Newsletter | Nov/Dec 2015

Grabstejn and the Hotel on Ještěd Mountain
by Lucia Bogatay

Grabstejn Castle, near Liberec. Photo from Czech tourism website

On the first Saturday of my visit in the Czech Republic, when the whole family can join us, we drive to Liberec in Northern Bohemia to visit Grabstejn Castle, the remote outpost of a noble German family. When Germany lost the last war, Czechs of German descent were summarily dispossessed of their Czech properties. One assumes that is why this estate now belongs to the State.

The day is magnificent; warm and sunny. We have a tour of the cold, rambling castle, where hunting seems to have been the primary pastime. It is clear from the paintings of the impressive family tree (adorned with many different colorful escutcheons) and from the many family portraits, that having to maintain the family dignity by finding suitable aristocratic mates for their abundant children must have been a full time job. The current scion has married out of the nobility, and so has lost status in the family, a point our guide is careful to make. Although the palace is owned by the state, family members do visit from time to time. They apparently still own other castles in Germany.

JJeštěd Tower,. Photo by Lucia Bogatay

We end the afternoon at Ještěd (Czech pronunciation: [ˈjɛʃcɛt]; German: Jeschken). It is the highest mountain peak (1,012 m) of the Ještěd-Kozákov Ridge near Liberec. From the summit there are views into Germany and Poland. The Horní Hanychov region of Liberec lies just below the mountain. On top of the peak is the Ještěd Tower restaurant, hotel and television tower, designed by Karel Hubáček who won a competition for the commission. The mountain also has a ski resort. Its predecessor on that site was destroyed by fire in 1963. The current tower, begun in 1966, is a tapering cone (actually a rotational hyperboloid) built of reinforced concrete, sitting on piers atop a conical hill which is ominously shaped like a cinder cone. The structural engineer was Zdeněk Patrman and the interior was designed by Otakar Binar, who made extensive use of glass Hubacek received an international award, the August Perret Award, in 1969 for the design.

There were some dramatic moments once it was completed, when the building swayed in the strong winds which threatened to destroy the tower. The team resolved this awkward difficulty by adding a 1300 pound ballast weight and a vibration damper. This seemed to fix the problem since Ještěd still stands proudly to the present day.

The tower was opened with great ceremony on the 21st of September 1973. It is 308 feet from the foot to the tip of the antenna and it was designed to withstand the truly extreme climatic conditions at the top. On the lower of the two floors there is the machine-room, technical equipment and operations room. Above these there is a look-out terrace, a buffet, a restaurant with cafe and a hotel. The upper part houses the communications equipment. The top contains a tubular construction on which is mounted a 56 foot-long antenna.

The stair to the restaurant in Ještěd Tower. Photo by Lucia Bogatay

There is access by car, but it is more easily and pleasantly reached by a funicular from the base of the mountain. A pair of opposing ramps lead one to the Hotel lobby. From there, a beautiful stair brings one to the third floor above grade where there is a restaurant in perfect original 1960’s condition. The large but rather narrow curving dining room has canted strip windows facing the view, with concentric rows of furniture, light fixtures, railings, and the dramatic curving stair which wraps an inside stone clad wall decorated with large cast glass sculptures. North Bohemia used to be famous for its glass and production, which now, alas, is fairly limited. Jested is a popular destination on weekends, even this late in the season, which is cold, but still without snow. In winter one can ski here.

We join the line on the stair for the restaurant and eventually get a table on the west side, where we have hot chocolate, coffee and we order “pine cones” (shiska) which I am told are a typically Czech pastry. The pine cones turn out to be sweetened potato dumplings covered with powdered sugar, butter and ground poppy seeds, and are both starchy, heavy and rich, but quite delicious. The ground poppy seeds give them a curious, distantly familiar flavor, as though I might have tasted something like them in my childhood, perhaps with my Slavic relatives.

The Capec family on a rrock. Photo by Lucia Bogatay

From the seating area one can see the countryside far below, through wispy clouds and mists which are occasionally punctuated by small airplanes looking like remote controlled toys. This dramatic spot seems a favorite small plane destination.

After exploring the viewing terrace, admiring the silly sculpture of a dwarf, and taking hero shots on the higher of the rock outcrops, we take the funicular back down the mountain, and return to Kralupy.

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