fine Catholic church executed in graceful Empire style and the other a rather uplifting Orthodox church dedicated to St Olga. That second church is a reminder that the Czech spa tradition has always thrived on links with the east.

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Tales from the East

With mention of fairy tales and film, thoughts often turn to Disney. The cinematic adaptation of fairy tales is often judged in the west to be a peculiarly American prerogative. But central and eastern Europe have a very fine tradition of progressive cinema and a vast store of fairy tales upon which to draw.

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The Beauty of the Square

Kings come and kings go, and even freedom goes in and out of fashion. But the appeal of the town square endures, because ultimately these are spaces that belong to the people. The square in Ceské Budejovice is no exception to that rule. Welcome to southern Bohemia.

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Flagship of red Vienna: Karl Marx-Hof

by Duncan JD Smith

The well-being of residents, communal facilities and the affordability of housing have been the hallmarks of Vienna's social housing programmes for almost a century. Urban explorer Duncan JD Smith leads us to the 'Ringstrasse des Proletariats': Vienna's Karl Marx-Hof.

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Understanding the socialist city

by Nicky Gardner

Progressive socialist designs for homes and cities are no longer in fashion. Yet Europe's streetscapes still attest to the grand schemes of yesteryear, when architects and planners envisaged a society that stood opposed to capitalism. We go in search of some first-class cityscapes which were the product of communist Europe.

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More than just Calvin: the Geneva story

by Nicky Gardner

We take a look at a European city which has often styled itself as a place of refuge. Geneva has long taken a stand on human rights. So join us as we explore the many sides of Geneva, the Swiss city that turns out to have impeccable radical credentials.

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All change at Westbahnhof

by Duncan JD Smith

Big changes are afoot at the Westbahnhof in Vienna, a station which these past months has seen crowds of refugees from Syria and elsewhere. Vienna-based writer Duncan JD Smith takes a look at how the station has changed over the years.

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No train to Poland

The decision 170 years ago to build a great viaduct across the Neisse Valley was a visionary leap. Now that elegant structure needs a dose of 21st-century vision. Because what use is a graceful viaduct if it doesn't have any trains?

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Bohemian therapy

Eight times each day, even on Sundays, a train leaves the Czech town of Karlovy Vary for the 80-minute journey through the hills to Mariánské Lázne. Both communities are celebrated stops on the European spa circuit. They both flourished in Habsburg days and both are nowadays still well known by their erstwhile German names, respectively Karlsbad and Marienbad.

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The Great Synagogue of Plzen

You might expect the most striking building in Plzen to be a brewery. But there's more to Plzen than beer. In fact the most impressive building in the Czech city is the Great Synagogue on Plzen's main thoroughfare.

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Remembering Anna

by hidden europe

Anna Walentynowicz died five years ago this spring in the plane crash that also claimed the lives of many in the Polish leadership. We recall the woman who was a welder, crane driver and political activist - a woman who quietly helped shape modern Poland.

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A Silesian story

It was 274 years ago today that Frederick II of Prussia rode through the Schweidnitzer Gate in Breslau to claim the Silesian city for Prussia. It is a mark of Frederick's style that he was accompanied, as he ceremonially entered the city, not by cannons but by a number of packhorses carrying the royal tableware.

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Glowing in the dark

The main road drops down from the hump of the mountain in a series of sharp zigzags. Polished blue sky above, velvety green forests all around and the tacho ticking off the miles of grey tarmac below. We are on the south side on the ore-rich hills that separate eastern Germany from the Czech Republic.

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Simply wood: a journey into the hills

by Nicky Gardner

The humblest homes in many villages in the Carpathians are built of wood. So, too, are the grandest buildings - almost invariably the church. Wood has its own benign beauty, and it is the carrier of tradition. We explore the wooden architecture of that part of the Carpathian region which lies to the east of the High Tatras.

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A village torn in two: Slemence

by Nicky Gardner

The fall of the Berlin Wall was way back in 1989. But the community of Slemence remained divided until 2005. For sixty years, there was no link between the two halves of the village which lies astride the border between Ukraine and Slovakia. A new crossing point for pedestrians has eased the situation, allowing renewed contact between the two parts of the village. We take a walk through one of Europe's most unusual villages.

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The three pillars of Rusyn life

by Nicky Gardner

The fragile flame of Rusyn consciousness is flickering back to life. There is renewed interest in Rusyn art and literature. A group that endured "fifty years of Soviet silence" (Norman Davies' words) is reasserting its right to be heard. We look at a minority which has as its cultural heartland the hill country where the territories of Ukraine, Slovakia and Poland converge.

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The power of song

by Nicky Gardner

It is forty years since Pete Seeger took to stages in Moscow, the Crimea and Prague as part of a world tour. Seeger died earlier this year of course, and in this postscript to his life we look at how Seeger's music was very similar to that of the guitar poets in eastern Europe in the post-Stalin period.

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Escape from Carlsbad

by hidden europe

The funicular railway to the Café Diana on the hills above the spa town of Karlovy Vary marks a birthday this summer: it was opened to the public in 1914. It remains the easy way to get a bird's-eye view of Karlovy Vary (the town often referred in older travel literature as Carlsbad). The doctors treating spa clients would naturally prefer that their patients walk rather than ride up the hillside.

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Yuri gets a ticket

Yuri overstayed the limit. So he was given a ticket. Then the authorities ushered Yuri out of town. Now he's parked outside the airport terminal. How long he'll stay there is a matter for debate. Our guess is that, as long as Russians keep flying into town, Yuri will be allowed to stay outside the airport.

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The Carpathian spirit

From villages in the Ukrainian hills above Uzhhorod west through the Bieszczady Mountains to remote communities in south-east Poland, there is a Paschal theme this Sunday morning: "Christos voskrese," it runs in Church Slavonic. "Christ has risen." In the rural valleys on the south side of the Bieszczady Mountains, territory which is part of Slovakia, you might catch this Sunday's special greeting uttered in Rusyn.

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Sárospatak: a small town in Hungary

Travelling through north-east Hungary earlier this month, we could so easily have missed Sárospatak. It was a drizzly Sunday afternoon and we turned off the main road merely on a whim. Sárospatak was to us little more than a name on a map. Of course we knew something of the Calvinist traditions of eastern Hungary - a part of the Habsburg realm where the ripples of the Reformation captured the local imagination.

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Music for 25 March

March 1714 was a good month for Johann Sebastian Bach. On the second of the month, he was promoted to the plum job of Konzertmeister at the Weimar court. This was quite an achievement for a man who was only 28 years old. The terms of the new appointment required that each month Bach should present a new cantata in the Schlosskirche (Palace Church) at Weimar, and the first of those performances was scheduled for 25 March - 300 years ago today.

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Into the hills: a Bohemian diversion

by Nicky Gardner

Of course one can speed across Europe on sleek, fast trains. But slow trains, the kind that dawdle along branch lines, are so much more interesting. We ride a rural rail route in northern Bohemia, where fading railway stations reveal a Habsburg history. Join us on the slow train to Dolni Poustevna.

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By the razor’s edge: western Poland

by Nicky Gardner

The Polish village of Siekierki on the east bank of the River Odra is a good spot to reflect on European borders. We visit the Western Territories, the area ceded by Germany to Poland at the end of the Second World War.

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The idea of ‘good’ borders

by hidden europe

The Curzon Line, which for so long marked the approximate western border of the Soviet Union is named after Lord Curzon. His Lordship has strong ideas on borders, seeing them very much as zones of demarcation. But ideas have changed since Curzon's day. Across much of Europe, they have become invitations for communities on either side to collaborate.

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Bright banquets in the Elysian Vale: musings on Weimar

by Nicky Gardner

Can a town have too much history? That certainly seems the case with the small city of Weimar in the German State of Thuringia. The town packs a few surprises and there is even a little counterculture to offset Schiller and Goethe. We unpack the details that you don't find in the tourist brochures in this special feature on a town that is still very much 'east' Germany - and all the better for that.

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Winter comes to Kroscienko

The winter snows have come to higher parts of the Carpathians, and already the beech woods and forests of fir are clad in white. Kroscienko, a little village in the Polish hills, is very quiet this time of year. Were it not for the fact that the road through Kroscienko leads to a border crossing with neighbouring Ukraine, there would be scarcely anyone passing through Kroscienko.

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Leipzig soundscapes

by Nicky Gardner

Few European cities can rival Leipzig when it comes to musical associations. Richard Wagner was born in Leipzig, Johann Sebastian Bach had an extraordinarily productive 27 years in the city, and the roll call of great musical names continues: Clara and Robert Schumann, Felix Mendelssohn, Edvard Grieg and more. We profile a city that has been to a considerable degree defined by music

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Falling apples

The second of the spas - the Apple Spas - is marked today over much of central and eastern Europe. It coincides, as every year, with the Feast of the Transfiguration - a milestone in the ecclesiastical calendar. The Apple Spas is a day when great baskets of apples are taken to the morning celebration of the Divine Liturgy in village churches. It is a day that reminds us that a change in the seasons is not far hence.

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Budapest: Relax in a ruin

by Duncan JD Smith

Duncan JD Smith, author of 'Only in Budapest', takes to the back streets of the Hungarian capital to visit the latest Budapest fad: a pub in a building that comes close to being a ruin. It's cheap, cheerful and lots of fun.

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History for sale

by hidden europe

Many abandoned station buildings in rural Poland are finding new life as private entrepreneurs restore them to their former glory. This spring the Polish authorities are selling off a further tranche of buildings, most of them remarkable pieces of architecture.

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Where the wild things are: a Polish Arcadia

by Nicky Gardner

The forest reserve at Bialowieski in Poland extends over the border into neighbouring Belarus. This great wilderness is the most important refuge for European bison. So it is no surprise that it is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. It's also inscribed on the Polish heart — these border landscapes are the gateway to an imagined Arcadia which helped shape the narratives and images of Polish Romanticism.

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All eyes on Ukraine

Just over five years ago, on a sunny day in mid-April 2007, Victor Yushchenko paid a courtesy visit to the European Commission. On the same day Victor Yanukovich addressed the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Ukraine was in political turmoil and the key protagonists were busy courting the wider European policy community and international public opinion - each hoping to secure some support for their side in the embittered constitutional crisis that then divided their country.

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From synagogue to swimming pool

It is tempting to scatter superlatives when it comes to Poznan. Put simply, Poznan has a superb showpiece square. In its town hall, which dominates that central square, the city has one of the most magnificent Renaissance buildings in Europe. Poznan is a place we like a lot and one we know well - indeed we spent a long weekend there just last month. Yet, like many central European cities, Poznan struggles with its Jewish past.

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Polish mysteries

We crossed the River Odra four times. And four times I gazed down at the river's wine-dark waters from the train, watching the waters swirling under bridges, swirling through history. We stopped on a level crossing, inconveniencing no-one, for cars there were none. But that was a fine moment, sunshine tussling with midday mist and for once getting the upper hand.

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Slovakia: a foray into modernism

by Nicky Gardner

Slovakia boasts some of the finest modernist architecture anywhere in Europe, though you would hardly know it from the guidebooks. There is something distinctly Slovakian about these buildings which, during the years that Slovakia was linked to the Czech Republic, became a quiet assertion of national identity.

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Budapest: beneath the Hungarian capital

by Duncan JD Smith

Guided by Duncan JD Smith, we dive below the streets of Budapest to unravel the history of the Hungarian capital. No other capital city in the world is so riddled with caves as Budapest. We find Roman ruins, a labyrinth from the Ottoman period and some remarkable wine cellars.

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A day in Domažlice

by Nicky Gardner

The small towns of southwest Bohemia, many of them just a stone's throw from the border with Bavaria, are well off most tourist trails. We visit Domazlice, a town in the hills that boasts a beautiful elongate plaza at its heart.

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People's palaces

by Wolf Oschlies

Many central and eastern European capitals boast 'palaces' that were constructed in the socialist period. While Berlin's Palace of the Republic is being demolished, other capitals are finding more creative ways of rehabilitating their 'people's palaces'

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Market forces: the city of Pécs

by Amanda Wilson

What is a city that does not respect its markets and its open spaces? Cherishing communal assets does not always rest easily with the search for profit, as Amanda Wilson finds in the south Hungarian city of Pécs.

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The Via Sacra

by Nicky Gardner

The Via Sacra is an inspired initiative that foregrounds the religious heritage of a particularly beautiful part of central Europe - the area where Bohemia (Czech Republic), Polish Silesia and the German State of Saxony converge.

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Tomb of the roses

by Nicky Gardner

Gül Baba presides over Budapest with the serenity and repose of one who rests in Allah. We forsake the streets of Castle Hill in Buda, forever full of tourists, and go in search of hidden Budapest.

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The slow train

by Nicky Gardner

evoking the flavour of a hot summer afternoon in the Bohemian hills, hidden europe takes the slow train from Liberec to Decí­n

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Poznan - the Polish Society of Country Lovers (PTTK)

The PTTK is a venerable Polish institution. Roughly translated, its full name means the Polish Society of Country Lovers. Kick-started in the Tatra Mountains in the late nineteenth century, the society encouraged an increasingly urban populace to make excursions out of the cities and explore the Polish countryside.

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Grodna (Belarus)

One of the places we report from in the May issue of the magazine is Grodna in Belarus - a remarkable place where a hundred years ago the streets echoed to the sounds of Yiddish voices. Today the old synagogue sits rather forlornly on a bluff overlooking the little Garadnichanka river that weaves through the town. The Orthodox cathedral and a dozen Roman Catholic churches are packed these days in the town where Lenin still stands on his plinth.

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International Women's Day

While Saxony's womenfolk were treated to coffee and cake afloat, indulgence of another kind was evident in the industrial city of Perm, just west of Russia's Ural mountains. Light snow fell this afternoon on the thousands of couples gathered in Perm's main square in pursuit of a remarkable record.

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Terminalia: a day for borders - no tram to Poland

Today, 23 February, is the Festival of Terminalia - not a date that features prominently in any modern ecclesiastical calendar, but one that was laden with meaning in the Roman world. For Terminus was the deity who presided over boundary stones and border markers in Rome and its provinces. Nowadays, the obelisks and pillars that stand at regular intervals along most of Europe's international land borders often go unremarked by the public.