Fateful Eights: 100 Years of Czech Red Letter Dates in 2018

Traveling history buffs have cause to celebrate 2018 in Prague. This year marks so many meaningful anniversaries for the Czech Republic they can barely contain them all in one calendar. Prague has plenty of  ‘fateful eights’ commemorations and events in the works. The following highlights of important dates and events in Prague will inspire travelers who like to learn.

 

1918: The Founding of the First Republic

New Year’s Day 2018 started off with a bang as a huge fireworks show filled the Prague night sky to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the First Republic. Starting at 6 pm, the city fired up the Prague skyline for 11 straight minutes with over 1 million crowns worth of fireworks. Don’t worry if you missed the show, there are many other events and celebrations in Prague leading up to the official date of the First Republic of Czechoslovakia on October 28. On that fateful eight date, the Czech and Slovak states cast off the shackles of their Austro-Hungarian oppressors and formed their own country for the first time in history.

 

Prague Castle is the place to be for a year-long series of events and exhibitions commemorating the founding of the First Republic. The project Founded 1918 guides visitors through the storied history of the Czech Republic through a series of year-long exhibitions and events.
Seven keys unlocked the vault of St. Vitus Cathedral for a rare display of the Bohemian Crown Jewels from January 16 through January 23. These priceless power pieces of former kings include the St. Wenceslas Crown, the Royal Scepter, the Coronation Cloak and the Royal Apple, a gilded globe encrusted with jewels and a cross. The Crown Jewels are displayed once every five years, so mark your calendars if you love the bling.

 

The next stop on the Founded 1918 historical tour takes you on a tour of 1000 years of Czech history in the Prague Castle Imperial Stables. In the ongoing Through the Labyrinth of Czech History exhibition (February 27 – July 1, 2018), wind your way through this comprehensive exhibit of Czech history to learn about Bohemian royalty, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and World Wars I and II. Also on display is the oldest preserved Czech document, called Vladislav’s Privilege. Additional exhibits under the Founded 1918 wing include Elements of Statehood (May 10 – October 31, 2018), the Restoration of Prague Castle 1918-1929 (October 18, 2017 – May 13, 2018), and The Castle Guard (June 28 – October 31, 2018). Admission to all Founded 1918 exhibits is 150 CZK.

 

Open-air centennial celebrations include the Fireman’s Fountain on June 2, 2018. At 10 pm more than 1000 firemen will set the Vltava River ablaze with lights and water jets.  For avid trainspotters, the historic Legiotrain will chug along from city to city in Czechia and Slovakia. The Czechoslovak Legionnaire Community will display the train from October 28 through November 18 at the Prague-Dejvice Railway Station. Train fans should also keep their eyes peeled from July through September for the Presidential train, a collection of the historic saloon wagons of past presidents. The First Republic Day of October 28 will feature a military parade through the Prague streets.

 

1938: Munich Pact and Nazi Rule

Western historians call it the Munich Agreement, when the German-speaking region of Czech borderlands (thereafter called Sudetenland) was simply handed over to Hitler to appease his appetite for annexation. Unfortunately, all of these borderlands contained the sum total of Czech Northern defenses, which eventually led to the occupation of Czechoslovakia. The Munich Pact is still called The Munich Betrayal by Czechs, who describe the pact as being ‘About us, without us.’

 

Hitler had his evil eye on Czechoslovakia for more than the real estate. The industrial economy at the time produced an impressive array of products which were quickly gobbled up by the invading Nazis. The anti-tank device dubbed the Czech Hedgehog, which was deployed along the German-Czech borderlands, was now Hitler’s property. From 1938–1941, the popular Tatra 77a and T87 automobiles looked like spaceships and handled like rockets. They were especially popular with Nazi officers, who loved to drive them at breakneck speed, whip around corners, and kill themselves in the process. More Nazi officers were killed in Tatras than in active combat, earning the Tatra the nickname “The Czech Secret Weapon.” For fine examples of a century of Czech industrial accomplishment, check out the National Technical Museum’s ‘Made in Czechoslovakia – the Industry That Ruled the World,’ happening from March 14, 2018 through June 30, 2019.

 

1948: Communism and the Elegant Coup

February 2018 marks the 70th anniversary of the Elegant Coup, the reddest of red letter dates in Czech history. Reeling from the Hitler’s harsh handling, a stunned Czechoslovakia succumbed to the seduction of Stalin and his promises of a socialist utopia. This bloodless coup was an easy win for the Communist Party, which swept through the Czech parliament with a decisive victory.

Things took an immediate downturn as the Soviet devil Stalin revealed himself, and Czech political people started dropping like flies. Jan Masaryk was the son of the First Republic President Thomas Garrigue Masaryk. Jan was also the Foreign Minister of Czechoslovakia, until somebody threw him out of his bathroom window to his death in March 1948. People have been chucked out of windows so often and for so long in Prague (since the 1400s), they had to name that murderous method Prague Defenestration. But the fear of Stalin was so strong that people refused to do the math, and accepted the official story of ‘suicide’ for decades.

 

1968: Prague Spring

Prague got a brief whiff of free air during the Prague Spring, a political reform movement in 1968. Citizens began to enjoy relaxed restrictions on travel, the media, and freedom of speech. Organized by Prague literati and liberal politicians, this Socialism with a human face was quickly quashed by Soviet tanks rolling down Wencelas Square. It’s too bad Hitler stole all the Czech Hedgehogs.

 

1993: The Velvet Divorce and the Breakup of Czechoslovakia

2018 also marks the 25th anniversary of the breakup of Czechoslovakia into two independent nations in 1993. Czechoslovakia was finally free after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 (called the Velvet Revolution due to its smooth, bloodless implementation), and all of this sudden freedom was apparently contagious. Now the urban, industrial Czechs and the rural, agrarian Slovaks wanted their own separate countries, so they agreed to a Velvet Divorce.

 

While most of Europe was shaken to its core by bloody wars and hostile takeover by despots, Prague escaped most of the mayhem through a century of handovers, regime changes and bloodless coups. This preserved the Czech culture and language, and Prague’s 1000 years of architectural beauty survived to this day for all to behold.

 

Article by Craig Robinson

 

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