After our three days in Prague, we took a bus to Cesky Krumlov, a town near the Sudentenland mountains and the Austrian border.
The Sudentenlands are a ring of mountains that run almost in a circle around the Czech Republic, and have been habituated by mostly German speakers for hundreds of years. During the Austro-Hungarian empire, the ruler had incentivized the moving to the area because no one wanted to live there with its harsh climate and overgrown terrain. Before WWII, it was the first part of Europe annexed by Germany, with approval from the rest of the West during the Munich agreement, because the area was populated by people who wanted to become part of the German nation.
After the war, the Czechs decided that all the Germans ought to be removed from Czechoslovakia, so when they were deported, the Sudentenlands were left barren, and became overgrown again without the care of the people who had lived there for generations.
Cesky Krumlov was one of the places that sustained absolutely no material damage from WWII, because Hitler liked the architecture of the charming medieval town. Even today, the place looks absolutely unreal, like something from a fairytale, with a majority of the tiny, sleepy, town taken up by a huge castle.
During our time in the area, we had a wonderful guide named Ollie, who was from Cesky Krumlov, and had lived through communism and the Velvet Revolution( the nonviolent transition of power from communism to democracy in the Czech Republic) after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
She told us stories about how after the East was opened, it was very popular for Czechs in their teens and early twenties to hitchhike all over Europe for weekends, savoring their new freedom of movement. But seeing the west for the first time often was disillusioning; they had become so distrustful of the government that they assumed that EVERYTHING about western democracies was perfect.
She told of the first time she went to McDonalds in Paris, assuming it must be a fantastic restaurant, because the communist government had always warned about how terrible it was, and was surprised to find out that it was indeed, not so great a place. Her stories of her own life as well as those of her family brought a human face to what we had been studying about Czech history for the last two months. Overall, our study tour was the perfect example of what it means when DIS tells us that we will have “Europe as our classroom” while we study abroad.