Thursday, August 15, 2019

A fun German perspective on Pilsen

Peter F. sent me a wonderful 15-minute-long video with commentaries by a German who, along with his wife, visited and liked my hometown of Pilsen, Czechia (170,000 inhabitants, Western Bohemia, 4th largest city in Czechia and 2nd in Bohemia):



His channel name is "Red Pill Germany" so I suppose he is rather right-wing or perhaps close to AfD. OK, the video shows some ordinary sequences from the city center where I also know every meter, as you can guess: I am a Pilsen patriot.



The guy notices that the buildings – at least in the city center – are renovated and look pretty healthy if not beautiful. The contrast with the appearance of the 1980s is just shocking. Pilsen was a heavily polluted city where everything was "under construction" at all times and many places looked just like one week after the final April 1945 bombardment of the Second World War! Comments like that sound like an example of the Czech humor but the tragedy was that they were the most accurate descriptions of the reality that you could construct.



Aside from the facades that look good, he liked the food. He was compatible with the typical quirks of the Czech cuisine as the dumplings (and other things enumerated there) – perhaps unsurprising for a German – and noticed that the food and restaurants are much cheaper in Pilsen than they are in Prague. Well, virtually any Czech place outside Prague is cheaper than Prague – but Pilsen does feel like a little Prague today, so you may really feel that you're just sometimes paying 1/2 of the money for the same thing.

You may see that he actually needed some real-world experience to get some general points that you could also learn theoretically, e.g. by reading my blog or my Quora answers. On one hand, Czechia is the most atheist nation in Europe. This is manifested at many places. The Lindzens have complained that the number of churches in Pilsen was small, even on the small model of the historical center that is located in the city hall. And when I answered "it's some saint" to a question "what is on this statue of [pieta]", I obviously created an international scandal that took some 20 minutes to calm down. ;-)

So people are rather clearly indifferent towards religious arguments and inactive in churches even if they're members of them – which only 10% of the people are. So based on the Western patterns, you would expect them to be socially left-wing (and also violently attacking Christian traditions). But that's exactly what the Czechs aren't. Czechs, a nation of a working class – now a very upgraded, modern working class i.e. employees – are traditionalist. So he and his wife needed several iterations to learn that the waitresses really do expect the man to pay the bill in restaurants. Of course he had to be upset about the suggestion that the waitress "knows" that the lady won't pay a penny.

(I actually think he should ask his wife to reimburse him for 1/2 of the restaurant visits because they're only obliged to adapt to the Czech culture while they're in it LOL.)

Well, in all other countries, he's used to sharing the bills with his wife – on a 50-to-50 basis. Of course, as a guy who has seen many parts of the world, I know it's normal in the West. And while traditionalist, I obviously think that this "fair" expectation is pretty rational, especially if I consider the effect on our, men's, wallets. The women are really paid well, aren't they? Why should they still expect all these medieval advantages? There is some degree of traditionalism that is responsible for this Czech twist. While Europe's top atheists, Czechs could actually be Europe's staunchest traditionalists at the same moment right now. But it's not just traditionalism. Every visit to a restaurant is viewed as a case of a "softcore prostitution". It's just assumed that the man is more horny and wants the company of the opposite sex more than the woman wants it – although the admission that "women want it as well" is also an important part of the underlying Czech stereotypes. So if a woman in a restaurant is viewed as a "softcore prostitute", of course her food and coffee should be paid by the man! ;-) Of course, we could debate whether there is a tangible difference between "traditionalism" and "softcore prostitution" – or they're just two very differently sounding names for almost the same thing here.

A few times in my life, I made a Czech woman pay for the bill – usually there has been a different extra explanation, like some translation I did, or her having a sub-billionaire husband LOL – and I surely felt like an avant garde. But we don't really want to destroy these idiosyncratic expectations completely because we would probably be vulnerable to all the clearly pathological aspects of the contemporary Western societies, too.

There are many things outside the city center they – and you – should have visited, like the Techmania Science Center, Kozel chateau, Radyně ruins, Pilsen's historical underground, newly built Lobzy lakes in the Lobzy park, the Bolevec pond(s), even the Bory prison (one of the most famous prisons in Czechia), and much more.

I almost forgot to comment on an interesting detail in the German video. He was surprised that the promotional documents at the Great Synagogue of Pilsen describes things such as "the Jews borrowed the money at a 4% interest rate". He asks whether the inclusion of this information was a kind of a Czech humor. Not really, it's totally serious – people are simply interested in such things and Czechs people just want to know such things (they're particularly interested in everyday-life issues, perhaps "informal" and "unofficial" information of similar kinds). Even other peoples want to know but they're afraid to ask. We do have the freedom so far and the historical facts like that don't need to be censored even if it's not 100% clear "what they are good for". Jews are sometimes associated with predatory financial methods but the 4% interest rates looks utterly sensible and modern. I think that these facts show that the Pilsner Jews behaved decently most of the time, they were a community that cared about its values and had to work hard. Maybe even this conclusion was the point of the information.



This guy is Czech, I find his English (and the resolution of the video) incredible. He probably spent too much time with the product placement of his ice cream and beer friends who invited him. For artistic level photographs of Pilsen, see VisitPlzen@Instagram.

(By the way, as every Pilsner kid knows ;-), the total costs of the 1888-1892 construction of the Great Synagogue reached 141 092,06 golden coins (multiply the number by two to get the figure in the Austrian-Hungarian crowns introduced in 1892 which sound a bit more modern than guldens=forints – still a ludicrously cheap amount for a majestic structure like that; note that 2 crowns used to be 1 forint but now, 2 Czech crowns equal about 25 Hungarian forints, showing quite some higher Hungarian inflation relatively to Czechia over the century). The original design was taller but the synagogue had to be scaled down not to compete with the Christian St Bartholomew Cathedral which had to remain the tallest "Pilsner Tower" which "surpasses the hills". ;-) Our ancestors knew that it's right to allow Jews to be religiously free but things shouldn't get out of control!)

But the main difference between the two nations as of today is, once again, that such topics are absolutely not taboo among almost anybody in Czechia while in Germany, as you can see, they seem to be taboo even among self-described Red Pill Germans. Quite a difference in the freedom of speech.



A gallery of 140 pictures from Bohemian and Bavarian Iron Ore – click.

Now, a mirror image of these comments. On Saturday, I was in "Germany" after a few years. I mean the most accessible municipality, Bayerisch Eisenstein (Bavarian Iron Ore), which is right on the border. Actually if you go with a train (and a regional Pilsner unlimited 1-day ticket is just $7 per person), the train may take you to the "divided train station" – that was voted the cutest train station in Germany a year ago. The border goes in the middle of the train station. A cute German historical railway museum is adjacent to the railway station.

The German side is called "Bayerisch Eisenstein" while the Czech side is "Železná Ruda – Alžbětín" which translates as "Iron Ore – Elisabeth Village" to English (the same iron-ore name in two languages). Železná Ruda has two more train stops – "Železná Ruda – City" which is the main railway station furthest from the border, and a small stop "Železná Ruda – Center". Now, Bayerisch Eisenstein is a village that has some 1,000 people while the Czech Elisabeth Village has just 100 people – the whole Elisabeth Village could comfortably live in their huge railway station. ;-) The Elisabeth Village is a somewhat disconnected part of the Czech town "Železná Ruda" ("Iron Ore") which has about 2,000 inhabitants.

I think that in the mid 1980s, this unspectacular building which is in the Elisabeth Village was where we stayed once, and the "de facto border" where the border guards could already shoot you was just 100 meters away. It's rather incredible because the border is some 1 mile away on the road – and because the road and border aren't perpendicular, it's some 1 kilometer by air. At any rate, something like a 1-kilometer-thick layer of the Czechoslovak territory was just "disabled" by the communists to prevent people from emigrating. Quite a despair. Most of the Elisabeth Village buildings were inaccessible to everybody.

There was a lot of things to observe in these two "adjacent towns" that I have known very well from childhood, due to skiing etc. Right after the fall of communism, we were obviously shocked by going to a vastly richer world. With some conventions, an average German was 10 times wealthier than the average Czech – that's what communism normally does in 40 years. The German roads were perfect – while the Czech ones were full of incredible holes, and so on. Although Czechs complain about some ludicrously ineffective reconstructions of superhighways etc., I didn't really observe any visible difference in the roads.

Some kids on the Bavarian side looked a "bit more Aryan". Just to be sure, Czech kids look rather Aryan and extremely happy these days. Concerning the race, there's a difference that may be seen statistically – and sometimes perhaps even on the individual basis. OK, some girls were a bit more blonde. Staff in hotels was dressed a bit more formally.

Adults including pensioners on both sides do lots of sports and it's similar in most respects. But there are still "cultures" that allow you to visually decide whether a bunch of people with bikes are Czech or German. The German pensioners really look naturally into sports when they do sports. The Czech ones look more like "it's a part of their normal life". The Czech adults and families with bikes generally have bicycles that have more sporting design. I actually think that Western Europeans have bikes that are cheaper and suck relatively to ours – and I think it is even true with the electric bicycles that are greatly expanding in Czechia.

OK, the hotels in the Bavarian village may look more professional but their number is vastly smaller than on the Czech side. Železná Ruda has become a truly tourist-industrial town. Some of the new buildings are rather impressive, have brighter colors than on the Bavarian side etc. On the other hand, you can see the signs of authentic religion on the Bavarian side. You see pictures of some religious figures on houses – that someone painted almost individually because he or she really believes in God. This is almost impossible in Czechia. Crosses are arranged in various creative ways.

An important detail that makes Germany German – or at least Bavaria Bavarian – are the texts on the buildings. There is a lot of Gothic fracture of Schwabacher – I wouldn't recognize the two medieval fonts (they were so widespread in Nazi Germany but in the early 1940s, Hitler actually banned them because he decided that these obsolete fonts reduce the global influence of his Reich). And lots of the texts are just directly "painted" on the facades. This looks elegant and extremely practical to me. At least instinctively, I have associated this detail with the reasons why "Germany looked richer" during communism and soon after the fall of communism. So why the hell haven't the Czechs invented this clever and simple way of writing on the buildings?

Well, in Železná Ruda, I did see some painted pictures and texts on buildings (e.g. a Snow White Coffee Bar) and even some Schwabacher (the of "U Larvů", a pension and restaurant). But the statistics is clear. Czech restaurants usually don't have exotic, e.g. Gothic, fonts. They use the minimalist, very readable, mainstream fonts for the Latin alphabet. I believe that the Czech fonts are the most readable ones in the world – even on car plates, for example. But they lack the "wow" factor. Also, almost all Czech restaurants have to attach some special (plastic or metallic) banners (or individual metallic letters) with the names and other texts.

After some thinking, I found an explanation why the painted texts haven't won in Czechia although they're probably cuter and cheaper. It may be because of the graffiti. For some reasons, Czech folks – perhaps mainly teenagers – paint a lot of graffiti on the walls, think about the Lennon Wall in Prague as a famous example. So texts written by the owners could get quickly conflated with the graffiti! Even if a Czech town were naturally free of graffiti, they could misinterpreted by other Czechs as graffiti because that's what Czech people expect to be painted or written on buildings! Some visual noise by horny teenagers or soccer fans that should be ignored – and indeed, most Czechs got used to those things and ignore it. That's probably why the owners have to make their texts more authoritative and attach some metallic tables or letters! Does the theory make sense?

The small subway stop "Železná Ruda - Center" provided me with a nice example of graffiti. Here, someone asked a girl (čupka) who wanted CZK 300 or Swedish Three (trojku) to call him. That's OK because if you look to the left, you see someone looking for a Sado-Maso partner to do it publicly LOL. If these things were written next to "Café Grenzwald" or something like that, the texts could get confused. Are you looking for a café or for sado-maso? (This nearby Pilsner street art is a Pokéstop in Pokémon Go.)

Of course, I still do think that the Germans (or at least rural Bavarians) look more cordial in interactions in average – although the difference largely boils down to something that may be described as hypocrisy which is probably a "mostly bad thing". I have mixed feelings whether "pretending to be cordial" is such a good thing. At some level, I surely think it's more good than bad – and the sometimes "more than needed" polite behavior should be viewed as a part of the professional competence in many jobs. For example, when I said "gut Morgen" to some pensioners, I think that it was their first "gut Morgen" they heard from a Czech since the liberation of Dachau! ;-)

On the other hand, hypocrisy and pretended feelings are a form of dishonesty and that dishonesty may grow out of control and all the absolutely insane and suicidal neo-Marxist policies and stunts in Western Europe today could be interpreted as largely nothing else than the overgrown politeness. So if I knew that in 10 years, our politeness would generate what is normal in Germany or Sweden today, of course I would prefer Czechs to stay the down-to-Earth, not-too-smiling, somewhat unpleasant folks who just do their work and don't expect that the consumer expects them to be some top diplomats at the same moment. But I must say, the lady at the Czech-owned Kebab restaurant in Železná Ruda was a real witch (her response to my question whether the empty restaurant was open was staggeringly rude), and this kind of an old witch is really rather mainstream in Czechia. I just want to prepare you for some really unpleasant folks, perhaps especially old ladies.

Finally, aside from the relative Czech rudeness and somewhat fabricated German politeness, there is another difference that becomes clear. I am not sure whether it's just due to communism but the German owners of restaurants and even employees just view their businesses as more private. They do something in their house, the house is open, the wood is nicely arranged, and so on. In Czechia, the buildings tend to be closed – it's easier for them to be robbed (I think that there are no Muslims in the Bavarian Iron Ore – but there were lots of Czechs there, even the cutest sports cars were mostly Czech etc.), and it's assumed that the restaurants are institutions that belong to "many people" and that are separated from the personal lives. In Germany, you feel that the restaurants etc. are more tightly connected with the owners' personal lives, that the decisions were probably made locally, not by bureaucrats in Berlin etc.

In some sense, while we're a capitalist economy now, there is something that looks like an "extension of the socialist programs" everywhere. In some sense, the recreation centers are doing the same things as they did during communism – just some details about the ownership and financial flows have changed a little bit, but they didn't affect the appearances much (except that things are clearly much wealthier now).

At any rate, if Western Europe starts to deteriorate even more than today, meat is banned (some Young Swedish politicians already demand all Swedish pensioners to be turned to vegetarians), Islamism and multi-genderism and many such things take over, and the real opposition really starts to be hunted down, I think that many people will discover how wonderful a place for life e.g. Czechia is in comparison. I think we should be already planning for such a change – and invent laws and "contracts" with many potential refugees from Western Europe etc.

They should generally adapt but of course there are some aspects of Western Europeans – some of which were suggested above – that the Czechs don't really share but they still tolerate or appreciate them. But then there are some essential aspects of Czechia that we just don't want to change – and we don't want to threaten the integrity of the country like in 1938 or something like that. So I think that in the long run, a hypothetical new wave of German immigrants should respect that they won't have the right to change the Czech borders against the will of most Czechs because they and their descendants would still be "guests" in some sense. It's some kind of a reduction of the "rights of minorities" that would be badly needed and I wonder how to formulate it most clearly and logically.

Of course it would also be better if such hypothetical Western European refugees learned Czech, too. Czech isn't really terribly far from "something like German with completely different roots of words". You may learn it and it should become more normal that people do learn it.

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