MUCH OF WHAT HAPPENED when we visited the Czech Republic in 1999 was our fault, but what followed left a bad taste in our mouths. We drove to Loket in the western part of the country, in what was once known as the ‘Sudetenland’ and stayed in a nice hotel, where we had stayed two years earlier, in the centre of the small town near to Karlovy Vary. Every day, we used our car to explore the country.
One day, we drove to Teplice (Teplitz in German). It was here that Beethoven met Goethe at the town’s well-known spa. On the way, we stopped in the square of a small town near to Teplice. My wife and our small daughter were standing, waiting for me, when a car sped towards them and skidded to a halt about a foot away from them. Had it come any closer and they had not run, my family would have been badly injured or worse. Why had the Czech youths driving the car done this? Was it to scare them or even to hurt them because my Indian wife looked to them like a gypsy? The gypsies in many central and eastern European countries face much hatred and prejudice from those who regard themselves as true locals.
Somewhat shaken, we continued our journey to Teplice, where I parked in a spot (next to a police station) where one needed to purchase a parking ticket to display in the windscreen. Inadvertantly, I did not buy a ticket. We went off for a walk for an hour or so, and then headed back to the car. Before we reached it, I went into a music store to look at CDs and the others walked ahead to the car. A few minutes later, I reached our dark blue SAAB.
Our vehicle was surrounded by policemen. My wife was shouting at them in erratic German, accusing them and the Czechs of behaving like Nazis and trying to murder us. It was only after a couple of minutes that I noticed the clamp attached to one of our wheels. Blue in colour, it matched our car perfectly. It had been placed because of my not having bought a parking ticket. We were required to pay a fine.
“How much?” I asked.
“I don’t have that much cash.”
“How much do you have?”
“Five hundred,” I replied.
“Not enough. Go to that cash machine. Get more.”
We paid 1500 Crowns (about £25 in 1999) as required, and then asked for a receipt for what seemed like an excessive amount to pay for a parking infringement. One of the police officers brought a receipt book. He wrote something on one page, and then tore it and 14 other pages out of the receipt book. We looked at the fifteen receipts we had been given, each one to the value of 100 Crowns. Only one of them bore a date and our car’s registration number. The fine must have been 100 Crowns, and the rest a gift to the policemen of Teplice.
The following day, our penultimate in the Czech Republic, we ran out of cash. I suggested that as it was a Sunday and banks were closed, that we drove to a border crossing where we were likely to find a bureau de change. Why we did not look for a cash machine, I cannot remember. We drove along a road that led to a frontier post on a road into what had once been East Germany. On the way, we passed a road sign that I did not recognise but will now never forget. As soon as we drove into the Czech frontier post compound, our car was once again surrounded by uniformed men. They told us to drive into a small gravelly parking lot where I noticed an abandoned car with British registration plates. We were asked to disembark and hand over our passports. At this point, my wife, who was already fed up with the corruption of Czech officialdom, began banging her forehead against our car. Meanwhile, our passports were taken into a hut to be photocopied. Our crime was that we had driven to a frontier post that could only be used by local Czech and German pedestrians.
It transpired that the solution to our problem was to pay a fine.
“How much?” I asked, trying to explain that we had arrived at this post hoping to change some money.
“How much have you got?”
Having already learnt that 500 Crowns was likely to be insufficient, I said that I had enough Deutschmarks to pay up to 1000 Crowns.
“You will pay one thousand Crowns. You can change money there,” we were informed by one of the uniformed officers who pointed at a booth nearby.
Once the transaction was over, our passports were returned, and we headed back to our hotel in Loket, thoroughly disgusted by the corrupt behaviour of some Czech officials.
My wife and daughter went up to our attic bedroom to rest whilst I stayed at the reception to settle our bill.
“I have come to pay for our stay.”
“36,000 Crowns,” announced the receptionist in impeccable English.
“But,” I replied, “you agreed 18,000 in your confirmation email.”
“Your daughter has extra bed.”
“No, she did not. We brought her bed from London, as agreed in the email.”
“No, it is 36,000”
I took out my credit card. I knew that the hotel was trying to cheat us and that if I fell for their price, my wife would have found it hard to forgive me after what had happened to us already in the hands of the various officials we had met recently. Waving my card at the receptionist, I said:
“18,000 and no more.”
“We need 36,000”
“18,000, and no more,” I said more forcefully that I am usually and placing the credit card back into my wallet.
“Ok, 1800 will do.”
We left the Czech Republic the next day and have not yet felt the need to return. This is a pity because the country, which I have visited four times, does have a lot to offer the visitor.
Many years after our unfortunate trip to the Czech Republic, we were in Bangalore (India) when I learnt how to deal with corruptible policemen. Our driver, ‘R’, decided to take a short cut by driving down a one-way street in the wrong direction. A policeman stopped him. We said to R that we would pay the fine. Getting out of the car, he told us not to worry.
After a few minutes, R returned smiling. He told us:
“Fine is usually 300 rupees. I told him that if he accepted 100 rupees, it would save him the trouble of writing out all of that paperwork. He was happy with that.”
Clearly, a considerate crook can expect considerate behaviour from a crooked cop.