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There’s nothing more that I love than some good trivia and those fascinating tidbits that make every country I’ve visited truly unique. And so, my arrival in the Czech Republic means not only a new country for me, but a new installment of “8 Facts,” where I share the most interesting things that have happened in Czech history, facts about the country’s culture, and more. Let’s dive right in.
1. Prague is the defenestration capital of the world.
If you’re like me, you probably love a good defenestration. Two of the most famous defenestrations in world history both occurred in Prague. The first defenestration occurred on July 30, 1419, when seven members of the Prague city council were thrown out the window by a mob led by a priest demanding the release of several prisoners. When the city council didn’t give into their demands, the mob stormed the city hall in Charles Square and threw seven people out the window, where they were subsequently killed.
The second defenestration took place on May 23, 1618, when a group of Protestants threw three Catholic representatives of the Emperor out a third story window in Prague Castle. All of the defenestrated survived the fall by landing in a pile of horse manure. One of the victims, Filip Fabricius who was a secretary to one of the imperial regents, was later given the title the “Baron of Highfall.”
There have been other less noteworthy defenestrations in Prague over the years as well, but given the two high profile ones they already have, this is one of those instances where fact is stranger than fiction!
2. The Czech Republic is west of the west.
During the Cold War, Czechoslovakia was considered part of Eastern Europe. However, Prague is actually further west than Vienna, Austria, which is considered part of Western Europe. Historically speaking, the Czech Republic should be considered part of Central Europe rather than Orthodox Eastern Europe. Historically, the borders of the modern day Czech state were similar to that of what was Bohemia and Moravia. The Czech language used to be known as Bohemian as early as the 19th Century.
3. It’s the #1 beer-drinking country in the world.
The Czechs drink more beer per capita than anyone else in the world, consuming on average 43 gallons (160 liters) per person, per year. The original Budweiser can be found in the Czech Republic. The Czech city of Pilsen is the home of pilsner. Former Czech president Václav Havel used to take visiting heads of state to local pubs to have a beer. Beer is known to have been brewed in the Czech Republic since 993 AD.
4. You’ve heard of many famous Czechs.
At first blush, you may not think that you’ve ever known someone from the Czech Republic, but while that might be true, you’ve probably heard of and admired at least some of them.
The most famous Czechs you may have heard of include: NHL players Jaromír Jágr and Dominik Hašek, Oscar-winning director Miloš Forman, Oskar Schindler, Sigmund Freud, Ivana Trump, supermodel Petra Nemcová, tennis greats Martina Navratilova and Ivan Lendl, composer Antonin Dvorak, writer Franz Kafka, and early geneticist Gregor Mendel. Best of all, the polka tune “Roll Out The Barrels”, played during the 7th inning stretch at every Milwaukee Brewer game was written by a Czech, Jaroslav Vejvoda.
5. The Czech Republic is the castle capital of the world.
Given its location in the center of Europe, armies from all sides always wanted to come through what is today the Czech Republic. As such, they built a lot of castles. Over 2,000 of them remain in the country today, which is the highest density of castles in the world. Prague Castle is also the largest castle in the world by area, at over 7 hectares (18 acres).
6. The Country’s standard of living is tops.
The Czech Republic has the highest standard of living of any former Soviet Bloc country. Current per capita GDP is on a par with western European countries like Portugal and Greece. Czech also has the most hospital beds per capita in the EU, the highest rate of secondary education, and the fifth freest press in the world according to Reporters Without Borders. Per capita GDP in Prague is higher than any other EU country except for Luxembourg. I’m sure I could cut and paste the bit above about beer consumption here, too.
7. Czech has been split up and divided many times.
A 100-year-old person who spent their entire life in the same village in the Czech Republic may have been a citizen of many different countries, depending on where in the country they lived. The list looks like this: the Czech Republic, Czechoslovakia, Germany (annexed the Sudetenland), Poland (annexed the Zaolzie area), the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (Nazi controlled), and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Before that, it was also part of the Holy Roman Empire, the Kingdom of Bohemia, and Moravia.
8. Dissolving Czechoslovakia was uncommonly peaceful.
Modern Czechoslovakia was actually created in Pittsburgh, PA by the Pittsburgh Agreement, which created the country in the wake of the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after World War I. Much later, Czechoslovakia was peacefully split on December 31, 1992.
Surprisingly, at the time of the split, most citizens in both countries didn’t favor it. Only about a third of the people in each country wanted total independence. Most people wanted a type of confederation, or a loose association. The amazing thing about what is termed the “Velvet Divorce” is that it’s one of the few examples of a peaceful split between two countries in the 20th Century.
Bonus Fact: There are 12 UNESCO Sites in the Czech Republic.
Although you’re sure to find a lot of natural beauty in the country, the UNESCO sites recognized for their value to the world are all cultural (which is still pretty cool).
These 12 sites include:
- Gardens and Castle at Krom??íž
- Historic Center of Prague
- Historic Centre of Ceský Krumlov
- Historic Centre of Telc
- Holašovice Historical Village Reservation
- Holy Trinity Column in Olomouc
- Jewish Quarter and St Procopius’ Basilica in Trebic
- Kutná Hora: Historical Town Centre with the Church of St Barbara and the Cathedral of Our Lady at Sedlec
- Lednice-Valtice Cultural Landscape
- Litomyšl Castle
- Pilgrimage Church of St John of Nepomuk at Zelená Hora
- Tugendhat Villa in Brno
Recommended Resources And Readings:
Best Books About Czech Republic:
- Dreams of a Great Small Nation: The Mutinous Army that Threatened a Revolution, Destroyed an Empire, Founded a Republic, and Remade the Map of Europe: The Mutinous Army that Threatened a Revolution, Destroyed an Empire, Founded a Republic, and Remade the Map of Europe: This is really and truly a fascinating account of post-WWI and the efforts it took for an independent Czechoslovakia, as well as the “shaping of the Soviet-influenced Eastern European political and social fabric.”
- Prague in Black and Gold: The History of a City: If you’re fascinating by Prague’s unique history, specifically, then this is the book for you, with everything from Prague’s part in the Velvet Revolution to Kafka, and more.
- Eastern Europe!: Everything You Need to Know About the History (and More) of a Region that Shaped Our World and Still Does: Where does Czech fit into the rest of Europe, and what has been its role in the shaping of modern history? This book is a great read and offers answers to questions you didn’t even think to ask.
Plan a Trip:
Czech Travel Guide: Our free guide covers everything you should know about booking travel to Czech Republic—the best things to do once you’re there, as well as where to stay and more. (We also share one for visiting Prague specifically).
Where to Stay in Prague: We’re partial to Pytloun Boutique Hotel Prague on a mid-range budget, the Hotel Kings Court for a truly beautiful splurge, and MeetMe23 offers a fantastic ratio of amenities-to-price for those on a tight budget.
Navigate the Czech Republic: To visit anything out of the main cities, your best bet is to rent a car (you’ll find the best details on RentalCars.com) for land excursions, or join one of the many a fantastic overland and day tours in the region—at the very least you should opt for a guided tour of Prague to truly understand this fascinating country, then perhaps eat and drink your way through the city on a beer and Czech tapas tour.