Hanspaulka Diary

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Baroque Chapel of the Holy Trinity, Nad Komornickou Street

One of my favorite pastimes in Prague is taking long walks through architecturally intriguing sections of the city. My favorite quarter in Prague is the villa-dotted Hanspaulka area in Prague’s sixth district, which is ideal for long walks on sunny days.

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The quarter gets its name from Jan Pavel Hippmann, inspector of the archbishop’s farms during the 18th century. In German his name was Hans Paul, and his nickname was “Hanspaul.” He built a Baroque-Rococo chateau in the area and lived there for 40 years. His chateau was dubbed “Hanspaulka.” The section has been known as Hanspaulka for more than 200 years.

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The quarter has not always been dotted with villas. From the 14th century, it was a section of vineyards and six small chapels to which residents from all over the city flocked. (Two of these chapels are still standing.) Today’s main street, Na Pískách, was filled with sand. It gets its name from the Czech word for sand – “písek.”

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Before the Thirty Years’ War, there were about 120 vineyards in Hanspaulka. The war did a lot of damage, to put it lightly. After 1627 many owners decided to try their luck abroad, abandoning their vineyards. During 1637 only 50 vineyards remained. The vineyards were devastated by war again in the middle of the 18th century, and only two were revived. There are no vineyards in the section now, but many streets are named after former owners of vineyards.

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While the first villas cropped up in the 19th century, the architectural boom of villa construction occurred in the 1930s. Well-known architects, such as Karel Lhota, designed many of the luxurious homes there.

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Baroque chateau

The chateau is definitely one of the main sights in the area. It has a late Baroque façade. After World War I it became an archeological museum. In 1996, it was sold to a private company. Now it houses the institute of former Czech president and long-time politician Václav Klaus.

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Pavel Janák, photo from Brněnský architektonický manuál

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The interior of St. Matthew’s Church

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The pulpit of St. Matthew’s Church

St. Matthew’s Church was originally a rotunda. The church came into being in 1404, but the original structure was demolished in 1770. Its current appearance dates back to the late 1800s. Legendary film and theatre actor Josef Kemr and architect Pavel Janák are buried in its cemetery. I remember seeing Kemr on stage, and I even owned some films in which he had performed. I admire Janák’s Cubist and Rondocubist styles of architecture. I recalled that he designed Prague’s Adria Palace and some villas in the Střešovice quarter of Prague’s sixth district. He had also drawn up the plans for the functionalist Baba Housing Estate near Hanspaulka. Janák also contributed to the architecture of Prague Castle.

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Josef Kemr’s grave

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The buildings in Hanspaulka show off a variety of architectural styles. You will come across a Neo-Baroque villa with balustrades, oriels, dormer windows and small towers and a Neo-Classicist villas, too. A former popular pub was built in geometric Secession style. Another former pub served as a meeting place for underground artists during the Communist era, and today a plaque commemorates the establishment. Art Deco townhouses as well as villas with sculptural decoration and ceramic veneers are sprinkled throughout the quarter. Hanspaulka was not always a quarter catering to the wealthy. In the 1930s members of the working class would take out mortgages to buy the Art Deco townhouses. They were allowed to live in one room, always opting for the kitchen, until the mortgage was paid off.

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Functionalism and Purism are no strangers to Hanspaulka. In fact, the first functionalist villa in Prague was built in Hanspaulka. The design of this villa was greatly influenced by the works of Le Corbusier. It features a semi-circular balcony and a roof terrace. A former French high school, built from 1930 to 1934, features classrooms lit from both sides and terraces where classes can take place if weather conditions permit. While I admire a variety of styles from Romanesque to Neo-Gothic, functionalism is not my cup of tea. Still, I admire the architectural characteristics of these villas.

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The Linhart Villa, the first functionalist villa in Prague

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The former French school

Unfortunately, not all the buildings are so elegant. One structure was constructed during the early 1950s in the style of social realism, which prevailed under Communism. The two sections of the building have house signs that glorify the working class.

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The house sign glorifying the working class, social realist architecture

Demolished in 2014, the Hotel Praha was another eyesore in a style that may appear to fit into the social realist realm but really has Western characteristics. It was built from 1975 to 1981. An exquisite chandelier hung in the foyer, and the terrace offered magnificent views of the city. Until the Velvet Revolution of 1989, the hotel served as accommodation for guests of the Communist government. Now it is a garden that is not open to the public. An international school will be constructed on the premises in the near future.

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The Hotel Praha, now demolished, from Pintarest

Many famous Czech personalities have lived in Hanspaulka – Nobel Prize-winning poet Jaroslav Seifert and actress Lída Baarová, who was Nazi Minister Joseph Goebbels’ mistress for two years while she was residing in Berlin. I recalled discovering Seifert’s poetry as I delved deeper and deeper into my studies of the Czech language, when I was a student at Prague’s State Language School.

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Lída Baarová, photo from lidovky.cz

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The villa where Lída Baarová lived – Her sister committed suicide here.

Baarová certainly had led an intriguing life. Hitler ordered Goebbels and Baarová to end the affair and banned Baarová from acting. At a premiere of one of her films in Berlin, paid moviegoers shouted insults at her, and the screening had to be cancelled. Baarová could not take it anymore. After having a nervous breakdown, she moved back to Prague and then to Italy. However, the end of the war did not mean the end of her problems. Back in Czechoslovakia after the war, the authorities suspected her and her family of collaborating with the Nazis. Her mother died while being interrogated, and her sister committed suicide. Though she was never charged, Baarová spent a year and a half in custody. When freed, she moved abroad. She died during 2000 in Salzburg. Baarová is buried in Prague.

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Jaroslav Weigel on the left, Ladislav Smoljak on the right, from Murder in the Parlor Car, Divadlo Járy Cimrmana, photo from filmer.cz

I know that the late film and theatre director / actor Ladislav Smoljak, best known for his roles at the Jára Cimrman Theatre, lived in the area because I used to see him with his adorable dog at the local vet.

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The villa of Alois Eliáš

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A plaque commemorating Alois Eliáš is situated on his former home.

Czech politician and General Alois Eliáš, who was deeply involved in the resistance movement during World War II, lived in this area. He was executed by the Nazis.

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Vlasta Burian’s villa

I was most intrigued by the fate of Vlasta Burian, who had a luxurious villa with a swimming pool, gym and tennis courts in the area.  Burian made a name for himself as a film and theatre actor during the First Republic, which lasted from 1918 until 1939. I have enjoyed watching all his films available on DVD. I admire his comedy for its improvisation, black humor and satire. From 1923 to 1956, he made four silent films and 36 with sound.

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Vlasta Burian, photo from revueidnes.cz

Unfortunately, Burian suffered from manic depression. He also had his share of trials and tribulations. Burian was branded a Nazi collaborator after World War II because he had performed a small role in one radio play spouting Nazi propaganda. During these bleak times, he wound up serving several prison terms, working in the mines and later serving food in a cafeteria, as he wound up destitute. The Communists had taken away all his property and belongings. The authorities confiscated his villa during the 1950s, when the Communists placed a nursery school there.

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Plaque commemorating Vlasta Burian on his villa

Burian was rehabilitated in 1994. After the Velvet Revolution, his grandson was given the property and now rents it. The villa is once again luxurious, though without a swimming pool. The tennis courts are still standing. A plaque commemorating Burian was placed on the house in 1998.

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Sometimes, when I am taking my walks, I ponder over Hanspaulka’s role in the 1945 Prague Uprising, when the Germans were retreating. One-third of all the German soldiers were housed in Dejvice, the area that includes Hanspaulka, as the Nazis had their military headquarters in this district. German officers occupied many villas in Hanspaulka, taking over those, which had belonged to Jews.

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On May 4, 1945, Hanspaulka residents were hugging in the streets, rejoicing that the Germans could not win the war. But things were not that easy. The residents cut off important streets from the Germans and put up about 45 barriers in the quarter. At first, they had few weapons, but then they were able to confiscate weapons from 60 German officers whom they arrested. The Czech inhabitants also obtained weapons from German trucks and cars and prevented Germans from escaping. The Nazis had their area headquarters at Hanspaulka’s elementary school, where they stashed their weapons and had their barracks.

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Even when Praguers had overcome the Germans in many parts of the city, the fighting in Hanspaulka continued. Germans set fire to houses, pillaged homes and killed Czechs. They fired on any villa where Czechs lived, especially at homes displaying the Czechoslovak flag. While one high school student named Náďa opened her window to see what was going on, the Germans shot her dead. The resistance fighters created a makeshift hospital with 24 beds and four doctors plus 24 nurses. Someone had to guard the corpses piled in an abandoned building on Na Hadovce Street to prevent people from stealing the deceased’s coats, shoes and other clothing. Two of the dead left there were German women who had gassed themselves when they realized their country had lost. In the early morning hours of May 9, the Soviets liberated Hanspaulka and took over the school.

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A plaque marking the site of a former pub where underground artists gathered under Communism

I would think about how peaceful it is in Hanspaulka now and how chaotic and horrific it must have been during the uprising – villas on fire or pillaged, piles of corpses, Germans shooting at homes displaying Czechoslovak flags. Usually, my thoughts during my walks are not so bleak. I admire the beauty and elegance of the quarter today, and the variety of architectural styles never fails to dazzle me. I take note of the functionalist, Neo-Classicist, Neo-Baroque and Art Deco architecture. I like the Art Deco style best. On the main street there are several quaint cafes with outside seating in the summer, and I sometimes stop there and enjoy the sunshine. During my walks, I also am able to sort out my own problems and feel at peace after a stressful day or week.

More photos to come as the weather becomes more agreeable!

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

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Baroque Chapel of Saint Michael, Na Pernikářce Street

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Nové Město nad Metují Diary

ImageThe journey was easy. It only took two and a half hours on a direct bus from Prague to get to this small town in the foothills of the Eagle Mountains, not far from Poland. It was sunny, almost too hot. From the stop I had to walk straight for about 10 minutes and turn left onto the large, impressive main square on which buildings of various architectural styles were erected. I noticed the remains of chiaroscuro decoration on the facade. Because I had been here 10 years earlier, I knew the interior was truly a sight to behold.

First, a little history about the chateau itself: Built during 1501 in late Gothic style, the chateau underwent Renaissance renovation thanks to the Stubenberg family owners during the second half of the 16th century. More renovation work took place during 1651 to 1660, when early Baroque style made its way into the chateau.  A historical event took place here in June of 1812, as Russian Tsar Alexander I stayed at this chateau during his trip to meet with leaders of the Prussian and Austrian governments. (He wouldn’t be the only historical figure to spend the night in the chateau. During 1926 first democratic president of Czechoslovakia Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk slept here.)

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The main square of the town

But it wasn’t until the chateau was bought by the Bartoň family that perhaps the most significant renovations were carried out. Slovak architect Dušan Jurkovič and Czech architect Pavel Janák did many renovations in Art Nouveau, Art Deco and functionalist styles in this chateau also known for its collection of Czech and Slovak art from the 17th to 20th centuries. While Jurkovič concentrated on Art Nouveau, Janák took over the Art Deco and functionalist styles, his last renovations taking place from 1940-41. Jurkovič also was responsible for redesigning the two-tiered chateau gardens. Though the Bartoň family emigrated to Canada in 1949, they got the chateau back in 1992 and are its present owners.

The stunning facade of a building on the main square

The stunning facade of a building on the main square

Before the tour I had time to visit the gardens and see Jurkovič’s outdoor masterpiece for myself. Terraces and flower beds punctuated the upper gardens while a quaint wooden bridge led me to the lower section. The sculptures of the stone dwarfs caught my attention immediately. They were the skilled work of famed Czech sculptor Matyáš Braun from the first third of the 18th century. I also noticed a statue of legendary Czech composer Bedřich Smetana and Baroque statues of the God Poseidon and the Goddess Demeter as well as two statues of bears. A Baroque fountain was situated in the garden, too. I felt like reading in the sun for a while here, but the tour was going to start soon and anyway, there was a wedding procession about to cross the wooden bridge and head in my direction. The gardens seemed to be the perfect place to bring a book and relax, occasionally glancing at the stone dwarfs and Baroque fountain.

ImageOne of the first places we visited on the tour was the Rising of the Holy Cross Chapel from the 17th century. The fresco on the ceiling and the white stucco decoration had me gaping in awe.  But more about that later. Then, in the hallway, I was overwhelmed by a 15th century Gothic altarpiece as we walked toward the Winter Garden. It was absolutely exquisite, depicting Saints Peter and Paul with an icon of Jesus Christ.

The Winter Garden was one of my two favorite rooms, designed in the decorative style by Jurkovič in 1910. Plants abounded, and there was lovely white wicker furniture as well as many ceramics in the space. The walls looked to be made of rock inlaid with a tree design in brown. I thought how much I would love to sip a cup of green Eilles tea at the white table, surrounded by so many thriving plants and intriguing ceramics.

NoveMestonadMpark4My other favorite was the Coffer Room, a Jurkovič masterpiece from 1913. The wine red carpet and dark brown leather and oak furniture contrasting with a light and airy ceiling made me feel comfortable. There was also leather wallpaper on the ceiling and a huge green and brown marble fireplace made of ceramic tiles. A brass chandelier decorated the room as well. An avid Czechoslovak history fan, I loved the portrait of former President Masaryk, set in a gold frame. The room, with all its couches and tables, appealed to me as a place I would like to come and read on a cold winter’s night, while sipping hot chocolate.  I somehow felt safe there, away from the worries of my life and the world.

We also entered a room full of Cubist furniture designed by Janák. A hundred coats-of-arms of Czech towns were painted on the walls. On the ceiling I noticed pictures of the towns of Náchod, Český Krumlov and the Black Tower in České Budějovice.

Some of the other rooms that particularly impressed me included: The Baroque bedroom, redesigned by Jurkovič in 1913. Swirling patterns decorated the arched ceiling, and there were three circular Renaissance frescoes on the wall above one bed.

The Gentleman’s Study had an Art Deco interior forged by Janák in 1924. The central fresco was by František Kysela, who also painted many other frescoes in the chateau. Renaissance paintings hailing from the 16th century lined the walls. Textile art work and ceramics also punctuated the room. The space had a romantic flair, and I felt safe here. A sense of warmth exuded from the room. Dark wood mingled with a bright green color, with green upholstery on the dark wood chairs. The brown and white frescoes on the ceiling complemented the choice of furniture.

ImageWhat caught my attention in the Zodiac Room or Summer Dining Room was the exquisite handmade carpet. Inside an orange and light blue circle was another circle, this one in blue and orange, showing a proverb for each month. This Art Deco room, a 1923 creation by Janák, with brown wood furniture also boasted frescoes by Kysela.

I had a ticket for the long tour, so I followed the guide, a tall, bespectacled man in his forties, to the second floor, where the frescoes in the rooms all showed scenes from Greek and Roman mythology. In the Hall of Victors, which was really a Baroque dining room, I noticed the neo-Baroque interior and Flemish tapestry from the 16th and 17th centuries. Still lifes also decorated the walls which were a light yellow color. The frescoes sported sea blue and dark green. The white and blue porcelain was ravishing.

I cannot leave out the St. Hubert Room or the Hunters’ Room. This 17th century bedroom also boasts a ceiling fresco of Hypnos, the god of sleep. I was impressed with the vibrant colors of the fresco. Neo-Gothic and neo-Renaissance furniture from the 19th century contributed to the stunning look, too.

From the Oratory there was a fantastic view of the chapel. There were vibrant ceiling frescoes and white stucco decoration on the ceiling. The left-hand side of the altar was decorated with a painting of Saint Barbara, forged by the Baroque master Petr Brandl, one of my favorite Baroque painters. The black with gold columned altar was flanked by statues. The small size of the chapel gave it a sense of intimacy. What awed me in the Oriental Dining Room was its luxurious, long and sleek chandelier with the bottom shaped as a Chinese pagoda.

NoveMestonadMpark1Before the tour ended, the guide told us the legend of the Black Lady, who haunts the chateau. From 1624 to 1629 Marie Magdalena was one of the owners of the place, and she was called “Evil Manda” for a very good reason. She was exceptionally cruel to animals, and the townspeople were fed up with her. They rebelled in 1628. Soldiers put down the uprising, though, and proceeded to treat the rebels cruelly. Many men were killed in a gunpowder explosion in the tower, leaving many widows and orphans in the town. “Evil Manda” died in 1633, but she still walked the halls at night because she was looking for the two or three bodies of the farmers who were never found after the gunpowder explosion. She wanted them to be buried.  One could hear her footsteps at night, and sometimes paintings fell off the walls.

Then I left the chateau and went to a nicely decorated restaurant across the square. The restaurant was decorated in orange and yellow and had a cheerful appearance. It served good food as well, and I was able to eat my favorite food on my excursions – chicken with peaches and cheese plus a diet Coke.

Then it was time to get the bus back to Prague. When I made it to the stop about 20 minutes early, I was the only one there. Before long, about 10 people had joined me. We waited. And waited.  And waited. The elderly women standing next to me grumbled to themselves about how it did no good to complain in this country. A teenager with hair dyed pink read a book on the bench. Finally, the bus arrived – 45 minutes late. The bus driver did not offer an excuse or an apology. I was just glad the bus came.

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

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