Prague’s Baba Colony Diary

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View from Baba with St. Vitus’ Cathedral in the background

I like to take walks through the functionalist Baba colony in Prague’s sixth district, an area made up of 33 individual family homes constructed during the early 1930s in what was then the democratic First Republic. Pavel Janák, who worked for many years as the main architect of Prague Castle, was in charge of creating the housing development, and he had help from several other notable personalities in his field. The houses, whose designs were influenced by the Bauhaus style, were built for historians, writers, translators, publishers, sociologists, university professors, doctors and public officials who worked in ministries, to name a few.

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Many of the homes have been built into steep, sloping terrain on what was once farmland. It never ceases to fascinate me how the functionalist designs can complement the natural setting, using the location as a lively architectural element. The architects worked with the natural elements rather than against them. I also noted that there was a clear division between house and garden. In fact, in many cases, the gardens are not directly accessible from the buildings. I would have loved to have stood on some of those terraces and balconies; I am sure they offer stunning views, but I could only see the houses from street level.

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Typical for functionalism, the exteriors boasted no frills, and no experimental materials were used. Most houses were constructed of concrete and/or iron, for instance. The flooring often consisted of xylolite or linoleum. Many of the houses had central heating. While I could not go inside as they are all privately owned, I read that the interior walls in many of these abodes were white. Still, many of the interiors boasted unique features.

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Sputnik playground equipment, once in Stromovka Park

The Home of the Palička family is notable for the placement of its terrace on the ground floor instead of on the roof. In the garden of this house, there is a unique piece of equipment from a playground, a colorfully dotted, plastic contraption called Sputnik. It used to be in Stromovka Park during the 1960s. When the equipment was deemed unsafe for children, it was removed from the park. Now it serves as a relic of times past, displayed prominently in the tranquil garden.

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Cyril Bouda from Artmuseum.cz

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Illustration by Cyril Bouda for a children’s book

Installed in the House of Cyril Bouda, a prominent illustrator, painter and professor, was a studio with unique features. The living room was connected with the studio by a sliding wall. From the two-floor studio, there was an exterior staircase leading to the garden. Janák designed the House of Karel Dovolil, which features a steel staircase connecting the garden to the terrace. Janák’s creation for Václav Linda and Pavla Lindová featured a stepped terrace above the garage. The House of Jan Bělehrádek and Marie Bělehrádková boasts four sections on four levels. The entrance is underground, on the second level. Looking at the façade, it is evident that the architect used the terrain as a contrasting element. The walls of the house are smooth, in stark contrast to the rather rough, sloping ground.

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Josef Gočár from Brněnský architektonický manuál

Josef Gočár, who was responsible for four houses, designed the House of Julius Glucklich, which boasted an intriguing interior that looked like one continuous space. The hall and dining room were only separated by a sliding wall, a characteristic I also mentioned in another example. The House of Marie Mojžíšová and Stanislav Mojžíš, designed by Gočár, featured a Raumplan design, a design created by famous Czech-Austrian architect Adolf Loos. The Raumplan structure meant that each room was on a different level. The House of Václav Maule and Jarmila Mauleová, another masterfully built edifice by Gočár, features bedrooms situated on a raised ground floor while the living room is located on a higher level, perched on corbels. I would love to see the splendid views from that living room!

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Pavel Janák from Brněnský architektonický manuál

What to me is even more interesting than the architecture of the homes are the stories of the lives of their occupants. Admittedly, I am not the biggest fan of functionalist architecture, but I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall in some of these houses.

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The Munch couple had a house with both an exterior and interior staircase. Náďa Munková had served as personal secretary to Alice Masaryková, a daughter of the first Czechoslovak president, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk. I wonder what it was like to work with Alice and how often she saw or spoke with Alice’s father, one of the heroes of the Czech nation. I often wonder what it would be like to live during Czechoslovakia’s First Republic, which was short-lived, only lasting from 1918 to 1938. I would have loved to have met both Alice Masaryková and President Masaryk. Náďa and her husband František emigrated to the USA in 1939, the year the Nazis took over Bohemia and Moravia. František studied and worked at Harvard and Columbia for a time.

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Václav Řezáč

Vaclav Řezáč, whose house was built by František Kerhart during 1932 and 1933, made a name for himself as a writer who became successful in the 1930s by penning books for children. His best work, The Almanach of the Czech Book, was published during World War II, when the Nazis had control. He also began writing psychological novels during that era and received many accolades. His novel Black Light also became a film in which legendary Czech actor Josef Abrham played the lead role. I most admired Abrham for his role as the pickpocket pretending to work as a waiter in Run Waiter, Run!, the first screenplay that Zdeněk Svěrák wrote. Řezáč worked as an editor for the daily Lidové noviny from 1940 to 1945 and then took up screenwriting. A lot of his screenplays were made into films, some even under the Nazi Protectorate. For many years, he was the director of the state publishing house, Československý spisovatel.

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After the Communists took control in 1948, Řezáč took a strong social realist stance in his writings, promoting totalitarian ideology. I wondered if he had believed in Communism or had been pressured into becoming a mouthpiece for the regime. Maybe both? Every day I was grateful that I had not had to endure living under Communism. I had heard enough stories from my friends who grew up during totality. Hearing those tales, I felt as if Communism was something that was almost tangible, while growing up during the Cold War in the USA I had considered it to be something gray and murky, something that existed far away, in a place I would never go.

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Cyril Bouda, who had lived in the area, was such a significant artist in the Czech lands during the First Republic that he nabbed many awards. From 1946 to 1972, he was a professor at Charles University. One of his students was Jaroslav Weigel, who I have seen act many times on the stage of the Žižkov Jára Cimrman Theatre, one of  my favorite places in the world. Weigel also worked as a painter, graphic artist and screenwriter. I had always thought of him as an actor before reading about his life. I hadn’t realized he was a man of so many talents.

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Miloň Čepelka as Mrs. Žilová and Jaroslav Weigel as Mr. Žila in the Jára Cimrman Theatre’s first play, Akt

Bouda was known mostly for his graphic art and illustrations in books. He often illustrated fairy tales and legends as well as humorous and historical books. Bouda also designed some Czechoslovak stamps and a stained glass window in Saint Vitus’ Cathedral. He created a tapestry of the capital city for the Hotel Intercontinental in 1958. He was dubbed a National Artist in 1976, when the rigid normalization era of Communism was in full play. A year later, he signed the anti-Charter that opposed Charter 77, a document calling for human rights. I wondered if he had been pressured to sign the anti-Charter or if he really was against Charter 77, which was created by dissidents, including Václav Havel. I know many artists signed the anti-Charter under pressure from the regime. They must feel very guilty now for having signed it back then. I imagine it is a part of their past of which they are ashamed. But, during Communist times, things were not always black-and-white. Then again, life is full of grey areas, no matter what era you live in.

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Antonie Suková and Václav Suk had a house in Baba, too, designed by Hana Kučerová – Záveská, whose architectural signature appears on two homes. It stood out as the largest house in the area, and the design had been in part influenced by Corbusier. Suk was arrested by the Communists at the end of the 1950s, an especially dark decade for Czechoslovakia. He passed away while behind bars. Unfortunately, his story is not unique.

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The amazing athlete Jan Zadák had a house with folding wooden blinds, which were characteristic for functionalist creations in the early-to-mid 1930s. He competed in nine sports, but for fun played another 21 as well. I would love to have his stamina and to have been that fit. As a child, I had played baseball with boys and ice hockey with boys and girls. Some of my favorite afternoons involved taking part in a hockey practice followed by a baseball practice, being able to participate in two sports during one day. Zadák was especially known as a soccer goalie who became a referee when he retired. He played for Kolín and then for Sparta Praha, a famous team in the Czech lands. Even though he was so fit, he died at the early age of 66 in 1954.

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The occupants of the house with the stepped terrace garden, Václav Linda and Pavla Lindová, did not have easy lives, even though their home was architecturally impressive. Still, luck had been on their side in the end. Pavla was Jewish but was not ushered away to a concentration camp because her husband was not Jewish. The couple’s son, however, had to toil in a work camp during the Second World War. In 1968, during a more liberal time of Communism, the family emigrated to the United States.

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Stanislav Mojžíš served as director of the National Theatre when his house was built by Gočár during 1935 and 1936. The living room was very lavish with its fireplace and three big windows. He worked as director from 1932 to 1939, the year the Nazis marched into Prague. He also penned poems, historical plays, feuilletons and essays. He often used the name Stanislav Lom instead of his birth surname.

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Jan Bělehrádek’s work centered on medicine and biology. While living in Prague, he taught at Charles University. During the 1930s, as a resident of Baba, he aided anti-Fascist endeavors and even chaired the underground Czech organization, We Remain Loyal. I wondered if he had been paranoid every day that the Nazis would come to his door and take him away forever. When it seemed that the Nazis would harm his family, he scarpered off to a sanatorium on the pretense of having tuberculosis, though his illness was purely fabricated. His ruse was not successful in the end, though. In 1945, the Nazis deported him to the Czech work camp Terezín. He was lucky. He came back alive. During the Second democratic Republic of Czechoslovakia, he served as rector of Charles University. Bělehradek fled to Paris after the Communists took control in the late forties. However, his family was not able to escape with him. Finally, in 1951, he was reunited with his family abroad. He wound up working for UNESCO and settling in London.

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Karel Kytlica, the occupant of a house accented by terraces and a garden with a pergola, was a hero to many during World War II. Employed by the Ministry of Education and fluent in German, Karel was able to keep many of his employees safe and out of work camps. Karel was no fan of Communism, either. He refused to join the Party in 1948. He wound up training dogs after retiring as an invalid.

Václav Maule played significant roles as a translator, writer and publisher during the First Republic. He was incarcerated in Terezín but escaped at the end of the war. His freedom was short-lived, however. Three weeks later, he died of typhus.

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Janák had built a house for himself in Baba, too. I sometimes visited Janák’s grave in the cemetery of the Church of St. Matthew in Hanspaulka, a part of Prague’s sixth district next to Baba This prominent architect of Czech modernism style had put his John Hancock on the city of Prague. In the capital city, he not only reconstructed buildings at Prague Castle but also designed two bridges, villas in the Střešovice district, a Cubist kiosk in a park, the Adria Palace, the Škoda Palace and the Juliš Hotel. He carried out reconstruction on Černín Palace, the home of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Old Town Hall. He was also interested in art and founded the Artěl movement of handicrafts. He designed many objects and much furniture in this style. It was after 1925 that he changed from a decorative style and took up functionalism and urbanism. He also designed pavilions at the Jubilee Exhibition of 1908 and the pavilion for Czechoslovakia at an exhibition in Rio de Janeiro during 1922.

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View from Baba

While Janák’s works dotted Prague, Gočár made a name for himself in Hradec Králové and Pardubice. He was known for his creations in Cubist style before taking up functionalism and urbanism. He studied under the tutelage of well-known Czech architect Jan Kotěra. Gočár served as a professor of the Academy of Decorative Arts in Prague until 1939 and for a time also was the school’s rector. In Prague he is best known for designing the Rondocubist Legio Bank and the Cubist House of the Black Madonna, which had housed a museum of Cubism for many years. The café there was Cubist, too, a real architectural gem. Gočár also designed gravestones.

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View from Baba

Baba is not only architecture; it is people, the people who spent their everyday lives in the functionalist development, those who had experienced joy and hardship. I loved the stories those houses could tell. It was as if I could almost hear them whispering to me as I perused the exteriors. Walking through Baba is one of my favorite activities on a pleasant day. Now maybe you can understand why.

Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.

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St. Vitus’ Cathedral as seen from Baba

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Osek Monastery Diary

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Note: No photos were allowed inside

I traveled to the picturesque region below the Krušné Mountains to see Osek Monastery in 2018. It was my second visit in eight years. I remembered shivering with cold as I wore my rather thin jacket during that first visit, probably in October of 2010. Feeling partially frozen, I waited patiently for the bus back to Prague after a wonderful tour. I had enjoyed my time there immensely, but what I remember most is the cold that seeped through my garments.

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It was July when I came back for another look at the Cistercian monastery that was founded in the early 13th century, though monks had called the area home even at the end of the 12th century. This time, I arrived by car with a friend.

The Church of Our Lady at the monastery was a Romanesque creation, built as a three-aisled basilica in the shape of a Latin cross. The chapels and choir are rectangular. Measuring 76 meters long, during Romanesque days it was the biggest monasterial church in Bohemia.

The monastery was damaged during the Hussite wars of the 15th century during two years. The Hussites detested the Cistercians because, among other reasons, they were the wealthiest order in the Czech lands. The Thirty Years’ War brought devastation to the holy place. From 1580 to 1628, the monastery was closed.

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In the early 18th century, the Abbot Benedict Littweig ordered Baroque reconstruction. Two cupolas, the façade, sculptural ornamentation and the main altar all hail from that time period. The main architect of the makeover was an Italian born in Bohemia, Octavian Broggio from the Litoměřice region. He favored radical Baroque style and had experience working in Prague and in the area where he was born.

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During 1945 and 1946, the German monks who were living there were resettled in Germany for a while, and during 1961, they were sent to Germany again. At one point, the Salesians lived there, but the order was closed in 1950. The year 1950 would be the beginning of dreadful times. From 1950 to 1953, the monastery was used a detention center for priests. After that, it became a detention center for nuns. The Cistercian monks reclaimed the property in 1991 and left in 2010, when Abbot Bernard Thebej, who had overseen the monastery from 1991, died.

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I waited for the tour as I gazed at the Baroque façade with a superb portico. Saints John, Mark, Luke and Matouš faced me. I saw Saints Peter and Paul above them. I thought of the other Cistercian monasteries I had visited. In south Bohemia, I had seen both Vyšší Brod and Zlatá Koruna. At Vyšší Brod, I was most enamored by the library of 70,000 volumes, the third Czech monastic library. The Theological Hall with one of the largest collections of Bibles in Central Europe had also captivated me. I recalled the elaborate Rococo stucco decoration and numerous Rococo wall paintings at Zlatá Koruna as well as the early Gothic Chapel of Guardian Angels. Near Kutná Hora, not far from Prague, Sedlec Monastery had amazed me with its Santini-created Baroque Gothic style interior and paintings by Baroque master Petr Brandl. Plasy in west Bohemia also came to mind. Santini had done his magic there as well, and the Baroque pharmacy had such superbly painted drawers. I had toured Plasy at least three times. I had been impressed by Velehrad in Moravia, but I had been there so many, too many, years ago.

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The guide took us inside. The superb interior was pure Baroque with much stucco ornamentation. I was particularly drawn to one side altar because of its extremely morbid character. The altar featured Christ on the Cross, flanked by two angels, but the ornamentation made it feel creepy. It was adorned with figures of skulls and bones in Classicist style. At the foot of the Cross, there was a golden skull. I recalled the Cycle of Death murals at Kuks, a former hospital in splendid Baroque style. I had visited it on several occasions, so I was well-versed with the Baroque obsession for skeletons, skulls and bones. At the altar, there was a reliquary with remnants of Saint John the Baptist and other saints. All the chapels were impressive, but this one especially caught my attention.

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Interior of the church, from http://www.rajce.net, Photo Album from 2006

There were two Baroque cupolas. I saw painted windows on one – a trademark of the Baroque style. Two Baroque organs graced the church. One of them had 666 pedals, giving it a mystical quality.

The choir benches – Baroque, of course – were amazing, made with intarsia decoration of wood on wood. The inlays were breathtaking. Black spiral columns and gold ornamentation added to the Baroque ambience. The guide opened a cabinet behind a bench: Hymnbooks were stored there. I could imagine the Cistercian monks singing in celebration and could almost hear their voices resound through the church. In front of the choir, there were modern benches where services were currently held. Facing these benches, underneath the floor, was the tomb of the last abbot.

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The main altar included impressive sculptures of the four apostles. Figures of angels also had prominent roles in the adornment. The painting of Assumption of Our Lady – the patron saint of the Cistercians – was the work of Jan Krištof Liška, a truly remarkable Czech artist. Václav Vavřinec Reiner, whose monumental painting I had seen at Duchcov Chateau a few months earlier, was responsible for the painting of the side altars as was Michael Leopold Willmann. Reiner also had created, along with Jan Jakub Steinfels, the ceiling paintings in the main nave and chancel. They portrayed scenes from the life of Christ and from the Old Testament.

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Aerial view of Osek, from http://www.mapio.net

The cloister surrounds a garden that is decorated with three tombstones from the 14th to 16th centuries. Eighteenth century paintings promoting the history of the order are features of the cloister. I could see Romanesque traits in the entrance portal to the cloister from the church.

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Vaulted ceiling, from http://www.rajce.net, Photo Album from 2006

We passed by Well Chapel. A well, the monks’ source of water for a lengthy period, was the central element of the chapel, as the name suggests. Sculptural decoration adorned the well. On the wall behind it, there was a bright orange sliver of glass. This piece was original, dating back to the Gothic era. At that time, the glass had been brightly colored.

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Reader’s Lectern in Chapter Hall, from http://www.rajce.net, Photo Album from 2006

The Chapter Hall was a Gothic delight. Constructed from 1225 to 1250, it was one of the first Gothic buildings in the Czech lands. The sandstone sculptures from this era were impressive. A Gothic statue of the Madonna hails from around 1430. Monks had frequented this area every day. In the middle of a room was a reader’s lectern from which monks would read aloud to those gathered in the space. A Gothic mechanism allowed the top of the lectern to swivel from side to side. In the chapel, the altar looked a bit flamboyant for late Gothic, with white and gold decoration. The wall paintings illustrating the history of the order were newer, dating from 1750.

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Gothic ceiling, from http://www.rajce.net, Photo Album from 2006

Near the entranceway to the chapter hall was a dog’s paw print. I wondered what kind of dog had made the imprint and if the dog had lived during the Gothic period or Baroque era.

I loved that the monastery’s architecture celebrated both spectacular Baroque and Gothic styles. After the tour, my friend and I found a busy restaurant with outside tables, where we had delicious food. The establishment seemed to be the popular place for lunch in the town.

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Our stomachs filled with a satisfying lunch, we headed back to Prague. I had learned during the tour that the monastery would soon be closing for three years to have the entire interior renovated. I felt lucky I had had the chance to visit before the renovation and knew I had to come back in three years, to see an even more superb Baroque and Gothic creation.

Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.

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2017 Travel Review Diary

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Sassi in Matera, Italy

My travels during 2017 made my year very special. I went to Italy twice and spent time exploring the Czech Republic on day trips, taking jaunts to numerous chateaus and a basilica, for instance.

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Castle in Trento

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Treviso

During my first trip to Italy in 2017, I saw a wonderful Impressionist art exhibition in Treviso. I visited the impressive castle and picturesque streets of Trento. I also ransacked a few good bookstores in Treviso and picked up a year’s worth of reading in Italian. (I took advantage of the fact that we were traveling by bus.) I especially enjoyed discovering the charming town of Bassano del Grappa with its wooden Palladian bridge and, most importantly, its superb collection of paintings by Jacopo Bassano and others.

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Civic Museum in Bassano del Grappa

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Civic Museum in Bassano del Grappa

In June, I took one of my best trips ever, to the lesser known and lesser travelled regions of Puglia and Basilicata. Most of the sights were not so crowded. We saw many charming, sleepy towns, refreshingly not inundated with tourists. I was entranced with all the Apulian-Romanesque cathedrals. The intricate design of the main portal of the cathedral in Altamura and the rose window surrounded by lions perched on columns on the Cathedral of Saint Valentine in Bitonto are only two of the many gems designed in this rich architectural style. The bishop’s throne from the 12th century in Canosa di Puglia featured two elephant figures for legs and was a true delight.

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Altamura, cathedral

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Bishop’s throne in cathedral in Canosa di Puglia

Lecce with its Baroque wonders, Roman theatre and Roman amphitheatre left me speechless. The Baroque craftsmanship of Lecce’s most notable architect, Giuseppe Zimbalo, was breathtaking. The Cathedral of Our Lady the Assumption, one of many Baroque gems, had a stunning side façade and 75-meter tall belfry with balustrades, sculptures and pyramids. Inside, the structure was no less amazing. The gilt coffered ceiling over the nave and transept and the 18th century marble main altar decorated with angels were just a few of the awe-inspiring features of the interior.

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Ceiling of cathedral in Lecce

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Altar in church in Baroque Lecce

A castle buff, I was also more than intrigued by the octagonal Castel del Monte and the way the number eight was so symbolic in its architectural design. I was impressed with the French windows, Romanesque features and mosaic floor, for instance.

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Castel del Monte

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Castel del Monte

What fascinated me most of all on that trip was the rock town of Matera with its two “sassi” districts. I have never seen a place that is so unique and moving, except for Pompeii. I explored the Sasso Caveoso. Its structures were dug into the calcareous rock on different levels of a hillside. They were cave dwellings that had been turned into restaurants, cafes, hotels and sightseeing gems. It was difficult to believe that, until the 1950s, the sassi had been poverty-stricken, riddled with unsanitary conditions and overcrowding.

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Sassi Caveoso in Matera

The Rupertian churches especially caught my attention. They boasted frescoes from the 11th and 12th centuries. The Santa Maria de Idris Church had a main altar made of tufo and chalk and decorated with 17th and 18th century frescoes. The rocky churches had actually been places of worship until 1960.

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Sassi Caveoso in Matera

I also explored two neighborhoods of Prague, parts of the city that I have always loved. In Hanspaulka I became more familiar with the various types of villas – Neo-Classical and Neo-Baroque, functionalist and purist, for example. I saw the villas where actress Lída Baarová had lived and where her sister had committed suicide as well as the villa where comedian Vlasta Burian had resided. I love the Art Deco townhouses in the area.

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Art Deco townhouses in Hanspaulka

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The villa where actor Vlasta Burian once lived, Hanspaulka

There are just as beautiful Art Deco townhouses in the nearby Ořechovka district, where I saw villas created by the well-known Czech modern architect Pavel Janák and many former homes of famous Czech artists. The Rondocubist dwellings with their designs inspired by folk art also excited me. I loved the folk art elements in Rondocubism. My favorite place in the quarter is Lomená Street. The 1920s townhouses are modelled after English cottages.

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Lomená Street in Ořechovka

I also visited the Winternitz Villa, designed by Viennese architect Adolf Loos and his Czech colleague Karel Lhota, situated in Prague’s fifth district. Winternitz, a lawyer by trade, was forced to leave with his family in 1941 due to their Jewish origin. His wife and daughter miraculously survived Auschwitz. The villa features the Raumplan, Loos’ trademark, in which every room is on a different level. I also saw two apartments designed by Loos in Pilsen. The Brummel House with its bright yellow furnishings and Renaissance fireplace amazed.

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Exterior of Winternitz Villa, Prague

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Living room of Winternitz Villa

I took many day trips outside of Prague. Červený Újezd Castle, only built in 2001, looked like it belongs in a medieval fairy tale. The park and open-air architectural museum were just as appealing. Braving the D1 highway that is partially under construction, my friend and I made our way to Telč. I admired its Renaissance burgher houses lining the main square and its chateau that features a Renaissance gilded coffered ceiling in the Golden Hall, 300 Delft faience plates on a wall in the Count’s Room and an African Hall with a gigantic elephant’s ear.

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Červený Ujezd Castle

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Burgher houses on the main square in Telč

At Zákupy I was entranced by the ceiling paintings of Josef Navrátil. Its Chapel of St. Francis sparkled in 17th century Baroque style with frescoes on the ceiling. I finally made it to the Minor Basilica of St. Zdislava and St. Lawrence in the tranquil north Bohemian town of Jablonné v Podještědí. The main altar is in pseudo-Baroque style while the pulpit and the baptismal font hailed from the 18th century. One chapel’s altar is Rococo, adorned with a late Gothic statue. The stained glass windows amazed me.

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Interior of chapel at Zákupy Chateau

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Interior of Basilica of St. Zdislava and St. Lawrence

The chateau of Dětenice in late Baroque style had an interior that mostly dates from the 18th century with rooms small enough to give an intimate feel but large enough to hold many architectural delights. In the Blue Dining Room the wall paintings were made to look like works by Botticelli. The tapestries in the Music Salon were wonderful. The Golden Hall was unbelievably breathtaking.

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Interior of Detěnice Chateau

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Interior of Detěnice Chateau

My favorite chateau of this past year’s trips is Hrubý Rohozec, which I have toured many times. It is filled with original furnishings and objects – lots of them – that I found captivating. Most of all, I loved the lively history that made the chateau unique and unforgettable. Bullet holes can still be seen in the Main Library. A thief on the run had barricaded himself in the room, and the policemen had to shoot the door open. Before World War II, the two sons of the castle’s owner were caught reading erotic magazines in the Children’s Room. There were bars on the window to prevent them from throwing chairs into the courtyard at midnight.

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Organ in chapel of Hrubý Rohozec Chateau

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Blue Salon of Hrubý Rohozec Chateau

The Porcelain Museum at Klášterec nad Ohří held some delights. The Birth of the Virgin Mary Church in Doksany charmed in Baroque style with much stucco decoration. I admired many other chateaus as well, including Orlík and Březnice with its spectacular chapel.

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Interior of chapel at Březnice Chateau

The year was extra special because my parents were able to visit me. We toured the Rudolfinum concert hall in Prague, where I have season tickets for three cycles. The concert hall has played a role in Czechoslovak history. Democrat statesman Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk was elected president three times in its large Dvořák Hall during the 1920s and 1930s, when the Rudolfinum was the home of Czechoslovak Parliament. The statuary and view of Prague Castle on the roof were splendid, and the Conductors’ Room boasted various styles of furnishings, black-and-white photos of well-renowned musicians and an impressive Petrov piano.

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Dvořák Hall, Rudolfinum

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Rudolfinum, upper level

We also toured Nelahozeves Chateau near Prague, a place that has been dear to me for many years. For me the highlight of visiting this chateau is superb collection of art, especially Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s painting of a winter scene. The painting by Rubens was a delight, too. I also loved the small 18th century table inlaid with 20 kinds of wood. The exterior was captivating as well. The graffito on one wall and the Renaissance courtyard were two stunning architectural elements.

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Renaissance courtyard of Nelahozeves Chateau

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Sgraffito on wall of Nelahozeves Chateau

I took my parents on a trip around Hanspaulka and pointed out one of the Baroque chapels, the chateau and other sights. We admired the villas of various styles. We ate paninis in the local café.

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Chapel in Hanspaulka

Perhaps the highlight of their visit was seeing a Czech play in the Žižkov Theatre of Jára Cimrman. We laughed along to the music of Cimrman in the Paradise of Music, which focuses on the operatic works of the fictional legendary Jára Cimrman, who was an unlucky man of all trades – inventor, philosopher, teacher, self-taught gynecologist, to name a few of his many professions. The opera in the second half of the play involves a Czech engineer introducing the great taste of pilsner beer to India. The British colonel in the play is so impressed with the taste of Czech beer that he wishes he had been born Czech. It was terrific that I was able to introduce my parents to the character of Jára Cimrman, who has played such a major role in Czech culture and folklore, even though he is not real.

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Almost featureless bust of Jára Cimrman

I was thankful that I had my best friend, my black cat Šarlota Garrigue Masaryková Burnsová by my side throughout the year. She is happy here, much happier than she was in a shelter four years ago.

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Šarlota Garrigue Masaryková Burnsová

Every day I think of Bohumil Hrabal Burns, my feisty and naughty black cat who died three-and-a-half years ago. He remains with me in spirit every moment of my life. I know that somewhere in Cat Heaven, he is vomiting for fun on white rugs and playing with Fat Cat toys.

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Bohumil Hrabal Burns, 1999 – 2014

Those were my travels of 2017. I look forward to more adventures this year. I have planned one trip to Italy and will soon jot down a list of day trips I would like to take.

Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.

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Santa Croce Church in Lecce

 

Rudolfinum Diary

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The Rudolfinum with the statue of Antonín Dvořák

Back in college, on a whim I took a classical music course, and soon I was hooked. Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony and Dvořák’s New World Symphony enthralled me, but I became a fan of many other composers as well – Rachmaninoff, Vaughan Williams, Smetana, Charles Ives, Aaron Copland, Martinů, Mozart, Chopin, Bartók. Even the dissonance of Arnold Schoenberg captured my undivided attention. During my university years, I would take the bus from Smith College to Springfield, Massachusetts in order to attend Springfield Symphony concerts once a month.

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In Prague I would sometimes admire the statue of Dvořák in front of the Rudolfinum, and, occasionally, I would visit the art gallery in the building to see intriguing contemporary exhibitions. However, for some reason, I did not go into the concert hall of the Rudolfinum for a long time. I assumed all the concerts would be too expensive, and everything would sell out immediately.

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Then, a few years ago, in the midst of a classical music craving, I went to a piano recital in the Dvořák Hall of the Rudolfinum. I just had to go back. Again. And again. I went as often as I could, both to concerts in the large Dvořák Hall auditorium and to chamber concerts in the Suk Hall.  Dvořák Hall, one of the oldest in Europe, has the capacity of 1,148 places with 1,104 seats. Standing room is big enough for 40 concertgoers, and there are four places designated for the wheelchair-disabled.

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The following year I purchased season tickets to three cycles. Attending concerts not only allows me to hear worldwide acclaimed musicians but also to relieve stress and get my mind off any worries or concerns for a few hours.

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Although I studied piano for fun in college, my favorite instrument is the violin. In Prague, I discovered the masterful interpretations of Czech violinists Josef Suk, Jiří Vodička and Josef Špaček. The violin enchants me, all the more because it is an instrument I know I could never even hold properly let alone play.

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I did not know that there were tours of the Rudolfinum until I wrote to the box office and asked. I recommend all tourists interested in Czechoslovak history to take the tour, which is available in English. The story of the Rudolfinum is not only the story of Czech and Czechoslovak music but also the tale of Czech and Czechoslovak history. The Rudolfinum is not merely another music venue in Prague. It is a remarkable Neo-Renaissance building in which Czechoslovak history has been played out.

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The Rudolfinum opened its doors February 7, 1885. It was designed by architect Josef Zítek and his student Josef Schulz and named after Crown Prince Rudolf of the Habsburg clan. The Crown Prince was present at the inaugural performance. The Czech Philharmonic played here for the first time on January 4, 1896, in a concert that Dvořák himself conducted. The Czech Philharmonic has called the building home since 1946.

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However, the Rudolfinum has not only been a captivating venue for concerts. From 1919 to 1939, the seat of Czech Parliament was here. In Dvořák Hall during 1920, 1924 and 1934, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk was elected President of Czechoslovakia. Sometimes, waiting for a concert to start, I try to imagine the atmosphere of those elections playing out in the very same hall where I am seated.

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Because I like to know something about the history of the orchestra I am seeing perform, I looked up information about the various conductors of the Czech Philharmonic.

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After Czechoslovakia was founded in 1918, Václav Talich became the main conductor and would serve in that capacity until 1941. His tenure lasted almost 1,000 concerts. Thanks to Talich, the Czech Philharmonic received worldwide acclaim. He first conducted with the Czech Philharmonic in 1917 at age 34.

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Talich’s personal history is colorful. He was put in jail after World War II, accused of collaborating with the Nazis, but there was no proof to support the charge. After the Communist coup in 1948, he found himself immersed in troubles again. The Communists forbid him from conducting in any public place until 1954.

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From 1942 to 1948, Raphael Kubelík worked as the main Czech conductor with the Philharmonic, but he also was known for his accomplishments as a composer and as a violinist. He was an expert on pieces created by Czech and other Slavic composers. He also was known for his interpretations of compositions by Gustav Mahler and Béla Bartók. He emigrated after the 1948 Communist coup, when the Communists took over the Czechoslovak government.

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Karel Ančerl’s biography is fraught with tragedy. He was making a name for himself as a conductor when World War II changed everything. The Nazis forced him to work as a forester, and then incarcerated him. During 1942, he was transported to Terezín, where even the depressing atmosphere of a concentration camp could not stop him from continuing musical endeavors. Two years later, Ančerl was sent to Auschwitz. He was the only member of his family to survive the war. Ančerl took over the Czech Philharmonic in 1948. He would stay for 20 seasons, until he emigrated after Russian tanks invaded Czechoslavkia, crushing the liberal reforms of the Prague Spring in 1968.

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For the past few seasons, I had watched Jiří Bělohlávek at the helm of the Czech Philharmonic. His interpretations of music received praise throughout the world. He worked with the Prague Philharmonic from 1994 to 2005 and then conducted with the BBC Symphony Orchestra from 2006 to 2012. He first held the post of main conductor with the Czech Philharmonic from 1990 to 1992. He rejoined the Czech Philharmonic again in 2012. His interpretation of the third and fourth symphonies of Bohuslav Martinů earned him a nomination for a Grammy in 2005. In April of 2012, he received the medal of the British Imperial Order. Unfortunately, he died May 31, 2017. I am honored that I was able to attend so many of his concerts.

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The tour of the Rudolfinum takes music enthusiasts onto the stage of the Dvořák Hall where one can appreciate the rich decoration on the balustrades and painted ceiling with elegant chandelier. I loved the bright blue color in the superb ceiling painting. On the balcony, there is an intimate reception room for special guests. On the roof I saw many statues as well as beehives. (The National Theatre also makes its own honey, by the way.) I admired the superb views of Prague Castle.

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On the first floor, I took note of the busts of various Czech musicians and conductors. I took a photo of the bust of Karel Šejna, who was a double bassist with the Czech Philharmonic who served as main conductor in 1950. That year he led the Czech Philharmonic in concerts in England as well as East and West Germany. He was known for his interpretations of the music of Hector Berlioz, Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler.

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The Conductor’s Room

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I was also entranced with the black-and-white photos of Czechs who made great contributions to musical history. Some of the photos were even autographed. I especially liked the Conductor’s Room. The blues and reds of the carpet appealed to me as did the various styles of furniture. I could imagine one of the former conductors playing a Mozart melody on the Petrov piano, deep in thought. The photos of musicians on the walls gave me the feeling the space was imbued with historical resonance.

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Seeing the building from a tourist’s perspective was enlightening. Still, I am most content as a concertgoer in elegant Dvořák Hall, listening to musicians warm up their instruments, anticipating the concert soon to come.

Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.

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Winternitz Villa Diary

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I had relished my visits to Prague’s Müller Villa, designed by Viennese Adolf Loos and Czech Karel Lhota. Therefore, I was very excited to be touring the Winternitz Villa, on which those same two architects cooperated from 1931 to 1932. The three-floor house is located at Na Cihlářce 10 in Prague’s Smíchov district, perched on a hill from which there are superb views of the city.

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Adolf Loos and Karel Lhota

Lawyer Josef Winternitz and his wife, son and daughter lived there until 1941, when they were sent to concentration camps, eventually winding up in Auschwitz. His wife and daughter miraculously survived. (His wife, Jana, would die in 1979 while the daughter, Susanne, would pass away in 1991.) In 1943 the villa was transferred to the city of Prague and became the home of a kindergarten. It was used in this capacity until 1995.

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In 1997 the family’s request for restitution came through after a six-year battle. The villa underwent a three-year reconstruction period starting in 1999. Then the owners rented it to private companies because they needed the money. During 2017 the great grandson of Josef Winternitz decided to open the villa to the public for one week. The response was tremendous. About 5,000 people came to see it. The villa was open to the public on a permanent basis in April of 2017.

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Shelves designed by Adolf Loos

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Vacuum cleaner from 1930s

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Refrigerator designed by Loos

The exterior of the villa is similar to the Müller Villa. It is an austere cube-like shape without ornamentation of any kind, a trademark of Loos’ architecture. I admired the symmetry of the north façade and windows. However, for Loos the most important characteristic of this villa was not symmetry but incorporating the Raumplan, which involves each room being situated on a different level. There were six levels of complicated spaces.

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The living room

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Living room

Soon, it was time to go inside. I walked down a narrow, dark corridor that opened onto a light, airy living room. I recalled the living room of the Müller Villa, which also was airy, light and a big space. The living room of the Winternitz Villa was 56 meters squared in size with a high ceiling measuring four meters. It was on a lower level than the dining room and small salon, which were both smaller rooms. The wooden floor of the living room was original as were the fireplaces and heaters. However, the furniture throughout the villa was not original. It had been lost during the war. The Müller Villa, though, had original furniture.

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The small salon

The small salon had cabinets with small shelves inside. Both the small salon and dining room were symmetrical. Although the library was connected to the salon, it was not possible to go inside because it was a private space.

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The dining room

On the next level, I loved the yellow and blue doorframes. Loos so often employed bright colors in his designs. Even the bright yellow fence outside was its original color. I recalled the bright colors of the children’s room in the Müller Villa. The red floors of this space in the Winternitz Villa also appealed to me. The first floor terrace offered some intriguing views of Prague. This terrace, though, had only been used by the kindergarten, not by the Winternitz family.

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On the second floor, I particularly liked the small room where portraits of the family members hung. Seeing the faces of the family members made the experience of touring the villa more intimate. Thanks to the photos, I felt a certain connection to the family. I could imagine them in this villa, the kids coming home from school, the parents listening to the radio. One picture that was not a portrait showed the villa in 1995, at the time when the kindergarten was closed. It had been in such poor condition. I could not believe the difference between the condition of the building back then and the condition of the villa now. By the way, the grandson of Josef Winternitz designed the reconstruction that followed.

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The second floor terrace had been used by the Winternitz family. The stunning views were framed by horizontal beams that came out onto the terrace. There did not seem to be a reason for having these beams there. At one time, it was possible to see Vyšehrad hill from the terrace, but a big building now got in the way. From the terrace, I saw the large high-rise in Pankrác, an eyesore to say the least. I could also see the National Theatre and Týn Church on Old Town Square.

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Pictures of the Winternitz family

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The condition of the villa in 1995, when the kindergarten closed

The villa had been well worth visiting, especially after having toured the Müller Villa. Even though the furniture in the Winternitz Villa was not authentic, the pieces fit the style of the villa well. It was still possible to imagine the family members in those rooms, even without original furnishings. The villa was a perfect example of Loos’ Raumplan feature, so characteristic of his designs. The austerity of the outside contrasted the comfortable, intimate atmosphere of the interior. This was another trademark of Loos’ work. For those interested in modern architecture, this villa is sure to please.

Tracy A. Burns is a writer, editor and proofreader in Prague.

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The second floor terrace

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View from the second floor terrace with Týn Church and the National Theatre in the background

Telč Diary

 

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I was excited about my second trip to Telč, a Renaissance architectural gem I had first visited back in 1992, the year UNESCO recognized the town as a cultural monument. I remember feeling so overwhelmed when I had first stepped onto the large triangular Zachariáš of Hradec Square. More than 20 years later, I still felt the same way.

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The Renaissance burgher houses were narrow, each with unique facades portraying various architectural styles. The arcading and arched gables were astounding. I saw Late Baroque and Classicist forms as well as facades that had retained many Renaissance characteristics. The House of Ambrož Šlapanovský at number 6 boasted of a simple Baroque and Classicist façade while the House of Nedorost Master Hosier at number 12 sported a façade harkening from Renaissance days. Its high attic and crenellation from the late 16th century appealed to me.

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I was especially drawn to the House of Osterreicher the Master Mason at number 15. The illusive sgraffito on the façade was complimented by the dynamic hues that made this house one of the most dominant on the square. I loved the shades of green, grey and white that combined to make a captivating façade hailing from the middle of the 16th century. The façade also sported the allegorical figures of Melancholy and the Crucifixion.

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The façade I fancied the most featured a gable in Venetian Renaissance style. Adorned with biblical figures, the gable hailed from 1555. I was entranced by the gable on the House of Jan the Baker at number 17, an edifice with a late Baroque appearance and stucco frame. In the middle, the depiction of the Holy Trinity was superb and elegant. I also was enthralled with the House of Plzák the Alderman at number 31 with its sgraffito decoration. Even though the Town Hall had been built during the 16th century, it clearly had taken on Classicist features when changes were made in 1811. The Marian Column in the center of the square was wonderfully Baroque, the same style of so many plague columns in the country.

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But I am getting ahead of myself. It’s time for a short history lesson about the town. Telč originated in the 13th century, and the first written document mentioning the town dates from 1366. Oldřich of Hradec was awarded Telč in the 14th century, and the town would remain in the family of the wealthy Hradec clan until 1604. The most significant Hradec owner was Zachariáš of Hradec, who took over the property in 1550. His biggest claim-to-fame was transforming what had been a Gothic castle into a Renaissance chateau. The structure still retains its Renaissance character and ranks as one of the best preserved Renaissance chateaus in the country.

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When there were no more men in the family to inherit the property, Vilém Slavata acquired Telč. He is best known as one of the two governors thrown out of Prague Castle in the Third Defenestration of Prague during 1618. He survived because he landed on a pile of manure. This event helped trigger the Thirty Years’ War and brought to a head the conflict between Czech Protestant nobles and the Catholic Habsburg ruling monarchy. Slavata was able to keep the chateau in his family for three generations. František Antonín Liechtenstein-Castelcorn took over at the end of the 18th century, when the property came into the hands of the Podstastský-Liechtenstein clan. They would retain ownership until 1945, when the chateau was nationalized.

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It was soon time for the first tour of the chateau. We started out in the medieval Chapel of Saint George. I was drawn to the superb carving of Saint George fighting the dragon on a wall. The vaulted ceilings on the ground floor were outstanding.

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The African Hall was one of my favorites, though I am not usually particularly drawn to rooms with hunting trophies. The gigantic elephant’s ear and the open-mouthed hippo’s head were striking. The Knights’ Hall was decorated with knights’ armor from the 16th century and had a superb coffered ceiling from 1570. It was decorated with painted scenes of Hercules’ feats. Its artificial marble checkered floor hailed from the same year. This only proved to be one of many remarkable ceilings in the chateau, however. The Japanese porcelain dishes and sgraffito ornamentation in the Banquet Hall were exquisite.

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The Golden Hall was the highlight of the tour, that’s for sure. It measured 30 meters, but the main feature that took my breath away was the Renaissance gilded coffered ceiling decorated with painted biblical subjects. The woodcarving on the ceiling was exceptional, the likes of which I had never seen before. The Blue Hall was magnificent, featuring another remarkable ceiling, this one adorned with figures of the four elements – water, earth, fire and air. The Renaissance stove also captured my attention. The ceiling in the Men’s Parlor was yet another gem, painted wine red with gold. These colors gave it a certain warmth and intimacy. Circular medallions also decorated the ceiling.

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The next tour featured the Podstastký Private Apartments, adorned in 19th and early 20th century styles. What enamored me the most were the 300 Delft faience plates in the Count’s Room. Two distinctive closets stood out in one space – a Baroque closet with rich decoration and a shorter Renaissance closet featuring intarsia. The guide showed us a green trashcan decorated with a picture of Napoleon because the family despised the French ruler. I also saw the most beautiful Italian jewel chests made with ebony. Other adornment included Oriental vases as well as Meissen and Viennese porcelain.

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The Red Drawing Room appealed to me due to the warm red color of the armchairs and sofa. A gold clock and huge white tiled stove also stood out. The library held 8,416 volumes, including Czech books such as Jungmann’s dictionaries and national songs. There were also British novels as well as volumes in German, Latin and French. I also adored the big sky blue-and-cream colored tiled stove in the space. Another artifact that enticed me was the tiny table from India.

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Telč’s chateau was certainly one of the most impressive I had ever seen, ranking up there with Vranov nad Dyjí, Hrubý Rohozec and Lysice, a few other favorites. I left the chateau with an even deeper appreciation for the Renaissance style. I had always been keen on the Renaissance, but now I was even more enthusiastic. The intricate, breathtaking ceilings appealed to me the most. They literally took my breath away. Rarely have I set my eyes on something that awe-inspiring. The park was amazing, too, with many rare woody species. The garden was another delight.

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We ate outside in the square at the hotel restaurant. It was an awful choice, as I had never experienced such slow and inept service. Even when there were few customers, the waiters were so slow. We were there two hours, one hour or less eating, the rest of the time waiting for the bill, which we were constantly promised. Finally, I went inside, where I actually found a waiter at the cash register. He asked me why I was in a hurry but allowed me to pay, luckily. Sometimes the waiters would just disappear. They were not inside or outside, nowhere to be seen.

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As we were leaving the town, we spoke with a long-time resident, who confirmed that the hotel was an awful place to eat. Our food was fine, but she said the meals were usually bad. People had come away with a terrible impression of Telč due to the service at that hotel.

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I saw many touristy shops on the square, but we did find one store selling wonderful ceramics. I bought some ceramic cat figures that are beautiful. Another shop had pretty, handmade mugs with colorful designs.

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The problem with getting to and from Telč is the D1 highway, which is under construction with only two lanes until at least 2020. It was a nightmare with so many trucks taking up both lanes, as we had no chance to pass them. Once a truck suddenly swerved into our lane, and my friend was able to break just in time to avoid an accident. The truck drivers were arrogant and aggressive.

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If there had been an accident when we were on the highway, the journey one-way could have taken up six hours or more. Luckily, we only had a half-hour delay on the journey to Telč. The big problem was, as always, the traffic in Prague. I had investigated how to get to Telč by bus, but the journey takes about six hours with Student Agency because the buses make stops elsewhere. I was not about to spend six hours or more on a bus.

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So, I look forward to 2020, when I will certainly go back to Telč to experience the splendor of the Renaissance once again.

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Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.

 

 

 

Hrubý Rohozec Chateau Diary

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The chapel from the oratory

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