If the phrase "standing in the shadow" is justified anywhere, then in the Czech Eger. The pull of the nearby tourist magnets Prague and Karlovy Vary is too strong for this small town on the border to be adequately appreciated.
In addition to the attractiveness of the competition, it is primarily prejudices that Eger has to contend with. Because whoever hears the place name quickly thinks of folk music and the "Egerländer Musikanten" - that sounds old-fashioned and yesterday and does not exactly make the pretty place in the former Sudetenland a dream destination.
Which is a pity, because Eger, today's Cheb, doesn't have to hide itself at all: the historic center is a well-restored, accessible area monument, the cobblestone streets together with the castle and old town form a fascinating unit.
The mighty imperial palace, which Friedrich Barbarossa had built in the middle of the 12th century on the foundations of an old Slavic castle above the river Eger, is the city's landmark and deserves the highest ratings on the tourism portal Tripadvisor. The Black Tower with its walls almost three meters thick, the skeleton of the Palas, a medieval hall building with Romanesque window openings, and the two-story Romanesque double chapel of St. Martin, whose cultural and historical value is immense, have been preserved.
The atmospheric highlight of Eger is the market square, where vegetables and horses in particular changed hands in the Middle Ages. The merchants' wooden stalls had been replaced over time by small merchant houses.
Because more and more goods had to be stored, but the built-up areas could not be enlarged, one storey was piled up over the centuries. This is how the Egerer Stöckl came into being - a curious group of houses that reminds one of a children's book drawing turned into stone.
The fact that the city is so well preserved has to do with the fact that it was hardly bombed during the last world war and was occupied by the Americans without much resistance. However, the inhabitants did not benefit from this, because after the handover to the Red Army, all Sudeten Germans who were not demonstrably in the resistance against Hitler were expelled from the restored Czechoslovakia - in Cheb 95 percent of the population. It's hard to imagine: an abandoned city in bloom, frozen in a ghostly integrity.
Today all that is history, the relationship between Czechs and Germans has long since relaxed. Eger's current population is not only cosmopolitan and hospitable, but also faces the difficult past. Gerhard Fitzthum
Disused chimneys soar into the sky, blast furnaces, winding towers. To put it charmingly, Ostrau has an industrial-romantic charisma. The city in the Moravian part of the Czech Republic on the border with Poland was once a center of heavy industry, called "the black Ostrava".
Here coal was mined, coke was produced and steel was processed. The reputation and the air were bad. Today, parts of the former Witkowitz ironworks are a national cultural monument. And they have blossomed into an attraction and a hip location.
Parts of the coking plants have now been boarded up, many blast furnaces are in twilight, freight elevators are standing still, the mighty rolling mill is frozen. Crude steel production in the Witkowitz district was discontinued in 1998. Instead, industrial-historical tours of the area are offered, and since 2012 the “Colours of Ostrava” music festival has been held annually against the backdrop of the towers and chimneys. International bands and tens of thousands of fans from half of Europe travel regularly and give the place, which is called Ostrava in Czech, a popularity that it never had before.
With two train stations, a motorway and a regional airport, Ostrava is better connected than ever. It's true that steel is still being made in the Czech Republic's third largest city with almost 300,000 inhabitants, but it's no longer black. And literally: for example, the facades in the center are now colorful.
A lively culture has developed, the Philharmonic and the National Theater have won fame. In summer there is a beach volleyball court on the market square, and on the Ostrawitza you can experience the city from the water in a canoe. In the park on the river bank, students doze and discuss, the technical university that emerged from a mining academy is considered a top address nationwide. Another university was founded in the early 1990s.
If you want to keep an overview, drive up to blast furnace no. 1, on which an eye-catcher was placed that is more than 20 meters high: the Bolt Tower with café and club is 80 meters high in total. After dark, gigantic neon tubes shine into the night, and during the day the view from up here sweeps over Ostrava and, when visibility is good, even as far as Poland. Roland Mischke
In early summer all hell breaks loose here, if one may say so. Then it gets crowded and lively in the bohemian town south of Prague. Pilgrims stream through the old town of Pribram, walk up the steep, completely covered staircase to the Marian shrine of Svatá Hora. The most important pilgrimage of the year is always celebrated on the third Sunday after Pentecost on the mountain above the city.
A wide church area spreads out at the top, with courtyards and stairs and baroque towers, which is of course also well worth seeing outside of the pilgrimage. In the church stands a large altar made entirely of silver, mined in the mines of Pribram. It is thanks to the Counter-Reformation, which in particular in the Lutheran mining areas made a huge effort with church pomp and imagery – after all, the Catholics had to show the reformers what they had to offer.
Mining had been going on in Pribram since 1311, and after World War II uranium ore was even mined. Under communist rule there was a temporary end to pilgrims, in 1950 the monastery was dissolved and only reopened 40 years later.
Pribram's old town is characterized by old buildings, a plaque at a hotel tells the story of Anton Dvorák. In fact, the composer resided not far from here in a small castle, today a Dvorák Museum. There, at the Vysoká u Príbramě estate, he composed his opera Rusalka.
Pilgrims can be seen in Pribram all year round, because one of the Central European Ways of St. James leads through the town. The goal of these visitors is the town church, which is dedicated to St. James.
Others are more interested in the long tradition of mining - they will find what they are looking for in the open-air mining museum, whose attraction is an old mine train, with which you can travel 260 meters into one of the deepest tunnels in Central Europe.
After visiting the monastery, church or tunnel, people meet up at Pivovar Podlesí, the local brewery, which is known for its specialties: from classic Pilsner to Pale Ale and Met beer to wheat beer and dark beer, there is nothing here that is not available are. Barbara Schaefer
A view from above is always a good start. So up to the impressive remains of Castle Schreckenstein (Strekov), 100 meters above the Elbe. The composer Richard Wagner came here, and the ruins are said to have inspired him to write his "Tannhäuser".
Romantic painters also liked the area around the town of Ústí - above all because of the green hills and the gently curved Elbe River. From the castle, one of the most striking buildings in the city, which is called Ustí nad Labem in Czech, immediately catches the eye: the Marienbrücke, opened in 1998, a cable-stayed bridge with 60 meter high pylons.
Those interested in architecture will find what they are looking for everywhere in Ústí. The city is rich in buildings in the New Objectivity style, but there is also a lot of industrial culture. Since the Elbe was only navigable downstream from Aussig, the town developed into an up-and-coming industrial town in the 19th century, which was connected to the North Sea via the Elbe.
Socialism has also left its mark. Some stand enthusiastically, others shake their heads in front of a concrete block from 1983 that was built as the communist party headquarters: clear edges, a large staircase – and a multi-storey, windowless concrete tub on the side.
Also of interest is Aussig's Kulturhaus from the late 1950s, which provided the working class with a theatre, cinema and puppet theater as a place to diversify and is still used for cultural purposes. If you want to spend the night in style, book the Interhotel Bohemia: the prefabricated building has retained its charm from the communist era.
One lives more elegantly in the "Berghotel Větruse", which is enthroned on a rock on the left of the Elbe, built in 1847 in the times of the Austro-Hungarian Empire under the name "Ferdinandshöhe". Since 2010, a cable car has been running from the city center over the Elbe and then steeply up. If you want, you can of course also hike up – not a bad idea given the high-calorie Austro-Hungarian cuisine served here. Barbara Schaefer
King Premysl Otakar II, whose empire stretched from Bohemia almost to the Adriatic coast, was a maniacal builder of cities. In doing so, he showed good taste: in 1265, the ruler chose an almost Elysian location for Budweis (Ceské Budějovice) in southern Bohemia – the confluence of the Malše and Vltava rivers.
So there it lies picturesquely on a peninsula, the old town. Along the rivers you can admire the remains of the city wall, worth seeing are the Rabenstein tower with bay window and the Iron Maiden tower, which houses a model of the torture instrument that gave it its name.
Budweis is known internationally as a beer town. However, the city owed its rapid rise to silver, fish farming – and above all to salt. As a transshipment point for the "white gold", Budweis acquired the wealth that almost blinds you in the old town.
The mineral, which was coveted in salt-free Bohemia, was first brought by mules or oxen, and trade really picked up speed again in the 19th century – thanks to the longest horse-drawn railway in Europe from Gmunden to Budweis. You should visit their relics here as well as the salt house on Piaristenplatz, where the valuable goods were temporarily stored and later shipped on the Vltava.
The heart of České Budějovice, the Market Square, is square, the size of two football pitches, and lined with pastel-colored, beautifully renovated arcaded houses. Named after the above-mentioned founder of the city, it is not only the most impressive city square in the Czech lands, but one of the largest and most magnificent in Europe.
The baroque fountain of Samson bubbles up in the middle, and the town hall with three towers and a facade richly decorated can't be overlooked. From the top of the Black Tower, the city's landmark, you can not only see the city center on a clear day, but you can even see where the salt came from: to the Alps.
If you stroll down through the arcades, it will take you a while to walk around the gigantic square. It's hard to get ahead in front of all the nice shops, cafés, bars and restaurants from which the aroma of Bohemian cuisine emanates with its roasts, dumplings and pastries such as Dalken and Liwanzen.
Of course, it cannot be missing here, the Budweiser Budvar, which has been brewed in the city since 1895 by Czech-speaking citizens. It competed with the lesser-known, 100-year-older Budweiser Bürgerbräu, which had been founded by German-speaking Budweisers. Georg Heilingsetzer
This article was first published in July 2021.