Of Czech hops and brigades
“Life is too short to drink bad beer.”
unknown woman from Ada
Czechs have a long-standing love affair with beer that dates back to the 900th century when the first hops were planted in Western Bohemia in the area of Zatec.
Since then, the Czechs have been vying for the first place in beer consumption per capita which keeps alternating between the Germans and the Hollanders. All three are the best producers of beer in this world.
The quality of beer much like anything else depends on the quality of the ingredients that go into it. The old saying goes that it is all about the pairing of three: in case of beer the ingredients are water, hops and barley.
My first encounter with hops was in 1982 just before I started studies at the Technical University in Brno in former Czechoslovakia. On a beautiful summer afternoon at the end of August, I received a letter just like the army reserves receive a letter about deployment.
“You have to be at the Brno train station on September 5th,” it read.
The letter also stated that if I fail to show up for the mandatory hops brigade, I will not receive a required credit for graduation. Later, I found out that the government used the military as well to pick hops for minimum wages.
I had a three-year-old daughter Emma, and a huge ambition. I wanted to graduate.
So, I boarded a bus on a Sunday afternoon to Brno, crying and waving goodbye to my husband Ludek and to our daughter.
At that time I weighed around 140 pounds.
On the train to Zatec, I met my lifelong friend Eva.
“Are you thirsty?” she asked.
“Yes, I didn’t know we were in for a long haul,” I said.
She offered me orange juice, and we spent the next 15 hours on a train that had the last priority on the track.
To be continued.
Copyright © 2013 story and photo by Emma Palova