Pilsen Brewery Museum Diary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Kozel Chateau Diary

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I took a bus with Student Agency to Pilsen (Plzeň in Czech), a city in west Bohemia where I have explored the historical underground, the Pilsner Urquell Brewery, art galleries, excellent restaurants and the main square, to name just a few. Pilsen was very dear to me, and I loved coming here on day trips. This time, though, I was getting a train to Šťáhlavy, and from there I walked to Kozel Chateau, which I had visited about 10 years earlier on a perfect, sunny summer day.

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This day was by no means perfect. It was cold, and the dark clouds threatened rain. Still, I knew that would not stop me from enjoying this unique chateau, built in Classical style, with four wings surrounded by an inner rectangular courtyard. The architect was Václav Haberditz, who had been based in Prague. I wished I had more information about him, but he was not well-known.

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The design had a simplicity and sobriety to it that I admired. It was restrained, symmetrical and orderly. While I loved traveling to Baroque chateaus, I also appreciated this style that harkened back to forms utilized in classical antiquity. The chateau did not need any fancy exterior fittings to project its beauty.

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I reacquainted myself with its intriguing history. Kozel was erected from 1784 to 1789 for its owner, Jan Vojtěch Černín of Chudenice, who worked for Emperor Joseph II as the supreme huntsman of the Czech kingdom. The chateau, not surprisingly, was designed as a hunting lodge, though a few years later it became the family’s summer residence.

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In the 1790s the chateau was expanded. Four new buildings came into being thanks to Prague architect of Italian origin Jan Nepomuk Palliardi, who specialized in the Classicist style.

The chateau had not always been called Kozel. Its original name was the German Waldschloss or Jadgschloss bei Stiahlav. It is not known how the chateau came to be called the Czech word meaning goat, though a legend says that the ancient Slavs used to sacrifice a goat on this spot during the spring equinox in hopes of receiving a bountiful harvest.

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Jan Vojtěch Černín died childless, so his grandnephew Count Kristian Vincenc Valdštejn-Vartenberk inherited the property. Kozel remained in the family until it was nationalized in 1945 and did not undergo any major changes. I admired that the chateau remained in its original style. So many chateaus underwent such drastic makeovers over centuries. During the 19th century, one owner was Arnošt Valdštejn-Vartenberk, whose claim to fame was establishing an ironworks in Pilsen during 1859. He sold it to Email Škoda in 1869, when the business took on the name Škoda Works, and before long this enterprise would become the most prestigious and largest engineering works in what was at the time Austria-Hungary.

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I walked through the park, though the weather was chilly. I saw ducks, swans, a big pond and a vast expanse of land that merged with the countryside. Here I felt at one with nature. I remembered the last time I was here. I had spent time reading on a bench as well as gazing at the idyllic scenery in the park.

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Now it was time for my tour. The interior was nothing like the Classicist exterior. It was extravagant, luxurious, plush. In one of the first rooms, I admired a clock from London that had only one hand; it dated back to the 16th century. I did not recall ever seeing a one-handed clock. Graphic sheets from Italy showed Italian villas and chateaus, and I was reminded of my passion for Italy and my exciting travels there. How I would love to visit those villas and chateaus! I wanted to see everything in Italy just as I wanted to see everything in the Czech Republic.

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I saw a Classicist commode decorated with intarsia and a few Baroque fans, one showing off a scene of people, dogs and horses. A King Louis XVI bureau hailed from the 16th century and was adorned with Greek and Roman mythological scenes. The intarsia decorating the piece of furniture was outstanding. There also was an impressive tiled stove. I would see similar stoves in all but one space, it turned out.

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Next, we came to the entrance hall. I loved the wall painting by Antonín Turova, who made the room resemble a winter garden with walls showing green ivy on trellises. His al secco method of painting on dry lime plaster was exquisite. I thought of the illusive painted altars I had seen in churches, such as the remarkable one at Hejnice Basilica in north Bohemia. A movable Rococo lamp also caught my attention.

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The Smokers’ Drawing Room included a Classicist bureau and two Rococo cabinets with Meissen porcelain. A collection of pipes was on display, too. It reminded me of my grandfather, who had for many years smoked a pipe. I remember scrutinizing his collection of pipes when I was a child. Then I recalled how proud he was when I was nine and took up his hobby of coin collecting. We walked into one coin shop, and he announced, “This is my granddaughter!” Even today I can see the saleswoman’s smile.

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A bedroom was decorated in 18th century Rococo style with a Classicist bed. The graphic sheets on the walls hailed from Germany and portrayed aristocratic life during the 18th century. I admired the shell decoration on the Viennese porcelain.

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In the Dressing Room, I wanted to relax on the Rococo chaise-lounge and yearned to take home the Renaissance jewel chest inlaid with ivory. In the Hunting Salon, a Baroque desk featuring intarsia showed off hunting motifs. While I was not a fan of hunting, that piece of furniture did impress me.

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There was a Billiard Room as well. I recalled playing pool with my father when I was a child. I played badly, but we had fun. It was treasured father-daughter time. My interest was riveted by the landscape paintings by German and Italian painters. In the Dining Room I gawked at the black-and-gold Baroque thermometer and faience portraying birds and cabbages. The only fireplace in the chateau was Rococo in style.

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The biggest space was the Drawing Room for Social Occasions, where a painting by Turova caught my attention. It showed Radyně Castle, now a ruin, located near Pilsen. I recognized Kozel below it. There were birds, trees, ancient ruins, dogs and an eagle in the painting. The walls were stunning. Medallions were inspired by mythology. I saw Hercules holding a boar, for example.

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The Blue Room or the Countess’ Study intrigued me with its Louis XVI style furnishings. I loved the intarsia table shaped as a globe. It could be adjusted to be an embroidery table or a desk. I would love to have that in my living room, though the cat would probably sharpen her claws on it. Another white tiled stove, this one quite ornate, was on display. A bedroom also boasted Louis XVI furniture and a Classicist mirror.

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The Music Chamber had served that purpose when Jan Černín created it for his first wife Josefína. I took special notice of the piano and harp. I loved the music instruments painted on the walls. The grey-and-light blue painted walls impressed me, too. We came to the Grey Room, the original living room of the countess’ chambermaid. It included Biedermeier furniture from the 19th century. I loved the symmetry of that style, the orderliness, the simple elegance. I took special note of the portable embroidery table that can be closed like a purse – exquisite! Porcelain in display cases also caught my attention.

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The Morning Dining Room showed off a series of Viennese porcelain with shell-shaped adornment. Meissen porcelain was no stranger to the room, either. The Count’s Study featured oriental objects. I loved the turtle figure that looked like a dragon. It hailed from the 18th century. A gilded Classicist desk that featured intarsia was another highlight.

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The library was divided into two parts. It included over 7,900 volumes from 1517 to 1840, including the first edition of a French encyclopedia and 17th century maps. Books from 18th century France were in abundance. The library’s volumes were in various languages – Old German, French and Latin, for example – but, as was the case in many chateau libraries, none of the books were written in Czech. It is worth noting that the library was only moved to Kozel after 1945. It is not original.

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The next room, the Empire Drawing Room, was decorated with Empire style furniture. I loved the painted vedutas of Italian spas on the walls. I thought back to Monreale’s Santa Maria Nuova Cathedral in Sicily and the Church of Saint Peter in Chains (San Pietro in Vincoli) in Rome. What about those arcades in Bologna and all the masterpieces in Ravenna? I loved Italy so much, but I loved the Czech Republic even more. One painting of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius caught my attention. I recalled the views from Mount Etna and from Mount Vesuvius during my trips there. The Viennese porcelain was another treat in that space.

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There was a theatre on the premises, too. Created in the 1830s, it was originally a stable for Jan Vojtěch Černín’s favorite horse. Decorated in Empire style, it was composed of a small, modest stage that served as an intimate space. The equipment was original. The owners’ families had often performed here. I studied the stage set of a lush forest with a wooden church, a tree in the middle.

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What impressed me more than the furnishings of the interior was the wall painting of the interiors, the work of Prague artist Turova, who drew his inspiration from Rococo painting with landscapes and ancient ruins. He also decorated part of the monastery of Břevnov in Prague’s sixth district, and I remember touring the impressive monastery church too many years ago. He painted the interiors over a two-year period, from 1787 to 1789. The reception rooms boasted female figures, putti and deities, for example. The main chateau Drawing Room featured romantic ruins and landscapes.

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The Chapel of the Holy Rood was a vaulted structure with a cupola. The altar, created in 1794, featured a painting of the crucifixion by Turova. Columns and pilasters were not absent, either. The organ was Rococo in style.

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Soon the tour finished. I greatly appreciated this unique architectural structure of pure Classicism. I was impressed that very few changes had been made over so much time. I was also impressed that the chateau had stayed in the family for so long rather than having many owners, each making his or her own changes to the place. The painting decoration inside particularly thrilled me. I was fascinated how the inside could be so different from the outside of the building. I thought the exterior and interior somehow created a sense of harmony, even though they were composed of such different architectural elements.

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I went around the back of the chateau and looked at the countryside from a terrace with a fountain. The views from the chateau were astounding. I only wish the weather had been better. It was not possible to explore paths as it began to rain. Still, I was satisfied with my trip. I went back to Pilsen to take a look at the Brewery Museum and grab a bite to eat at the legendary U Salzmannů restaurant and pub. Then I took a Student Agency bus to Prague, where I returned home, happy to be living in such an amazing country with so many places to explore.

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

 

The Kraus and Vogl Apartments in Pilsen Diary

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Historical Underground of Pilsen Diary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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 told myself as I went by tram and Metro to the Zličín station at the end of the “B” line, my trip there taking me 45 minutes. Then I hopped onto the Student Agency bus to Plzeň, a ride that only took an hour. From Plzeň I went by car to Manětín. Buses ran very irregularly to Manětín, and it was not possible to go by public transportation during the times I needed to get there and get back.

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. I had read that the church was Baroque and that its main altar had been painted by Czech master Petr Brandl.

ImageIt 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.

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.

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.

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.

ImageUpon 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.

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.)

In the Reception Room there were four paintings depicting soldiers during the Thirty Years’ War, which lasted from 1618 to 1648 and was set off by 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 even though I suppose it was ostentatious.

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 fled to Germany.) 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 she was engaged to.

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.

ImageI 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.

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.

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.

ImageDecorating 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.

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.

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. If you spoke into the hole, a person in the dining room could hear you.

ImageThe 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. 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. Summer was represented by a girl donning a big, straw hat and wielding a sickle as well as a woman holding a parasol. One girl pouring water while another held a parrot stood for spring.

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.

 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.

ImageAfter 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.

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.

 

Rabštejn nad Střelou Diary

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After visiting the chateau in Manětín not far from Plzeň in west Bohemia, I had to go by car to get to nearby Rabštejn nad Střelou, the smallest town in the Czech Republic and allegedly the smallest in Europe. As I entered the town, I noticed a pub on the right-hand side. I think every town in the Czech Republic has at least one pub. I had tried to visit the town the week before, but the only road to the town had been closed due to construction work.

I expected to see four or five houses, maybe one church, but it was bigger than that. There was a yellow and white church on a hill and next to it a chateau behind a gate. A sign stated that it was private property. The façade was impressive and the lawn meticulously well-kept.  Situated next to the site of a former castle hailing from around 1260, the chateau was built in Baroque style in 1705. The castle originally had a high cylinder tower and walls around it but was severely damaged in the 16th century. Now some of the walls and the foundation of the tower are all that is left of the castle.

ImageThe road dipped down suddenly, and I came to the main square. About five men were struggling to put up a maypole as the May 1 holiday approached. Branches flaunted fluttering, colored ribbons. There was a decrepit building behind me and another one with an old, battered sign above the doorway in German. It read “LIEDFELDERHOF.” I wondered what it meant and if it hailed from World War II or even from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Later I would find out that the word stood for “Sorrowfields’ Inn,” with “sorrowfields” probably being the surname of the innkeepers.

The sign in German attested to the influence that Germans had had on this town since settling in the region during the 12th century. Even the name of the town derived from the German words “rabe” for raven and “stein” for stone. The town was the property of Germans for many centuries. In 1631 military leader and politician Albrecht von Wallenstein became the owner. Wallenstein played a major role in the Thirty Years’ War, allying himself and his army with the Holy Roman Empire. Under the rule of the Habsburgs, he became supreme commander of the Habsburg armies. Wallenstein was assassinated in the west Bohemian town of Cheb after quarreling with Emperor Ferdinand and considering allying himself with the Protestants.

After World War II, when the Beneš’ decrees came into effect, most of the Germans were banished from the country, and Czechs came to live in the town. In 1930 Rabštejn had a population of 344. By 1950 it had dwindled to 77.

ImageI also wondered what the town had looked like in the Middle Ages. I was impressed that the history of this town could be traced all the way back to the 13th century. I had read that in medieval times two rows of houses surrounded an irregularly-shaped square. How had people lived long ago? I knew that in the past inhabitants had taken up making handicrafts, weaving, painting playing cards and glass as well as producing roof slate.

ImageFarther down were several timbered cabins, one painted black with green, another mostly white with black. They looked like they belonged to another century. It was strange when I saw a man open the door of one of these homes and go inside. It was as if a person from the 21st century was entering another time period.

ImageAt the end of the town was a restaurant with picnic tables outside. Seven bikers were sitting there, drinking beer while engaged in animate conversations. There was an old stone bridge, dating most likely from 1335-1340. Under it flowed the Střela River. The body of water meandered through a forest, gurgling softly. A thick forest made up the background. It appeared as if this could be the backdrop for a landscape painting, as if I were looking at a canvas rather than real life. The forest was romantic, but it felt comforting and dangerous at the same time.

ImageI had read about a former brewery that only put out 700 hectoliters of beer during a year, but I did not see anything resembling a brewery. I did not see a former monastery, either, but there had been several in this town over the centuries. One dated back to the end of the 15th century but was destroyed in 1532. A new one was built in the 17th century, but it was abolished in 1787. There were several churches in the town during the 19th century, and legend has it that one of them was damaged in 1856. Workers had to dismantle the cross from the top of the church and reinstall it. While they were doing this, people celebrated below.  The workers drank some wine in the tower and threw a wine glass down. It fell but did not break.

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