Bohemia

Words: Königstein- Ještěd | Photography: Stefan Rohner and Femke Hoogland | Date:

Filmed & Directed by:
Kristian Ansand & Martin Gilluck

Produced by:
e r t z u i ° film

Mention Bohemia and many will no doubt think of metropolitan areas synonymous with unconventional lifestyles; perhaps even free love, rose-tinted glasses and recreational drug use. Think Greenwich Village in New York, Berlin Mitte or Montmartre in Paris. A meeting place for like-minded artists, writers or musicians.

Fewer will think of an area in the Czech Republic bordered largely by Germany and Poland to the west and the north, and to a lesser degree Austria in the south. An area that over the years has been annexed by wars, seen parts reclaimed and ultimately divided up into administrative regions.

Today one of those regions is České Švýcarsko, known in English as the Bohemian Switzerland or Böhmische Schweiz in German. Rewind back to the Romantic age of the late 18th and early 19th centuries and together with the neighbouring Sächsische Schweiz, this was the preferred country retreat of composers Dvořák, Chopin and Wagner, as well as painters such as Adrian Ludwig Richter and Caspar David Friedrich.

Looking out over sandstone mountains typical of the region, Friedrich’s composed image of the Wanderer Above the Mist, or Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer depicts a scene of extreme natural beauty more well-known nowadays for rock climbing and hiking than two-wheeled adventures.

Which, in all contrariness, is why it seemed as perfect a starting point as any for the first Rapha Continental Europe story. Away from the road well-travelled, this was a true adventure into the Hidden Europe.

Starting in Königstein in the far east of Germany, at one of the largest mountaintop castles in Europe, the route wound and climbed its way through this enchanting part of Bohemia on an ever-contrasting mix of deserted roads and tourist-filled canyons, brutal uphill switchbacks and long sweeping descents, dense woodlands and green meadows, all time and again accompanied by far-off sightings of the haunting Ještěd mountain, which at 1012m dominates the horizon like a Czech Mont Ventoux.

Since the early 1970s, the Ještěd has been the home of a revolving hyperboloid structure comprising of both a telecommunications tower and a hotel restaurant, though it could just as easily have made it into the script as a futuristic supervillain’s lair in one of the James Bond films.

In keeping with the maverick spirit of his Bohemian forefathers, the architect of the tower, Karel Hubáček, was ostracized by the Communist regime at the time due to supposed ‘capitalistic building methods’ and use of ‘Western materials’. Despite being awarded the prestigious Auguste-Perret award, he was considered a persona non-grata and wasn’t permitted to the opening ceremony in 1973. It has since been named the most significant Czech building of the 20th century and is under ongoing consideration for inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

Which is perhaps why, given the setting and the sense of pure accomplishment, words can’t begin to do justice to quite how moving it was to finally reach the summit of the Ještěd and the pinnacle of the first Continental Europe ride.

So instead we’ll leave the film to do our talking for us. Because as Caspar David Friedrich once said when talking about the role of a painter, “a picture shouldn’t be contrived, but rather felt.”

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