Since time immemorial, Plzeň has been seen the capital of beer.
For centuries, the golden lager made in the Plzeň style, known as Pils or Pilsner, has been spreading the renown of this beautiful West Bohemian city throughout the world.
Moreover, Plzeň was endowed with the gift of beer already at the time of its founding. When King Wenceslas II established the city in 1295, he awarded the brewing right to all burghers, regardless of their profession, which allowed them to brew and sell beer right in their houses. A testament to this glorious past are the many Renaissance and Baroque portals of townhouses where this right was once exercised. And Plzeň’s long association with beer is not just a question of the distant past. The number of perpetually crowded pubs, restaurants, newer microbreweries and cultural events is proof that locals continue to develop the legacy of their ancestors with gusto.
The world-renowned Plzeň beer
In February 1838, the citizens of Plzeň were witness to an unusual spectacle. On the square in front of the town hall, thirty-six barrels of the local beer were dumped out because the beer was not deemed to be drinkable. At that time, beer was being brewed in Plzeň by anyone and everyone, and its quality had declined to the point where the local brewers could no longer compete with Bavarian breweries. The town burghers therefore decided to collectively establish the Burgess’ Brewery, and they hired the Bavarian maltster Josef Groll, a man reputed to be the best at his craft. Groll, however, produced a completely different beer than the Pilseners had intended, most likely due to different raw materials and the quality of the local spring water. Yet the result was superb. The new lager had an excellent flavour, which Pilsner Urquell has retained it to this day. Its genesis was recorded by the Plzeň chronicler as follows:
"What wonderment arose when its golden colour shone and its snow-white foam floated above it. How the drinkers rejoiced at the crisp, excellent taste this local product boasts – as yet unknown in a beer.”
Today in Plzeň you can taste beer from Pilsner Urquell, for example, at the country’s largest beerhall, but you can also enjoy other beer brands and specialties in many pubs, restaurants and a few microbreweries. You can even visit the local beer spa.
Breweries in Plzeň
Plzeň has long enjoyed the favour of rulers, and the city flourished greatly in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Right at the turn of the 17th century, Plzeň even became the capital of the Habsburg Empire for nine months when Emperor Rudolf II moved his entire court here from Prague. Visitors to the city can get a sense of the Renaissance glory of Plzeň in the sgraffiti decorating the town hall or directly in the municipal coat of arms, which depicts a silver greyhound as a sign of loyalty to the emperor, king of Bohemia and the Church during the Hussite wars and also a camel captured from attackers while defending the city. A more modern concept of its urban symbols can be found on the main square in the centre of Plzeň. In the shadow of the Gothic Church of St. Bartholomew and within sight of the Baroque plague column, you will encounter abstract representations of a greyhound, a camel and an angel in a trio of monumental gilded fountains, which have just as many detractors as supporters among the people of Plzeň.
An era of unprecedented prosperity ended in 1618 with the conquest of the city by the troops of Count Mansfeld. Plzeň then became a provincial city for a long period, and, somewhat unjustly, remained outside the centre of interest. But with the advent of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, its modern “Renaissance” began with all the more vigour.
Photos: Interior designed by Adolf Loos (Archiv MMP), Great Synagogue (Archiv Czech Tourism | © Ladislav Renner)
At the turn of the 20th century, not just industry succeeded in Plzeň, but also art. Its cultivated society, of which a significant part was formed by the large Jewish community, invited to Plzeň acclaimed architects, led by the world-renowned Adolf Loos, who designed a unique group of residential interiors here. The most important Plzeň phenomenon of the modern era, however, was the theatre, not just classical but particularly marionette, whose tradition continues today at the Alfa Theatre and the Puppet Museum.
The city’s promising development was unfortunately interrupted by the Second World War, during which Plzeň lost much of its Jewish population. Therefore it was with great fanfare in 1945 that Pilseners welcomed their liberators from the U.S. Army, who enjoyed their arrival in this city known for beer and beautiful girls with all the glory that went with it. Just like other large Czech cities, however, Plzeň began to breath new life again only after 1989. Reconstruction was done in the historical centre and the ring of parks surrounding it, and Plzeň has once again become one of the most beautiful cities in the country. It attracts its visitors not only for its famous beer but also because of its cultural tradition. Due to its rich history and also new projects, Plzeň will become a European Capital of Culture in 2015. Come and see for yourselves why the city has earned this honour.