The history of the Czech lands is closely connected with that of Germany, formerly the core of the powerful Holy Roman Empire.
Their common border is interlaced with stories of struggles between the two lands, but it is also dotted with places of encounter between the cultures.
One such place is Loket Castle, which since time immemorial has been called the key to the Kingdom of Bohemia. It was claimed, in fact, that whoever conquered Loket would conquer the entire Czech kingdom. The mighty castle was an important point in the medieval defensive line and was a gateway to the former Bohemian crown lands. On a rocky promontory, protected on three sides by the river Ohře (Eger in German), it was built in the 13th century on the orders of the Czech king Wenceslas I as an impregnable fortress. Local residents could attest to its invincibility as early as the Hussite Wars in the early 15th century, when Loket was three times besieged in vain. It is a historical paradox that although throughout its long history the castle usually held its ground, much to the despair of the would-be conquerors, today it is one of the few castles in the Czech Republic which can boast that its gates are open to visitors all year round.
The impregnability of the city walls and its location in the midst of deep, untamed forests also predicted a dark future for Loket Castle. The chill of the unyielding Loket walls was even felt by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV (1316–1378), who was imprisoned here as a child. Despite this terrible experience, he did not lose his love for the castle, and as an adult he would often travel here from Prague to relax and especially to hunt in the expansive royal game park and the surrounding forests. It was on one of his adventurous game hunts that his entourage discovered the curative effects of the springs in the nearby valley of the river Teplá, where the emperor then established the now famous spa town Karlovy Vary.
Loket on a historical map
The romantic setting of the medieval town, the beauty of unspoilt nature, and the magic of the unbridled river Ohře impressed not only the rulers of the Czech lands but also romantics, lovers, poets and adventurers. Among them was the German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. He loved Loket and its wondrous surroundings, and visited it frequently on his travels through western Bohemia. Late in his life and already a knight, he embarked on a personal quest for the heart of the young Baroness Ulrike von Levetzow, with whom he celebrated his 74th birthday on the 28th of August 1823 at the hotel Bílý kůň (White Horse Hotel) in Loket. But just as marauders failed to break through the gates of Loket Castle into the city streets, the great poet failed to win the heart of the young noblewoman. Goethe later recounted the frustration of his unrequited love in his Marienbad Elegy.
"Loket is beautiful beyond description and is like a work of art which can be admired from all sides."
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Photos: Ulrike von Levetzow, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Another famous figure led by fate to the romantic streets of Loket was none other than the agent of Her Majesty’s Secret Service Bond, James Bond. In 2006, Loket served as the exterior setting for the film Casino Royale, in which the city “played the role” of a summer resort in Montenegro. If you pay close attention, in one shot you can see the signage of Goethe’s fateful hotel.