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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Lobkowicz Palace Diary

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It was one of those places I had been meaning to visit for a long time, but I had just never gotten around to it. Tomorrow. . .this week. . .next week. . .I would always stay home and write instead of visiting the Lobkowicz Palace. Friends and family raved about the museum. In August of 2015, I finally went to check out the Lobkowicz Museum, which opened in 2007.

The beginning of the audio guide tour had me hooked. William Lobkowicz, the current owner of the palace, did most of the narrating. His grandfather Max was married to a British citizen, Gillian. When World War I started, Max had been a very affluent man. During World War II he served as ambassador of the Czech government in exile in London. He was fervently against the Nazis and was an avid supporter of the democratic First Republic of Czechoslovakia. The Nazis disliked Max not only for his anti-Nazi activities but also because he had a British wife. After the Communists took control of the country in 1948, Max found himself trapped in Czechoslovakia. His wife sent him a letter from London, telling him she was gravely ill. She wasn’t, but the ploy worked. The Communists gave Max two days to visit her. With only his coat and the clothes he was wearing, Max fled from his homeland to join his wife in London. He left behind 13 castles. William’s father had been 10 years old at the time and had been sent to live in the USA.

Max Lobkowicz from lobkowicz-palace.com

Max Lobkowicz from lobkowicz-palace.com


What a story! It sounded like something out of a spy novel or film! It must have been so difficult to leave so much property and so many possessions behind. Thirteen castles! It must have been heartwrenching.

Then I found myself in a large room full of family portraits, starting with those of nobility from the house of Pernštejn. The portraits were not merely faces staring at me. Each portrait told a story about an individual thanks to the information on the audio guide. The people came alive as I listened to intriguing facts about their lives. When I was looking at the Pernštejns, I fondly recalled my visits to Pernštejn Castle in Moravia. It was one of my all-time favorites. I wonder if that had been one of the 13 castles grandfather Max left behind.
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Vratislav Pernštejn, born in 1530, held the distinction of being the first Czech to receive the Order of the Golden Fleece, achieving this feat at the tender age of 25. Later, many more Lobkowiczs would be honored with the award. The Lobkowicz clan was related to King Philip II of Spain, whose tenure on the throne lasted 40 years. His territories even included Central America, the Caribbean and parts of what is today the USA. At one time he was even the King of England. Nicknamed “Philip the Prudent,” he was the son of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and Infanta Isabella of Portugal. The Philippine Islands were named after him. He founded the first trans-Pacific trade route between America and Asia. He also made sure the Ottomans would no longer be a formidable enemy of his lands. He also helped his empire get back on its feet in times of financial crises.
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I wished I could trace my family tree back so many centuries. I knew that I was of Slovak heritage on one side of the family, had a grandmother of Czech ancestry and a grandfather of Scottish origin, but I did not know any details. My ancestors from Moravia were named Mareš, a common Czech surname. My grandmother’s maiden name had been Šimánek, also a common name. I think my decision to move to Prague had something to do with filling up a vast emptiness about my family’s past, wondering who my ancestors were and what they were like. In Prague I felt in touch with a past I had never known, and that was one of the reasons Prague felt like home.

I was reminded of a Diego Velázquez exhibition I had seen in Vienna about a year ago when I gazed at the portrait of Infanta Margarita, then a four-year old member of the Spanish royal family. I recognized her from Velázquez’s masterpiece, Las Meninas. While Margarita was immortalized in portraiture, she did not enjoy a long life. She died during childbirth when she was only 22 years old.

I found the Lobkowicz’s involvement in the Defenestration of Prague fascinating. One painting showed the historical event, when Protestant nobles revolted against the Catholics and threw two Catholic ministers and a secretary out a window. This event triggered the Thirty Years’ War. Luckily, the three fell onto a pile of dung and did not die. Two of them took refuge in Lobkowicz Palace. According to legend, Polyxana Lobkowicz hid them under her skirts.
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In the next room I was surrounded by fine porcelain. I saw majolica service from Lombardy picturing a calming landscape of coastal scenes with mountains. It dated back to the 17th century and was made in Italy. I was also enamored by service from Delft, dating back to the late 17th century. I had always been fond of porcelain made in Delft.

The painting in the next room captivated me. Lucas Cranach the Elder had rendered Mary and the Christ child in a painting hailing from 1520. Saint Catherine and Saint Barbara also made appearances. I found out that Ferdinand Lobkowicz had been an avid art collector.
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In a separate space stood a processional reliquary cross, Romanesque in style. Hailing from north Germany in the beginning of the 12th century, it was made of gilded copper and adorned with 30 crystal cabochons. I couldn’t believe I was looking at something that ancient and in such good condition. Whenever I saw Romanesque churches, for instance, I could not believe I was standing in a structure built so many centuries ago. I briefly thought back to the Romanesque church with the fascinating façade in Regensburg.

Then I entered a room filled with weapons and knights’ armor. While I was impressed that the Lobkowiczs possessed such a superb armory, weapons were certainly not my cup of tea. I moved on and soon found myself surrounded by musical instruments, especially violins. I love classical music, and the room calmed me while the armory had made me anxious.

I stared for some minutes at the original score of Part III of the Messiah by Handel as arranged by Mozart. I also saw original scores by Beethoven and Mozart, two of my favorites. The first printed edition, dating from 1800, of the score for the oratorio of The Creation by Haydn also caught my attention. My mind wandered back to those classical music classes at Smith College, where I first became enamored with the above-mentioned composers and many more. An entire new world had opened up for me. I also spent some time gazing at the violins and clarinets, wishing I could play an instrument. I had taken beginners’ piano lessons in college for a year, but that was it. In college I always dreamed of being able to play an instrument well enough to major in music. But it had been just a dream. I wasn’t talented enough, and I had concentrated on my writing.

Haymaking by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 16th century. Photo from www.wga.hu

Haymaking by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 16th century. Photo from http://www.wga.hu


Soon I set my eyes on one of my all-time favorite paintings by my favorite artist, Pieter Bruegel the Elder. It was his rendition of Haymaking, one of only six panels representing the 12 months of the year. Each panel represented two months. Haymaking depicted June and July. I remembered gaping at the Bruegel collection in Vienna’s Kunsthistoriches Museum, where I had admired The Gloomy Day (Early Spring), The Return of the Herd (Autumn) and the Hunters in the Snow (Winter.) Bruegel’s paintings of the seasons had played a significant role in Western art. It was the first time that landscape was the main subject of the painting. Before, landscape had been utilized as a backdrop for religious figures. I admired how nature played a role in the lives of the people depicted in the paintings. Their daily activities were dictated by the seasons. I loved the way Bruegel depicted the common man in everyday activities and put so many details in his paintings. The landscape was stunning and idyllic, too.

The Croll Room was breathtaking. Carl Robert Croll had painted over 50 works for Ferdinand Joseph Lobkowicz during six years in the 1840s. I recognized Jezeří Castle, which the Lobkowiczs sold to the Czech state in 1996. I had visited Jezeří some years ago, but the chateau was in need of major reconstruction. Its location on a cliff was romantic, but restoring the interiors was going to take a lot of time. I wondered how far the restoration work had come during the past years. I also recognized Roudnice Chateau, shown Italian Baroque style from reconstruction that took place from 1653 to 1677. I had been to the art gallery at Roudnice Chateau some years ago, but most of the chateau was under reconstruction. Nelahozeves, also seen here, was one of my favorite chateaus due to its impressive art collection. Not far from Prague, I always recommended that visitors take a day trip there. I had even written a post about it for my blog.

City of London from River Thames with St. Paul's Cathedral on Lord Mayor's Day by Canaletto

City of London from River Thames with St. Paul’s Cathedral on Lord Mayor’s Day by Canaletto, Photo from http://www.wikiart.com


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Then I saw what have to be two of the most beautiful paintings in the world – two views of London by Antonio Canaletto. I loved Canaletto’s work because he brought out the atmosphere of the place he was painting. I could really feel as if I were looking at London and the Thames in his City of London from River Thames with St. Paul’s Cathedral on Lord Mayor’s Day from 1748 and in The River Thames Looking Toward Westminster from Lambeth from 1746-47. I recalled the extensive Canaletto exhibition I had seen in Aix-en-Provence during June. I loved the details of the boats and sails.
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On the first floor I saw a portrait of Princess Ernestine Lobkowicz clad in brilliant red and portraits painted by the princess in the 17th century. I wondered how many female portrait painters there had been in the 17th century. The Bird Room featured pictures of birds made with real feathers. On the audio guide William’s wife, Alexandra Lobkowicz, mentioned that she had found the pictures infested with insects and that they took almost a year to conserve. In the Dog Room I focused on a painting of two dogs proudly seated on velvet cushions in 1700. They looked so spoiled with their luxurious light blue and gold collars. Then again, I had always spoiled my cats.
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The Firanesi Room was filled with engravings of ancient and modern Rome, one of my favorite cities in the world. I recalled showing my parents the Colosseum, one of my most treasured memories of time spent with my Mom and Dad. The Oriental Room proved a delight as well. It featured nine Chinese embroidered silk panels hailing from the 18th century. I loved Oriental rooms in castles and chateaus. They were so elegant, and the wallpaper was always so beautiful. There was also a Chinese Room in the palace. It had a distinctive Oriental flair and dated from 1900. I loved the bright colors, too.
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Meissen porcelain in a Rococo cabinet

Meissen porcelain in a Rococo cabinet


Next came the Rococo Room, where two Rococo display cabinets displayed various objects, such as snuff boxes, exquisite fans and Meissen porcelain. I admired the rich carving of the woodwork on the cabinets. Seeing the Meissen porcelain reminded me of the Museum of Porcelain in Dresden, where there was so much Meissen to behold that it had been overwhelming for me. The superb display cases dated from the 18th century.
An allegorical fresco in the Dining Room

An allegorical fresco in the Dining Room


The Dining Room flaunted portraits and ceiling frescoes that enthralled me. I saw the Allegory of Europe, the Allegory of Asia and the Allegory of America, for instance. Poseidon and Bacchus appeared in several frescoes. I loved ceiling frescoes in chateaus, especially ones with mythological figures. The elderly attendant in the room described the various frescoes to me enthusiastically. It was nice to meet a museum attendant proud of the place where she was working.
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I punched in a number on the audio guide and listened to how the Lobkowiczs watched the Berlin Wall fall and the Velvet Revolution unfold on television. They returned to Czechoslovakia in 1990 and wanted to make the country their home. Under the first law of restitution, the Lobkowiczs had less than a year to find all the objects that belonged to their family and to make a list of them. It certainly had not been an easy process, but, luckily it had a happy ending.

At the end of the tour I walked by a small concert hall. It would be delightful to attend a concert in such an intimate space in a lavish palace. I would have to come back again to go to a concert. Classical music had played a role in the family history, so perhaps it was only fitting that they had a space for concerts.
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I was very impressed with both the palace and the narration on the audio guide. Lobkowicz Palace had a bit of everything – exceptional artwork from various centuries, impressive furnishings, ceiling frescoes, porcelain, musical instruments, original musical scores, weaponry and of course, portraits. I liked the variety of furnishings and pieces of art that I was able to see from various eras – a Romanesque processional reliquary cross and Rococo display cases, for instance. And the family history was so intriguing! What an ordeal William Lobkowicz’s grandfather had gone through! His possessions had not been taken away from him once, but twice – first by the Nazis and then by the Communists.

Now that I knew what an intriguing place the palace was, I was sure I would be coming back for another visit and for a concert sometime soon.
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Tracy A. Burns is a proofreader, writer and editor in Prague.
NOTE: No photos were allowed on the second floor, only on the first.