Pilsen Brewery Museum Diary

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There are a lot of eclectic sights to visit in the west Bohemian town of Pilsen (Plzeň) from apartments featuring the architecture of Adolf Loos to St. Bartholomew’s Cathedral on the main square to the Great Synagogue nearby. Pilsen’s Brewery Museum is an intriguing sight for beer lovers and for people who want to learn about how significant a role beer played in the history of the Czech lands generally and in Pilsen specifically.

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I strongly recommend that you supplement a tour of the Pilsen Underground (see my post about this sight) with a look at this museum. It sure is convenient; both are located in the same building. Also, a tour of the Pilsner Urquell Brewery (see my post about this sight) is a must-see for visitors. The Brewery Museum adds a more general historical perspective to the tour.

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Some of my favorite exhibits at the museum are the displays of beer mugs, glasses and jugs throughout the centuries. The handmade painting and detailed designs are exquisite. Many installations that offer insight into the history of beer as well as panels to read in English.

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To prepare for a visit to the Brewery Museum, let’s take a look at the history of beer in the Czech lands. The first beer made in the Czech lands existed even before the Slavs arrived in the sixth century, but it used different ingredients.

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The oldest brewery was at Prague’s Břevnov Monastery, which was established in 993, and, by the way, also deserves the attention of tourists. In the 11th century, the Canons of Prague’s Vyšehrad (the name of a hill which included a castle with cathedral) were given the right to brew beer. The oldest document about harvesting hops was drawn up in the 11th century. Czech beer was first exported in the 11th century, when the town of České Budějovice sent its brew to Bavaria and other places abroad.

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In the 12th century, the brewing of beer flourished and was a significant part of people’s diet. Women made beer at home, using it not only as a beverage but also as a soup and sauce. That same century the first royal towns received the privilege of making beer, though many did not get permission until the 13th and 14th centuries. In the 13th century, King Václav (Wenceslas) II proclaimed that only townspeople living in royal towns inside the town walls had the right to brew beer. Pilsen was granted this privilege when it was founded, in the late 13th century. Monasteries also were allowed to make the alcoholic concoction.

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In the 15th and 16th centuries, a heated conflict between nobles and towns ensued over whether the nobles should have the right to brew beer. They argued over the matter for 33 years, from 1484 to 1517. The nobles won the legal battle, and, as of 1484, nobles, townspeople and monasteries had the right to make beer. From 1517 to 1869, the Saint Wenceslas Agreement (Svatováclavská smlouva) was in effect. It put in writing specific rules for the brewing of beer.

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From the 16th century to the 18th century, Pilsen alone had 36 malthouses and 26 small town breweries. At the end of the 18th century, barley and hops replaced wheat as key ingredients. Czech beer was lauded at an international exhibition in Paris during 1837, when the Pilsner Prazdroj and Pilsen town brewery (Městanský pivovar) were recognized for their high quality of beer.

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The city of Pilsen has played an extraordinary role in the history of beer through the ages. The most common beer is the pilsner lager, easily recognized due to its golden color and light flavor. Perhaps the most significant date in Pilsen’s beer-brewing history is October 5, 1842, when German beer guru Josef Groll, inspired by Bavarian lagers, invented Pilsner Urquell, which holds distinction of being the first light-colored beer in the world.

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Fourteen years later, Pilsner Urquell beer began to be exported abroad, as trains transported it to Vienna on a daily basis. The tasty concoction was introduced to the United States in 1874. Pilsen’s beer-making ability won many prizes, including first place at Prague’s Jubilee Exhibition in 1891. A million hectoliters of beer were manufactured in 1913. The Pilsen brewery became the biggest in all of Europe, and its beer was sold in 34 countries.

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Beer-brewing continued to flourish in Pilsen, but then in April of 1945, more than a hundred bombs fell on one of its breweries. It was rebuilt, but in 1946 both Pilsen breweries became the property of the state. That did not impede the breweries from continuing to receive worldwide recognition, though. Pilsen’s beer achieved success after success in the following decades. In 1990 cylindrical tanks were installed. Now Plzeňský Prazdroj can be found in more than 50 countries. It encompasses the Czech beers Pilsner Urquell, Gambrinus, Velkopopovický Kozel, Radegast and others. The enterprise runs four breweries in the Czech Republic.

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However, Pilsen is not the only city where beer has a long and impressive history. Take České Budějovice and its Budějovický Budvar beer, for example. The town brewery there was established in 1795, when České Budějovice was  a mostly populated with Germans. Czechs, however, founded the Budějovický Budvar brewery during 1895. The beer had reached worldwide acclaim by 1913.

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In the 20th and 21st centuries, Budvar has continued to earn recognition throughout the world. Now it is sold in 76 countries and is especially popular in Germany, Austria and Britain. It officially became known as Budvar beer in 1930. During World War II the Nazis took over the brewery, and, later, with the onset of Communism, the brewery became the property of the state. After the 1989 Velvet Revolution, it was privatized.

Please note that this is not the same as the American Budweiser beer! There are many legal battles over the patent between the Czech brewery and the American Anheuser-Busch brewery, which makes another beer called Budweiser.

While I was at this museum, there was also a small, intriguing exhibition of abstract sculpture inside. Although I rarely drink alcohol, I did not want to pass up the opportunity to familiarize myself with the beer-making success of this city and in the Czech lands.

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

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The Kraus and Vogl Apartments in Pilsen Diary

 

PilsenLoosBendovaint1I traveled by bus with Regiojet to Pilsen to see two flats designed by Viennese architect Adolf Loos during the first third of the 20th century. I was already familiar with his architecture. Loos had made the Müller Villa in Prague into an architectural gem. When I visited the Müller Villa, I had been fascinated by the contrast of the spartan exterior and luxurious interior. Loos’ use of rare woods also greatly impressed me. I liked the symmetry and the harmony of the spaces in the Müller Villa. The Japanese theme in the Winter Dining Room entranced me, too.

This tour included two flats – the one that Loos designed for the Kraus family at 10 Bendova Street and the apartment in which the Vogl family had resided at 12 Klatovská Street. Luckily, Bendova Street is within walking distance of the town center. You can almost see the Great Synagogue from there. I stood in front of the building on Bendova Street. It looked like a typical apartment building in the city, but, of course, Loos did not design the exterior – only one flat inside.

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Soon it was time for the tour to begin. Facing me was a huge black-and-white photo of Loos. He was holding headphones because he was hard of hearing. He wore a pearl in his necktie. I was familiar with Loos’ background. Born in Brno, he received Czech citizenship thanks to Czechoslovak President Tomas G. Masaryk. Loos had lived in Vienna, the USA, Paris and Dresden, among other places. He had finished his studies in the Czech lands. Loos admired classicist modern architecture, which stressed simplicity and symmetry. His style was influenced by the architecture of ancient Greece and ancient Rome. Trademarks of Loos’ creations included a lack of decoration on exteriors, a penchant for symmetry and the use of expensive materials such as stone, marble and various types of wood. The Viennese architect had had a close relationship with the city of Pilsen. He designed no less than 13 interiors there, though only eight have been preserved. Four of them are open to the public.

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The flat at Bendova 10 was commissioned by chemist Vilém Kraus, who lived there with his wife and two children. Loos worked on the project in 1930 and 1931. The family would not live at this address for long because they were of Jewish origin, and the Nazis took over in 1939. Gertrude and the children were sent to a concentration camp, where they perished. Vilém, however, survived World War II. After the war, the Communists confiscated the flat, so he moved to Britain. During totalitarian times, the flat was divided into three sections for three families, and part of Loos’ design was destroyed.

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The guide led us into a space divided into the dining room and the living room. There were two mirrors opposite each other in the long space. They created a multiplying effect. I felt as if I was in the room full of mirrors at Lindenhof Palace in Bavaria. I had a feeling of being watched and of spying on others at the same time as I saw reflections of myself and the other participants of the tour. It made me self-conscious and paranoid. I found the mirrors to be jarring. Two pilasters made of rare marble flanked the mirror in the dining room. This feature reminded me of the living room in the Müller Villa, where Loos utilized two marble pilasters. The living room of the Müller Villa also had been divided into parts.

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On the other side of the room, a fireplace played a central role. In the living room of the Müller Villa, there had been a fireplace as well. There was a mirror above the fireplace, and I noticed the white and green marble decoration. Typical for Loos, there was no ornamentation. His design emphasized the beauty of the materials, in this case, the marble used in the room. The ceiling also appealed to me. It was made of dark mahogany.

In the hallway a closet opened to reveal three sections where dirty laundry could be placed. I thought that the device was efficient and rational. We went into another room dominated by light blue wallpaper on one wall. It added a vibrancy to the small space where pictures of Loos and the apartment were on display. The wallpaper was not original, though. I noticed the bright red radiator. In the Müller Villa Loos had also had the radiators painted red. He wanted them to be visible instead of hidden.

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In the bedroom the desk and closet were made of Finnish birch wood. The closets had drawers and hooks for hats. I remembered the moveable drawers and hooks in the closets of the men’s and women’s bedrooms in the Müller Villa. These were details that Loos often employed. In a side panel below a window, there was a safe. The bed was blue, and I wondered if it had been this color when the Krauses lived here.

Soon the tour ended. I was surprised that the flat was so small. I had been expecting something on a grander scale. Still, I was intrigued by Loos’ design, especially by the use of rare materials and mirrors.

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Our group then walked about five minutes to 12 Klatovská Street. Again, the exterior of the building was nothing special. The two preserved rooms in this flat turned out to be located amidst a labyrinth of offices. Originally, the interior had been furnished for businessman Otto Beck, but when he moved out, the new tenant, Josef Vogl, wanted Loos to make adjustments because the dentist needed a section of the flat for his practice and another part for his family. It was Loos’ job to harmonize the two sections. In 1928 and 1929, Loos designed a waiting room and an X-ray room in addition to the doctor’s office. During the Second World War, the apartment was turned into offices. Unfortunately, the part of the flat used for Vogl’s practice was destroyed. The bedroom and children’s room are no longer visible, either. The family did not return after the war, and then the spaces had been used for administrative purposes.

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We did, however, have the opportunity to see the living room and dining room, both of which greatly intrigued me. One room was divided into a study with a desk and chair and a living room area with a floral-patterned couch and various chairs, each one unique. I recalled the chairs in the living room of the Müller Villa. There, too, all the chairs had been different, and each one had been extraordinary in some respect. I especially liked the low armchair, and I recalled the low armchairs in the Müller Villa. Another chair that fascinated me was the tiny one on which only a small child could sit. It was a copy of an Egyptian chair from a museum in London.

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Marble pilasters flanked a fireplace made of red brick. Again, I noticed that the fireplace played an important role in Loos’ design. The walls were decorated with Japanese woodcuts. After Loos had visited the Chicago World’s Fair, he had become intrigued by Asian art. I recalled the Japanese lantern light and other Asian elements in the Winter Dining Room of the Müller Villa. There were even a few Japanese lantern lamps here, too. The room boasted symmetry, one of the features of Loos’ creations that appealed to me the most.

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The dining room was a different, though no less intriguing, story. The yellow travertine walls gave it a warm orange color that I liked. I recalled that travertine had been one material used in the Müller Villa, too. Mirrors dominated the space, set above a long counter on the back wall. A big conference table took up most of the space. The dining room in the Müller Villa had been dark; this room was light and airy. The mirrors blended in with the rest of the design in this space. I did not feel awkward.

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I liked the design of these two rooms more than I had liked the Kraus’ apartment, although I appreciated the unique and daring features in both flats. In the Vogl family apartment, I felt as if I could sit at the desk in the study and write or lie down on the couch and read. The space was comfortable and appealing. Even though the Vogl family apartment was now only comprised of two rooms, those spaces had a lot to say.

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I left Pilsen, vowing to return to see the two other flats that Loos had designed in this city. I would recommend this tour to anyone interested in architecture and to anyone who had enjoyed visiting the Müller Villa.

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

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The Historical Underground of Pilsen Diary

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When I bought my ticket to visit the underground cellars below the center of Pilsen (Plzeň in Czech), I thought the tour would be interesting. However, I had no idea it would be fascinating and one of the highlights of my many trips to this dazzling city in west Bohemia. The ticket office was at the entrance to the Brewery Museum, which I also visited and found intriguing, even though I rarely drink alcohol.

Admittedly, I wasn’t a big fan of visiting underground areas, and I admit that I was a bit scared for my safety when I had to put on a hard hat. It turned out that there was no reason to be afraid. The corridors were not wide but provided enough room for one person to walk through. I can at times feel a bit claustrophobic, but I did not have a problem there. In some parts in caves I had visited, I had been squashed between rock formations, and the paths had been very tight.

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The guide explained that we would explore 800 meters of the underground area, though the cellars were actually much more extensive. The passages can be traced back to the early 14th century. They were built soon after the founding of the town by the first houses that had obtained the right to brew beer. The cellars served various purposes. Food was stored there, and beer was brewed in the underground areas. During sieges of the city, inhabitants took refuge in this labyrinth. The passages also became important parts of the city’s defense system. In addition, during the Middle Ages, the pubs above the passages were ordered to close at a certain hour, and the establishments carried on serving beer in the cellars after hours.

The eloquent guide told us the different eating habits of the poor and the rich during the Middle Ages. Poor people used ceramic tableware and ate mostly vegetarian food because meat was too costly. Birds and fish made up part of their diet. The wealthy, though, used glass, metal and silver tableware and ate a lot of meat and spices. They ate with their hands, though they used knives when eating meat. The well-off citizens refused to use forks because they thought they resembled pitchforks and were bad luck.

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I saw beautiful tiles from stoves constructed in the Middle Ages. One that caught my fancy showed Saint George fighting the dragon. I also saw an exquisite decorated water pot from medieval times.

The guide talked about the three symbols on Pilsen’s coat-of-arms – an angel, a camel and a greyhound. I loved the story about how the camel came to be one of the city’s symbols. During the Hussite wars, the Hussites attempted to overtake the city four times, but never prevailed. The Hussites tried to frighten the inhabitants of Pilsen with a camel. However, their plan backfired in a major way. The inhabitants liked the camel so much that they put the animal on their coat-of-arms. In the end, the Hussites left, defeated. The camel stayed.

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The guide also explained that the three golden fountains of contemporary art on the main square stood for the three symbols of the city. The T-shaped fountain stood for the angel while the F-shaped one represented the camel. The Greek letter stood for the greyhound. I was captivated by the three fountains, though I had not understood what they symbolized. Though contemporary, they fit in well with the medieval atmosphere of the main square dominated by the Church of Saint Bartholomew. I was impressed that they by no means take away from the square’s historical charm.

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I also saw samples of ceramics from the 14th to the 17th centuries. Two objects that caught my attention included a unique 16th century sieve and a piggybank from the 17th century. I was intrigued by the many wells – we saw 20 of them!

When we reached one point, the guide told us that we were standing under a house that once printed books in Pilsen. The first book published in Pilsen hailed from 1468. I also was intrigued with a pair of very pointy shoes, often referred to as poulaines. They looked very uncomfortable. I did not understand how someone could squish up his or her feet into those shoes. How would it be possible to walk in them? During the Middle Ages, very pointy shoes were a sign of wealth. I recalled that they had been particularly fashionable in France during that era, as evidenced by The Book of Hours. The pointier your shoes were, the richer you were.

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There were many guilds during the Middle Ages, including a guild of manufacturers of tiled stoves. I saw many examples of tiles from stoves during the tour. Emperor Rudolf II lived in Pilsen for one year when the plague was ravaging Prague, and the inhabitants presented him with a tiled stove to show their appreciation that he had chosen their city as his temporary residence.

I saw some cannonballs used by the Hussites. They weighed 200 kilograms each!  The cannonballs were able to demolish the first town wall, but they did not destroy the second wall. The inhabitants of the city threw the cannonballs back at the Hussites, foiling their enemy’s plan.

A functioning water wheel fascinated me. It was a replica of one that dated from 1532. I also saw remains of a water town hailing from 1847. It had played a role in the town’s defense system. Emil Škoda, an entrepreneur who set up the Škoda factory that would play a major role in European industry during the 19th and 20th centuries, was born in the water tower on November 19, 1839.

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The 2002 floods had made their way to Pilsen. A sign showed the high level the water reached on August 13 of 2002. The entire underground had been immersed in water. I recalled my personal experience with the floods for a few moments, lost in thought.

During 2002, devastating floods ravaged the republic. I was in Slovakia at the time, so I did not witness them first-hand. Even though the house where I lived in Prague was on a hill, there was significant water damage because we had had no roof because it was being repaired. There was only a protective covering. Rain from the downpours seeped into my flat. I came back to find some of my clothes ruined and mold on the walls. My cat was traumatized. Luckily, my books were all dry. Living through the aftermath of the floods was one of the most difficult times of my life in Prague, where I have lived for 23 years.

When we reached the end of the tour, I was enthusiastic and bewitched by the information I had learned about the Middle Ages and the history of Pilsen. The objects I had seen during the tour were very intriguing. I thought the tour was organized well. I had taken the tour in English because that was the one offered at the time I was able to visit, and the guide had an excellent command of the language and a talent for communicating effectively.

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I am convinced that the underground tour should not be missed when tourists are visiting Pilsen. It is a must-see. When you come back above ground, you understand how the Middle Ages affected Pilsen and have a greater appreciation for the city.

I left Pilsen for Prague about an hour after the tour, and I was certainly more than satisfied with my day trip.

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

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Kladsko Borderland and Božena Němcová Diary

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I went on a UNISMA tour of the Kladsko Borderland area, the region where 19th century Czech writer Božena Němcová grew up. In this post I will refer to her as Barunka, her nickname, as I felt I got to know her well during the excursion. There were about 40 women on the tour, traveling to commemorate this Czech patriot, who was one of the most influential prose writers in the Czech National Revival. During this movement, Czechs tried to promote the Czech language and culture while they lived in the Habsburg Empire, where Germanization was enforced.

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Božena Němcová from http://www.bozena-nemcova.cz

Barunka was an inspiration for women trying to make names for themselves as writers, too and for women in general. Barunka’s most famous literary creation is the novel The Grandmother, about an idealized grandmother and her family living in the countryside of the Kladsko Borderland region. Written during a tumultuous time of her life, The Grandmother was inspired by Barunka’s happy, carefree childhood. We would also visit the Ratibořice Chateau as Barunka had spent joyful days in Ratibořice during her youth. Also on the itinerary was Barunka’s home in Červený Kostelec, where she lived for six months after she got married. We would admire the countryside from a lookout point that commemorated the prestigious writer.  First, though, we would travel to Česká Skalice, the town where Barunka went to grammar school and got married.

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The Grandmother or Babička by Božena Němcová from http://www.radio.cz

The Kladsko Borderland region includes 13 towns, such as Nové Město nad Mětují, which boasts a chateau that I wrote about in another post. It also consists of the Broumov area. I spent a weekend in Broumov – see my post about it – where I toured the impressive monastery and visited the wooden Church of the Virgin Mary, the oldest wooden building in the country. The unique rock formations of Adršpach also belong to this area. I was there one cold, depressing day in November years ago and have always promised myself I would return sometime during the summer.

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Božena Němcova from http://www.martinus.cz

Because I find Božena Němcová’s life to be so intriguing, I am going to go into some detail about the trials and tribulations she faced. Born in 1820 as Barbora Panklová in Vienna, she spent her childhood in Ratibořice. In 1825 her grandmother settled in with the family. Her grandmother played a major role in Barunka’s upbringing. During 1837, Barunka tied the knot at age 17 in an arranged marriage. Her husband, Josef Němec, was a 32-year old customs officer. They had four children, three sons and a daughter.

Josef was a Czech patriot, but he was a rude, outspoken man. He was transferred many times, so the family moved from place-to-place. When they were living in Polná, Barunka started to read books and newspapers in Czech, even though it was an era of Germanization. After they moved to Prague in 1842, she published poetry in a well-respected periodical.

In 1848, while the family was living in Domažlice, Josef was accused of treason, which brought about more transfers in his job. When he moved to Hungary in 1850, Barunka and the children lived in Prague, where she met with literary figures who were Czech nationalists. The family had severe financial problems and was often in debt. Then Barunka and her husband joined the Czech-Moravian Brotherhood, which promoted the idea of a utopian society, but the Brotherhood fell apart.

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Božena Němcová and her children from cs.wikipedia.org

Barunka was no saint. She had several lovers. When her son Hyněk became gravely ill, she was the mistress of Hyněk’s doctor. Then one day Josef came across a love letter and put an end to her affair. Josef’s job then took him to Hungary again, and this time Barunka and the children accompanied him. They visited Moravia and Slovakia, two places where Barunka picked up many folk tales from people living in the countryside.

While they were living again in Prague during 1853, Hyněk died of tuberculosis at the tender age of 15. The family had other problems, too, as Josef found himself unemployed. It was while the family was in such dire straits that Barunka wrote The Grandmother, as she mentally transported herself back to the cheerful days of her youth, when she had lived with her grandmother in Ratibořice. In the book the grandmother figure stands for goodness, love and moral values.

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The Kladsko Borderland

The following year Barunka had an affair with a young medical student, but the man’s parents found out and forced him to move from Prague to Poland, ending the relationship. During 1856 Barunka attended the funeral of influential writer and journalist Karel Havlíček Borovský. She paid tribute to him by placing a crown of thorns on the casket as a symbol of martyrdom.  That same year Josef was accused of embezzlement. Barunka and Josef had heated arguments about the children’s future, and Josef filed for divorce. He beat her, and Barunka called the police. They got back together, but they fought so often that Barunka eventually left him.

During 1861, she moved to Litomyšl, where she worked for a publisher as Josef was no longer supporting her. However, illness and the resulting financial problems forced her to honor society’s rules and return to Prague and to her husband. The first installment of the second edition of The Grandmother was published the day before she died on January 21, 1862.

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A portrait of Božena Němcová from the Božena Němcová Museum in Česká Skalice

First, we visited Česká Skalice, where the Božena Němcová Museum was situated. The school that Barunka attended and the Baroque church where she was married in 1837 are nearby. Coincidentally, her parents had married in the same church, during 1820.

Česká Skalice has an impressive history. It was first mentioned in writing during 1086, but a settlement existed there even earlier. It obtained the status of a town in 1575. During the Thirty Years’ War, Česká Skalice was occupied by both Swedish and the Emperor’s troops. During the 18th century, the town concentrated on agriculture and textile production. The 19th century was fraught with floods and fires, yet the town still expanded. In 1866, during the Prussian-Austrian War, a significant battle took place nearby. The Austrians lost, amassing over 5,000 casualties. It was a hint of what was to come as the Austrians would go on to lose the war.

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from the Božena Němcová Museum

The 19th century was also a time when Dahlia Festivals took place. They were held from 1837 to 1847. Dahlias were plentiful in the region, and the festival took on a nationalistic tone. At the first festival in 1837, Barunka was voted Queen of the Ball. Composer Bedřich Smetana participated in the festival during 1839. Factories for textile production cropped up during that century, too.

Many citizens of Česká Skalice died during World War I, but life in independent, democratic Czechoslovakia was good. A statue called “Grandmother with Children,” based on the book The Grandmother, was unveiled in 1920 in Ratibořice. The sculptors were the well-renowned Otto Gutfreund and Pavel Janák. A museum dedicated to Božena Němcová was opened in 1931. During the Second World War, times were bleak. Many inhabitants lost their lives in resistance fighting.

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Statuary inspired by The Grandmother, Božena Němcová Museum

We could only peek through the iron grille of the Baroque church, but I read that the chapel dates back to 1350, and the baptismal font hails from 1450. The interior became Baroque in 1825.

The Museum of Božena Němcová gave me an overview of her life. I saw her writing desk and tried to imagine her sitting there, composing a story. Photos and documents were on display as well as many editions of her books. A book fiend, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the various editions and noticed how the books’ designs differed. I also peered at some of her favorite paintings. I learned that Barunka admired English literature, especially the works of Charles Dickens and that she was deeply interested in the fate of textile workers, servants and clerks, for instance. She had even visited textile factories in order to get a sense of the grueling work and long hours that prevailed. I admired a richly decorated fan she had owned. The part of the exhibition dedicated to The Grandmother in film and drama also caught my attention. I had seen the popular film, and I had attended a performance of her literary masterpiece, on stage at the Goose on a String Theatre in Brno.

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From the Textile Museum in Česká Skalice

Adjacent to the literary museum was a textile museum, founded in 1936. Česká Skalice is home to the only museum in the country that focuses on the history of textile production.

We also visited Barunka’s timbered school, which she attended from 1824 to 1833. While it is not known when it was built, legend says that it dates from the 13th century. It was first mentioned in writing during the early 15th century. The school was destroyed by the Swedes in 1639, but, four years later, a new one was built. In 1771, some 280 children were registered at the school. However, only about 80 pupils showed up for lessons. Until 1790 there was only one grade. Later, when Barunka attended, there were two grades. Now it looks like it did from the 1830s and 1840s. The building last served as a school in July of 1864.

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The teacher’s desk in the school that Božena Němcová attended

I tried to imagine Barunka going to this school every day. Each row in the classroom consisted of one long bench. I could not imagine how painful my back would be if I had to sit on one of those hard benches all day. A sentence written in 19th century Czech using correct penmanship was on the blackboard. An edition of Barunka’s story, The Teacher, was on display, as she described this school in that work. While I could not imagine going to classes in such a claustrophobic, though quaint, space with uncomfortable seating, some of my fellow seventyish travelers reminisced that the grammar schools they had attended had looked similar. I had spent my elementary school days at a small, modern, private school in the town where I lived in northern Virginia. We had strict rules and a dress code. If students went to their lockers between classes, they were punished. However, we had great teachers and a terrific theatre program. How different my childhood had been from the childhoods of these seventy-something women who had grown up in Communist Czechoslovakia!

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The benches where the students sat in the school Božena Němcová attended

The wall in the atrium of the building was richly decorated with ceramics and paintings. Quotations from Barunka’s books adorned the wall, too. I admired the bright colors and cheerfulness of the display.

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The display of ceramics in the atrium of the school

The highlight of my trip was visiting Ratibořice Chateau, where I had been only once, more than a decade earlier. The village of Ratibořice was first mentioned in writing during the 14th century, when a fortress had stood on the site. The chateau has its origins in the early 18th century, when the then owner, Prince Lorenzo Piccolomini, had it built as one of his residences. It has the appearance of an Italian countryside summerhouse, an architectural style that was popular during the 16th century.

Its golden age took place when Kateřina Frederika Vilemína Benign – the Duchess Zaháňská – inherited the place at the turn of the 19th century. Barunka even based one of the characters in The Grandmother on this former owner of Ratibořice. She made the chateau her permanent residence and was responsible for reconstruction that took place from 1825 to 1826. The chateau was transformed into Classicist style. Also, the park was founded during her tenure as owner. Kateřina was married and divorced on three occasions. The duchess loved children, but her only child was taken away from her in 1801 because she was illegitimate. Then Kateřina was unable to have more children. So she helped educate girls and helped them find rich husbands. She treated them as if they were her own children. One of these girls became a character in The Grandmother, fictionalized as Countess Hortense.

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Kateřina had influential friends. She was on friendly terms with Russian Czar Alexander I, Klemens von Metternich, who served as Minister of Foreign Affairs and later Chancellor of the Austrian Empire and poet Lord Byron. In June of 1813, a significant political meeting took place at the chateau. Czar Alexander I and representatives from Prussia and Austria formed a coalition after the defeat of Napoleon in order to establish the divine rights of kings and Christian values. The alliance focused on preventing revolutions, democracy and secularism. The duchess died during 1839 in Vienna.

Other major reconstruction took place from 1860 to 1864, when Prince Vilém Karel August from Schaumberg-Lippe gave the chateau a second Rococo style makeover. The chateau remained his family property until 1945. The Nazis occupied the chateau during World War II, and after the war, the interiors were changed into Classicist, Empire and Biedermeier styles, which decorate the chateau today. Ratibořice now appears as it did during the first half of the 19th century. In 1978 it obtained the status of a national cultural monument. From 1984 to 1991, there was much restoration work.

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In the chateau I was enthralled with six Italian paintings from the 17th and 18th centuries. The pictures showed people in landscape settings. How I loved Italy! I had been there nine times and would soon be visiting that country again. I loved the Italian language, too. I wanted to see all the towns in Italy, to visit everything noteworthy. Rome, Arezzo and Pompeii were my three favorite places in Italy.

The Men’s Salon was designed in Empire style. In this space I took note of the elegant Empire style bookcase on top of which are busts of the members of the Holy Alliance – Russian Czar Alexander I, Austrian Emperor Franz I and Prussian King Frederick William III along with a bust of Metternich. I loved the paintings of Italy in this room, too. The Social Salon featured a pool table along with Empire style card tables that boasted intarsia designs and a large painting of a biblical scene. I also admired a wooden gilded clock from the first third of the 19th century.

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There was a portrait of a woman who was 46 years old, my age at the time of my visit. I thought she looked so old. Suddenly, I felt so old. I had lived in the Czech Republic and Czechoslovakia for half my life, 23 years. Time went by so fast, and that scared me. Before long, I would be 50. I wondered if I looked that old to other people. Some younger people on trams and Metro gave up their seats for me, an act of respect to elders.

A painting in the Music Salon, which was decorated in Napoleon Empire style, caught my attention. The large canvas portrayed a carnival parade in Naples during 1778. There were 2,338 people painted in the picture. I admired the attention to detail. I thought back to my trip to Naples the previous year. The museums, the pizza, the picturesque streets in the historical center, the opera house, the churches and the cathedral – it had truly been a wonderful experience. And Naples seemed so different from the other towns and cities I had visited in Italy.

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In another room I admired a statue of a Dancing Fawn on a column, an artwork based on a statue unearthed in Pompeii. I recalled seeing the original in the Archeological Museum in Naples. Visiting that museum was certainly a highlight of my trip to southern Italy.

Ornate gilded clocks also decorated interiors. I loved the paintings of two lakes in Italy. I had wanted to visit Lake Garda and surroundings this year, but the trip was not offered at a time when I was free. I also would love to see Lake Como and the surrounding area. I recalled flipping through a book I have about the region and feeling overwhelmed by the beautiful photos. A desk in the room was exquisite, too. I loved the Klimt-style candlesticks in the bright, dynamic blue, gold, and red. What looked like a pile of books was really a trash can. That was an object I wanted in my own home.

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On the first floor I was enthralled with the Servant’s Room. The servant slept on a high, wooden bed that he also used for ironing. My back started to hurt just looking at the hard bed. On the lower floor I loved the coffee service that included cups with pictures of three chateaus on them. One of these was Amalienburg, which I fondly recalled visiting in Munich, although the day had been so rainy that it had not been pleasant walking in the park. The elegant Biedermeier furniture in the Schaumburg Room caught my attention. I especially liked the dark green couch and the room’s warm colors. The Graphics Cabinet was impressive, too.

I also liked the Second Rococo style adornment of the Men’s Parlor, where there were black-and-white portraits of various monarchs, including Russian Czar Nicholas II. In the Women’s Salon I was drawn to an elegant fan picturing cats. A cat lover, I dreamed of having my own shelter for black cats or of owning a mansion where there was enough room for 15 or 20 black cats. I liked black cats best because they are often overlooked. People are prejudiced against them because of their color. Some people consider them to be unlucky, but, to me, they are not unlucky at all.

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I imagined Czar Alexander I seated in the Big Dining Room along with many guests at a lunch honoring the Russian leader. I admired the English Copeland service on the table as well as a green tiled stove. Other appealing rooms had Neo-Baroque and Second Rococo décor.

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Near the chateau was the Grandmother Valley, where old buildings, some from the 16th century and others from the 19th century, stood among beautiful scenery. The Rudr Mill hails from the second half of the 16th century. It has two floors, and one room is decorated with folk-style furniture. There is an exposition about the processing of flax, too. The statue of the grandmother with her grandchildren was inspired by Barunka’s novel. A timbered pub from the second half of the 16th century impressed me, too. I also saw a timbered cottage covered with shingles. It was built in 1797. I liked the folk-style furniture inside. Finally, I reached Viktoria’s Weir, originally made of wood but redone in concrete during the 1920s. The valley was tranquil and idyllic. I walked at a leisurely pace on that windy day, enjoying the landscape.

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The Winter Kitchen in the house where Božena Němcová once lived in Červený Kostelec

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The house in Červený Kostelec

 

We visited the small house where Barunka had lived with Josef for six months, shortly after their wedding, when she was only 17 years old. In the small town of Červený Kostelec, she had written the book Poor People and had posed for her first portrait. She had also become pregnant with her first child, Hyněk. The three rooms on display included the Winter Kitchen, where the landlady sometimes cooked for Barunka and her husband. Barunka did not cook. The couple often ate at a nearby pub. Across from the house was an orange church, an interesting structure, but we could only peek inside, barred from entering by an iron grille.

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The house in Červený Kostelec

Then we came to Barunka’s Lookout Point commemorating the region where the well-known writer grew up. The views of the countryside are spectacular. It was a wonderful way to end our trip.

When we got back to Prague, I felt enlightened and invigorated. I had learned a lot about Božena Němcová and the region of her happy childhood. The chateau interested me the most, but everything was intriguing. I thought of how she had been physically abused and how she had to return to her husband in the end, and I became sad. What a life she had lived and what magical books she had produced!

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

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The Kladsko Borderland from the lookout point

Kladruby Monastery Diary

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I had visited Kladruby Monastery about 20 years before I participated in the arsviva tour of architect Jan Blažej Santini-Aichel’s creations in west Bohemia. I had wanted to pay the Benedictine Monastery another visit for a long time.

I already knew a bit about the fascinating history of the place. Kladruby Monastery was founded by Prince Vladislav I during 1115. It was established on the Nuremberg-Prague trade route. The monastery made quite a name for itself at the end of the 12th century and during the 13th century. The Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, Saint Wolfgang and Saint Benedict was consecrated in 1233 with King Wenceslas I on hand for the ceremony. (King Wenceslas I was not the only royal to visit the monastery; King Přemysl Otakar I held negotiations there during the 13th century, too.)

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There was much looting later that century, but around 1370, a new abbot was appointed, and the situation improved. The Chapel of All Saints was added during that period. Then Hussite Wars brought devastation to Kladruby. The Hussites and then the army of the Emperor Sigismund took control of the monastery in the 15th century. The Benedictines returned in 1435, though it took about 70 years for things to shape up. The monastery flourished during the early 16th century, and more monks called Kladruby home. This was a glorious time of expansion. A school was set up; both Catholics and Protestants attended.

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Things took a turn for the worst with the onset of the Thirty Years’ War. The monastery was looted and pillaged. Because the Catholics won, Kladruby was once again in favor after the wartime turmoil. Expansion and reconstruction took place in the Catholized land.

Jan Blažej Santini-Aichel, a Czech architect of Italian origin, became associated with the monastery in the early 18th century, when he was in charge of doing a makeover of the church in Baroque Gothic style, which emphasized Gothic features in a distinctly Baroque style. Thanks to his efforts, the church interior is bewitchingly beautiful.

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In 1785 Emperor Joseph II dissolved the monastery. The Benedictines packed their bags, and the Windisch-Graetz clan moved in. During their tenure, they divided the monastery into apartments. One part of the complex was made into a brewery. The Windisch-Graetzes, however, did build a library that is rather impressive.

Kladruby was nationalized after World War II, and terrible times were to come. Sick cattle grazed on the monastery’s property while other parts were transformed into offices. Reconstruction did not begin until the middle of the 1960s.

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I was especially intrigued by the Dining Room, which showed off an 18th century pewter service. What I found most intriguing, however, was the portrait of Cardinal Schwarzenberg. No matter where I stood, his eyes were always staring at me. I gazed at the portrait of the red-drapery clad cardinal with a stern expression from several angles.

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In the ambulatory we saw many sandstone statues by Late Baroque sculptor Matthias Bernard Braun, one of my favorites. His works are so dynamic and powerful. It was evident that Braun’s sojourn in Italy had influenced his creations. Most of these statues were inspired by Greek and Roman historical themes while some stood for allegories of character traits. They were all original except for the statue of Count František Antonín Špork, who had been a prominent cultural figure and patron of the arts in the early 18th century. He had founded Kuks, a former hospital that had once been located across from a popular spa, and he commissioned Braun to make statues of vices and virtues for the Baroque exterior of Kuks.

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I had visited Kuks for the third time the previous year, and Braun’s statues were certainly a highlight. The newly restored Dance of Death paintings lining a hallway and the Baroque pharmacy there were also impressive. I had also examined the statuary carved from sandstone rocks in Braun’s Bethlehem, situated near Kuks. Those accomplishments are by no means the only ones on Braun’s résumé. He authored several statuaries on Prague’s Charles Bridge, such as The Vision of St. Luthgard, which was his first work. It brought him much acclaim. At Kladruby we also saw 12 woodcuts depicting scenes from Christ’s childhood. It astounded me how it had been possible to portray so much detail in the 16th century carvings.

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At the monastery there are about 500 sculptures, paintings and portraits of John of Nepomuk, the Czech patron saint of Bohemia who was drowned in the Vltava River on the orders of King Wenceslas IV during the latter part of the 14th century. The king and archbishop were at odds over who should be the abbot of the prosperous and influential monastery. John of Nepomuk showed his support for the Pope by confirming the archbishop’s candidate, which infuriated the king. John of Nepomuk became a saint in 1729.

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Then came the Santini-designed Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, Saint Benedict and Saint Wolfgang. Santini had been inspired by the Italian radical Baroque use of geometry and symbolism. I see Santini’s structures as rational yet radical. Santini elevates Gothic art to a new form, offering fresh perspectives and giving new insights. I fondly recalled last year’s arsviva tour of Santini’s structures in east Bohemia and Moravia. I had learned so much about Santini’s creations, and my appreciation of the architect had grown.

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Santini was supposed to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a stonemason, but palsy prevented him from doing so. As a student he was mentored by Prague-based architect Jan Baptiste Mathey. During a four-year sojourn in Italy, Santini became enamored with works by Italian architects Francesco Borromini and Guarino Guarnini and their radical Baroque style. Santini was commissioned to reconstruct many religious sites. Baroque art became the fashion during the era when the Catholic army triumphed in the Thirty Years’ War and remained so afterwards, when the Catholicism flourished in the Czech lands. During a mere 46 years, Santini cast his magic spell on about 80 buildings.

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It amazed me how the church at Kladruby – the third biggest church in the Czech lands – retained its Gothic charm while also celebrating the Baroque style. I loved the details, such as the slots for candles in the benches of the choir. The pulpit was shaped like a boat rocking on a stormy sea. The Baroque organ – which still worked – boasted 1,270 pedals. Santini designed the impressive organ case. At the bottom of the main altar, there was a small statue of Christ on the cross, and I noticed that the Christ figure was crooked. I wondered what that symbolized. Two devils appeared in paintings in the church as well. Directly below the gushingly Late Baroque dome decorated with a scene of the Assumption was a large eight-pointed star of many layers. It was just one of many eight-pointed stars symbolizing the Virgin Mary that appeared in the church. I also liked the Romanesque elements that Santini had retained. I loved the many frescoes on the walls as well as the church’s stucco ribs and helical vaults. The play of light was also dynamic. Light played such a major role in Santini’s designs.

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The high altar, one of Braun’s masterpieces, was perhaps the most intriguing as it featured both Gothic and Baroque elements. It showed scenes from the life and torment of Jesus Christ and scenes from the history of the Benedictine Order. The Assam brothers, who had been Late Baroque gurus, had also decorated sections of the church.  I recalled the church in Munich that they had decorated. The Late Baroque adornment there was so overwhelming that it had made me dizzy.

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We also visited the Windisch-Graetz Empire style library, which held 33,000 volumes and included a gallery. On display were weapons of various sorts and objects obtained during travels abroad.

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I was more than satisfied with my visit to Kladruby and would recommend it to everyone who has time to see sights in west Bohemia. What impressed me most about Kladruby’s history was that it reflected the history of the Czech lands going through eras of prosperity, destruction and rebirth. Visiting the monastery was like reading a 900-year old illustrated text. Santini’s geometric symbolism, his use of Gothic and Baroque elements and the play of light greatly impressed me. Braun’s statues were so lively. Each facial expression told a story – some of delight, some of anguish. It was as if it was possible to see into the soul of each character represented in the statues.

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

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Dance of Death Paintings at Kuks Diary

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NOTE: See my Kuks Diary for more information on Kuks hospital.

I visited the former Baroque hospital Kuks for the third time last year, soon after reconstruction. In the early 18th century, a spa had been situated across from the hospital, but it was destroyed by a flood in 1740. At Kuks visitors can admire 24 Late Baroque statues of vices and virtues by master sculptor Matthias Bernard Braun, a Baroque pharmacy, a pharmaceutical museum, a lapidarium, a chapel, a church and a crypt. Lining one hallways are 50 Dance of Death paintings that were beautifully restored during the recent reconstruction.

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The Dance of Death or Danse Macabre genre in art was revived during the Baroque age and not only at Kuks. It began during the Late Middle Ages in 15th century France. The artistic renderings show death personified summoning people from all walks of life to dance. No one – neither kings nor beggars – could escape death. During medieval days the plague had ravaged Europe, and this was one artistic way to try to come to terms with so many deaths riddling the continent. Dances of death also played roles in religious plays presented in churches. People looking at these paintings during the hospital’s Baroque heyday were supposed to dwell on the fragility of life. Thus, the Dance of Death emphasized a certain mentality, a specific outlook on both life and death.

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

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Stiassni Villa Diary

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I had heard that the Stiassni Villa in Brno had been open to the public since the end of 2014, but I did not have time to go there in 2015. When the Czech UNISMA travel agency offered a tour of the Stiassni and Löw-Beer villas in the Moravian capital, I immediately signed up. A prime example of modern functionalist architecture in the Czech lands, the Stiassni Villa had been under reconstruction from 2012 to 2014. During Communism renovations had taken place as well –during that time period furniture from various chateaus had been added to the interior. Still, the villa had original furniture, too.

I was entranced with the section of Brno where the architectural gem was located – in the villa-sprinkled Masaryk Quarter, a section that looked tranquil, so different from the hustle and bustle of the city center. It reminded me of the Hanspaulka section of Prague, where I enjoyed taking long walks along villa-flanked streets.

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I am not a big fan of the functionalist style, but the exterior was intriguing. Its spartan appearance reminded me a bit of the exteriors of Prague’s Müller Villa and Rothmayer Villa. Shaped like the letter L, the Stiassni Villa was designed by architect Ernst Wiesner, who made quite a name for himself in Brno during the interwar years. His work was influenced by Austrian architect Adolf Loos, who designed the Müller Villa in Prague. Wiesner created the plans for other buildings in Brno as well, such as the Moravia Palace and crematorium. Wiesner fled to Great Britain in 1939, the year the Nazis took over. The villa was completed in 1929 for textile entrepreneur Alfred Stiassni and his family – his wife Hermine and his daughter Susanne. The structure features rectangular windows and a massive cassette cornice, for example.

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The Stiassni’s tenure at the villa only lasted nine years. Because they were Jewish, the family fled Czechoslovakia in 1938, when they traveled to London and then continued to Brazil. Alfred Stiassni’s mother decided not to leave her homeland due to her age. She died at the Terezín concentration camp in central Bohemia during 1942, when she was 87 years old. The villa was taken over by the Nazis during World War II. During 1945, the Stiassnis obtained US citizenship. That same year Russian soldiers liberating the city would destroy furnishings in the villa. It was in good shape again when Czechoslovak President Edvard Beneš stayed there later that year, on his first visit to Brno after the war. He and his wife would reside in the villa again the following year during another trip to the Moravian capital.

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Paintings of the owners of the villa, Alfred and Hermine Stiassni. The paintings are not part of the original furnishings.

From 1952 the villa was the property of the Regional National Committee and was used as accommodation for VIP guests, such as Fidel Castro. In 1961 Alfred Stiassni died in Beverly Hills, California. His wife passed away the following year. In 1964 leading Soviet Union politician Nikita Khrushchev spent time at the villa. From 1990 to 2005, the place served as a four-star hotel. Famous guests included Rudy Giuliani and Bill Gates. In 2005 Susanne, who had married an American, died in Beverly Hills.

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Soon it was time for the tour to begin. In the Large Dining Room I admired the copy of a Baroque painting by 17th century Flemish Baroque painter Jacob Jordaens showing merry people drinking and laughing. I thought I could see the influences of Peter Paul Rubens and Jan Brueghel the Elder in the work. The onyx fireplace also caught my attention. My eyes were drawn to an elegant vase as well.

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Another room featured watercolor paintings by Hermine and original chairs with grey upholstery. The pewter chandelier was also intriguing. An exquisite table had been originally in Bítov Castle, one of the largest and oldest castles in Moravia, a sight I had toured twice. I also admired a Baroque commode. The stucco decoration on the walls and ceiling was stunning. Then we visited some small rooms, and I especially liked the Empire space with side tables and a bed in that style. The bathroom was made of green marble. It had obtained its appearance during reconstruction in the 1980s. It is not known what the bathroom really looked like during the Stiassni’s tenure there.

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The first floor was even more intriguing. Behind Alfred’s vast closet with moveable drawers was a space for more than 10 pairs of shoes. I recalled how the drawers in the dressing rooms of the Müller Villa were also moveable. In the bathroom the detail on the faucets was superb.

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From Hermine’s bedroom it was possible to see the sloping English garden with hills and other greenery in the background. Other villas could also be seen in scenery that would have made a remarkable landscape painting. Mirrors covered Hermine’s closet in her dressing room. Her bathroom was green marble because the architects had no idea what it had looked like originally.

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The daughter Susanne had the nicest rooms. Her playroom featured a dressing room, a bathroom and the terrace. I liked the yellow color of the rooms. It was my mother’s favorite color, and it brought back memories of my time spent with her in the yellow-painted kitchen of my parents’ house. So many discussions about so many topics, so many smiles, so many problems resolved. Susanne’s governess also had a small room.

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The Small Dining Room, where the Stiassnis usually ate, was very modest with a small table set for three. The garden was another highlight of the villa. It was established in 1927 and included many foreign woody species. I noted its symmetrical design. Each section had been assigned a different use.

The Stiassnis were athletes. They took up swimming, skiing and skating, for example. There had been a swimming pool above the villa, and there still were tennis courts on the property.

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I had enjoyed my tour of the villa, which contained some intriguing furnishings and was architecturally enthralling. I appreciated the functionalist design even though it was not my favorite style. I could imagine the villa in the early 1930s, when the family was settled there, not aware that their time in the villa would be cut short by the Nazis’ rise to power. From there we headed to the Löw-Beer Villa, which had a stunning Secession façade but only one piece of original furniture. Facing the famous Tugendhat Villa, the Löw-Beer Villa is now used as an exhibition space.

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

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