As our trip winds down to the last days, we enjoyed our final hours in Prague before departing for Leipzig. Our tour guide led us through the museum of Communism where we learned about the history of the Soviet occupation in Czechoslovakia. Part of the display was dedicated to the Stalin monument in Prague. It was controversial and forced. It was not popular and the artist behind the statue and his wife committed suicide before the official unveiling as they were unhappy with their contribution to Stalin. Eventually the statue was destroyed once Stalin’s brutal crimes were exposed.
Of particular interest to our group, we learned more about collectivization – the elimination of privately held farmland. This movement forced farmers to give up their privately held land for the collective. The Communists forced this by using violence and hateful propaganda campaigns against wealthy farmers. By 1960 the majority of agricultural land was under the management of collective farms. Later in the blog we will describe what this was like for a farmer we met with along our way to Leipzig.
Another significant incident we learned about was the devaluation of the Czech currency in 1953. It is shocking to believe that people’s life savings were reduced overnight without any warning. This was another example of suppression by the communist party.
Prague spring in 1968 gave people hope because it started to increase freedoms of speech but was quickly struck down by the Soviet Union. Our tour guide Alena gave us an overview of her experience through the transition from communism to democracy. We wanted to know how their society was able to distinguish that there was a world outside of communism and that there were other options. She noted a trip she took as a child to a part of west Germany where she saw that there were major differences in societies and the types of media sources that they knew were most trustworthy as some of the main reasons it was known that there were better options than communism.
The conversation about impacts of communism continued on the bus through a critical thinking discussion. Vaclav Havel was the former president from 1989 to 2003 leading Czechoslovakia out of communism. He was very popular and came from a wealthier family. He served in the military but wrote a play during his service and got removed from military due to the satirical nature of the piece. His dissidence throughout the years earned him about four years of jail time altogether. He did not set out to be a leader but continued to speak out against communism earning him the role.
Once on the bus we headed towards our first stop, an organic farm in Dresden, Germany. We were greeting by Claus Probst, one of several family members involved in the vertically integrated enterprise. We started the tour in the farmer’s kitchen enjoying home-cooked Solyanka soup, while Mr. Probst shared with us their family’s very interesting history. The Probst family history goes back to 120 years ago when his great grandfather started farming the very ground that they farm today. Subsequent to WWII the property was reappropriated by the Soviet communist party and made part of the former “cooperative”. During this time, the family traveled as refugees to west Germany, leaving behind the farming life for a more promising future.
In 1991, the family returned to the newly liberated area of Germany and was successful in purchasing the farm back (approximately 96 acres) from the government. Since then, the family has expanded its operations to include the production of wheat, peas, potatoes, peaches, quince, apricots, apples, and tomatoes on roughly 800 acres. In addition the family raises livestock including sheep, cattle, pigs, and chickens and has a small butcher and milking facility. The family has developed a well known organic brand that is sold in their 14 local supermarkets. Listening to Claus discuss his experiences in his business sounded very familiar to our own. The European Union has imposed a very progressive agenda on the European farming industry, and although it provides market access, stability, and subsidies, the EU poses many controversial policies that are lamented over by the farming community. Claus expressed a very recognizable passion for his family’s business, discussing the value of resilience, economics, diversification, working with family, estate planning, and much more. The agricultural land that we have observed from the bus windows has consisted primarily of low value unirrigated crops such as wheat and grain corn. It appears that there is much untapped opportunity in the countries of Poland and Germany that will eventually be further developed to meet the inevitable demand for food as the worlds population grows. We wish the Probst family all the best in their future endeavors.
When we arrived in Leipzig we had a meeting with Dr. Markus Urban, an expert on the Nuremberg Trials. He published a guide book, The Nuremberg Trials: A Short Guide. He explained the importance of the trial and how Nazi officials were held accountable. It was an opportunity for the allied forces to come together and seek justice for the crimes committed during World War II. This trial was a true show of solidarity amongst the allied forces. It set forth several guiding principals for international court trials.
Our day ended with a delicious dinner at Thuringer Hof. Where we dined on pumpkin cream soup, filled vegetable and potato pillows with fresh zucchini and herb mushrooms in a cress cream sauce.
One thought on “Day 10 – Communist Museum, Farm Tour, Leipzig”
How much if the farmland is still owned by the government? Did “original” farm owners were given priority to buy their land back or was it sold to the highest bidder after the collapse of the Soviet Union