Andrew Osborn








'It looks like the battlefields of the first world war'

The Guardian, 16th August 2002 13:42

by Andrew Osborn in Cesky Krumlov

Called the pearl of Bohemia because of its fairytale castle and its exquisitely preserved medieval town, Cesky Krumlov is normally awash with foreign tourists at this time of year, but the only visitors yesterday were emergency workers labouring to salvage its flood-drenched heritage.

Although the rain-swollen river Vltava had begun to recede, many riverside properties remained partly submerged in its filthy waters. The embankment had disappeared altogether and many of the narrow cobbled streets were transformed into streams flanked by a thick layer of silt and mud.

Distraught residents piled their possessions on the pavement to dry out. Beds jostled for space with chairs, tables and the entire stock of many small boutiques was on display for all to see, soggy and coated in mud.

A poster advertising whitewater rafting hung incongruously from a lamp-post, firefighters pumped water from the town's hotels and restaurants, and the town's onion-domed puppet museum remained half-full of water.

The oldest recorded house in the town, first mentioned in 1320, was not spared. Pastel green, and roofed in the region's traditional orange, it nestles just below the 14th-century chapel of St George, but it is also next to the river.

The Vltava crept two-thirds of the way up its facade, filling the basement and flooding an antique shop and a toyshop on its ground floor.

Sweating profusely, the house's owner, Pavel Kvetensky, said that he and his friends had been working day and night to pump water from the medieval structure.

"The owner of the toyshop is devastated," he said. "Half her stock has floated down the river, and the rest is soggy and ruined."

Mr Kvetensky and many of the other locals say the authorities' management of the dams upriver are to blame for the floods.

"The water was kept high for recreational use, for foreign tourists who want to swim and rent a boat," he said.

In neighbouring Ceske Budejovice, famed for its Budweiser Budvar beer, the clean-up had begun in earnest. Skips were filling with ruined possessions and gangs of women in wellingtons were sweeping the river's muddy residue into the gutters.

Water-damaged stilettos and men's brogues poked from a dustbin outside a shoe shop near the central square.

One of the town's most famous bars, Budvarka, was trying to get back to normal. "We've still got water in the basement," said Marek Tomka, a barman. "We don't know if the beer is affected, but it should be OK."

In the town hall civil servants were doing their best to save the archives. Row upon row of filing cabinets containing tax returns, pension plans, birth certificates and land records had been submerged, and looked beyond help.

"This is the basic information on everyone in the town," said Marcela Cadova. "These are the original documents. There are no copies, and I don't dare to estimate how much has been ruined."

Outside the town the scene was desolate. "It looks like a war zone," said Jan Cvachovec, a student.

"It looks like the battlefields of the first world war."