16-03-2001

Five tons of gold, heaps of diamonds, close to 1,000 boxes of precious art objects, porcelain, German, Hungarian and Belgium gold reserves and Nazi documents which would be of immense historic value - such is the Stechovice treasure which has been inspiring and eluding treasure hunters in the Stechovice region since the end of WWII.

The story of the "Stechovice Tresure" is believed to be more than just folklore. The triangle of hilly territory between the Vltava river, Bensov and Sedlcany was a heavily guarded military zone in the years of the Nazi occupation and there is reason to believe that the mentioned objects which never came to light after the defeat of Nazi Germany are buried somewhere in the area. In the communist years the secret service, the interior ministry and the defense ministry were all involved in a state- coordinated project to unearth the treasure. After the 1989 revolution individuals could officially join in as well, although some had secretly been trying their luck for years. Among the most determined is Helmut Gensel, a Czech-American of German origin who has done a lot of research and puts the value of the treasure at around two billion US dollars. He himself has already spent 2 million dollars trying to locate it. At 67, Mr. Gensel is not ready to give up, but his funds are fast drying out and sponsors are no longer willing to listen to his arguments. The other determined treasure hunter is Josef Muzik -a 53 year old Czech "sometimes a rival sometimes an ally of Gensels'" as Pravo Magazine puts it . Muzik has put all his assets into the search although most of his funds came from private sponsors. Having spent twenty million crowns -with nothing much to show for it- he too is having serious problems acquiring funds. But, like Gensel, he insists that he is "very close now". Just a few more million, some more permits from the authorities and several weeks more of excavation work... Neither man is willing to let go of this dream and they are convinced that before they leave this world they will feast their eyes on the glitter of gold and diamonds buried by the Nazis. In spite of this conviction each year their activity is reduced, and there are signs that after five decades twilight will settle over the Stechovice treasure and people will give up their search for it. Yet too many things point to the fact that one day -when we least expect it- someone will accidentally stumble across it. And even now treasure hunters in the region work under constant surveillance from the state authorities and the media. Whenever there is the slightest sign of possible success - a cavern or unexpected geological findings the place is swarming with cars, policemen, helicopters and journalists. Obviously not only Gensel and Muzik believe that it is only a question of time before the Earth yields this treasure... but, before you reach for your shovel I should warn you that not everyone is convinced that the treasure lies on Czech territory. The Poles claim it could be hidden near Gdansk, the Germans in the vicinity of Durynsk, Dresden or possibly Berlin... Few people who come to the Czech Republic refuse a shot of Becherovka - a liqueur that is a traditional Czech export article and a hot favourite of the Czech Prime Ministers'. Yet, according to Tyden magazine this particular item of the family silver is becoming slightly tarnished. The Becher company is going through hard times, due to what the magazine describes as poor management, a protracted privatization process and lack of a consistent marketing strategy. There is no question at all that Becherovka's strongest rival Pilsen's Fernet Stock has uprooted its position on the home market. Fernet Stock now has a third of the liqueur market while Becherovka has trouble retaining its 13 percent. While Fernet Stock launched a powerful "macho" ad campaign that worked wonders for sales, Becherovka remained "anyone's drink" a liqueur with a long tradition but no target group. Becherovka officials admit that this was a big mistake - and the fact that Fernet Stock's new citrus brand pushed it from second to third place on the liqueur ladder confirms it. Becherovka has had to lower production since it has large amounts of liqueur on stock which it has been unable to sell, and its sales department is busy trying to find foreign buyers. When Salb bought Becherovka shares it promised broad access to world markets - an estimated forty countries to which Becherovka could export. Three years later it has yet to deliver on this promise and the once leading Czech liqueur maker is having to rely on countries where the drink has a long-standing reputation. Slovakia and Germany are traditionally good clients and the Becherovka sales department is investing great hopes in Russia, Poland and Hungary. Especially in Russia which is capable of consuming over a million litres of Becherovka annually. Another negative factor that has led to Becherovka's decline is a series of court battles over who rightly owns the trademark. Zdenek Hoffman, claims that his grandfather received the trademark and secret Becher recepy as a gift from Alfred Becher himself . At first he wanted money. Following a series of court cases he is now determined to wipe out the present Becher company and set up his own business. Whatever the outcome of that dispute, it is already clear that it would take a minor sales miracle to bring Becher back to its former glory... And finally, Mlady Svet reports on the pride of the Czech capital, the Charles Bridge, which is said to be in dire need of repair. There is no danger to public safety since the static of the bridge is not effected but millions of tiny cracks in the stone construction of the bridge require major re-construction without delay. Transport - which way back included cars and trams, as well as a steady steam of tourists across the famous bridge day in day out have taken their toll and according to experts - the later the reconstruction takes place the less of the original material can be saved. The reconstruction has been planned since 1997 but due to a lack of funds it has been repeatedly postponed. Now engineers and construction workers are ringing alarm bells-and there is continuing controversy as to whether the 400 million crowns will come from state coffers or whether private sponsors and public donations should help to finance the restoration of this national treasure. Another point of controversy is whether the bridge should be closed to the public during the entire reconstruction process or whether movement across the bridge should merely be restricted while it takes place. The former would be a grave disappointment to the thousands of tourists who come to Prague every year - but tourist agencies are already racking their brains as to how to make visitors' stay in the city of a hundred spires more exciting - allegedly one of the plans in the pipeline is night-time tours of haunted places - something which even Prague born city dwellers would not scoff at. So it's just a matter of taste - whether you want to see St. Vaclav by day or the headless rider by night. Prague will always have a great deal to offer...

 

16-03-2001