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  • Writer's picture Kester Eddy

Young and Old at the Village Shop - Updated

Updated: Feb 25, 2021

Czechoslovak Adventure, Winter, 1973 - Every Picture Tells a Story (Don't it?) - 14

A Scene from rural central Europe, taken in 1993. If you know a bit about languages, you can probably guess the country? The village is a different matter, because it was rather special. The little girl would not know, but the elderly lady would remember well. This pic was from a 'nostalgia' trip for me, back to the place where, ... well, that will be the story bit.

Update: Czechoslovak Adventure, Winter, 1973

The picture shown here is from the village of Šatov (pronounced Shatov), in south Moravia, five-miles south of the delightful little town of Znojmo.

Today, Šatov is a quiet, rural settlement, with a strong tradition of winemaking: it attracts (or did, pre-Covid) a steady stream of 'green tourists' in warmer months as it sits on a well-travelled cycle trail.

But in 1973, things were different. Very different: Šatov was also a five-minute walk, across a field, to the Austrian border. Exccept you couldn't walk it. In fact, you couldn't be in Šatov, even as a Czechoslovak citizen, without a permit from the communist state's Interior Ministry.

Despite the fact that Austria was (and is) a neutral country, the border was tightly controlled, at least on the Czechoslovak side, to prevent escapees seeking a better life in “the west”. And, like Hungary and other Warsaw Pact countries, Prague maintained an internal “frontier zone” a mile or so in depth with checks on anyone trying to enter. Šatov was entirely within this zone.

It was, in truth, a very asymmetrical arrangement – on the Austrian side there were no soldiers nor police, nothing to mark the area out as anything special, until you reached a sign: Achtung Staatsgrenze. It was clear enough, but that was it. If you didn't know German (and/or were both stupid and blind) a short distance away there would usually be a tall fence, topped with strands of barbed wire: your very own piece of "Iron Curtain".

And if you still didn't get the message, you can be pretty sure guards in watchtowers every two hundred metres or so along this fence would soon make you get it.

(Even in the 1980s, there were reports of Austrian children who, having wandered across the border, were kept for days by the Czechoslovak authorities intent on making the greatest fuss over the “violation” of their state lines.)

So, what on earth was I doing in Šatov in 1973, without a permit and moreover on the Saturday night between Christmas and New Year?

This was, indeed, the question that night I was being asked by the officer in the Habsburg-era villa that served as a border garrison.

The fact that he didn't speak English, nor German, nor me Czech made no difference: the question was obvious.

And even without the language barrier, it was decidedly difficult to answer.

To do so, I had to go back in time.

To be continued.

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Feb 23, 2021

If not for the plastic bag, it could easily be 1963.

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