Richard Ozanne

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St Louis

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"The Austrian Incident/ A night of Hell in Southern Bohemia" 


Date Range: 03/03/1999 To 03/03/1999   Comments: 0   Views: 4,658
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I Carry...

Ich trage”

Richard Ozanne c 1999

    This story is true;. It is a journal entry from my travels in Central Europe early spring 1999. Never could I have believed it, nor was this supposed to happen. I would not have believed it as it happened, half contorted pages from another time altogether. Perhaps time does not  change,in some way,  but the spirit of people ever do, hopefully to rid themselves to the past haunting and ideologies. Hopefully for good! I hope to never see this, but I did. My words during this incident were: “...I traveled back”  But I didn’t. Hopefully “ freedom, liberty and justice” prevail. But this is only a note of my witness to a dark perspective that happened by accident  in foreign lands and free lands. My apologies in advance for...telling it as the mindset ‘is’, but not all mindsets, just those harbingers of nightmares, into the realm which we must protect against!
I Carry” is a story, a journal note of perspective...

Journal Entry Mach 30:
Winter into Spring in 1999 I was busy. I was a teacher, an assistant professor (adjunct) to Charles University of Prague as a expat American.
I had been living in Prague for a time now and this was my home for a time. It was different than America, far different if one may add. Creature comforts were often a call away from what we may assume. My personal comfort was unique. I had made my world here in a good size apartment, and there was work for me, enough to live and appeal existence in a better way...
These were the good times in Prague. There was plenty to be had.

It was the evening of this day that I had made plans to travel again. My visa was just about up, and a mark had to be made on my passport as formal working visas were being prepared this year for my “Prukaz”, the green card for Czech Republic. Next month I would have this and no more 3 month periods would be marked with having to travel to get a stamp to stay here. For all intensive purposes the free capital of cultural Europe was my home in Prague. Through the grape-vine this had been voted the cultural capital for a period. I was to stay.

I called Poland and the city of Katrovice Poland to visit a friend on this day. The picture of travel was set in my head for departure on the “Fredrick Chopin” a train that left in the evening with a destination Warsaw. I knew this train from at least five trips previous. It was a short trip to Katrovice. My plans were to travel, spend a day and return to Prague the next day.

Somehow there was a strange encounter. I had an argument with a friend, promoter, because he needed for me to connect with an associate that evening in Dresden Germany, another alternative to my plans which left me confused. It was something to do with an exhibition in Dresden and the trip would last 3 days,had not been prepared and could have been done by phone  (or even e-mail) instead of a visit. He thrust alternatives in my face, being belligerent at times. We had a short meeting over coffee and the huff was settled in the atmosphere of cordiality as always.

Sparka, another friend of my associate had another suggestion. She wanted me to visit a gallery in Austria for an open possibility-opportunity  in the city of Freistat. All were equal distant cities from Prague.
My girlfriend introjected. Since it was a beautiful lady who was my associate in Katrovice (but a non-involvement), she was jealous if I chose Poland. Dresden German was a sad place and somewhat boring, but a day trip for midnight turnaround.
Freistat on the other hand, at least in her mind was the best choice. I could leave after my classes ended at Charles University and travel via Cesky Budejovice, landing in Freistat Austria in the evening and make my possibilities happen on a cordial note without a jealous atmosphere. It was done. The re-planning and decision was made.

It was around 3:30 when I caught my train to Cesky Budejovice.
I had traveled this route at least a couple of dozen times in the past and knew the train stops like clockwork as well as the territory.
I would go through at the border of Summerau into Austria and make Freistat from there.
Three hours were spent in my 1st class cabin, all my belongings, nothing but my teaching books from school and a portfolio. I always traveled light on these small jaunts, still wearing my starched white shirt and tie from class but having my stiff leather coat to keep warm as the weather was cold, yet at sometime in the future spring seemed in the air...not on this particular day unfortunately.

The wind picked up in Cesky Budejovice, grabbing a bite to eat off the train and returning to my
compartment in short order for a brief change to the train to Summerau-Freistat.
I had my favorites on this route. In the future I would live in Cesky Krumlov. At this point though, pending my Prukaz I was still bound by 3 month visas and long waiting periods...the rules as a foreign resident with papers being processed.

I was tired. I looked tired. It was a Friday after work, and it had been hectic. I sank into the red velvet coach seat and fell fast asleep as the train left the station for the next stop Summerau, the border crossing with Austria.

Kindly spirits were with me as I viewed the beautiful countryside crossing from Prague on this trip. So it seemed. The weather was fair. Someone spoke of snow, and rough weather, but this did’ nt change my mind for this venture as the sun began sunk into late afternoons boarding of the Austrian bound train, the sky filled with clouds, no worries binding me for I had done this trip before.
I sank into an all to pleasant warmth near the window and fell asleep, my bag tied to me with strap, containing little more than a few documents, my portfolio at my feet and then the all too worn camera inside...
I began to dream of the fresh countryside in Spring of lower Bohemia and was looking towards this as my eyes fell shut, the train making its slow departure and tickets initially shown for the outward venture...
That was that, the same, the usual.

The next stop...Summerau.

Photo: Summerau Austria, in the Snow....

It was usually a few minutes before clearing customs and passports in Summerau. I experienced this previously.
Suddenly the coach was in a racket. I looked outside and there were several men dressed in camouflage and khaki checking tickets and passports. I proceeded to bring mine out, showed it and the document was stamped with no problems. I relaxed a bit. All of a sudden another racket lit the coach with some yelling as people were brought out to the platform. I stepped into the corridor and watched out the window.
Nothing of my concern...” past through my mind, “...this was some kind of Austrian thing”
No Czech Police were seen, all Austrian border patrol.
I returned to my seat and sat back comfortably...
You!” there came a voice from the corridor, “Passport!!”
It was more of what they called “The Control..”
You!!!” the voice shouted at me, “Move here, out to the corridor...” the voice demanded, “Off the train...Move!”. He had my passport and train ticket in his hand.
I asked him in English and in German, “ What Gives? What is going on...” in a polite way.
But he was not so polite in his rifle to the platform, and his associate moving in right behind him suddenly.
Passport is Not Valid!” he grunted in his stiff Austrian accent. I contradicted him, and showed him the validation on my American passport.
No! He shouted” and flipped through my passport in a unsympathetic way, “You wait!”
I tried to confirm. It was unfortunately very meaningless. He talked in German as fast as he could, and his English was blocky and charged with an anti sentiment. “American?” He ”questioned. “What state? Where are you from? What are you doing in Czech Republic?!!”
A group of Czech officers (border patrol) past and kind of rolled their eyes at the incident that seemed not too difficult but augmented second by second.
The train gave its boarding call. I was called to the police station for questioning.
Now these things happen to all travelers if they had been abroad at one time or another.
I was use to this hassle. I had been to Western Europe when it was divided and had crossed to the East. This was the kind of hassle that I had seen on several occasions with my father a long time problem really, just a hassle...only it was the last train to Fristat  that evening, definitely creating a problem.
I sat at the police station and answered questions, seemingly repeatedly, giving more answers than useful and also bringing out extra identification drivers license.
Truly there should not have been a problem. Now I had four Austrian guards around me and was explaining a very simple story. It should have been. They confiscated my bags, went through them,riffling around and asked my job, where I lived in Prague etc. It seemed to heighten the conviction that I was some kind of international military, on his way to Serbia.
Could I say I was not Serbian...or that I could not drive a tank? (tank meaning military machine not a tank truck as listed on my Arizona Drivers license--under restrictions. Was I restricted from driving a tank (truck) or ‘restricted’ to drive a tank. This was nonsense of the highest variety!!
This was getting hairy. I asked to see the commandant, the commander....Chief. It only made matters worse as they cross questioned me and turned my pockets inside out in a search for something, anything to make them right, and my innocent soul...wrong.
The sun began to set outside as I was forced to sit in this room, a coal stove to keep it warm while they walked about, questioned me again and made statements, apparently to make me angry.
This temperament. I know it well, I said to myself.
It was an hour at least that had passed before I started to become quite nervous at the way I was being treated.
Suddenly I was taken from the train police station to “Central” via a car, two border guards one either side, no one speaking English.
I was thrust into a mustard colored room filled with the same and the “Chief’s” office,cluttered with paper on one end, reminding me of Gestapo headquarters...and with the same treatment. I sat, and for another hour was cross questioned and taken to a holding room in which I was guarded by a very simple uniformed officer that spoke broken English with a heavy accent. He had a TV and in his simplicity had on the screen a video of “Mission Impossible”, insisting that I watched it, poking fun at the American actor, in some vain glory.
When I had to use the restroom they assigned me some guard to observe me. When I became insulted and make demands, for these actions it was turned the other way, flip side before three hours past and I could demand that an official speak to me regarding what was going on.
Yes..I entered the office and he questioned, and insulted my intelligence, my being American...bringing the question that, “Was I a foreign tank commander coming into Austria?”
The time was now 11 pm, and I considered myself ‘under arrest’ for something.
I stormed into the Commandants office and demanded answers as to why I was being held.
I looked at my passport on the table. It was cut up, in each page it was shredded, in pieces.
He looked at me dead straight in the eyes and said, “This is no good any longer...” after mutilating my passport...and then, this was not the end to it.
I made a demand..
Call the US Embassy (which I had association with and listed contacts and phone numbers) “Contact the US Vienna Embassy! Notify them I am being detained...” I held, in a direct ascension to the problem I was facing..
The “Commandant” could not hold, and was piecing my passport together on his desk in a simple minded manner. It was in shreds, paper split from its binding.
That American Property!!...Not my own!!” I directed, as he floundered in his bureaucratic way towards the phone, as two border guards came into the room to inspect the situation.
Have a seat...Relax” he said. “Call Vienna, I’m now considering myself under arrest and being detained for no reason!!” I instructed.
He floundered and then tossed in a casual manner my passport across his desk.
Well we have no reason to hold you...” he confirmed, “You can go...”
It was now 11:30 in the night, freezing cold and beginning to rain outside.
Please take me to the station!” I pleaded. “No train till morning...” he responded, then clicked his fingers and one of the officers came forth. He whispered in his ear.
You want to go back to Czech...we will drive you” he responded,  after needs for a hotel were made a concern.
I looked into the night out of the barred and gray windows onto a gravely gray landscape of asphalt heading off into blackness.
There was a confab initiated by one of the border guards who was beginning to make trouble. It ceased and they all tumbled into a police car, hoping to make it to the border at Summerau.
I looked out of the window in a freezing cold landscape. I was unprepared.
The car was heading down the road another direction from the Summerau station.
Its closed” the commandant answered after a question why we were headed down an adjacent highway away in the opposite direction from the border. Minutes past. “Where are we going?” I questioned.
The open border station at...Ruznick”
I didn’t understand. This was a fifteen minute drive, evidently the long way around “The road is closed because of ice...” the driver-officer reported.
We stopped outside the security zone of the Czech border in dim light. “There you go...Czech. Go now!” the officer said in a heated way, I trying to get their identification numbers without results...The four border guards fell in behind me as I walked away into the dreadful night which was pitching the message of snow...

I lent a copy of my passport while walking through the inspection area in the car lane, the only portal open. There were few cars passing tonight, a lone inspector looked at me, stamped what was left of my passport, and looked off into the distance at the line of Austrian border guards.
They got you too...” he commented under his breath.
Welcome to Czech Republic, we will love you here...” he said in a typical. Czech sarcasm which seemed friendly...
As I passed through the ice was slick under my feet. The snow began to drop heavily into the night with  heavy mercury lights paving a path ahead as I left the Grenza, this on the happy side of that border.
This is not the end, only the beginning.
The footsteps were slick as the snow began to pack in, this road into Horní Dvorište packed and slick without a sidewalk, the road disappearing into blackness.
I began to feel the ache of the cold about me..My fingers were beginning to tingle and ache a bit as I squeezed them and attempted any way of keeping them warm in the falling temperatures.
I wanted “Zimmer Frei” or a hotel room.
Horní Dvorište
Looking out at the signs I was watching in anticipation for something called Hotelu and a great number of things that could mean a warm sleep tonight without freezing temperatures.
The road turned a bit and marched back a little further into a ravine that was unmarked to my left.
Time passed a bit. It was not that long before I saw a sign that I could barely translate that seemed to mean--Hotel. But it wasn’t.
I saw a nearby house and a door with lights that made me want to stop and ask a question about lodging. It looked peaceful, tranquil and warm. The snow was fleeing in drifts now as I marched up to the front door and rang the bell.
I waited.
An old woman appeared at the window shaking her finger, as I tried to communicate through the glass to her;. It was a certainly unfriendly face. She turned off the lights as a petition to answering the door.
I had seen this reaction before. This was small town paranoid stuff, same same as in many of those tiny unfriendly Midwest American towns. The world is sometimes the same no matter where you go.
My expedition went on into the night, the snow beginning to pack on my shoulders in what one could describe as sub-zero conditions. That tingling was beginning to feel awful, the tips of my fingers began to burn in contest to better environments.
I stopped under a small light that illuminated a sign nearby, and checked my wallet. I viewed precisely 200 kc Koruna cash and my credit-debit/Visa card.
I would be pushing a room for free if I had to pay cash. I didn’t expect to be in this predicament having so little and possibly no Visa device within the vicinity, unless I wanted to pay double for everything in exchange rates;.
Never the less I huffed, a cloud of cold air came from my nostrils and mouth. I shivered a bit, not having a coat that was made for this environment, so brisk and so sudden.
I saw another possibility, with another house and walked on, knocking a few times and then finding something that resembles a buzzer.
A very attractive woman came to the door. Behind her there was a nest of fiery onlookers. They invited me in. An older lady appeared with a heavy brow and uncaring face, a brutal looking lady with some latent kindness of brushing the snow off my shoulders in a welcoming manner.

She spoke English well, and observed me covered with snow. The older lady invited me in joking about a hotel in Horní Dvorište Border crossing Czech Republic.  Rather than providing directions she brought me a bottle of champagne which I did not want as the ladies gathered round like flies to  roast beef.
It was a brothel of course.
I had a three minute visit and was more happy as I left, even preferring the snow to that kind of fumigated environment where one positively didn’t really want to touch anything.
No one gave directions, nor help.
This town wasn’t even on the map, just a boarder, on  the map, ...only a border crossing!
What help was I going to find here in the dark, in the snow and freezing weather.
I walked on.
There was a bar (coffee shop) restaurant that seemed to be open, its lights too dim in the blankets of streaming snow to tell if it was still open or a welcoming place.
What was needed was a strong cup of hot, not warm coffee and something to eat,
The day had little sustenance in my stomach, except for breakfast in Prague, a sausage and eggs, and a sandwich on the train, devoured rather than eaten gently but gracefully appealed that I might find dinner in Freistat during my arrival, not considering at that point a long walk in the snowbound darkness of lower Bohemia as desert.
I could taste a good chicken schnitzel, some potatoes and a light drink of some Becherovka after the meal.
I walked quickly to the door of this mustard colored place that beckoned my stomach and greetings for a warm place to sit after a half hour of walking steadily in the snow from the border.
A face came barreling at me upon entry.
I asked if they were closed.
The face pardoned and looked rather friendly, asking me to put my jacket on the rack. He laughed. “Your covered in snow”
He smiled and walked away as I put my coat aside and brushed the snow off before clearing a brown-red curtain that separated a restaurant/bar configuration.
Several faces looked at me as I entered, some plastered with Friday night beer. About five people were present, all seemed thoroughly fixed for the night as I took a table at the far end of a wall.
The waiter came. I asked him for a menu. The kitchen was closed for meals.
I asked him for coffee and he was eager to take my order.
Three minutes passed and there came the long standing Videnska coffee that was a ritual. In the west we call it Vienna. I asked for a shot of rum in addition. Both came on a plate.
It was warm and I drank my coffee slowly, mixing in the rum to warm me.
I asked the waiter if there was a hotel open, possibility for a free room.
The waiter disappeared and returned with a guarded
A bright and sweet young lady appeared and spoke English quite well in this particular circumstance. She sat down and we conversed for a bit. My first question still being unanswered by the waiter was an abstraction. She was nice, seemingly understanding but quick, reporting that I have to go about a mile into town and then maybe...tomorrow.
I asked the way to the train station.
She didn’t really know, returned to the kitchen and came back with an answer.
Twenty Kilometers, giving hand directions in broken English.
Your walking?” she resumed. “You wont get far in this terrible cold...but I know a trail you can use out of town, about twenty minutes to the  train station”
Twenty Kilometers-Twenty minutes???
She gave me directions but I was quite confused.
“Where is Rybnick?” I questioned.
She seemed confused and gave me a poor drawing laid on a piece of paper for what looked like a daunting walk to find a trail to a train station called..
It was then when a Austrian fellow bolted across the table and offered to by beer “for his friend...”
“No Rum!!”
He bought I drank, but only one, being aware of the Czech triangle which can lay a person drunk-(Beer, Rum and another local spirits)
He was a ever so friendly kind Czech and was wondering if I was from England.
I had to make something up after this nights episode, and I snapped to a toast to England where he tanked down a beer, and got me more coffee.
“England!” he shouted, half drunk and yelling in a gregarious way.
“Where you from??” he asked again.
“England!” and there was another toast.
A voice came jutting from across the room in perfect English.
“Lucky you didnt say America!!”
A face came wandering to the table, “English or American??”
It was a rough round face with very brooding eyes, challenged by something rather dark.
“Your American?” he questioned, kind of biting under his breath.
The box of white lies came out...
“I’m Icelandic!!” I pardoned, “But I speak English very well...”
“German, Israel and Jew?” he laughed and sat down.
The first fellow shoed him away.
“Iceland!!” my friend cheered, as the other fellow went back to his table.
Two of his friends demanded that I join them while the strange fellow across the room poisoned the conversation with politics and history.
“I think hes a Jewish boy...” that fellow laughed “German? What do you know about Germany...”
It became tense as this man lectured about pride and German heritage, the second world war and England.
I matched his knowledge at  each angle....
“You are Jewish, American or Icelandic?” he went off.
I gave a toast to Iceland and Austria, brandishing my cup of coffee.
“Im glad you dont say your American...” he bullied.
“I have a friend I want you to meet whoes coming soon. He can tell who you are, or pretend to be..” he snarked.
I felt tense and began to think about a swift exit for there seemed to feel that trouble was coming.
I looked for the WC and begged pardon.
There was only one way out besides the front door and that was directly through the kitchen. I planned escape as there was a tension, I had felt this.
They had me cornered in some kind of intrigue.
I took my seat back and was relaxed for a moment. Everything seemed to clear as I planned my way out and was just going to finish my coffee and leave.

All of a sudden there came a group of men to the front door, entering and taking their tables. They were followed by ten and seem to meander around seizing all the tables. Three men stood near the front door, one in the back.

All of a sudden in a brief moment there was a tremendous draft as a car pulled up in front of the place and a short man in Khaki entered, swiftly and with a sense of thunder and lightning.

The entire pub stood and addressed him with a “Seig Heil...”

This happened three times, and he gave a counter salute, taking a center chair to a group set in the center of the restaurant. The clock read about 12:30 pm.

(The Rest of Story is to Come)

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