We had two days blocked out for our trip into the Bohemian and Moravian countryside. I had been referring to this portion of the trip as the “black box:” I had no idea what it held, could be good or bad, and I made no promises. That being said, I still felt a great deal of responsibility for the group’s enjoying itself.
Day one, while visually stunning,
was a little bit discouraging.
Our lovely guide, Jana, started off by having a sidebar with me about how most of the stops that the tour company had booked for the first day weren’t going to be worth it. See, she had received copies of my research. She got it. She understood that I didn’t want to spend hours at archives that didn’t have what I needed. I quickly agreed to adjust our plans, reassured her of our easygoing nature, and began to develop nervous diarrhea.
Once we were outside the Prague metropolitan area, we were again struck by the visual similarity of the Bohemian countryside to southern Wisconsin. I imagine that the original Bohemian immigrants to Wisconsin just stayed on the train until things looked familiar, then disembarked and got to work.
The more agriculturally inclined in the group entertained themselves playing “name that crop” and “how many combines can you spot?” The bus had to circle back many times as we encountered narrow lanes and bridges unable to bear the weight of a tour bus. Additional time to kill was spent attempting to learn the complex rules of the traditional Czech card game, Mariáš. My uncles kept hoping that they’d stumble upon a group of avid players with whom they could bond. Instead, most people said that they knew of the game, but that it was too hard to learn! Also, that their grandpa played.
Eventually we stopped at the town of Zamrsk, where the district records are kept. Jana assured me that over 90% of the records are digitized, and that a long stop would probably be a waste of time. This was a good thing, as the building was closed and the records in indecipherable Gothic German. Speaking of which, anyone know a good Gothic German translator? So, we snapped a few pictures of the closed archives, Eugene and I had a beer with some kind people with whom we were unable to converse, Jana and the bus driver tried to fix the air conditioning, and we were off.
We drove a bit more. The tour company booked us for a lunch stop in the town of Litomyšl. I understand why–the main street is picturesque and there’s a castle. (My God, I’ve become jaded on castles. So. Many. Castles.) But, again, I was left concerned that our journey to our roots was going to be a pastiche of the Czech countryside.
Finally, after lunch, we set off for Dolní Třešňovec, the home of the Langer family for several generations. Sure, none of my direct ancestors had lived there since about 1810. Sure, we didn’t have any contacts in town. Sure, the Sudenten Germans had all been expelled after World War Two and there were likely no actual relatives still there. We were confident that armed with a house number (95), the knowledge that a chapel with a Pieta existed, and some basic luck, we were bound to find something.
And we did! I truly don’t know if the abandoned overgrown house that we found was the house, but I hope it was. I don’t know if the chapel-shaped firestation was the chapel, but it seems likely. I am pretty sure that the Pieta next to the chapel / firestation was, in fact, a Pieta.
So….it was a start! The cluster of houses hugging the roadside in Dolní Třešňovec wasn’t all that inspiring, but with a few deep breaths and imagination, there was a flicker of magic to the place. But the day had been long and the a.c. never really improved. My frayed nerves were getting the better of me, and as we pulled away in the bus, I was truly focused on hoping for a better tomorrow.
I had been worried that the Czech people would be irritated with us German Americans nosing around the place. Instead, no one seemed particularly interested at all, which was somehow worse. Sure the scenery was beautiful and evocative, but I needed something more to make it seem just right. After all, this was the capstone. This was the part of the trip that was supposed to somehow bring us full circle. I needed a little magic.