Kde domov muj?
www.lobkovi.cz is under construction
My father, Albert de Ridder, born in Biarritz in 1918 and died in Namur in 2003, was a Belgian subject. My mother was Ludmila Lobkowicz, daughter of Prince Ferdinand-Joseph Lobkowicz, born and died in Prague (1922-1952).
My parents met at the first Student Congress in Prague shortly after the second world war and married in Geneva in 1947, where my father worked at the United Nations Office.
I was born in Geneva in 1948, and my sister Magdalena in Prague, Bubenec in 1949. After the Prague Coup of 1948, my mother took the decision to join her parents to support them in their ordeal. Her brother Zdenek took the same decision and returned from London where he was studying.
Hence between 1948 and 1951 we lived at the Lobkowicz Palais (Jirska 3).
My sister, because of lung problems, stayed more in the countryside at Lobkovice, until the death of our mother at the age of thirty. We had just been expelled, again, from the apartment in Hradcanske namesti, which had been given as a substitute for our Lobkowicz Palais home.
My father managed to take us out of the country in 1952 and then started what we later called our "European Tour". He had the triple objective of finding a new home, a new meaning to his life and the creation of his life's ambition, the "Europe of Youth", modelled by a self sufficient entity run by young people from all backgrounds and corners of Europe, preferably in Trieste, a central and then a relatively autonomous territory.
The tour took us to Austria, Trieste, Germany, Belgium, France to finally land in Switzerland (1955) where my sister and I have spent our young years and did our secondary studies. My sister took art at a Belgian Academy and I graduated in UK in Marine Studies, which eventually enabled me to work as a (civilian) submarine designer and operator.
After working seven years at the Piccard Foundation for the Studies and Preservation of the Oceans and Lakes in Switzerland, I created a computer company and although it was a small business it was in full expansion when the Prague Velvet Revolution changed the course of my life. I tried for a while to keep one foot in each country, but that soon proved unfeasible and I moved to Prague for good.
My father had wished I took studies that would be compatible with the role, according to him, I should always be prepared to take. Even Philosophy was far better than Maritime Studies. He had always claimed, even during the most improbable days when the Soviet had the strongest grip on its satellites - and was considered a dreamer for that - that families last longer than regimes, and that the communist would collapse one day.
His prediction turned out to be correct and realized even faster than he had anticipated. What he meant by being prepared for that event was not taking back our old privileges as an undue inheritance - that was how revolutions were made - but to bring our contribution to the achievements of our predecessors.
As I came to grips with the realities of the restitution process, then the management of the devastated properties, I realized I better had studied agronomy, and civil engineering, and law, and plumbing, and diplomacy, and history, and web designing, and even, during the most exasperating times, that typical Bohemian technique called "defenestration"!
Wherever we lived, we always kept our past in memory. Our absent mother above all. We always had hanging on our walls some pictures of Ludmila and her brother Zdenek, of our grandmother "Babicka" and our grandfather Ferdinand which we disrespectfully and incorrectly called "Babicek". Also the pictures of our homes: the Lobkowicz Palace at the Prague Castle, Lobkovice, the manor which gave it's name to my mother's family 600 years ago, Lcovice, and other dwellings of our ancestors, Bilina, Vysoky Chlumec... In our living room, there was always that thick album of sepia views of Prague.
I can honestly say we were never bitter for having been dispossessed of what we had. We knew it was history. We even wanted to believe it was made to re-establish social justice. After a few difficult years, we managed to live very happily in one of the most beautiful regions of the Earth, the Swiss Alps bordering Lake Leman. In 1973 we went to Prague, invited by the Belgian Embassy to sort out some issues of remaining movable properties that the Czechoslovak State hadn't managed to confiscate. The Prague we saw was not the Prague we had in memory. "Sadness and pervasive oppression" is not enough to describe our sentiment.