Category Archives: culture

The Absinthe Drinkers – Pijáci absintu – by Josef Čapek

Absinthe Drinkers


Josef Čapek (1887 -1945) is a name that every Czech knows for his beautiful illustrations. Like Josef Lada he presents a charming naive beauty to his most famous playful illustrations. The above lithograph – The Absinthe Drinkers- is obviously Cubist and dates to the period of the First Republic. Josef Čapek invented the term “robot” – see

The photograph below shows Josef in the centre with his brother Karel and Olga Scheinpflugova. Karel, who is considered to be one of the most important Czech writers of the 20th Century, was a Czech nationalist and a critic of fascism. Karel died in December 1938, before the Gestapo could get to him. Josef was arrested after the Nazi criminals came to Prague and his life ended, along with so many others, at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.


For more information on Karel and Josef Čapek please visit

Czech Heroes


Following on from the discussion of Hilary Clinton’s famous meeting over absinth – did she take a sip? – at Cafe Slavia with President Vaclav Havel, I noticed today the article that follows. It is as well to remember Charter 77 and their legacy, the liberal spirit of Czech society.

Prague, – The Charter 77 and its spirit can be a permanent inspiration, former president and dissident Vaclav Havel said at a public meeting commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Czech Charter 77 human rights manifesto.

The meeting celebrated the legacy of Charter’s first spokesman, philosopher Jan Patocka, who died following an interrogation by the former communist state police (StB) that lasted many hours.

The meeting was held in Prague’s St Anna church that was filled to capacity.

Havel said that during his study visit to the USA he met people from the countries with both right-wing and left-wing regimes and although they adhered to different values they managed to tolerate each other and they all pointed to the ethos of Charter 77.

The Czech Republic should point to the abuse of human rights in other countries regardless of its particular economic interests, Havel said.

“I have a feeling that our foreign policy realises it,” he added.

Other well-known dissidents also spoke at the meeting. Bishop Vaclav Maly who “moderated the Velvet Revolution” in November 1989 pointed to the non-ideological vision of Charter 77 signatories.

Prime Minister and Civic Democrat (ODS) chairman Mirek Topolanek paid tribute to the memory of philosopher Patocka by laying flowers on his tomb. He described Patochka as a man who, at the time of general moral relativism, declared a return to the values for which it is worthwhile even to die.“His political activities came from his interest in human rights that the communist regime suppressed,” Topolanek said.

Plastic People

Milan Hlavsa and Egon Bondy of The Plastic People

What about The Plastic People of the Universe, an avant-garde Czech rock band, and the formation of Charter 77? It was the arrest of these musicians by the Communist regime that prompted Vaclav Havel to write Charter 77. The Plastic People were heavily influenced by The Velvet Underground and most recently played in London. This performance followed a hiatus which was ended at former President Havel’s request to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Charter 77.

Czech Spirit

revellers.jpgThank you to Sarah who wrote asking about the Czech spirit that is traditionally served at Masopust (Czech Mardi Gras). This is not absinthe (although there was plenty of absinth around during the festival this year) but zhřívanica — an elixir meant for fortifying the system. Absinthe also began it’s commercial life as an elixir by the way. Before that absinthe was part of the rich herbal tradition of rustic liquor making in Europe. Such recipes were passed down amongst families and within village communities, and the Bohemian lands are a rich source of these kind of drinks. This special masopust spirit that Sarah asks about is a particularly odd one because of what is usually used to serve the drink; ice and a slice? No…not quite, something decidely Czech…read on 🙂

Firstly, zhřívanica is liquor that has been infused with herbs, diluted with water and mixed with caramel. Caramelising spirits is common to both absinthe (when taken using the Czech fire method) and this rustic liquor. The name of the liquor derives from the intended result; to heat up, and the drink is usually served hot.

So what does one serve zhřívanica with? Traditionally pieces of bacon fat are used to garnish the brew – more commonly thesedays it’s butter (or low fat spread!) Not to everyone’s taste and I’ll stick to the absinthe I think!

masopust10.JPGHere is the recipe for zhřívanica

1/2 litru lihoviny, např. režné, 3 dkg másla, lžíce cukru, skořice, hřebíček, nové koření, 3 kuličky pepře, 1 dcl vody.

Cukr pálíme na másle na karamel. Zvlášť povaříme asi 10 minut ve vodě koření. Poté ji vlijeme na karamel. Chvíli povaříme, až se karamel rozpustí a přilijeme alkohol. Ohřejeme, ale nevaříme! Zjemníme kouskem másla. Podáváme teplé.


Our resident language expert will no doubt oblige with a grammatical translation 🙂




All that Jazz ..Czech style

praguejazz.jpgBack in the early 70s the Czech label Supraphon released on LP Six Uncles in Reduta, thought to be the first live recording of Prague jazz. Now a new series is being released on CD in co-production with a British-based label. The playing is on a very high level and the sonics excellent, being two-channel direct to DAT without multitracking. The recordings are made in one of the studios of Prague Radio. Prague has become a rather hot jazz environment, with talented musicians, some who have played there since the 60s, as well as a new wave of players from the West. Many young people flock to the jazz clubs around the historical Czech city; it has been compared to Paris in the 30s. These two CDs display just two distinctive approaches to jazz in Prague. (John Henry)

Paris in the 1930s!

Open air jazz playing is also a feature of the Golden City, the Old Town Square (Staromestske namesti) and Charles Bridge being the main venues. Czech beer is the finest in the world; try unpasteurised real Pilsner Urquell from a tankovna — available at U Pinkasu in Prague — or visit the brewery in Plzen.

Summer is here! – what are you waiting for? Prague and Czech absinth are waiting for you 🙂 How about this:


Modern, contemporary and latin jazz with progressive Czech jazzmen at Michalská 9, Prague 1 (U Stare Pani). Great atmosphere, great staff and absinthe! The staff speak excellent English – like most in Prague – but in case you have any problems here’s Part 1 of Essential Czech:

Dám si jedno absinth prosím. means: I’ll have an absinth please.

Absinthe Art – Czech Republic

Absinthe Art

Slíva Jiří (1947)

Exhibited: Czech Centre, Paris 2002 – Gallery Michalský dvor, Bratislava, 2003 – City of Utrecht, 2003

Absinthe illegal?


Prohibition of absinthe still exists in the United States of America. The reason is the thujone content of absinthe; US brands such as absente (marketed as “absinthe redefined”) contain no thujone. Needless to say a Czech absinthe without thujone would be like a Ferrari without an engine: pretty to look at, but it won’t take you for a spin 🙂 The absinthe from the Czech Republic has some of the highest thujone levels on the market and all perfectly legal… in Europe.

This article below is another kind of defiant independent Czech spirit that never fails to amaze. Let’s go back to 1928, the age of the First Czech Republic, a time — like now — of frenetic energy and growth in the Bohemian lands….

No restriction on the sale of spirits, wines or beer exists in Czechoslovakia;* but at Prague one Michael Maresch, picturesque anti-prohibition zealot, publishes a magazine quaintly devoted to urging Czechoslovak citizens of the U. S. to foment anti-prohibitionist sentiment among their neighbors.

Because the renowned Pilsner beer industry of Czechoslovakia would profit hugely by a repeal of the U. S. Eighteenth Amendment, Zealot Maresch has long enjoyed complete toleration and some quiet encouragement by the shrewd burghers of Prague. Last week however public sentiment turned bitterly against him overnight, when he printed what was construed as an affront to the political idol of Czechoslovaks, famed Foreign Minister Eduard Benes. As everyone knows, Dr. Benes was the chief lieutenant of President Thomas Garrigue Masaryk in their heroic and successful struggle to create the Czechoslovak State during the World War.

Yet Zealot Maresch wrote of Idol Benes: “If our Foreign Minister were not an abstainer, the Czechoslovak ship of state might steer a better course.”

After so wanton a scurrility the arrest of Editor Maresch was inevitable: but he gave further provocation by declaring: “The efficiency of the police of Prague would be increased if each policeman took an occasional nip of spirits.”

Soon sober and efficient Prague police, who do not think that Dr. Benes should tipple, tope, booze, guzzle, swig or swizzle, laid heavy hands upon Michael Maresch and clapped him into a cell.

28th May 1928 Time Magazine (Zealot into Cell)

For up to date information about absinthe in modern-day USA, don’t forget our firebrand friends at the Wormwood Society:


Greek Gods – Greek Absinthe!

Fascinating news from Greece!


Ancient Greek Gods still revered on Mount Olympus

Worshippers who believe in the 12 gods of ancient Greece have been celebrating their faith on Mount Olympus. But it was a service which was highly contentious. A court, last year, granted official recognition of the group and their revived religion, despite vigorous opposition from the highly conservative Greek Orthodox Church which dismisses the group as merely pagan. At the heart of the faith is a belief in Zeus and 11 other gods. Many of its members appear to be elderly academics, lawyers and other professionals.

One of its leaders, Doretta Pappa is a writer and calls herself a “high priestess”. She says the group has over 400,000 members but, due to opposition, they have, until now, been forced to worship in secret. Officials of the Orthodox Church have described the followers of the “Olympic gods” as resuscitators of a degenerate, dead religion. But Doretta Pappa and her members are pushing for the same rights as the Druids have in Britain, who worship at the ancient monument of Stonehenge. (Euronews)

Can anyone guess who wrote this:

“it was a bar with a few rooms over it, kept by a Greek, smelling of hot oil and garlic and stale wine and old clothes, a place where the small Greek traders came and played draughts and listened to the wireless. He stayed there a month drinking Greek absinthe, occasionally wandering out, they didn’t know where, coming back and drinking again.”

Absinthe History?


Rudolf II (Holy Roman Emperor) painted as Vertumnus, Roman God of the seasons, c.1590-1


Did Absinthe start life in Prague in the 1500s? This article in an respected Australian newspaper seems to suggest that it did.

Absinthe: “The drink’s origins are disputed: wormwood distillations started in Bohemia (the Czech Republic) in the 1500s, but they appeared in France and Switzerland around the 1750s. Modern absinthe dates from 1792, when Dr Pierre Ordinaire commercialised it as a cure-all. Then Henri-Louis Pernod founded the Pernod Fils absinthe company in 1805, seeing its aperitif potential. Absinthe’s moment came with the 1840s Algerian wars, when French soldiers drank it as a prophylactic against disease. They brought it home, and by the 1860s Parisian cafes had established 5pm as l’heure verte – “the green hour”.

Source: Bohemian Green by Felicity Carter, The Age

One interesting possibility is that wormwood distillation began under Rudolph II, The Holy Roman Emperor. Rudoplh’s reign (1552-1612) was marked by a scientific revolution in the Bohemian lands (now Czech Republic). Rudolf was fascinated by the subjects of alchemy and science and attracted the greatest minds – along with their stills – to Prague. Names like John Dee and Edward Kelley may not mean much today, but they were the leading alchemists of the age. Rudolph himself maintained an extensive laboratory.

New Czech Bohemians


Czechs Raise New Generation of Bohemians

PRAGUE (Reuters) – The Bohemians are back. A new generation of Czechs who grew up in democracy have the freedom and wealth to lead hedonistic lives barely dreamt of by their parents under nearly five decades of communist rule.

“I want to experience as much as I can at this age,” said Jan Skuta, a 21-year old student, peering through the smoky haze in a bar in Prague’s ancient centre.

The Czech Republic once comprised most of Bohemia, and the term Bohemian became synonymous with a socially unconventional lifestyle that many are heartily resurrecting in the post-Communist era.

Absinthe, the green spirit once widely banned for its suspected hallucinatory effects, is available at almost every bar. Fashion runs the gamut from ultra mini-skirts to bell bottoms and from designer jeans to army fatigues as bar-hoppers track trends.

Full Article: Reuters

Absinthe on Fire?


The Loiterers, 1887
Oil on canvas
18 X 24 inches


This particular work dates from 1887 and it has been suggested that the subjects are the artist himself and his wife May. The couple, who were married in 1887, is shown drinking absinthe, an activity best known from the images of the French artists Edgar Degas, Vincent van Gogh, and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. The liqueur, which is extremely bitter and exceptionally potent, is traditionally poured through a lump of sugar on a specially slotted spoon and mixed with water. This creates what is called the louche, a milky white effect that occurs when compounds in the liqueur precipitate out of the absinthe-water solution. While probably painted in New York City, Wiles’ Absinthe Drinkers reveals a direct link between the French and American Impressionists.