Old iron bridge played Cold War role
The making of a Hollywood war film in Davle provided fodder for invasion rumors
Posted: August 21, 2013
Most people, when they head from Prague to relax at the dam at Slapy, skip right past the small town of Davle. But Davle has one claim to fame, and it happened 45 years ago this summer. The Old Davle Bridge was being used as the main location for the Hollywood war film The Bridge at Remagen. A heavily faded sign, reduced to black, blue and white by years of sunlight, is one of the few reminders of the story. A small stopover gives you a chance to examine a forgotten piece of Cold War history.
August 1968 was also the time of the Soviet-led Warsaw-pact invasion of Czechoslovakia, which shut filming down and forced the production to build a replica of the bridge near Rome so they could finish. But there is more to it. The film became a propaganda pawn in the big Cold War chess game.
The producers had hoped to film in Germany, but found that it was impossible due to the amount of commercial shipping on the Rhine. They thought they had lucked out when they learned of the possibility of shooting in Czechoslovakia.
Filming began in June. The project, which used U.S. tanks, heavy artillery and, of course, actors in U.S. Army uniforms, was controversial from the start, though. Actor Robert Vaughn, who played a Nazi officer in the film, gives an account in his memoir A Fortunate Life. "In that time of excitement tinged with anxiety, even our movie got caught up in the political intrigue. One Czech newspaper still parroting the party line wrote that we [who were making the film] were actually agents of the CIA, in Czechoslovakia to support the prodemocracy insurgents," he wrote. "Another national newspaper ran the screaming headline 'American Tanks and Troops Have Entered Prague,'" he added.
Vaughn goes on to explain the paranoid theory. The production of a war film was just an excuse for the West to place guns, tanks and other military equipment near Prague, so the West could undertake a Vietnam-style invasion in Central Europe. The actors were all secretly military advisers waiting for their cue.
Even before the Soviet invasion, there were rumors the production would be shut down and there would be an investigation into the "real" reason behind bringing in a column of outdated American tanks that had been borrowed from Austria. No evidence of any CIA involvement in the film has ever been uncovered, and anyone involved in the production who has ever commented on the topic has called it ludicrous.
But the longstanding rumors that the Soviet invasion was in response to some American provocation or to stop some American plot to seize the country can be partly traced to the prop tanks and artillery guns that surrounded the little iron bridge in Davle in August 1968.
Local people in Davle were initially suspicious of the production as well, but for a different reason. Vaughn recounts his entrance to the town. "I made my first appearance at the Remagen Bridge location. As I exited the vintage car … I noticed some of the middle-aged locals, who'd been watching with great excitement and laughter suddenly go silent. In a moment I realized why. I was dressed in the uniform of a major in the German Wehrmacht. The Czechs were horrified," he said. After some explanation about how films are made, though, the local residents calmed down.
For a day trip to see the bridge, Davle is easy to reach. Buses run frequently from Smíchovské nádraží and Na Knížecí. Trains go from Hlavní nádraží, and while this takes longer and is more expensive, it allows you to bring your bike. Riding by bike is also an option, though there are some steep hills if you want to avoid the fairly busy road by the river.
Now, a modern reinforced concrete bridge- the Vltavan Bridge, built 100 meters down the river in 1991 - serves as the main connection between Davle and Sazava, the town across the river. The old bridge, built in 1905 with a span of 141 meters, now has a wooden walkway much narrower than can be seen in the film due to a renovation. It is used by the occasional cyclist or pedestrian but is too narrow for cars.
The film also has stone towers by the bridge's entry and exit. Those were props to make it look more like the real Remagen Bridge, which no longer exists.
If you watched the 1969 film, the geography will immediately become puzzling. During the battle scenes, there seems to be a substantial town, while Davle is just some private homes on a hillside. The battle was filmed in Most, north Bohemia. The buildings being blown up are actually the old buildings of Most being destroyed to facilitate coal mining.
The majority of Davle is on the left bank of the Vltava. Aside from the bridge there are a handful of sights. The small Chapel of the Visitation of the Virgin Mary is a typical example of Baroque architecture. A stone memorial to the fallen soldiers from World War I is across the street.
A larger church, dedicated to St. Kilían, is at the very south edge of the town. It is unusual, because instead of a cross on top of the main tower, there is the statue of a saint. It is the only church dedicated to St. Kilían in the country, according to the Davle website. Across from this church you can see an island in the Vltava. There are remnants of a monastery on the island, but no way to reach it without a boat.
Back in the main part of Davle, a statue built in 2008 commemorates the swimming society Vltavan, which was established there in 1897. The group also took care of the widows and orphans, and provided the town with social activities. It still exists, but is of less importance than it once was. The statue is rough stones and concrete, shaped into something that looks like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters. It is meant to vaguely remind people of the French-style uniforms the Vltavans wore in their heyday.
For lunch, Davle has a microbrewery at Hotel v Pivovaře, which has a brewing history going back to 1901. Outside the building, a plaque states that the Vltavan association was founded there.
The hotel makes several beers, ranging from 11- to 17-degree, that you can buy in 1.5 liter plastic bottles. The current offering includes cherry and ginger flavored beers, as well as a traditional lager and dark beer. On tap, there is usually just one Davelské pivo plus Gambrinus and Plzeňský Prazdroj. The food - a standard array of Czech favorites - is quite good for the price.
The first mention of Davle is in the year 999, when a Benedictine monastery dedicated to John the Baptist was established. The Church of St. Kilían also dates to about this time, although it has had many renovations since then. The head of John the Baptist serves as the town's shield and can be seen on a few signs and plaques around the area.
On the right bank the Vltava, just down from crossing the bridge, you can find a pub called Remagen next to the train station, but the food there is nothing special.
From there, the red-marked hiking path offers a nice walk or bike ride along the Sázava River, eventually letting you cross over into the village of Pikovice on the arrowhead-shaped peninsula between the Vltava and Sázava rivers. The area has a small chateau and several nature trails into the steep woods. Exiting the peninsula from the south side puts you back on the route to Slapy.
From the Remagen pub by bike, if you follow the bike path signs up the hill and along the main road, you can get to Jílové u Prahy, a pretty town with a few sights, or back toward Prague through Vrané nad Vltavou.
You can also head straight to Slapy from Davle by bike on the main road that runs along the river on the left bank, but it has quite a bit of traffic.
Raymond Johnston can be reached at