Polná na Šumavě: independent life in a former Czech military zone

Polná na Šumavě, photo: Petra Benešová / Czech Radio

Before the Velvet Revolution, the picturesque southern Bohemian village of Polná na Šumavě, like others within the 22,000 hectares comprising the Boletice military training zone, was strictly off limits to most civilians. But a decade ago, the military began excluding populated areas from the vast no-go zone. Czech Radio recently visited Polná na Šumavě to get a sense of what life is like in such reborn villages.

Polná na Šumavě, photo: Petra Benešová / Czech Radio
Back in 2011, the Ministry of Defence began the so-called optimisation of the Boletice military area – which for a time was a candidate to host a US anti-missile base. But only a few years ago, Polná na Šumavě and the surrounding verdant rolling hills were still off-limits to the general population. As of January 2016, the restricted status of the village was finally lifted.

Dušan Hanzlík, mayor of Polná na Šumavě recalls what life in the zone was like.

“Unfortunately, back in those days you needed a permit from the regional, or rather interior office. You had to be screened in some fashion, of course, and needed a good reason to pass through, such as for work. The transit permits were good for only a year, I think. You had to renew them every year.”

Once the soldiers moved out, ordinary people began moving in to the region – though hardly in droves. Fewer than 50 people live in Polná na Šumavě proper, some 150 live in the incorporated village of Květušín, just to the south. Here and there, such as in settlements like Olšina and Otice, are a handful of year-round residents – the rest are ‘Chalupáři’ – owners of holiday cottages.

Among the new arrivals is Zuzana Hněvkovská, who lives in Květušín.

“I’ve been here for a year, and life is beautiful. I moved from a big town because it’s too crowded; everyone is in a rush. I have a car to get around, as does my boyfriend, and you can always find work. Here, there’s peace and quiet, and I'm glad I found such a village – even if some say it’s a little hole in the ground.”

Polná na Šumavě, photo: Miloš Hlávka, CC BY-SA 4.0
The Šumava region certainly is beautiful. But carving out a life in the newly independent villages and towns formerly in the Boletice military training zone is not without challenges, says Mayor Hanzlík.

“We started practically from scratch. We got some buildings from the Czech Army, about 116 hectares of forest land and 80 hectares of open fields and grassland… We have water now and basic infrastructure, more or less.”

Once known as Stein im Böhmerwalde, the village was part of a thriving farming community before the Second World War, then half a ghost town for six decades – the original inhabitants were expelled from Czechoslovakia along with millions of other Sudeten Germans.

Not all of the later inhabitants of the Boletice zone wanted it to become an independent entity – about 40 percent had voted to remain a part of it, as the government paid out compensation for the inconvenience.

But Mayor Hanzlík, for one, says independence feels great – noting that now Polná na Šumavě can even compete for Village of the Year.