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Known for centuries by its German name of Eger, the old town of Cheb tickles the German border in the far west of the Czech Republic. The town has been a fixture of Bohemia since 1322 (when it was handed over to King Jan as thanks for his support of a Bavarian prince), but as you walk around the beautiful medieval square it's easy to forget you're not in Germany. The tall merchants' houses surrounding
the main square, with their long, red-tile, sloping roofs dotted with windows like droopy eyelids, are more Germanic in style than anything else in Bohemia. You will also hear a lot of German on the streets from the day-trippers coming here from across the border.
Germany took possession of the town in 1938 under the terms of the notorious Munich Agreement. Following World War II, virtually the entire German population was expelled, and the Czech name of Cheb was officially adopted. During the Cold War, Cheb suffered as a communist outpost along the heavily fortified border with West Germany. Since then, thanks to German tourist dollars, Cheb has made an obvious economic comeback. The town center, with a lovely pedestrian zone, merits a few hours of strolling.
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Karlovy Vary—often known outside the Czech Republic by its German name, Karlsbad—is the most famous of the Bohemian spas. It's named for the...