By Rick Steves and Honza Vihan
To learn more about the Czech Republic past and present, check out a some of these books and films.
- Alice’s Piano: The Life of Alice Herz-Sommer (Melissa Müller, 2012). A classical pianist uses music to bring hope to fellow prisoners at the Terezín concentration camp.
- My Crazy Century (Ivan Klíma, 2009). Celebrated Czech author Ivan Klíma chronicles events spanning from his childhood in a concentration camp to the aftermath of the Velvet Revolution, painting a dynamic portrait of 20th-century Czechoslovakia.
- Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937–1948 (Madeleine Albright, 2012). Former Secretary of State Albright describes her early years in Czechoslovakia during the Nazi occupation and World War II.
- The Twelve Little Cakes (Dominika Dery, 2004). Dery details a childhood spent near Prague at the end of the communist era.
- Under a Cruel Star: A Life in Prague, 1941–1968 (Heda Kovály, 1997). Kovály’s clear-eyed memoir recounts a Czechoslovakian’s fate under the Nazis and then during the Stalin regime.
- The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain (Peter Sís, 2007). An illustrated children’s book depicts the author’s childhood in communist Czechoslovakia.
- City Sister Silver (Jáchym Topol, 1994). In this definitive novel of the 1989 generation, Topol explores the zeitgeist of post-liberation Czech Republic in a rich mixture of colloquial Czech and neologisms.
- The Cowards (Josef Škvorecký, 1958). A Czech teen comes of age in post-WWII Bohemia.
- Dita Saxová (Arnošt Lustig, 1962). A young concentration camp survivor struggles to resume a normal life in Prague.
- The Garden Party and Other Plays (Václav Havel, 1994). The renowned playwright, the country’s first post-communist president, fuses political commentary and dry humor in these absurdist plays.
- Good Soldier Švejk (Jaroslav Hašek, 1923). This darkly comic Czech classic follows the fortunes of a soldier in World War I’s Austro-Hungarian army.
- How I Came to Know Fish (Ota Pavel, 1974). Pavel’s imaginative memoir juxtaposes the simple act of fishing with the complexities and terror of World War II.
- I Served the King of England (Bohumil Hrabal, 1971). An eccentric busboy at a luxurious Prague hotel rises and falls in the years before WWII. Hrabal’s writing captures the Czech spirit and sense of humor.
- The Metamorphosis (Franz Kafka, 1915). The famous Czech writer and existentialist wrote this novella in German, about a man turning into a giant cockroach.
- R.U.R. (Karel Čapek, 1920). Čapek created the robot in this 1920s play.
- Too Loud a Solitude (Bohumil Hrabal, 1976). Hrabal’s stream-of-consciousness style explores the endurance of knowledge and written-word.
- The Trial (Franz Kafka, 1925). An urbanite is pursued and persecuted for crimes he knows nothing about.
- The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Milan Kundera, 1981). Set during the 1968 Prague Spring uprising, this novel follows the lives and choices of two men and two women.
- Alice (1988). Inspiring Czech artist Jan Švankmajer adapts Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in stop-motion animation combined with live action.
- All My Loved Ones (1999). A Jewish family’s son is sent to England in the “Kindertransports” organized by Nicholas Winton, the British humanitarian who saved almost 700 Czech Jewish children.
- Burning Bush (2013). This miniseries details the communist occupation of Czechoslovakia and the Prague Spring, focusing on Jan Palach, the Czech student who set himself on fire and died in protest against the Soviet occupation.
- Closely Watched Trains (1966). This Oscar-winner follows a young Czech man working at a German-occupied train station during WWII.
- Czech Dream (2004). Two film students advertise and document the opening of a fake hypermarket in this hilarious, disturbing commentary on consumerism.
- Divided We Fall (2000). A Czech couple hides a Jewish friend during Nazi occupation in this Academy Award–nominated film.
- The Elementary School (1991). Set in the late 1940s, a rowdy classroom in suburban Prague faces reform under the strict guidance of a war hero teacher.
- I Served the King of England (2006). In this adaptation of Bohumil Hrabal’s novel, a man reminisces about his past as an ambitious waiter who suffers the consequences of World War II.
- In the Shadow (2012). A burglary in 1950s Czechoslovakia sets off a political investigation of Jewish immigrants and a detective’s struggle for justice amid German prosecutors.
- Intimate Lighting (1965). Two musicians reunite in a small town in this showcase of 1960s Czech New Wave.
- Kolya (1996). A concert-cellist in Soviet-controlled Czechoslovakia must care for an abandoned Russian boy.
- Larks on a String (1990). Under the communist regime, bourgeois Czechs are forced into labor camps and struggle to maintain their humanity.
- Loves of a Blonde (1965). Before he directed One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Amadeus, Czech Miloš Forman directed this film about the relationship between a rural Czech woman and a jazz pianist from Prague.
- Protektor (2009). In this WWII Czech drama, a man must reconcile his job at a Nazi-propaganda radio station and his relationship with his Jewish wife.
The Czechs have a wonderful animation tradition that successfully competes with Walt Disney in Eastern Europe and China. During communism when Western cartoons weren’t widely available, Czechoslovakia produced several that were beloved throughout the Soviet Bloc. Since the 1950s, every night at 18:45 a block of cartoons is shown on Czech television’s channel 1, with the lineup introduced by a character called Večerníček (“Bedtime” — a little boy with starry eyes and a sleeping cap). The most popular character is Krtek (or Krteček, “Little Mole”), who gets in and out of trouble. You’ll see plush black-and-white Krtek figures everywhere. Křemílek and Vochomůrka are brothers who live in the woods, Maxipes Fík is a clever dog, and the duo Pat and Mat are builders who can’t seem to get anything right.
Honza Vihan is the co-author of the Rick Steves Prague & the Czech Republic guidebook.