Our darling offspring have been in Athens since Thursday. We were told it was for a weekend XC Tournament, though given the spotty cell service in Greece the only text that has made it through the wire was this one:
“There’s a protest at the Parliament building, where we were supposed to visit, so we’re all going to the beach.”
Not to be one-upped by our children spending a weekend in the warm and sunny Mediterranean, I lured Tony away from the office on Friday with the suggestion that we daytrip to the former Eastern Bloc’s largest blast furnace. I know how to show my guy a good time, no?
Small picnic packed, and Clayton Theodore stretched out in the way back of the wagon, off we set for Ostrava (Ostrau, or Ostrowa–pick your favorite language), an industrial city tucked close to the borders between the Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovakia. Ostrava has been thoroughly exploited, first by the Nazis with the sellout of Czechoslovakia in 1938 as the munitions-building epicenter, and then under Communism as the iron and steelworks utopian dream that poured the Iron Curtain. Enough history.
We arrived in Ostrava uncharacteristically lost, somehow driving through the construction site of the main train station. You will notice we are not alone; even the locals couldn’t figure out what was going on.
Soon we were back on track. There is an active steelworks company still operating in part of the city; the old blast furnace, however, is just for tourists. There are organized tours (with helmets!), but they are all in Czech, of course. We opted for the DIY walking tour (plus, there likely would not be any helmets for Clayton Theodore).
The large gas container has now been transformed into a concert hall and art gallery to lure the curious into the steel heart of Silesia.
During its steel production heyday (700.000 metric tonnes annually), this is what I imagined the Ostravan skies to look like in the middle of a summer day.
This gentleman’s only job seemed to be opening the gate for the occasional vehicle. We guessed that he likely worked in the foundry in his younger days, and I would love to have spoken with him, but my lack of either the Czech or Russian languages prevented that.
Ostrava’s sister city in the U.S. is Pittsburgh.
It was easy to feel very small. Imagine being one of the 350.000 men and women who worked there.