The Greeks had the Oracle of Delphi, Dorothy had the Wizard of Oz, Ponce de Leon searched for the fountain of youth, Sir Henry Morton Stanley traveled 1100 kilometers over 8 months, through tropical forests in Africa, to find Dr. David Livingstone in the 1870’s. Like so many brave souls before me I too struck out on my 80 kilometer one and a half hour train quest to reach the Promised Land.
As I stood mesmerized in front of the massive gates, adorned in gold and guarded by Barbie featured Amazonian Warriors wielding jewel encrusted swords I wondered “Am I worthy?”
Was I, a mere mortal, going to be allowed entry into such a revered place? Was I going to be allowed to stand where those worthy of knighthood once stood and created such wondrous and magical things?
Okay, the gates weren’t exactly gold, more like hundred year old stone, and there were no guards, and pretty much anyone can get in but hey I don’t mess with your fantasies.
The Pilsner Urquell brewery is in fact the birth place of Pilsner beer. Seeing as I was spending time in Prague and the town of Pilzn is only a short train ride away I decided I would be remiss and possibly stoned to death if my friends ever found out I was that close and never went to see the brewery.
Stepping off the train, you get a really nice view of the town which is small enough to spend the day walking around. The brewery is in front of the train station and is a great place to start your tour of the town. Beer has been brewed in Plzn since 1307. Anyone that has that much experience has had time to work out the recipe, trust me. In 1838 a little over 7600 pints of beer had to be poured out because it was unfit to drink.
Let us take a moment to bow our heads in silence.
Okay back to the story. The brew masters decided they had to come up with a way to make beer with better quality. They all banded together, built a new brewery and hired a German by the name of Josef Groll. Groll succeeded in perfecting his recipe and in 1842 he debuted a beer that was golden in color, light, crisp, and would forever change the beer industry. Pilsner Beer was born! Every year on October 5th, the brewery commemorates this event by hosting Pilsner Fest.
A tour of the brewery is available where you witness the new and the old methods of brewing beer and visit the tunnels under the brewery where he barrels were left to ferment. They even have a one off motorcycle made in the style of beer cans. Of course there are tastings and a pub on the grounds. A person could stay most of the day and then get back on the train to Prague but then you would not be able to visit the rest of this great little town.
Another notable place to visit while in town is the Pilzn Underground. The Underground is a network of three storied cellars that have been there since the Middle Ages and the third largest Synagogue in the world was constructed in Plzn in the 19th century.
One of my favorites was the George S. Patton Memorial. I discovered this by finding a brochure when I stepped off the train. After my visit to the brewery I struck out walking to find the museum. Discovering the museum in a two story white building I entered and paid the entrance fee not sure why there was a memorial to a WW2 US General in the Czech Republic. Before entering through the door I was reading one of the posters and a gentleman approached and asked where I was from. I told him I was an American and retired military and saw the brochure so I wanted to check it out. The man smiled and told me to take my time and look around. The Museum is full of everything about the city of Pilzn during the war. Military artifacts, ration books, old weapons, dioramas, films playing showing various times and events and what the people of the town went through during that time.
After I was finished, the man I originally spoke to appeared and asked how I liked it. I told him that I was amazed at all the artifacts he had and asked where he obtained them all. That’s when he told me he was the one that started the Museum. Most of the artifacts were his that he had collected since he was a young boy. He told me that during the time the Soviets were in control of the Czech Republic they did everything they could to convince the people that the Soviet Union had liberated the town from Nazi Germany and that was false. He told me that General George Patton and the US Army liberated his town and he did not want anyone to forget. In 2005, on the 60th anniversary of the liberation, the museum was opened and has become not only one man’s passion but one of the finest military museums I have ever visited. Around 5 May every year the town has a festival of Liberty commemorating the event and over the years the city has hosted some of the men that were there on that historic day.
Pilzen is quite a town and definitely worth a day trip from Prague and is easy to get to using either train or bus.
Oh by the way, unlike Ponce de Leon, I found what I was looking for and finished my quest.