As my grandmother fled 1945 from the advancing Red Army to Bavaria with her little baby girl (my aunt) in her arms, she had to march westwards across the territory of the then called “Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia” – a journey which was unimaginably dangerous in a war-devastated Central Europe.
It was the way that appeared the shortest from the home-town of my grandmother’s family Breslau in Lower Silesia to the comparatively save Bavaria, where the Americans were expected to impose their version of a military administration, as every German in the east feared for his life due to the scores of vengeful Russian soldiers.
The state of Czechoslovakia, an immediate neighbor of Germany, had ceased to exist after several stages of dismemberment and military occupation in 1939.
Nazi-Germany established an oppressive regime in the aftermath in the now denominated “Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia” (similar to most other countries in Continental Europe) in order to exploit the resources, the advanced industrial capacities and the human labor of this region for their numerous planned military offensives.
In the end phases of the 2nd World War as the Nazi military apparatus was about to collapse and the scattered remains of the Wehrmacht were retreating westwards, it became a life-and-death matter to be recognized as a German in Poland, the former Czechoslovakia or any other Eastern European country including the territories which were to be occupied by the Soviets.
So the whole rest of my family (my grandfather fought at the front) had no alternative as to flee across Bohemia towards Bavaria as well as thousands of other Germany civilians in Silesia, profoundly terrified already by dreadful rumors and the yet remote but incessant thunder of the Russian artillery.
With the beginning of June, traveling to the Czech Republic (aka Czechia) from Germany was possible again.
So I was glad to visit Karlovy Vary in West Bohemia (Západní Čechy) for a second time after a short vacation in January.
Karlsbad (the German name for Karlovy Vary) is a city with 50.000 inhabitants very popular due to numerous spa water sources and its location in an unique area encircled by the Ore Mountains (Erzgebirge) in the north and the Bohemian Forest in the west.
It is quite close from my hometown Nuremberg, around three hours at most. One has to change the train in Cheb (Eger), a town with some 30.000 inhabitants situated directly at the border to Bavaria and itself a worthwhile destination for a stay. If you are short of time, I would recommend to take a look at the Špalíček (Egerer Stöckl) on the Marktplatz at least, an interesting architectural Relikt of the Middle Ages.
For my small journey I decided to hike alongside the river Ohře to the town of Loket (and back), seventeen kilometers westwards of Karlovy Vary.
An easy walk without significant ascents or descents, the only thing which made it slightly more challenging was my backpack which had around ten kilograms: photo equipment, water cans and some additional clothing because of the rainy weather.
Near Doubí, a town about mid-way on my hike, an especially noteworthy natural monument can be marveled at: Svatošské skály, bizarre stone formations which had delivered material for fairy-tales and various legends in the Czech and German folklore.
Loket (3.000 inhabitants, German: Elbogen) is undoubtedly one of the most interesting locations in West Bohemia. Beside the city center it is first and foremost the well-preserved Castle (Hrad), which must not be missed by any visitor.
Worth a visit is also the beer museum, and an exhibition of Schnabeltassen (feeding cups) in the top storey of the same building (at T. G. Masaryka), which also houses one of the many restaurants in the town.
Thirty-five kilometers of hiking was a quite decent accomplishment for a single day for me, so I was glad coming back to my hotel in Karlovy Vary in the late evening (pretty wet from the rain) and drink a couple of delicious Czech beer in a bar near the Vřídelní kolonáda (this is one of several colonnades in Karlsbad where the spa water can be tapped).
My grandmother reached Bavaria safely in 1945, and re-united with my grandfather who was released from war captivity soon after the unconditional surrender of the German Reich.
Despite all their material losses, they had had enormous luck. They both were healthy, still comparatively young, and possessing the education and the skills to build a prosperous butcher business in Bavaria in the decades after the war.
Barely do I have any idea of the gigantic challenges and struggles they faced during those years in and after the war.
My nice little hike was hence nothing more than an insignificant adventure during a temporary respite from a global pandemic, nothing in comparison with a week-long march through a hostile country in one of the most gruesome wars in human history.
Featured image: Famous stone formations (Svatošské skály) at the river Eger (Ohře) near Doubí