Ořechovka Diary

 

OrechovkaZlomena12During 2017, I went on a walk through the Ořechovka section of Prague with Praha Neznámá or Unknown Prague tour company. The guide was excellent, the tour comprehensive. If you speak Czech, I recommend discovering parts of Prague with this agency. However, it was far from my first visit to the area.

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The villa-dotted Ořechovka quarter of Prague’s sixth district is one of the most picturesque parts of the city. For years, I have loved taking walks through the area, admiring the various styles of architecture. Some centuries ago, the property belonged to Jan Kryštof Bořek, who had a superb chateau built in a French style garden that was dotted with sculptures. The chateau was destroyed in wartime during 1742. The land was later used for other purposes, and, after Czechoslovakia was born in 1918, the first villas were constructed there thanks to architects Jaroslav Vondrák and Jan Šenkýř. The duo was especially inspired by English garden towns. The villas often consisted of apartments, from one-room accommodations to flats of four rooms. Many prominent artists settled in Ořechovka.

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The villas that intrigued me the most were the ones designed by Czech modernist architect Pavel Janák, whose creations include the functionalist plan for the Baba Housing Estate, also in Prague’s sixth district. He designed three of the 32 houses in Baba. Janák also drew up the plans for reconstruction work at Prague Castle and made innovative Cubist ceramics. His Kafka Villa – no, it has nothing to do with Franz! – was constructed for sculptor Bohumil Kafka whose works include the Monument to Jan Žižka in Prague’s Žižkov district. That sight ranks as the world’s largest equestrian statue. Inspired by the works of Auguste Rodin, Kafka favored symbolism and secession. Situated at 41/484 Na Ořechovce Street, this villa combines various styles as I noticed features of symbolism, naturalism and impressionism. It also is adorned with a superb Art Nouveau sculpture.

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Janák also cast his magic spell with the villa for painter Vincenc Beneš, a painter influenced by French modernism as well as Cubism and Fauvism. Later works included stylized figural creations and battlefields as well as landscapes for the National Theatre. Located at Cukrovarnická 24/492, this house flaunts a distinctive Dutch style and features coarse brickwork that appealed to me. (The villa for painter, graphic artist and illustrator Václav Špála also is dominated by the Dutch style that shows off coarse brickwork, though it was not designed by Janák.)

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The third villa that Janák contributed to Ořechovka consists of two villas together, built for Cubist painter, graphic artist and sculptor Emil Filla and his father-in-law, psychologist, philosopher and politician František Krejčí, in the 1920s. The structure of these villas is similar to the Beneš Villa.

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Filla’s story is intriguing. Inspired by Picasso, Braque, Munch and Van Gogh, he was noted for his Cubist painting and sculpture. Before World War I, he traveled to Paris and then fled to the Netherlands when war erupted. After the war, he came back to Prague, and traits of surrealism could be found in his works, which included painting on glass. On the first day of World War II, he was arrested by the Nazis, along with other prominent Czechs. He spent time in several concentration camps during the war, but somehow survived. After the war Filla took up teaching at Prague’s Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design and created mostly landscape paintings.

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My favorite street in the quarter and also my second favorite street in Prague – my favorite is a short, dead-end street in Prague 6, where I lived for 10 happy years – is called Lomená Street. The design of the 1920s townhouses by Vondrák and Šenkýř resemble English cottages. They are so quaint and have an intimate atmosphere that immediately makes me feel calm and at ease despite the world’s turmoil and with my own problems, be they big or small. I love the triangular gables. Other characteristics are narrow, rectangular windows and high chimneys.

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Another one of my favorite places in Prague is the Rondocubism triangular area made by Dělostrelecká and Klidná streets. Similar to Art Deco, Rondocubism is unique to the Czech Republic. Janák paired with fellow architect Josef Gočár to create works in this nationalistic, folk-inspired style. The bright colors make the homes even more lively and dynamic. I like to imagine the time period when these townhouses were constructed, a few years after Czechoslovakia had been christened a new country in 1918. So much hope and positive energy was in the air. I would not mind calling one of these architectural gems home.

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Now the main square of Ořechovka is depressing and dilapidated with only a few small shops, but back in 1926, when it was completed, the central building featured not only shops but also a cinema (which was only recently shut down), restaurants, a café and doctors’ offices. In 1927, the building was extended with a theatre, dance hall and library. I remember seeing the film Kolya, which won an Oscar in 1996 for best foreign film, at the small, intimate movie theatre there. The movie directed by Jan Svěrák and starring his father, Zdeněk, remains one of my favorite films. Back in the late 1920s, the square must have been quite the gathering place, bustling with activity and excitement.

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There is another reason Ořechovka is dear to me. Back in the 1990s, when war was causing havoc in former Yugoslavia, I was teaching English to two girls, a 9-year old and an 11-year old, living in Ořechovka. They resided in a beautiful townhouse resembling an English cottage. Their father worked for the Czech Embassy in Belgrade, but the children and their mother had been sent back to Prague because it was deemed too dangerous for them in Belgrade.

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The late Václav Havel, president of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic for 13 years, resided in the villa pictured above. His widow still lives there.

I have not taught many children. I had previously taught only two youngsters. I do not have any children and do not understand them well. However, these two girls opened their hearts to me. They were such kind and decent people, obviously influenced by their mother, who was a wonderful human being. I looked forward to the lessons because it was so pleasant to teach them. Moreover, with each lesson, I learned a little better how to communicate with children. I remember they loved learning about the US presidents. I had flash cards, one for each president, and we used to create games with them. Therefore, Ořechovka is a place I associate with genuinely good people who have influenced my life. I often wondered what ever happened to those girls. Are they living in Prague or abroad? Do they have families? Did they keep up with their English studies?

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This villa was once the home of high-ranking Nazi Adolf Eichmann.

Unfortunately, not only good people have called Ořechovka home. The most evil person to live in the quarter was Adolf Eichmann, who took up residence in a neoclassical villa that had belonged to Jew Rudolf Fišer. Eichmann fled in April of 1945, and the previous owner was allowed to return to the villa but only to rent a few rooms.

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Ořechovka remains dear to me, and I love taking walks there whenever weather permits. Along with Hanspaulka, it is one of my favorite parts of Prague. I recommend travelers take walks through these villa-dotted quarters in order to get out of the crowded center and experience a more tranquil side of Prague.

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

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Bauer Villa and Czech Cubism Diary

 

Bauer Villa

Bauer Villa

 

I had traveled with Arsviva, a Czech tour company that specialized in trips that emphasized art and architecture, to Sicily for 11 days in May and had enjoyed a thrilling experience full of breathtaking sights, all made more fascinating thanks to a terrific guide. This time I was on a day trip to sample Cubist architecture in central Bohemia. As we started out at seven in the morning, I thought to myself how I had always been attracted to Cubism and to the way the style assembled shapes in abstract forms utilizing many perspectives. I had found the Pablo Picasso museums in Paris and Barcelona to be breathtaking. Georges Braque’s work also bewitched me, especially in the Centre Georges Pompidou. In terms of Czech Cubism, I was most drawn to the paintings of Josef Čapek, who had also, along with his exceptionally talented brother Karel, scribed some impressive plays.

First, we went to the Evangelist church in the village of Pečky. The monument to Jan Hus near the church reminded me of the first time I had seen the monument to the 15th century martyr on Prague’s Old Town Square, a place where I immediately felt a sense of belonging during my visit as a tourist in 1991. Hus had been a Czech priest, reformer, philosopher and teacher who was burned at the stake on July 6, 1415 for not preaching according to the doctrines of the Catholic Church; he stands out as a leading light of the Bohemian protestant reformation.

Evangelist church interior

Evangelist church interior

Designed by Oldřich Liška, the Cubist interior dated from 1914 to 1919. The church was adorned in new modern style with Cubist features. The pews, the pulpit and the organ all exhibit Cubist tendencies.  Inside the church I was especially captivated by the four Cubist chandeliers and the star patterns engraved on the sides of the wooden pews. The Cubist elements blended in with the relatively stark interior, not making a glaring, loud appearance but rather embracing the church in a subtle, sensitive style.

Cubist chandeliers

Cubist chandeliers

Next, the bus took me and the other 40-some passengers to another village called Libodřice, where, all of a sudden, a Cubist villa magically appeared.  No other Cubist villa was located in the Czech countryside, I would find out. I was instantly reminded of a Cubist villa in the Vyšehrad district of Prague. I had walked by it every day on my way home from the when I lived below Vyšehrad hill. Passing by such an architectural wonder every day made me feel calm, momentarily at peace with the world and all the wonders it brings.

I was especially drawn to the framed windows of the Bauer Villa, decorated in star patterns. The large mansard roof blended into the design as well. The abstract, broken shapes appealed to me.  The villa boasted block stereometric articulation. Stereometric encompasses forms such as the cone, cube, pyramid and sphere – geometric shapes. Three polygonal buttresses were combined on one side of the villa. I was impressed with the slanted form of the main cornice, too. There were not just Cubist elements apparent inside and outside the villa; the entire building embraced the style in a form that did not disturb the tranquil landscape.

Windows of the Bauer VillaLegendary Czech architect Josef Gočár, who made a name for himself during the early 20th century in the Czech lands, designed the Bauer villa early in his career, between 1912 and 1914. Later, this pioneer of architecture would devote time to the styles of Rondocubism, Functionalism and Constructivism. His works are scattered throughout the Czech landscape, featured in Prague, Pardubice and Hradec Králové, for instance. Gočár had studied under the tutelage of famous Czech architect Jan Kotěra, who had was influenced by late 19th century styles along with Modernism. In 1911 Gočár chaired the Cubist Group of Visual Artists. Its members included Pavel Janák (who had also worked with Kotěra); the Čapek brothers; Otto Gutfreund, a renowned sculptor who also fought in the Foreign Legion during World War I; and Vlastislav Hofman, who was accomplished in architecture, painting, graphic art, furniture design and writing. Hofman even designed about 400 sets for plays, including 200 for Prague’s National Theatre.  A year later Gočár helped set up the Prague Art Workshops, designing Cubist furniture with Janák, who is best known for designing the Baba colony residential area in Prague’s sixth district.

Gazebo at Bauer Villa

Gazebo at Bauer Villa

Gočár’s first major projects included a staircase for the Church of the Virgin Mary on a square in Hradec Králové during 1909 and 1910. In 1910 he also designed the living quarters of a cavalry barracks in Bohdaneč. In Pardubice during 1909 to 1911 he designed the Winternitz automated mill and also concentrated on the Wenke department store in Jaroměř.  In 1912 he was one of many Czech artists to convert to Cubism, utilizing simple geometric shapes juxtaposed without illusions of classical perspective. He teamed up with Janák to build the first Czech Cubist building in Prague – the reinforced concrete House of the Black Madonna, which featured angular, bay windows, a Baroque double roof and Cubist ironwork on the balcony. Like the Bauer Villa, the House of the Black Madonna did not interfere with the atmosphere. Instead, it complemented the historic environment of downtown Prague.

The Bauer Villa was constructed for Jewish entrepreneur Adolf Bauer, who owned the manor farm estate. The investor and his family lived there from 1914 to 1929, when Bauer died of diabetes. Bauer’s widow remarried and moved to Prague with her two daughters, and from 1931 Antonín Illmann took care of the villa and the farm. The Jewish Bauer family was sent to their deaths during World War II. In 1941 Nazi Augustin Juppe moved in to what had been the Bauer family home. After the war the villa was occupied by administrative offices of the City Council. A hairdresser’s salon, a library and a few apartments also took up space in the villa.

The back of the Bauer Villa

The back of the Bauer Villa

Finally gaining recognition, the Bauer Villa was accorded the status of a cultural monument in 1987. Despite that, it became more and more dilapidated. Its poor condition finally led the municipality to sell it in 2002 to the Foundation of Czech Cubism. Extensive reconstruction costing approximately 25 million Czech crowns took place, and the Cubist creation was open to the public during 2008.

The expositions in the villa featured Cubist furniture, ceramics, paintings and sculptures as well as informative displays about the Bauer family, Gočár and about Czech Cubism in general. Today there is not much original furniture in the villa, though a few pieces had been salvaged – the fireplace, a wooden closet and the bathroom tiles.

The central staircase hall had been inspired by British villa architecture. I was reminded of the staircase hall in Dušan Jurkovič’s villa in Brno. At the beginning of the tour, I was impressed with a unique coat rack in Cubist style and two chandeliers, one made by Janák and another by Ladislav Machoň, who would become a prominent exponent of Art Deco and Functionalist styles. Machoň’s designs dot Prague. His interior of the Law Faculty of Charles University is probably his best known work. There was also a dark, gloomy painting of Faust on one wall of the Bauer Villa. I wondered how the theme of Faust fit in with the Cubist movement, if indeed it did.

 In the bedroom I noticed a still life painting with a goblet by František Volf and a bewitching, black Cubist chandelier. The bedroom was joined with a bathroom on the ground floor. Usually, during that period, the bedroom and bathroom would be situated on the first floor. The living room featured furniture made by Hofman in 1911 and 1912, a wall clock and chandelier. I was especially intrigued by the Cubist flower pot with its cover in the same style. Then, again in the hallway, I admired the linocuts by Václav Špála and Josef Čapek, two of my favorite Czech Cubist artists.

The Bauer Villa

The Bauer Villa

Then we went upstairs via a  beautiful staircase. Exhibition Room II featured furniture by Gočár and sculptures by Gotfreund. In his sculpture “Anxiety” I was aware of a certain tension permeating from the female’s drapery. This work, made between 1911 and 1912, was considered the first Cubist sculpture, though the one in the room was not the original. Other objects on the first floor included tea cups, metal and brass boxes and vases designed by Hofman and Janák. The bedroom was Hofman’s design from 1912 to 1914 with a black Cubist bed, more sculpture by Gotfreund and a chandelier hailing from that era. The study featured the style of Rondocubism, an offshoot on Cubism born after the creation of Czechoslovakia in 1918. Rondocubism featured folk and nationalistic themes with curls, circles and folkloristic elements. I was especially impressed with Janák’s green chair made of walnut.

Our guide had been informative and enthusiastic, and I was excited that I discovered another gem in the Czech Republic. I thought this would be a good half-day trip from Prague for foreigners visiting the capital city, but I doubted any tour agency offered such an excursion.  The arsviva tour company’s excursions were in Czech, so it would only appeal to foreigners who were fluent in the language. I understood why Karlštejn Castle and Konopiště Chateau drew so many crowds, but still it was, I felt, highly regrettable too that such an extraordinary Cubist villa in the countryside should remain relatively unknown.

Kotěra Chateau

Kotěra Chateau

Next on the itinerary was the Ratboř Chateau, also called the Chateau Kotěra, built between 1910 and 1913 for Bernard Mandelík, who owned a manor farm estate and sugar refinery. The new chateau (as opposed to the old chateau also on the estate) was designed in Czech modern style by Kotěra and served as a restaurant and hotel.  It is notable architecturally for its vestibule, staircase and entrance to the restaurant as well as for its guest rooms. The building is frequently used for weddings and conferences, too, and it had its own parkland.

A large, circular fountain stands in front of the façade. The cupola is decorated with two statues by legendary Czech sculptor Jan Štursa, who founded Czech modernist sculpture and was also an influential pedagogue. He began his career inspired by the symbolism of the Viennese Secession, and after World War I concentrated on depicting the horror and tragedies of wartime. He created a Cubist relief for the Mánes Bridge in Prague.

Fountain at the Chateau Kotěra

Fountain at the Chateau Kotěra

In the first guest room we saw a bookcase that had been designed by Adolf Loos, who was known for his lack of ornamentation. A severe critic of the Viennese Secession when the movement had been in full swing, the Brno-born architect who had spent much time in Austria had focused on purism and minimalistic design. The walls were decorated in green and blue with a lovely plant motif.

Cubist furniture

Cubist furniture

Another space featured original furniture, including a bed with canopy, table and bookcases. From the terrace there was an impressive view of the fountain and surrounding greenery with sculptures. It was also possible to see the statues on the cupola from a riveting, close perspective. A medallion sporting the letter “M” standing for the Mandelíks in green with dark brown wood decorated the railing. In another bedroom I was impressed with a Cubist bedframe and a Cubist chandelier that spoke of simplicity with a sense of style.

Cupola of Chateau Kotěra

Cupola of Chateau Kotěra

After lunch we visited Cubist creations in Kolín and Poděbrady. In Kolín I saw the main square for the first time, and the Neo-Renaissance town hall caught my attention as did the Baroque facades, plague column and fountain. We gazed at Rondocubist apartment buildings dating from 1921 to 1923, the former town savings bank from 1926, the municipal theatre dating from 1937 to 1939 and a high school with magnificent Cubist elements, especially the windows, designed in 1924. The bridge across the Labe River was architecturally impressive and had been built during the 1920s.

Cubism in Kolín

Cubism in Kolín

In the spa town of Poděbrady, we walked through a beautiful park and a neighborhood rich with villas with Cubist elements. At our second to last stop, in Poděbrady, we were able to admire the Amálka Villa from 1910, the Kouřimka Villa from 1909 to 1910 and the Obereigner Villa from 1898. We also took in the spa buildings on the promenade, fascinating structures designed by František Janda from 1907 to 1911. Previously, I had only changed trains or buses in Poděbrady, never realizing how much there is to see here.

Cubism in Poděbrady

Cubism in Poděbrady

While we were in Poděbrady, we had extra time to spend in a café famous for its desserts. Unfortunately, it was also famous for its poor service as it took the waiters an agonizingly long time to fetch coffees and cakes. I was joined by a friendly and interesting family, an adult son with his parents.  He had given his parents this trip as a Christmas present the previous year. I talked to them about my baseball and ice hockey careers growing up, attending Jaromír Jágr’s summer training camp in Slaný and sights I had seen in the Czech Republic.  The father and I reminisced about Czech and Slovak hockey players who had defected to the NHL some decades ago. For me the names Peter Šťastný and Milan Nový brought back childhood memories. In my opinion, the highlight of any tour was meeting nice people, no matter how exciting the particular excursion might be. I have had some negative experiences in the country over 21 years, but meeting kind Czechs always has always made the hardships worthwhile.

Cubist facade in Poděbrady

Cubist facade in Poděbrady

On the way back to Prague, we stopped at the Beniesova Villa in Lysá nad Labem. The villa, created by Emil Kralíček for the owner of a sugar refinery, is known for its big entrance hall with light roof window in the shape of the Star of David and crystal motives that denoted the process of manufacturing sugar. It was sad, though, to find the villa in such a dilapidated state.  The villa was fenced off; there was no possibility to see what sounded like a ravishing interior. If only someone had donated enough money to restore it to its original beauty. . . . If only. . . . It depressed me to think that people could let such architectural wonders fall into such poor condition, that there was not enough money to restore significant buildings to their former splendor.

My depression ceased by the time we returned to Prague around seven in the evening.  I felt grateful that I had had the opportunity to make new friends and to go on such a fascinating excursion.

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

 

Beniesova Villa

Beniesova Villa