Museum of Decorative Arts in Berlin Diary





Located next to the Gemaldegalerie of painting masterpieces, the Museum of Decorative Arts(Kunstgewerbemuseum) in the Kulturforum complex holds a very underrated and impressive collection of top-notch exhibits in fashion, design and object art from the Middle Ages through the Art Deco period. I was particularly impressed with the monumental Renaissance tapestries.






To be sure, the medieval and Renaissance art was astounding, especially the Guelph Treasure from the 12th century. Objects from the Baroque era also stood out, including furnishings and a cabinet of curiosities from that era. Rococo porcelain, such as Meissen, is well-represented, too. The Art Nouveau and Art Deco collection spans from 1900 to 1920. I was drawn to the Art Deco vases and the furniture in both styles.





On the lower level, there is an intriguing exhibition of chairs from the 19th century to the present. It was fascinating to see how chair design had developed through the ages. One chair was made of what looked like wire; I could not imagine how painful it would be to sit on it. Another resembled an ice cream cone in a playful yellow with white color combination.








Normally, I am not interested in fashion at all, but this collection caught my undivided attention. I loved the stunning evening dresses plus the older fashions from 1700 to 1850. I could never wear a corset! This museum outdid my expectations, and I came away with a fonder appreciation of fashion, design and art in general.





















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


Lobkowicz Palace Diary

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

Max Lobkowicz from

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.
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.
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.
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.
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

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

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

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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tracy A. Burns is a proofreader, writer and editor in Prague.
NOTE: No photos were allowed on the second floor, only on the first.

Pilsen (Plzeň) Museum of West Bohemia and Pilsner Urquell Brewery Diary

The Cathedral of Saint Bartholomew, a landmark in Pilsen

The Cathedral of Saint Bartholomew, a landmark in Pilsen

I had been to Pilsen many times. After all, it was only an hour away via the comfortable Student Agency bus service. I had even spent several days in the town, staying in a pension above a beer hall-restaurant, but I did not do much sightseeing. I had been in town for a theatre festival and found myself in various theatres the entire time. Indeed, I was ashamed that did not really know Pilsen well after having lived in Prague for more than 20 years. It had always been one of those places where I changed trains.
I would soon find out that Pilsen certainly is worth visiting. It was even selected the European Capital of Culture for 2015. With a population of more than 170,000 inhabitants, Pilsen is the fourth biggest city in the Czech Republic.
A travel blogger on Twitter mentioned that he had really enjoyed the tour of the Pilsner Urquell brewery. Although I rarely drink alcohol, I thought it would be intriguing to see how beer had become an integral part of the town’s history. I wondered what processes were entailed in brewing it.

The town hall with its sgraffito Renaissance facade

The town hall with its sgraffito Renaissance facade

Before my tour of the brewery, I made a stop at the Museum of West Bohemia, where I visited an exhibition on the city’s history from medieval times to the 19th century. First, I explored other areas of interest in the museum. The Gothic armor in the armory was impressive, and the Meissen collection certainly caught my attention. I was especially drawn to a bowl with the entire surface covered in three-dimensional, handmade flowers with leaves. The handle looked like a tree branch. Dating from 1739, it was truly exquisite.
Then it was time to concentrate on the history of the town in context with the events that had so greatly affected this land. The exhibition also focused on everyday life from the various centuries. There was an exposition of a medieval, rural house, for instance and recipes from the 15th and 16th centuries as well as a section on food and textiles in the Middle Ages.

The Plague Column in Pilsen

The Plague Column in Pilsen

This is what I learned: Pilsen was established in 1295 by King Wenceslas II. It was designed in a regular Gothic ground plan with a rectangular square that was 193 meters x 139 meters. In the beginning about 3,000 people lived in 290 houses. The town was significant because it was situated on a trade route from the German borders to Prague.
When the Hussite wars ravaged the lands during the 15th century, the town at first supported the revolutionaries but then turned toward the Catholics in 1420. Pilsen was never conquered.
During the second half of the 15th century, Pilsen became a regional center. It had a Catholic majority, most of whom spoke Czech. Because the town was located on an important route to Germany, there was much trading with Germans. Non-Catholics wanted to teach Pilsen a lesson for taking such a strong Catholic stance, so they set fires deliberately and destroyed part of the town. This happened, for example, in 1507. During the 16th century, because the city had a Catholic majority, it supported the monarch.

The exquisite facade of a building on Republic Square

The exquisite facade of a building on Republic Square

In the mid-16th century Pilsen ranked third among the biggest cities in Bohemia. The town flourished by buying villages and creating ponds. The beer brewing industry also proved successful – but more about that later. By 1557 Pilsen was ranked as the second wealthiest town after Prague. The inhabitants were mostly from Bohemia. At the end of the 16th century, Emperor Rudolf II took refuge in Pilsen when the plague epidemic spread through Prague.
During the 17th century Thirty Years’ War, Pilsen, not surprisingly, supported the Catholics, who were victorious, so the town was not punished after the war. However, the 17th and 18th centuries were not all that rosy. In 1623 a fire destroyed parts of the town. The plague made its way to Pilsen in the 17th and early 18th centuries. There was another fire in 1729.
Pilsen soon found itself as a provincial town. The population decreased, and the city experienced financial problems. In the middle of the 18th century, many immigrants came to the town. Some of the newcomers were officers for the administration of the city.
At the beginning of the 19th century, Pilsen contributed to the National Revival, a movement to revive the Czech language, improve Czech culture and emphasize Czech national identity. Pilsen was one of many places where this revival was successful. Czech schools were established. Theatres put on performances in Czech. There were Czech technical organizations, and Pilseners contributed to Czech literature. Yet there were hardships, too. In the 1830s, ethnic controversies riddled the town. Poor harvests and financial crises did not help matters.

Republic Square

Republic Square

In 1848 Pilseners were among the Czechs who demanded national democratic and constitutional rights in the monarchy. At the end of the 18th century and at the beginning of the 19th century, Pilsen was a town oriented in trade and agriculture and had promise in the industrial sphere as well. The food industry grew thanks to breweries, mills and distilleries.
The 19th century brought major developments in the city. For instance, Škoda Works was established by Emil Skoda and became the top arms producer in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Later the company became a leading engineering enterprise. The brewery brewed its first batch of beer on October 5, 1842. The Pilsner Urquell brand and the pilsner type of beer would capture worldwide attention. But more about that later.
One feature I really liked in the history section of the museum was the focus on individuals who had made a difference during these centuries – people who were not necessarily famous. I learned about Joseph Vojtěch Sedláček, for example. Active during the National Revival, he collected art-related objects for Prague’s National Museum. While he taught math and physics at a monastery, he also scribed poetry. He is also the author of the first Czech textbooks on math, geometry and physics.

Part of the Pilsner Urquell Brewery complex

Part of the Pilsner Urquell Brewery complex

Now it’s time to get to the main topic: beer. If there is one thing that symbolizes the city, it is beer. The beverage was first brewed there at the time of the founding of the city in 1295. King Wenceslas II gave 260 townspeople the right to brew beer in their homes. The quality of beer was controlled by town councilors in the entrance of the town hall. The town magistrate poured beer on oak benches. Then councilors would sit on the benches for an hour. If their leather britches did not stick to the bench when they stood up, the beer was deemed undrinkable.
In 1838, 36 barrels of undrinkable beer were spilled out in front of the town hall, an event which compelled some brewers to set up a brewery. The Burghers’ Brewery opened on October 5, 1842, when the very light, bottom-fermented Pilsner Urquell came into existence.
Pilseners have the then 29-year old Bavarian brewer Josef Groll to thank for their internationally-acclaimed beer. He’s the one who put local ingredients of soft Bohemian water, very pale malt and Saaz hops into the mixture using a new method to produce bottom-fermented beer and then came across the new type of beer – the pilsner type — by accident on October 5, 1842.

Historic barrels in the brewery cellars

Historic barrels in the brewery cellars

Two of the Czech Republic’s most famous brands of beer, Pilsner Urquell and Gambrinus, are made at the vast complex near the center of town in buildings that had been constructed on a former executioners’ site. I picked up my ticket in the Visitors’ Center, where an original wort barrel is displayed. The place was crowded with tour groups. It was not possible to tour the Gambrinus brewery. For some reason there were no tours in March.
When it was time for my English-speaking tour to start, we stepped outside, and the guide pointed out a few landmarks. The water tour hailed from 1907 and was 47.2 meters high. It reminded me of a lighthouse that I remember seeing as a child while on vacation near Freeport, Maine. As a young child I had wondered if some evil person had inhabited that lighthouse. The Pilsen water tour is no longer used.
There was also a decorated historical gate built on the 50th anniversary of the brewery, in 1892. By the way, that year 462,550 hectoliters of beer were brewed there, and the brewery had more than 600 employees. The cellars even already had electrical lighting. The gate brought to mind the historical gate at the entrance to the town of Mělník, where I had visited a chateau a week earlier. The guide elaborated on the history of the brewery, mentioning Josef Groll and the 1838 barrel-spilling event, for example.
Then we got on a shuttle bus and went to the packaging hall, where we would see the bottle lines in action. The packaging hall was modern, hailing from 2006. There were four lines, one reserved for cans. On the premises was a washing machine as well as a camera that takes a picture of each bottle to show if it is clean. The bottles were filled, warmed at 25 degrees Celsius, dried and then labelled. We saw the huge bottle lines from above, behind glass. At that time two lines were working.

The bottle lines at the packaging plant

The bottle lines at the packaging plant

Everything was so mechanical, so efficient. And to think that I only saw several people in the room while all this action was taking place! I almost expected to see Charlie Chaplin running from one side to the other as in Modern Times. It also made me think of Karel Čapek’s science fiction play R.U.R (Rossum’s Universal Robots) in which robots made by man take over the world, bringing about the extinction of the human race. Everything was so mechanical. It was as if an army of bottles were marching into battle.
The process also reminded me of one of my favorite episodes of I Love Lucy, when Lucy and Ethel are stuffing chocolates into their mouths, picking them off the conveyor belt at the chocolate plant. That scene had such a human quality to it, though. I missed seeing many people in the hall. I tried to imagine it back in the days when people had worked at the belts. It both impressed me and saddened me that technology was so advanced.

A bottle line at the Pilsner Urquell Brewery

A bottle line at the Pilsner Urquell Brewery

Then we took the bus to another location and saw some cylindrical tanks outside. They were used for the fermentation and saturation of the beer. The guide mentioned that there were 20 cylindrical tanks outside and 110 in the building. A green-and-white train from 1952 stood to my right. At one time it had been used to take beer to the brewery. We went inside and got onto the largest passenger elevator in the country with room for 72 passengers.
We watched a short film about beer production in a panorama cinema with a revolving floor. One of the things I learned from the film is that it takes about five weeks to make the beer. Then we went to an exposition on barley and the stages of malt production. You could hold the barley in your hand and sniff it. You could also see how yeast looks through a microscope and taste hops that came out of a machine that looked similar to a soap dispenser. The Saaz hops had a subtle aroma. An exposition explained about granulating the hops. It told how they had to be dried, ground and boiled.

The packaging plant

The packaging plant

Then we went to the old brewhouse in a 1930s era building and the new brewhouse above it, which has been used since 2004. The former brewhouse had been used for 75 years. During that time five million hectoliters of beer had been brewed there. The tanks used in the brewhouse looked like alien space ships and brought to mind the TV serial Mork and Mindy and the movie E.T.

The old brewhouse

The old brewhouse

Two million hectares of beer are produced in the new brewhouse annually. The filtration process, for example, takes two hours, and the boiling process lasts 90 minutes. After that, the wort is chilled to six degrees Celsius. Only two people seated in a small office behind a glass wall controlled the mechanisms. Such a complicated process and only two people are needed to monitor it! Again I viewed technology as both awesome and disheartening.

The brewhouse

The brewhouse

From there we went to the room called The Hall of Fame, where the brewery’s trophies and various awards are shown off. A copper bin on display once held the first batch of Pilsner Urquell. Habsburg Emperor Franz Joseph, who reigned from 1848 to 1916, had penned his name in the visitor’s book, but his handwriting was messy. The guide mused that the ruler of the Austro-Hungarian Empire might have been drunk when he signed it. I thought about the suicide of Franz Joseph’s son, Crown Prince Rudolf, and the assassination of his wife, Empress Elisabeth, nicknamed Sisi. To be sure, Franz had good reason to drink!
Nineteenth century Czech poet Jan Neruda even wrote a feuilleton praising the brewery after his visit. It was published in Hlas on May 5, 1863.

Emperor Franz Joseph signed the visitors' book at the brewery.

Emperor Franz Joseph signed the visitors’ book at the brewery.

The guide also mentioned that the oldest house where beer had been brewed is at number 58, but I do not remember the street. Now the Beer Museum is located in that building. I had hoped to get there that day, too, but I would not have enough time.
Then we explored the cellars. They were nine kilometers long, with a size of 32,000 square meters. Of course, we did not walk through every passage! I thought of how difficult it must have been to have built this vast underground area – it must have taken many people to make all these tunnels. No machines had been used to make the cellars. It had all been accomplished by hard, sweaty manual labor. I wondered who had done this sort of work. Poor people who needed the money? Prisoners? Maybe both.

The barrels in the cellar

The barrels in the cellar

These underground spaces were once used for the fermentation and saturation processes. We saw storage areas with big, historic barrels. We walked through an ice room, too. In the second half of the 19th century, they used to cut ice from rivers and ponds to keep the place cold.
At the end of the tour, we tasted unfiltered and non-pasteurized Pilsner Urquell beer. It was tapped straight from an oak lager barrel. The beer was very good, but since I am not much of a beer drinker, I am not enough of an expert to compare it with other brands. I tended to like black beer, but this light brew was as good if not better than any of the dark beers I had tasted.

Republic Square

Republic Square

After the tour I went back to Republic Square in the center of town, where there are three modern gold fountains with black Chinese basins. I liked the gargoyles from which the water spewed. (I’ve always been a fan of gargoyles and the grotesque.) There was a 17th century Plague Column, too.
For years I had wanted to go inside the Cathedral of Saint Bartholomew on the square, but it was never open when I was in town. It was only open certain months during weekdays. I had read that a Neo-Gothic altar featured the Madonna of Pilsen showing the Virgin Mary with a very expressive and sorrowful look on her face. I loved gazing at the Renaissance town hall with all the sgraffito decoration on its façade that dates from 1558.
I was very hungry, and I decided to eat lunch at my favorite eating establishment in Pilsen – the famous U Salzmannů restaurant around the corner from the square. During the 19th century this had been the most significant pub in the city. A famous event in Pilsen’s history was connected with this former beer hall. In April of 1843, the original owner of the place, Martin Salzmann, sent some beer to his close friend in Prague, a tailor named Jakub Pinkas. The tailor was so impressed with the taste that he decided to hang up the scissors and open a pub, U Pinkasů. The pub still serves Pilsner Urquell beer.

A tower of the Cathedral of Saint Bartholomew

A tower of the Cathedral of Saint Bartholomew

Supposedly, Salzmann had been quite a character. He was known as a very grumpy and unpleasant man. He would place a coaster on the table for each customer and put the mug of beer on it. If he became disgruntled with a customer who was too drunk and too loud, he would take away the coaster and kick the guest out of the pub.
There was another way to lose your coaster. If you clinked glasses – Salzmann hated it when customers did this – you also lost your right to drink in the establishment. Salzmann also disliked students and deterred them from visiting his pub because they often did not have enough money to pay for their drinks.
After my late lunch, it was time to head back to the bus station. I vowed to come back to tour the underground areas of the city and to wander through the Beer Museum. I now am very aware that there were many sights to see in Pilsen, and I want to visit as many as possible.


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

The new brewhouse

The new brewhouse


Mnichovo Hradiště Chateau Diary


I had taken this train many times before, usually to Turnov, which was one stop further than today’s destination – Mnichovo Hradiště. The last time I had taken this route, the train had been furnished with new, comfortable seats, though the exterior had appeared dilapidated. This time, the seats were the usual ugly, red, vinyl kind divided into compartments that looked dirty. After riding the pleasant Viamont train to Bečov nad Teplou, I guess I had become a bit spoiled concerning train travel.

The trip took about an hour and 45 minutes, and it took another 15 minutes to walk through the pleasant town to get to the chateau. I remembered the chateau’s exterior from my visit here about 10 years ago, but it looked as if the walls had seen a few fresh coats of paint since my first time here. There were three parts to the tour – the Empire style theatre for about 50 or 60 spectators, the interior rooms with mostly 18th century furnishings and the lapidarium where 25 statues were kept in the church and chapel of a former convent.

The guide and I started with the tour of the theatre.  On the way there, we stopped in a hallway where I saw large portraits and Baroque bureaus. A huge painting traced the genealogy of the Waldstein family, the clan who had owned the chateau for generations. I picked out Vilém Slavata from Chlum and Košumberk in a long, red robe and big, red cap in one portrait. I had visited enough chateaus to know that this nobleman and writer had been thrown out a window of Prague Castle during one of Prague’s defenestrations. Thankfully, he had fallen on a heap of manure.  Passing the Hunting Hallway, I glanced at black-and- white graphics of various animals and noticed a depiction of a deer with one antler. Then we came to a machine that made the sound of wind. By turning a lever, the round, wooden contraption with a white sheet over it moved to produce the sound.

MnichovoHchateau6Then we entered the Empire style theatre. I took a seat on a bench that resembled the original seating. While the theatre was first mentioned in archival documents during 1798, it was renovated and given an Empire style appearance in the early 1800s on the occasion of the Holy Alliance negotiations, when Austrian Emperor Franz I, Russian Tsar Nicholas I and Prussian Crown Prince Frederick William discussed how to handle the revolts taking place throughout their lands, during 1833. The first play performed here was Carlo Osvaldo Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters, performed in German and Czech by actors who came from Prague. Three theatre groups from Prague’s Theatre of the Estates gave performances here for three nights. In the second half of the 19th century, the theatre fell into disrepair and was used as a furniture warehouse. It was not open for the public until 1999. The curtain was restored in 2001.

 I was enthralled by the romantic landscape backdrop that was currently on display. It gave me a soothing, calm feeling. Some of the 11 plain, flat backdrops that the theatre possessed included a street view, a castle, a hall with columns and Prague Castle with the Lesser Quarter and Charles Bridge. The stage was 32 feet wide, 28 and a half feet deep and four feet high while the proscenium opening was 22 feet wide and 13 and three-fourths feet high. The theatre had one curtain and 54 wings, which were set at an angle to the stage instead of being placed parallel to it, as was the usual custom. The theatre did not use a mechanized wing system or wing trolley, either, but rather employed a groove system that utilizes upper and lower grooves to assure that the wings will stay upright. Also, the wings in this theatre were double-sided and therefore could be reversed easily. On the back wall behind the balcony a large genealogy painting of the Waldstein family, complete with cherubs, caught my attention. It celebrated the family’s pride of its heritage. The theatre is still on occasions used today.

The chateau had an intriguing history. It was built in the 17th century, during Renaissance times. The owner Václav Budovce of Budov joined forces with other nobles in a revolt against the emperor and was executed on Old Town Square in Prague during June of 1621. In 1623 the chateau was confiscated and subsequently bought by Albrecht Eusebius of Waldstein.  In 1675 Arnošt Josef of Waldstein purchased it and kept it until the middle of the 20th century. The chateau was given a Baroque appearance in the early 1700s, although some rooms were given a Rococo makeover around 1750.

In a hallway full of portraits, I spotted the pointed beard of Albrecht of Waldstein, the one who had bought the chateau in 1623. A large painting explained the genealogy of Emanuel Arnošt of Waldstein. The guide said that when the researcher could not find all the ancestors of the Waldsteins, he made them up. The large, grey, puffy wig that Maximilian of Waldstein was wearing caught my attention, too. I also noticed that Count Vincenc had only one eye open. There was also a room to the side, roped off. Leaning over the rope, I glimpsed a tiny chapel with a Baroque altar of Saint John of Nepomuk and a Madonna with child. The altar was flanked by black Corinthian columns with golden tops.

Next came the Countess’ Antechamber. Someone had installed a 20th century telephone and placed it on a Baroque bureau, a sight which vividly contrasted the two eras, so far apart in technology and time. A still life painting adorned one wall, and a laundry basket with an exquisite floral pattern and muted yellow background sat on the floor. The stunning green, blue and brown chandelier symbolized the four seasons. I noticed that grapes stood for fall.

The oldest painting in the chateau, showing an old lecherous man and a young woman whom I suppose was very naive, hung on a wall of the Countess’ Bedroom. I noticed how both figures had baby pink skin. Why a countess would want such a painting in her bedroom is beyond me. In the visitors’ book, a thick, red book on an ancient desk, I could read the names of nobility such as Schwarzenberg and Lobkowicz.

MnichovoHchateau4The Italian Salon enthralled me with its stunning mural spanning three walls. The painter had never visited the Italian town presented; rather, he had painted it from an etching. From the embankment of the town pictured, one could see Naples and Venice in the distance. Two men and a woman were talking in one section, nobles had gathered in another, and in yet another part two men manned the oars of a small boat.

The Study, which later became known as the Music Salon, featured a piano with the white and black keys reversed. I had never seen a piano with this unique trait. The Baroque white tile fireplace was decorated with two sea monsters that were supposed to be dolphins, as they slivered through the water with their heads pointed down.  Small portraits also adorned the Music Salon. One showed Habsburg Empress Maria Theresa dressed in black, mourning the death of her husband.

The small picture gallery was roped off, which disappointed me. I wanted to study each painting in minute detail, but only was afforded a side view of the three walls totally covered in art. I noticed a woman reading while holding a skull and other paintings boasting hunting themes.

Next came the Hunting Salon. The three walls were covered in a mural painted in shades of dark green and featuring a forest, dogs and hunters. I noticed that a backgammon game consisted of pieces with faces carved on them.  The ceiling fresco was devoted to Diana, goddess of the hunt. She held an arrow; one of her plump breasts was bare. The room also boasted a secret door.

The biggest room in the chateau was the Dancing Salon or Reception Salon, Rococo in style. A mirror sat flat on a round table that looked like a three-tier table for cakes wheeled around in luxurious restaurants. Porcelain figures decorated the three tiers while murals decorated two walls. I spotted this very chateau in the background of one part of the mural. Men clad in red with dogs were seen in a forest as a woman stood in the doorway, something having caught her sudden attention.

The Ladies Salon featured murals on four walls. They showed a countess posing in different professions. She was portrayed as a dancer, a flower-seller, a hunter, a fisherwoman and a traveler, among others. In the depiction of the countess as a flower-seller, I took note of the English park in the background and the flowers that decorated her hat. I was enamored by the backs of the chairs on which landscapes had been painted. The floral cushions were exquisite as well.

MnichovoHchateau2The most beautiful room in the chateau, in my opinion, was the Delft Dining Room that is immersed in blue-and-white Delft Faience porcelain from the 17th to 19th century, all original and handmade. I noticed some geometrically shaped vases and admired the wooden compartment ceiling, too. The Waldstein gold with blue coat-of-arms decorated the center of the Renaissance ceiling. I noticed some plates on a wall featuring windmills while a tray depicted a park with a fountain and statue.

The Oriental Salon was full of Japanese and Chinese porcelain. I admired the orange and blue swirls of one Chinese plate hanging on a wall. The table and chairs were made of bamboo. Four vases represented the four seasons. A Japanese painted partition also adorned the room.

The table in the Meissen Dining Room was set for breakfast with its blue-and-white porcelain taking center stage. Yet what astounded me about Meissen craftsmanship were the chandeliers. Hailing from the beginning of the 19th century, this particular chandelier featured floral decoration colored green, pink, yellow and orange.

Although the library was composed of three rooms, a gate with bars prevented visitors from entering. This was the library where Giacomo Casanova had served as librarian during the 18th century, the guide reminded our group. His letters and manuscripts made up a significant part of the chateau archives, as did material from the Thirty Years’ War. I wished I could see more of the 22,000 volumes inside the gate as the shelves were decked with fiction as well as specialized literature, such as legal and historical works. Many books focused on alchemy, too. They were written in a variety of languages, including German, Latin, Czech, Italian and Hebrew. Two big globes stood in the foreground while a smaller globe and telescope could be seen in the background of the closest room.

Walking through a hallway before descending the stairs, I spotted a large portrait of an armor-clad Albrecht of Waldstein on a gray, spotted horse. Then it was time to visit the lapidarium.

The church and chapel of the former Capuchin convent appeared to be plain, nondescript. The exterior was even dilapidated. What was inside, though, proved absolutely stunning and breathtaking. As we first entered the Church of the Three Kings that joined the Chapel of Saint Anne, I saw about six small statues in a dark, small space. This will be disappointing, I remember thinking to myself. Then we turned the corner, and the room came alive with 25 statues of Baroque, Rococo and Empire style twisting and turning, dynamic and vibrant, most made of sandstone.

Home to these statues since 1966, the lapidarium featured monuments that had been deteriorating in the outdoors. Our group stood in front of the headstone of Alburtus de Waldstein, the name engraved prominently on one wall in what looked like marble. Then I walked through the room, my head spinning from all the dynamic and expressive movement flowing from the statues. I inspected the altar of the Saint Anne Chapel and noticed that Saint Anne had a child on her lap as they were reading, cherubs fluttering above. Next to them a figure seemed to be holding a painting.

MnichovoHchateau5Then I took in the statues. In a sandstone work hailing from the third quarter of the 18th century, the Virgin Mary had her hands clasped to her breast. A Saint John of Nepomuk portrayal by Josef Jelínek the Elder, dating from the second quarter of the 18th century and made of polychrome wood, featured that saint as a sort of visionary, peering into the distance, determined and confident. I noticed the dynamic folds in his white drapery. It looked as if they were fluttering in the wind. Another statue, named the Angel with the Attribute of Christ’s Suffering, had been erected in the early 1720s out of sandstone. I was stunned by the angel’s huge wings as the angel seemed to be moving toward the viewer, about to trample him or her. I also noticed the angel’s crushed nose and wished the statues were in better condition. If I was a millionaire, I would donate money to preserving Czech chateaus and castles, so that fascinating statues such as these could be restored.

The Lion and Putto, by master Ignatius Francis Platzer, was made of sandstone and hailed from the 1750s or 1760s. Putto, clutching a shield, was riding on an enormous lion. Perhaps the best known statue in the collection was Matthias Bernard Braun’s Perseus, a sandstone work from the early 1730s. Perseus appeared calm, not at all tormented, and I took note of his fluttering drapery and twisting body. Then I walked over to Saint John of Nepomuk with Two Angels by Karle Josef Hiernle, a sandstone piece from 1727. John of Nepomuk was flanked by two angels. One angel lightly touched the sleeve of John of Nepomuk’s garment. An angel held a finger to his lips, while the other pointed toward Heaven. Cupid heads decorated the bottom of the sculpture. John of Nepomuk ‘s head was leaning to the right, his hands were clasped and his eyes closed as if he were meditating.

After thoroughly enjoying my inspection of the statues, I went to lunch, where I ate my favorite chicken with peaches and cheese. Soon afterwards, I took a bus from the main square directly to Prague. Once again, I was fascinated by everything that I had seen in the chateau, and I needed time to process all the information and all the beauty that had surrounded me.

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