Chyše Chateau Diary

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I had come across Chyše chateau by chance while flipping through my old Kamenný klíč publication of castles and chateaus. When I read that the tour included an exposition about Karel Čapek, I was hooked.
Karel Čapek had been perhaps the greatest Czech writer ever, a master at all kinds of genres – science fiction, mysteries, novels, poetry, fairy tales, nonfiction, travelogues and more. I had studied his works for my master’s degree in Czech literature and was eager to see an exhibition about him. I had never known that he had worked as a tutor at the chateau. Curiously enough, I had never heard of Chyše before that, even though it had been opened to the public since May 30, 1999.

Karel Čapek writing

Karel Čapek writing

The only public transportation was by train through Rakovník, but I would only have five minutes to change trains, or I would have to wait two hours for the next train. The transportation back to Prague was awful as well. So, I went to Karlovy Vary again and took a taxi to the chateau that would charm and bewitch me as soon as I set eyes on its romantic, Neo-Gothic façade (I love Neo-Gothic facades!) and impressive park. I also hoped to visit the brewery next door. I had heard that Chyše made a decent beer.

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The history of Chyše Chateau was enthralling. It stretched back to the second half of the 12th century, when the then medieval fortress was owned by the Odolenovic clan for 200 years. The castle was destroyed by the Hussites during the Hussite wars in 1422. (Lasting from 1419 to around 1434, the Hussite wars pitted the Radical Hussites against the Moderate Hussites, Holy Roman Empire, the Pope, Hungary and others. Neither party was really victorious.)
Six years later, its new owner Burián z Gutštejn restored it and built a hospital and a church as well. Although he died in 1489, his descendants manned the castle until the 16th century when it fell into the hands of the Lobkovicz family. It was Mikuláš from Lobkovicz who changed the appearance from Gothic castle to Renaissance chateau in 1578, but a year later he sold the chateau to Bohuchval Berka from Dubé.

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Unfortunately, the chateau was confiscated after Bohuchval revolted against the Emperor in the early 17th century. The Michna family gained control of the chateau and retained it for almost 90 years, though there was a 20-year gap when the family did not own it. The Michnas were responsible for much valuable construction at the chateau and in the town. Thanks to them, a monastery was erected, the Carmelite church was renovated, another church was built and the chateau was transformed into Baroque style. It was under their supervision that legendary Czech Baroque painter Petr Brandl executed the biblical ceiling fresco called “The head of son Saul is brought to King David.”
A turning point in the chateau’s ownership came when Count Prokop Lažanský obtained it during 1766. Chyše would stay in his family until it was confiscated due to the Beneš decrees that took property from German citizens in 1945, as the owners at that time had German citizenship. From 1946 to 1976 the chateau served as several types schools, but in 1976 it was closed and became decrepit and dilapidated. Chyše was put up for sale in 1993. During 1996 it was saved thanks to the efforts of Vladimír Lažanský from Děčín, who bought it for 10 million crowns. The chateau was open to the public in 1999.

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The first room of the tour presented pictures of the chateau in a dilapidated state during 1996, when Lažanský bought it. It seemed a miracle that it had been transformed into such magical beauty during three years, I thought to myself. Even the well-manicured park had looked like a jungle back then.
We walked through one room that exhibited a spectacular Renaissance ribbed vault as well as black-and-white graphic portraits. The next room would become one of my favorites. Baroque master Brandl’s fresco with a biblical motif swirled above me in vibrant colors. I also was impressed by the enticing stucco work in the space as well as the coat-of-arms above the fireplace. From there we entered the space in which concerts and weddings are held. The white Baroque stucco decoration included cherubs, shells and swirls. I was fond of the pink, Czech tea service. The Baroque closet and dresser also amazed.

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The Venetian porcelain in the following room was one of the most exquisite and fascinating works I have ever seen in a chateau. The blue tea cups were decorated with white lace, it seemed. Even in a close-up examination, the decoration looked like lace. But it was really painted onto the cups. The wooden chandelier also got my attention.
There was Czech porcelain from the early part of the 19th century in the Summer Dining Room. I saw an exhibition of porcelain and pots in the small space where they prepared food near a hallway that led to the kitchen. In another hallway was a lush carriage from 1913. It had been used for weddings.
Then we went upstairs. I was taken in by the painted, diamond shapes on the ceiling in the hallway. The apartment of Prokop II Lažanský included portraits of his great grandparents and a 400-year old fireplace that dazzled. A clock with what looked like gold griffins on its sides dated back 150 years. A portrait of Count Vladimír Lažanský, who had employed Karel Čapek, hung in the portrait gallery. I noticed that he had a puffy moustache, beard and oblong face. Two tables were set with delicately painted Easter eggs, as it was a few weeks before Easter when I was there.

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The small library contained 30,000 volumes. In it I saw a black-and-white fireplace in Second Rococo style; it appeared to be made of marble. The piece of furniture that got my attention in the children’s room was a dresser that marked the end of Rococo style and the beginning of Classicism. A bedroom was decorated in white – a white bed, a white dresser, a white chaise lounge. It emitted a feeling of purity. The furniture in this room was about 200 years old.
Then we came to Karel Čapek’s modest room which only got sunlight in the early morning, not providing optimal writing conditions. The furniture consisted of a small, wooden bed and a desk on which was an old bottle of Mattoni water with a German label, a white porcelain cup, about 10 books, an inkpot and a porcelain dog.

A young Karel Čapek

A young Karel Čapek

Čapek had taken the job as home tutor to the often misbehaving 13-year old Prokop IV Lažanský in 1917 when he was 27 years old, a year and a half after finishing his university studies. He had wanted a job that entitled writing, but could not find anything as an editor or journalist. (That fact astonished me and gave me some hope as I at the time could not find much work in writing or publishing.)
Čapek spent five months at Chyše Chateau, having tutored the boy in Prague for two months prior to his stay there. In his letters the to-be renowned author complained about not having time for his writing, though he did get some inspiration. During his tenure there a factory employing 14- and 15-year old teenagers exploded. Perhaps that influenced his decision to write Krakatit in 1933. He also spent time chatting with the gardener, as he was a lover of gardening and even wrote a book about the subject.

The prominent author Karel Čapek

The prominent author Karel Čapek

I could not believe that I was actually seeing a place where Karel Čapek had lived! He had walked on these floors, slept there, wrote there, woken up to the sun shining through the window there. This small, modest room was the highlight of the tour for me. I felt as if I was stepping on holy ground in this almost claustrophobic room.
After leaving Čapek’s room, I saw hunting trophies – a zebra decorated a wall as did the heads of antelopes. A boar hung above the doorway while a leopard skin rug decorated the floor. I am not too fond of anything to do with hunting, though.

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Soon the tour was over, and it was time to visit the Karel Čapek exposition in part of the chateau’s ground floor. I stared for a long time in awe at the round, wooden desk and blue- with-white decorated chair where Čapek had written the philosophical, third volume of a trilogy called An Ordinary Life. The chair did not look especially comfortable, and I wondered if Čapek had suffered from a bad back.
I read information about Čapek’s tenure at Chyše Chateau on the walls. The then aspiring author had earned 100 crowns monthly for his tutoring of Prokop IV. That was almost nothing today. I wondered if it had been a substantial amount back in 1917. After his seven months in Prague and Chyše, he did become an editor, by the way.
I also saw reproductions of photos of Čapek, the chateau and 13-year old Prokop. Vladimír Lažanský sported a top hat and big moustache. I also looked at an aerial view of the town. The reproductions of Čapek’s letters were intriguing. In one correspondence with Czech writer S.K. Neumann, he complained that he had no time for writing here.

Chyše Chateau park

Chyše Chateau park

Various editions of a book about Capek’s sojourn there, called Kruh mého času and authored by Marie Šulcová, also decorated one wall. On the walls I also took notice of quotations from An Ordinary Life and scenes from his plays such as The White Plague and The Makropolis Thing. His time during 1932 in Karlovy Vary was documented as well. There, Čapek had worked on the second volume of his trilogy, Meteor.

But that was not all Chyše had to offer. I also saw the brewery next door. While beer-brewing in this town dates back to the 16th century, this brewery was constructed between 1839 and 1841. Behind the brewery is what remains of Renaissance walls from the original building. The chateau’s brewery closed down in 1932 due to its inability to keep up with other brands . It was used as a granary and then boiler house. In 1994 the place began to deteriorate.

A statue at Chyše Chateau

A statue at Chyše Chateau

Then, during 2003, the Lažanskýs bought it, and restoration began. Even the cellars were restored to their Renaissance appearance. The brewery opened again June 1, 2006. I found the beer very tasty. It was a golden color, not too light and not too dark. I tend to drink gold-colored or dark beer, so it was perfect for my palette.
After I had walked through the dazzling park, I had lunch in the brewery restaurant as I devoured chicken with ham and cheese and, of course, diet Coke. I was happy that day as I made the journey back to Prague, via taxi and Karlovy Vary, with a two-hour Student Agency bus ride that did not feel long at all.

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

Manětín Chateau Diary

 

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I had wanted to visit the Baroque chateau Manětín, about 45 minutes from Plzeň by car in Western Bohemia, for many years, but for some reason I had been under the impression that it was closed to the public. Only while I was at Chyše Chateau did I find out that Manětín had been open to the public since 1997. Today I would finally see it with my own eyes. I was very excited about the trip. I had to go by car as there was no public transportation that went to Manětín. We drove through the bewitching countryside and passed many haystack-dotted fields.

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When I arrived at Manětín, I was bewitched by the Baroque statues and a sculptural grouping of the Holy Trinity in front of the main square. A road led down to the Baroque chateau itself, situated behind the statues. At the small white church next to the chateau a group of six or seven musicians were playing funereal music on trumpets. People dressed in black walked solemnly into the church.

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It was almost 10 am, and my tour began at the top of the hour. I had a few minutes to pop into the park. The Baroque and English park looked elegant and well-kept, very different than it must have looked between 1945 and the 1990s, when it was in a decrepit state. It had been restored in the 1990s to appear like it had during 1790.

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Then it was time for the tour. The knowledgeable young man acquainted me with the history of the chateau that had been first mentioned in 1169. The chateau that had begun as a medieval fortress had been transformed into Renaissance style before 1600. After a devastating fire in 1712, it was reconstructed with a Baroque appearance thanks to the then owner, Marie Gabriela Lažanská.

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The chateau had been confiscated several times.  Volf Krajíř z Krajku owned the place from 1544 to 1547, when it was confiscated because he had rebelled against Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I.  Following The Battle of White Mountain in 1620, which pitted the Protestant nobles against the Emperor and Catholic Habsburgs, the defeated nobles lost their property. The chateau was confiscated for the second time in 1622.

ImageThat was when Ester Mitrovská from Nemyšle, born Lažanská from Bukova, bought the chateau. When she died, the chateau came into the hands of her brother, Ferdinand Rudolf Lažanský. The Lažanský family would keep the chateau for more than 300 years. Times of cultural prosperity followed, especially when Václav Josef Lažanský and Marie Gabriela Lažanská manned the chateau.

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After World War II, though, the chateau was confiscated for the third time, becoming the property of the state because two Lažanská women in charge of the chateau had married two Austrian brothers.  Thus, the chateau had been in part the property of the Austrian family. Due to the Beneš decrees that took away property from Germans and even expelled them from the country, Terezie Lažanská, one of the women who had married an Austrian, was deported to Austria. Some rooms were open to the public as early as 1959, and the chateau became a national monument in 2002.

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Upon entering the hallway, I was enthralled by the sculptures dotting the staircase as well as the ceiling fresco.  The four statues with putti on the staircase represented the four elements. One cherub was holding a fish, representing water. Another was depicted with a cannonball and decked in an old-fashioned fireman’s helmet that looked more like military headgear. This was Fire. Earth was portrayed by a cherub with a melon and snake, and Air was depicted by a putti flying on a bird. I could almost imagine the cherub whizzing through the cold, damp chateau air on the big bird.

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A portrayal of what the chateau was supposed to look like in the 18th century took centerstage in the ceiling fresco. Allegories of architecture and painting also adorned the fresco as did the coat-of-arms of Marie Gabriela Lažanská, perhaps the most influential of the Lažanský owners. (The guide mentioned that Marie Gabriela had been addicted to card playing. In fact, more than once she had put the chateau at stake when she had made her bet.)

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In the Reception Room there were four paintings depicting soldiers during the Thirty Years’ War, which lasted from 1618 to 1648 and started due to religious disputes. One held a spear, another a sword. The oldest piece of furniture in the chateau stood in this room as well; it was a 1640 bureau, dating from the Thirty Years’ War as well. I paid particular attention to the elegant, brown fireplace and gold with black clock and vases, all in lavish Rococo style. I liked the gold with black décor.

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The portrait of the young woman depicted in black was Terezie, who was killed in a hunting accident when she was 21 years old. (Note that this is a different Terezie than the one who was deported to Austria.) But perhaps it hadn’t been an accident at all, the guide conceded. Some say she was killed on purpose so she could not get married. Supposedly, her lover hated the man to whom she was engaged.

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In a corner of the next room, a window was painted onto the wall. The guide explained that there had been originally a window there, but it had been filled when new rooms had been added in the 19th century. An 18th century chaise lounge, a Venetian mirror made in Morano and a group of white, Viennese porcelain also adorned the room. On the ceiling there was a small fresco of part of a boat, dating from the first part of the 18th century; most of the fresco had been destroyed, though. I tried to imagine what it would have looked like if the entire fresco had been visible. A port with boats and nobility strolling along an embankment on a crisp afternoon? I wondered.

I loved the way the porcelain cups were displayed on small black shelves set at different levels on the wall. In a round portrait Marie Gabriela, clad in a silver dress, appeared strong-willed and somber with a no-nonsense expression. A light wood, Baroque desk hailed from the 18th century while the tapestry covering one wall showed a scene from the Old Testament with Moses. The two dressers, both green with floral patterns, were intriguing, for their irregular, curving shapes and color. A view of Venice was painted on each one. I recognized the Doges Palace on one and thought back to the thrilling time I toured the palace during my first day in that magical city.

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The next hallway was decorated with green pictures of castles, chateaus and various places – the pictures had been cut out of magazines. I recognized the chateau of Blatná, as two people rowed a small boat around it. Another scene showed woods in Karlovy Vary. Still others showed the castles Orlík, Točník and Žebrák. Then we came to a room with a hunting theme. Nineteenth century guns, petrified hawks and a woodpecker made up the décor. The Baroque desk, closet and dresser looked out of place.

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In the room where the nobility had gathered, the paintings on the wall showed boats at sea and hailed from 18th century Holland. A black Baroque table and bureau from the same era also adorned the room. The glass chandelier caught my attention.  It was exquisite. Made in Venice’s Morano, the chandelier was decorated with glass flower buds that looked almost as if they were icicles taking on decorative shapes. There was also an Italian mirror with a simple, gold frame.

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Decorating another hallway were more green pictures of castles, chateaus and places. I saw Plzeň, a major city now, as a 19th century village and Roundice nad Labem before its chateau had become dilapidated. A room with a horses’ theme was decked with small paintings of horses, a clock with four, white columns, a desk with cards and a German newspaper dated 1859.

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Then we came to a room with unique paintings on the walls. They did not depict the nobility, but instead the servants and clerks who had worked at the chateau. A rarity in chateaus, this collection included 13 portraits from 1716 to 1717 hanging in several rooms and in a hallway. They were painted by Václav Dvořák, whose life remains mostly a mystery. All the people portrayed in this room were dressed in black. Two carriage drivers next to a carriage wore tall, fluffy hats with big feathers. In one portrait a solemn-looking priest stared back at me. He had written a chronicle of Manětín in three languages, the guide said.

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Objects in the next room proved to be rarities as well. The space boasted a complete collection of porcelain, plates with tea and coffee service sporting white with brown decoration. It was not often that a chateau had a complete collection; usually there were only pieces of a collection featured.  In the former Billiards’ Room, there was no table, but there were more paintings of servants and clerks. Three men donning large, white wigs gazed at me. There were also portraits of a doctor, the chateau’s caretaker and the priest who was also a historian. An elderly woman held keys in one hand; she was responsible for the keys to the chateau and to the food storage rooms. The yellow tile stove with squiggly brown vertical lines appealed to me. A small device that functioned as a bell was there, too.

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The biggest room was now used for weddings and concerts. The 1730 ceiling fresco boasted its original, vibrant colors and portrayed three figures showing God’s qualities in the center. I spotted the one in red with the heart as Love. The female clad in blue represented Strength. The third portrayed a girl pouring water from a jug onto a coat-of-arms. This was symbolic of Luck or Fortune. In the corners of the ceiling, the painted figures represented the four seasons.  Fall showed a naked girl with grapes and Bacchus, the god of wine. Summer was represented by a girl donning a big, straw hat and weilding a sickle as well as a woman holding a parasol. Spring: One girl was pouring water while another was holding a parrot.

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Winter had two symbols. One was Death as an angel, but there was also a woman in a black mask to depict winter as a time of social gatherings and parties. When I went back to the chateau in 2020, the black mask triggered thoughts of the coronavirus pandemic as cases were increasing in the Czech Republic. In America, where my octogenarian parents lived, the situation was horrendous with over 1,000 dying every day. In the Czech Republic we didn’t have to wear masks anymore, though I still did because I wanted to be as careful as possible. I had spent the first three weeks of lockdown in my apartment, afraid to go out, before I started taking walks and calming down. Thoughts of the coronavirus and my parents’ and friends’ health often kept me up at night.

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Mythological events were also portrayed on the ceiling. I spotted Poseidon and a falling Icarus. There were two portraits of the Lažanský family in this room as well. One showed Marie Gabriela and her daughter along with a black servant. In the portrait of her husband with their sons, the painter put himself in the work, holding a palette and brushes.

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 Painted Baroque statues flanked the doorway that led to the magnificent library, which held 5,000 books, many with golden spines.  Most were in German and dealt with economy, but books by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller also graced the shelves. There were also books in English, Italian and French, for example. Only two books in Czech were in the collection, and both described how to make beer. Topics of other books included fishing, fruit growing, history and theatre. There was even a Turkish textbook. Above me was a fresco of Zeus and his daughter Pallas Athena, the goddess of war. The ceiling had been reconstructed in the 20th century due to a fire that had erupted because a tile stove had not been closed properly.

I found the remaining two portraits of servants in the hallway. One showed a cook and woman washing dishes in the chateau kitchen. Another showed a woman pouring water into a basin. Since there was no hot or cold water back then, the water had to be boiled in the kitchen, the guide explained. The woman pouring the water was decked in a traditional folk costume.

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We saw the chapel from the oratory behind glass. The main altar painting was by Baroque master Petr Brandl, my favorite Baroque artist. He also created two paintings on side altars. Brandl actually came to the chateau to paint the works during 1716.

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After the intriguing tour I went outside to take photos of some of the 30 Baroque statues that sprinkled the town and hailed from 1680 to 1780. I still could not enter the Baroque church next door. A simple, wooden coffin was placed in a black van, followed by a procession of people dressed in black, along with two decked in purple and white robes. I did not see the Church of Saint Barbara, either, though I later read it was Baroque in style and featured eight wooden statues of saints.

The St. John the Baptist statue, now situated at a church, had suffered much turmoil. It originally stood in front of an administrative building. Then it was placed on a small bridge. In 1944 it was severely damaged by the Nazis. Then children did more damage to the statue. After the Russians came in 1945, it was tied to a telephone pole. In 1954 it was moved to its current location.

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I went to the chateau restaurant and had my favorite excursion lunch of chicken with peaches and Cola light. Then I got back in the taxi and headed for the smallest town in Europe called Rabštejn nad Střelou, situated only nine kilometers away.

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