Travel agency offers retro 'workers’ holidays' for nostalgic Czechs

11-05-2010

It’s twenty years since the fall of communism, but there are some Czechs nostalgic for aspects of life before 1989. Many older people, for example, have fond memories of the factory workers’ holidays organised by Communist Czechoslovakia’s trade union organisation, the ‘Revolutionary Trade Union Movement’ or ROH for short. Now, a Czech travel agency is offering them the chance to relive those holidays at a dilapidated mountain hotel in neighbouring Slovakia. Rob Cameron went there to have a look.

Exercises on the hotel lawnExercises on the hotel lawn Welcome to the Hotel Morava, in the Tatra mountain resort of Tatranská Lomnica. It’s far from everyone’s idea of a relaxing holiday – after all, how many hotels have a wake up call at 7am followed by compulsory exercises on the hotel lawn?

It’s also not exactly the lap of luxury. The rooms at the Hotel Morava are gloomy and claustrophobic. There’s a weird smell in the bathroom. Ugly 1950s chairs sit empty at the end of silent corridors. The chairs, the exercises, the pictures of Lenin on the walls are all a painstaking effort to recreate a typical workers’ holiday in Communist Czechoslovakia. It’s all the brainchild of travel agency owner Petr Krč.

May Day paradeMay Day parade “It came about totally by chance. The hotel owner was showing us round the basement, and we came across a storeroom. Inside were boxes and boxes of flags, towels, napkins, cutlery, glasses, all with the logo “Revolutionary Trade Union Movement” on them. I said to him – what are you going to do with this lot? And he said – I don’t know, guess we’ll hire a skip and chuck it. And I said – For God’s sake, don’t do that! You’re sitting on a goldmine!”

After a thankfully non-revolutionary breakfast of sausages and eggs the guests return to their rooms, emerging dressed in the garb of their youth under Communism. A 1950s train – decked out in Soviet flags and pictures of Lenin - is waiting at the station to chug a few stops down the Tatra mountain line to a May Day parade in the neighbouring village.

Vladimír PolákVladimír Polák Among the passengers waiting eagerly to board is Vladimír Polák, dressed in the light blue uniform of the Communist Union of Youth, despite the fact that he clearly said goodbye to youth several decades previously.

“I really wouldn’t politicise it too much, it’s just a bit of a laugh. It’s about reliving your memories – in my case memories of having to stand on the pavement as a kid and wave a red flag on May Day. We’re just having a bit of fun.”

Marie Kindermannová, a woman in her fifties sporting a bright red scarf, concurs.

“I think all normal people were greatly relieved when Communism collapsed in 1989. I wouldn’t call it ‘nostalgia’ – we’re poking fun at it, that’s all. And I think that’s a good thing.”

On board the train the jollity continued. For some, there was some genuine nostalgia for the sense of belonging and togetherness that the workers’ holidays gone by offered. Jaroslav is a retired electrician.

Things were different back then...Things were different back then... “It’s a mistake that we didn’t keep the good things from the old regime – everything was just lumped together as ‘communism’ and chucked out. But it wasn’t all bad was it? – the trade union holidays certainly weren’t.”

It’s an exaggeration to say that Czechs as a nation are gripped by nostalgia for communism – only a few hundred people signed up for Petr’s trade union holiday this year. But you can’t help wondering what Stalin or Lenin or Czechoslovakia’s own Communist leaders would make of it – but they would have felt at home here at the Hotel Morava, where the clock seems to have stopped in 1951.


Photo: author

11-05-2010