I usually visit chateaus and castles once every 10 years, but, after a seven-year interval, my trip to the north Bohemian chateau of Hrubý Rohozec was long overdo. Between 2005 and 2017, I have visited Hrubý Rohozec four times. Each time I learn so much more than merely the style of furniture in each room and the names of former owners. Every castle or chateau has its story to tell, and Hrubý Rohozec’s tales are some of the most fascinating.
The two one-hour tours are extra special because the many objects and pieces of furniture in the chateau are original thanks to the ingenuity of the last owner, Karel Bedřich Des Fours Walderode. When Bedřich knew he would lose the castle after World War II because he had German citizenship and was a member of the Sudeten German Party, he made an inventory of every item in the chateau. He tied cards to each object. Bedřich stored most of the furniture in the basement. Townspeople kept other pieces safe in their homes.
The chateau became the property of the state after the war, as was stipulated in the Beneš decrees. During Communism the chateau was placed in the second category, which meant it was occasionally open to the public. If a chateau was designated a one, it was frequently open for visitors and served as a cultural landmark. When a chateau was listed with a three, it was bad news. It meant that the interior would be torn apart, and the chateau would be used for other purposes, such as stables, a warehouse or an educational institution.
I went by car with a friend for the 2017 visit, but I recalled the last time, in the fall of 2010, when I had taken the train to the chateau. I had been surprised to find new, comfortable seats installed on the formerly dirty and grimy train. The train had filled up fast. I think I was the only one with a seat reservation, and getting one had been a wise move. The journey took an hour and 45 minutes, and the train was on time. From the station to the chateau, it had been a pleasant half hour walk along sidewalks sprinkled with golden and brown leaves that looked like a kind of autumn mosaic.
Back in 2010, I had arrived at the chateau too early for the next tour, so I had walked a bit in the English park that had originated in the second half of the 17th century and took its current appearance from the 19th century. A blanket of golden and brown leaves had covered the grass. I saw the statues of the five saints, including Saint Václav, Saint Barbara and Saint Marie. I had read that 40 kinds of wood grow in this park.
Now, in 2017, I took my time gazing at the Gothic gateway. I knew that the chateau had originated as a Gothic castle around 1300, and the Gothic construction had finished in 1516. Above the gateway of the clock tower were three coats-of-arms – one belonging to former owner Johann Krajíř from Krajek; his name was inscribed above it. The coat-of-arms to the left stood for Konrád Krajíř from Krajek, another former owner, and the one to the right symbolized the Šumperk family. I stood on what were the remains of a stone bridge. I liked the two heads looking down like gargoyles from above the gate – Konrád Krajíř was on the right, Arnošt Krajíř, his son, peered at me from the left.
I walked through the gate and into the courtyard of the four-winged building now in Empire style, the last renovation having taken place in the 19th century. I looked up at the tower clock and noticed that the hour hand was longer than the minute hand. I also noticed another figure of a head peering down below the Gothic balcony, which was decorated with various circular designs. The head belonged to Johanna Krajířová, Konrád’s wife.
Then I sat on a bench and gazed at the various styles on the exterior. There were Renaissance arcades on the lower level around me. I gazed at the Gothic gateway and the Empire style of the chateau itself. I also recalled a Baroque chapel and a Neo-Gothic dining room. During my visit in 2006, the second tour had showed off the eras from the Renaissance to Art Nouveau, but that had changed.
First, a little about the history of the chateau. Hrubý Rohozec originated around the 13th century. The Krajíř from Krajek family owned it during the 15th and 16th centuries. It came into the hands of the Wartenbergs during the 16th century, and after 1600, this clan changed it from a Gothic castle to a Renaissance chateau. During the 17th century, Jan Jiří from Wartenberg was on the losing side of the Battle of White Mountain, which took place November 8, 1620 and turned out to be the deciding battle in the Thirty Years’ War. During that conflict, the Emperor’s army and Catholics outdid the armies of the Protestant nobility. Still, Wartenberg escaped before he could be taken prisoner. The legendary military leader of the Thirty Years’ War, fighting on the Emperor’s and Catholic side, Albrecht von Wallenstein, bought the chateau in 1621. (By the way, he was murdered in the western Bohemian town of Cheb during 1633.) Wallenstein never even visited the chateau. He soon sold it to Mikuláš Des Fours, in 1628. Mikuláš had come to Bohemia as a military leader in the war. The chateau would remain in that family’s ownership until 1945.
The main altar in the chapel
The tales of the Des Four clan are fascinating. I especially liked hearing about Marie Des Fours Walderode. (In the 18th century, the family added Walderode as one of their surnames.) After studying medicine, she spent World War I helping the sick in the Balkans. Then she returned to her hometown in Moravia and treated patients for free, making house calls until she was 77 years old. During World War II, she even took care of injured American pilots whose plane had been shot down in Moravia. Marie was the first female doctor in the Czech lands to work in the countryside. She also was one of the first women to have a driver’s license. She was a woman I would have loved to have met.
A window in the chapel
After Mikuláš Vladimír Des Fours Walderode, the second to last owner, died of cancer in 1941, the chateau became the property of Karel Bedřich. Following World War II, the state confiscated the chateau. Karel Bedřich died in 2000, and there is still an ongoing debate about whether Hrubý Rohozec should be returned to the family or stay in the hands of the state.
The organ in the chapel
The chateau is now furnished according to photographs from the 1930s, when Mikuláš Vladimír, the second-to-last owner, had lived there with his wife and two sons, Ludvík and Maximilián.
The main altar
First, our group visited the Baroque chapel of the Holy Trinity. The main altar, dating from 1670, was charcoal black, accented by much gold decoration, and a painting showed the Holy Trinity in the middle. The white side altars with gold décor hailed from the Rococo era. I noticed the monk Saint Francis in the center of one of them. Next to the main altar was a reliquary with a tooth of Mikuláš Des Fours, the first owner who bought the castle back in the 17th century from the famous Wallenstein. In the back of the church was a Madonna with Child statue, the baby almost squirming out of the mother’s arms. The lavish organ still worked, too.
The Small Library
Then we headed for the two libraries. The topics of books in both libraries included military history, genealogy and Spanish history, to name a few. Plays by Shakespeare and even some 20th century works also make up the collection. The small library holds about 3,500 books. I noticed a big clock on one side table. It was decorated with gold and showed the date, month and phase of the moon as well as the time. Still functioning, it dated from the first half of the 18th century, The library was not without its secret door, either.
Allegory of a Woman’s Life
The main library, containing about 10,000 books, also served as the Des Fours portrait gallery. My two favorite paintings hung above the two doorways in this room. Painted by Jan Hartl in 1656, they were “The Allegory of a Woman’s Life” and “The Allegory of a Man’s Life.” In “The Allegory of a Woman’s Life,” 12 women ascended and descended a staircase, showing the stages of life from birth through adulthood to death. A 60-year old had a goose. An 80-year old was paired with an owl while a woman of 90 years had a bat (the animal, not the baseball kind). The last lower right-hand level showed a woman dying. Below the figures a putti danced, and a skeleton appeared. A background scene of a church in the distance could be seen in the middle of the painting.
Allegory of a Man’s Life
In “The Allegory of a Man’s Life,” there were 12 figures standing on stairs as well. The 40-year old man was accompanied by a lion, the 60-year old by a wolf. Age 70 symbolizes faithfulness, as the man appeared with a dog. The 90-year old was paired with a donkey.
The Main Library
I took note of the bullet holes in the door that separated the main library from the dining room. I also saw bullet holes in the ceiling. During the summer of 1946, a thief named Karel Chlouba, while on the run, hid in the chateau, which was closed at the time. He holed up there for several days before he was discovered by an employee of the chateau. Chlouba locked himself in the main library and barricaded the doors. The policemen had to shoot through the doors to gain access to his hideout. Instead of surrendering to authorities, Chlouba shot himself.
The Dining Room
Next, we entered the Neo-Gothic dining room. Helmets and much weaponry graced walls and display cases. Some arms hailed from the Thirty Years’ War while others dated from the 18th or 19th centuries. I noted the exotic weapons from Japan. The wine red color and the dark wood paneling of the room gave me a cozy feeling. I thought this would be a nice place to retire to on a cold, winter’s night. While the table was set for six people, it could hold up to 16. The superb porcelain hailed from the west Bohemian spa town of Karlovy Vary, often referred to as Carlsbad. Large portraits of Mikuláš with the tooth and his son Albrecht, both sporting medals, dominated one wall. Albrecht held his hand on a skull, symbolizing that his father was dead when the portrait had been taken.
I could imagine women in the Green Ladies’ Salon perusing the paper, playing the piano and listening to an old-fashioned gramophone. The tour guide, who was clearly an expert in her field, cranked the handle of the record player, and we listened to a waltz. I also noticed a porcelain bowl with a floral pattern in white, yellow and pink. It added to the cheerfulness of the room.
The Green Salon
We came upon a huge walk-in safe in one wall along the hallway. Then we were in the Hunting Salon, where, as the guide described, the men had smoked opium, which the owner’s younger brother Kun had brought back from Japan. Smoking cigars had been another favorite pastime.
The bedroom of Mikuláš Vladimír featured a 17th century Renaissance single bed. Mikuláš had kept in shape. We saw exercise equipment utilizing pulleys and rods, with which he strengthened his arms and legs. The story behind these objects is fascinating. The equipment had been on display in the chateau until sometime in the 1950s, when it was stored in the basement, dismissed as unimportant. The objects were only discovered again in 2010, when garbage was being removed from the basement. The guide also mentioned that the chateau is located near train tracks, and there is some concern about how long it will stand because it is in such close vicinity to the railway.
A 17th century bed
In another room, I saw one of my favorite objects in chateaus, a doll with a very wide, white dress that could be placed over cups to keep the tea warm. I remembered seeing some of these items in Mníšek pod Brdy Chateau a few years ago. The Meissen porcelain was also intriguing. One couple danced, two lovers kissed and another represented an elegantly dressed woman of high society. We also passed by a toilet that flushed. There had been seven in the chateau during Mikuláš Vladimír’s day as he had installed the latest technological inventions in his home. Now only two remained.
The last room on the first tour was the Waiting Room, where visitors could read the paper or peruse a book before the count appeared. There was also an old telephone looking like the devices I had seen in Czech actor Vlasta Burian’s movies from the 1930s. The count’s number was simple to remember – one.
A doll as tea warmer
The next tour was no less intriguing as we made our way through the Private Apartments. The bedroom of handicapped Countess Marie Immaculata, the younger sister of Mikuláš Vladimír, was dominated by a wooden wheelchair. I thought about the many advances in technology since the 1920s or 1930s. There were no elevators in the chateau back then, so she had to be carried down the many stairs.
The Children’s Room really captured my attention. I saw a model of a ship with sails that I could almost see fluttering and a toy train with tracks that worked on electricity. I recalled my many train trips to castles and chateaus in the Czech Republic and elsewhere in Europe. Traveling by train was exciting; I always felt a rush of energy when I went somewhere by train. I especially liked the two-tiered City Elephant trains that ran from Karlštejn and other parts of Bohemia. The tiny skates on display reminded me of my ice hockey playing days, as I laced up the same Bauer Supremes since age 14. The Czech board game from the 1930s, Clovečce nezlob se!, is still popular. It brought back memories of playing Monopoly or Clue as a child. Had Colonel Mustard committed murder in the conservatory with a candlestick?
The boys’ bedroom
The wolf’s mask made me think of my college years studying theatre, a subject I had relished. The previous year I had gone to a Czech performance at the Jára Cimrman Theatre to see a popular comedy about Czechs traveling to the North Pole. It had been the day after the November 8, 2016 US presidential election. Seeing that play and being able to laugh allowed me to face the harsh reality that Donald Trump would be the next US president and saved me from falling into a depression.
The boys’ bedroom
Then the guide’s narration again captured my attention. The children’s governess, who was British and spoke English to Mikuláš Vladimír’s sons, once caught the curious boys reading erotic magazines in that room. English was not the only language the boys knew. They spoke in German with their parents and Czech with their friends. Learning several foreign languages was common in that day. We saw a picture of the English governess – a strict-looking, older bespectacled woman who looked like she did not put up with any shenanigans.
Upon entering the boys’ bedroom, I noticed that there were bars on the windows. They had been installed because the boys liked to throw chairs onto the courtyard around midnight. They competed against each other to see who could break the most chairs. With these kinds of colorful descriptions, the two boys came alive for me. I saw them not only as names in a family history, but as youngsters always up to mischief.
They both met tragic fates. The boys joined the Hitler Jugend during World War II. The younger, Ludvík, died in battle at age 19. His older brother passed away soon thereafter from a diabetic attack. Maximilián was transported to the hospital, but, because he was wearing a Hitler Jugend uniform, no doctor would treat him. I wondered if the boys had really believed Hitler’s propaganda or if they had been forced to join.
A seamstress slept in the room next to the boys; she was in such close proximity to the boys because the two were always getting into scrapes and ripping their pants. This way, their clothes could be fixed immediately.
The Blue Salon
After going through a few more rooms, we came to the Blue Salon, where the family used to celebrate Christmas. I could imagine the exciting and cheerful atmosphere as the two boys eagerly tore the wrapping paper off their presents. I could almost hear the tinkling of the piano keys as a joyful melody resounded in the room. The blue furniture and exquisitely painted blue walls gave the room a comfortable feel. It was a place I could easily celebrate a holiday. The blue-and-white porcelain was decorated with peaceful country scenes showing trees and a bridge, for example.
The Blue Salon
Soon we came to another space, where the guide pointed out a portrait of Josef Des Fours, whom she called the black sheep of the family. He had married the 19-year old Johanna Köppe in the early 19th century. Eighteen years younger than Josef, she was a member of the burgher class rather than the nobility, and the couple did not get along well with each other. She had married Josef because she had yearned to mingle in Viennese society. I was not very surprised to hear that the two decided to call it quits after only several weeks of marriage. Johanna wound up as a courtesan, and one of her most famous clients was Austrian Chancellor Metternich. In her portrait her pose was seductive, her eyes pleading.
Johanna and Josef
In one hallway we saw a miniature statue of a member of the clan who was known to be a bit crazy. He had wanted a life-size tiled stove to look just like him. While the original stove no longer existed, this small copy was one of several that the artist had made for his friends. Clad in a fur coat that enveloped his frame, in the stove’s rendition he appeared obese and unattractive. We also took a whiff of a men’s cologne from Mikuláš Vladimír’s era. It still had a pleasant fragrance. I thought of some perfumes today that lost their fragrance after a month if not sooner. We were in a room decorated with many Japanese items such as pictures of landscapes as well as a complete set of samarai armor and Japanese swords. Mikuláš Vladimír’s brother Kun had spent much time in East Asia, and these were souvenirs from his travels. While standing in this room during the 2010 tour, I had learned that a set of Japanese porcelain has only five pieces, not the usual six. I had also spotted one of the most beautiful tea kettles I had ever seen. It was dark green with a white and red pattern, decorated with gold, and I was sure that my mother, a tea addict, would love to add it to her collection. In the same room, I remembered seeing a toy Buddha. The guide had pressed on the glass protecting the toy, and it automatically stuck out its tongue and moved its arms and legs. The next room was the casino. Here men had smoked opium and played pool and card games.
One feature I did notice during the tours this year and in 2010 was located in a servants’ room. By pressing a button on a panel, the number of the room in which they are needed. This way, they did not have to stand outside the nobles’ rooms in case they were suddenly called upon.
I remembered one feature of the second tour from 2010 that we did not see this year. We had visited the cellar. In the first room I had noticed the high, small window slot for light and had realized how dark it must have been down there before electric lighting was introduced. One part had been a storage space for coal until 1945. Another space was where foodstuffs such as eggs and cream had been stored. Yet another room functioned as a big refrigerator of sorts.
I thought back to how different the second tour had been in 2006 when the rooms had represented various styles from Renaissance to Art Nouveau in furniture, paintings, porcelain and historic dress, for instance. I remembered a Flemish tapestry from 1710 decorated with peacocks in a richly wooded landscape, lush green in the foreground with a light background. An exquisite marble jewel chest had been featured in the exposition as well. Although I am not interested in fashion, the various styles of historic dress illustrated in the former exposition had been intriguing. I had seen Rococo hoops around dresses, bodices, and satin dresses in pastel colors. I remember how the Art Nouveau style involved a slender look at the waist and a wide skirt, hats and sleeves with lace. Still, I liked the design of the second tour better in 2017.
The two tours had been magnificent, ranking among the best I had ever been on. The guide knew her stuff about the chateau and was enthusiastic about her work. The colorful descriptions of the family members and the fascinating tales had really brought the chateau’s history alive. The guide did not try to make the former owners into perfect people. She related tales about the boys misbehaving and told us that they had been members of the Hitler Jugend. Not making them perfect made the protagonists of this chateau human.
I felt as if I experienced the history of the chateau while walking through the rooms rather than merely seeing objects that epitomized this history. In my mind, I could see women chatting while sipping tea from exquisite porcelain in the Green Salon. I could almost see Mikuláš Vladimír writing a letter or organizing bills at his desk. I could imagine the boys hurtling chairs out the windows in the pitch-black of night. This is exactly why I had come here for the fourth time. I could come here every year and not be bored by the guide’s superb narration.
I highly recommend that any English speakers buy the brochure about the chateau because it is written in excellent English and brings to life the history of the chateau in colorful descriptions. It is not a book that merely explains the different types of furniture in various rooms or that tells the history of the family in a bland way. This publication is an excellent keepsake. I mused about how often I came across brochures about chateaus or castles translated into broken English, ones that described the history of the place in a boring way, just noting who succeeded whom as owners without making the people three-dimensional.
Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.
The chapel from the oratory