Czechs and Sudeten Germans in disagreement over Carlsbad Wafer status


You open the pack and you're greeted with the sweet smell of butter, vanilla, and caramel. I'm talking about the Czech Republic's famed Karlovarske Oplatky or Carlsbad Wafers. Thin wafers filled with crushed almonds, sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon that also come in various other flavours like chocolate, caramel and lemon.

The Czech Republic has now applied for Protective Designation of Origin (PDO) status, which is given by the European Commission to products manufactured uniquely in a specific geographical area. In other words, if granted this status, any company producing wafers outside the West Bohemian region would not be allowed to name them "Carlsbad Wafers".

But are the original Carlsbad Wafers truly Czech? The Wetzel Wafer and Waffle Factory in the German town of Dillingen has built its entire existence around the famous delicacy for the last sixty years. The recipe was brought to Bavaria by Marlene Wetzel-Hackspacher, an ethnic German from the Carlsbad region, whose family was forced to leave Czechoslovakia just after the Second World War, during the mass expulsion of the Sudeten German minority. Her cause is supported in Brussels by Bernd Posselt, an MEP for the German Group of the European People's Party (Christian Democrats) and the European Democrats. Mr Posselt is also head of the largest organisation representing Sudeten Germans, the Sudeten German Landsmannschaft:

"The Carlsbad Wafers were produced by Sudeten German bakers - small bakeries - in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries in Carlsbad and the whole surrounding region. After the Second World War, they had to leave their home and start again with the production of their specialty in Bavaria or Austria. Now somebody is trying to take over the name only for products made in the Czech Republic. So the tradition that they have kept very intensively is endangered and I am trying to defend them."

But Prague argues that the PDO status for the Carlsbad Wafer is imperative, in order to promote and guarantee quality produce. It also notes that the real recipe includes the region's spring water. Jan Tamycha is from the Brussels office of the Czech Christian Democrat MEP, Jan Brezina, who is among those engaged in promoting the regional character of Czech foods:

"The special spring water from the Carlsbad spa is being used and this is in fact the main point, in our view, because it's what makes the Carlsbad Wafer a special and specific product. That is the circumstance that differentiates the wafers from the Carlsbad region from the wafers produced in Germany. Our main argument is that it is not possible to consider the historic perspective of this issue - the transfer of German nationals from Czechoslovakia - because the EU regulation concerning PDOs doesn't mention at all that the historical perspective should be taken into account."

In all, the Czech Republic has requested PDO status for 35 products, also including the very smelly Moravian cheese, Olomoucke tvaruzky, and hops from the town of Zatec. It could take months or even years before the European Commission decides which products will be granted the Protective Designation of Origin. Concerning the Carlsbad Wafers, Mr Posselt hopes the Czechs and Germans will eventually come to a compromise:

"We shouldn't use this question to create trouble or to fight against each other. It's a common tradition and we should keep this tradition for Czechs and Sudeten Germans. But I think that we should protect the old recipes and ask for high quality standards. That's important; not just the place where it is produced. It's a common heritage and it was a tragic history that we all had - the Czechs and the Sudeten Germans - in the 20th century. But now we should live together and eat our common wafers together."