Beer brewing has a long tradition in Czech Republic. Most breweries started hundreds of years ago.
-continued from May 31
Note: In my memoir “Greenwich Meridian” I write about my unique experience from a hops brigade in former Czechoslovakia.
After a long train ride, followed by a long bus ride we finally got to the hops farm in the middle of nowhere and near Czech army bases in Western Bohemia. We were lodged in barracks. There were 16 of us sleeping on bunk beds in one room without closets.
We had all our belongings under the bunk beds. So, three weeks of hell began. The second day, the water stopped running, and nobody knew how to fix it. The third day the room started to smell from the stinky shoes and clothes soaked with sweat from the hops fields.
We were divided into two shifts; I worked the second, while my friend Eva worked the first. She worked in the fields tearing down the long prickly hop canes. I worked in the barn hanging them up, so the green small cones could be mechanically harvested.
Sometimes when the shifts changed we met in the fields with Eva to talk and read Agricultural News. Once a week, a pub on wheels came to the farm. The drinking age in Czech Republic and Europe is 18. We always missed it because we had to work. We were directly in the area where best beer is made, and we couldn’t even sample it.
The closest general store was five miles away, and it was badly stocked.
The food on the farm consisted of mainly meatless dishes such as sweet dumplings with marmalade or golden “buchticky” small donut-like pastries covered with unidentifiable yellow sauce “shodo.” One day we came to the cafeteria, and there was a sign that the chef was dismissed because he was mixing salad with his hands.
On the few occasions when we did have meat on Sundays, we had to get up at four o’clock in the morning and peel massive amounts of potatoes for a mashed side dish. Since, then I hate peeling potatoes. There were approximately 400 students on the farm.
On one precious day off, we hitched a ride to the spa town of Karlovy Vary also known as Carlsbad in Western Bohemia. Finally, we could enjoy a beer, a dessert at the famed Elephant patisserie, and shop for a souvenir.
The next day, it was back to slavery again at the hops farm. To somehow pacify us, the management, whoever that was, organized morning dances for those who worked the second shift. The work week was seven days a week 10 hours a day.
I lost 20 kilograms because I refused to eat the meatless dishes. My friend Eva ate them out of desperation, and gained 20 kilograms. The life at the barracks with minimal space consisted of discussions on the bunk beds since there were no chairs or tables.
“What are you doing?” somebody asked a girl who flipped her position so her feet were in the headboard on the bunk bead.
“I am tricking the flies so they don’t buzz around my head,” she said. “I’d rather have them around my feet.”
I remember the long line to get paid 400 crowns for more than three weeks of labor. We missed the hops train back home, because we were not quite done yet with all the fields, and helping out others.
We dragged on a charter bus back to the region of Moravia, and I could not believe this happened.
Those who didn’t go to the mandatory hops brigade ended up going to cotton or chicken farms.
Czechs call hops, that are exported to Japan, their green gold. Well they are pieces of gold bought by the exploitation and sweat of others.
Copyright © 2013 story and photo by Emma Palova