Czech Personalities in History Diary

The following is my own personal list of Czechs who, throughout the centuries, have contributed in a positive way to Czech culture, art, politics and other fields. There are many people I left out because I do not feel they played a positive role. Others I simply forgot and will have to add at a later date.

Tomáš Baťa (1876 – 1932)

Born April 3, 1876 in the southeastern Moravian town of Zlín, Tomáš Baťa became a leading entrepreneur in a family that has received accolades for its long and impressive history in shoemaking. The Bata clan began making shoes as early as 1667. Not only did he found shoe factories throughout the world, but he also was the Zlín’s major from 1923 to 1932. He was responsible for transforming Zlín into a modern city, building schools, for example. He was greatly improved the educational system, too. Even though Baťa died in a plane crash during 1932, the company Baťa Shoes remains successful to this day.

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Edvard Beneš from TERAZ.sk

Edvard Beneš (1884 – 1948)

Beneš served as second president of Czechoslovakia from December of 1935 to October of 1938, when he resigned, convinced that the Munich Agreement was unfair. He became president of the Second Republic during June of 1946. Beneš asserted that the Sudeten Germans were collectively responsible for the destruction of independent Czechoslovakia, and he instigated the Beneš decrees, which involved confiscating the property of Germans, traitors and collaborators, taking away their Czechoslovak citizenship and expelling them from the country. Beneš also was the first Czechoslovak Minister of Foreign Affairs when Czechoslovakia was founded during 1918: He held the post of Prime Minister for a year and served as a Member of Parliament for a lengthy period. Beneš was very active in the fight for Czechoslovak independence during World War I and in the resistance movement during the Nazi Occupation.

Karel Havlíček Borovský (1821 – 1856)

Often referred to as the founder of Czech journalism, satire and literary criticism, Karel Havlíček Borovský was not only a journalist and critic. He also penned poems, was active in politics and worked as a publisher. His book Pictures from Russia presented the first Czech objective view of life in that country during that particular era. He established the first Czech daily newspaper, Národní noviny, known for its liberal viewpoints. Borovský was by no means a fan of the Habsburg Empire. He was tried several times for his sharp criticism of the monarchy. Borovský was expelled from the Czech lands and then lived in the Tyrol for almost four years. Though a pragmatist, he also supported universal suffrage. For a short time he served with the Austrian Empire’s Constituent Assembly but then opted to focus on journalism once again. He also translated works by Gogol and Voltaire into Czech. His book Tyrol Laments describes his arrest and subsequent expulsion to the Tyrol with humor and satire. He also is known for his poem “King Lavra,” a piece punctuated by allegory and satire.

Petr Brandl (1668 – 1735)

A leading Baroque painter in Bohemia, Petr Jan Brandl created emotional paintings using strong chiaroscuro. His works feature a powerful, passionate movement of colors, dramatic tension and a distinct tenderness.  He authored more than 60 paintings and numerous drawings, all of which are scattered throughout Bohemia from Chyše to Hradec Králové, Prague to Litoměřice and Kutná Hora to Kuks, for instance. Prague’s National Gallery even has an entire hall filled with his paintings, including his famous “Simeon with the Baby Jesus.”

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Vlasta Burian from ceskatelevize.cz

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Vlasta Burian from revue.idnes.cz

Vlasta Burian (1891 – 1962)

Nicknamed “The King of Comedians,” Burian was a film and theatre actor, director, singer, writer and mime, for instance. During the First Czechoslovak Republic (1918 – 1939) his popularity soared. After the war he was wrongly accused of collaboration with the Nazis. He started out in cabarets and later established his own theatre, where he worked from 1925 until May of 1945, when it was nationalized. During 1944 the Germans closed his theatre for a while and after the war he was imprisoned twice. When he was freed, he found himself destitute. His villa in Hanspaulka and almost all his property and belongings had been taken away from him. He had to do manual labor working in the mines, for instance during a five-year ban when he was not allowed to act. He returned to acting, but the stints in prison had taken a toll on his health. He had to act even when he was ill for financial reasons. From 1923 to 1956 he made four silent films and 36 with sound. He was known for his improvisation, black humor and satire as well as his uncomplicated humor. He played roles of people in many professions. During 1994, he was rehabilitated. In 2002 his grave was moved from the cemetery in Prague’s Vinohrady to the famous Vyšehrad Cemetery, where Czech national figures rest.

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Bust of Jára Cimrman

Jára Cimrman (Born during a freezing February night between 1854 and 1872 – ?)

The 15 plays in the repertoire of the Jára Cimrman Theatre revolve around the fictional, unlucky outsider and genius Jára Cimrman, who lived in the Austrian part of the oppressive Austro-Hungarian Empire, during an era of Germanization when the Habsburgs were on the throne. Voted the Greatest Czech in a poll during 2005, Cimrman was a Czech nationalist who abhorred the Habsburg regime. Cimrman was a man of all trades – a seasoned traveler, prolific writer, collector of fairy tales, philosopher, filmmaker, gynecologist, dentist, teacher and criminologist, among others. While serving time for making fun of the emperor, he formed a choir and orchestra with his fellow prisoners and organized contests in Morse Code. His many inventions and accomplishments were only brought to light in 1966, when Zdeněk Svěrák (who co-authored the plays with Ladislav Smoljak) and his relative come upon Cimrman’s bust and papers at Liptákov 12, in a cottage in a village of the north Bohemian Jizera valley. His parents, an Austrian actress and a Czech tailor, forced him to wear girls’ clothing until he was 15 years old. The plays are laced with the typically Czech sense of humor that has allowed Czechs to survive a past riddled with oppression. All the plays take place around the turn of the 20th century, with the last one focusing on Cimrman’s life during World War I.

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Josef Čapek from Muzeum bratří Čapků

Josef Čapek (1887 – 1945)

Karel Čapek’s older brother, Josef made a name for himself as a painter, writer, journalist, photographer, graphic artist and book illustrator. He authored books with his brother early in their careers, including the plays From the Life of Insects and R.U.R., for which he coined the word “robot.” Josef also wrote books without his brother, including a mystery and some art-related works. He was a Cubist painter who utilized simple, geometric shapes and severe lighting contrasts. He was very inspired by “primitive” art and often rendered members of the lower class in his creations. A supporter of democracy, Josef was arrested by the Gestapo on September 1, 1939 and then spent the next six years in concentration camps. He died shortly before the Germans lost the war. His symbolic grave is at Prague’s Vyšehrad Cemetery.

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First President of Czechoslovakia Tomáš G. Masaryk with Karel Čapek

Karel Čapek (1890 – 1938)
The most versatile and perhaps most prominent writer in Czech history was a true Renaissance man –he was a playwright, novelist, feuilletonist, travel writer, story writer, journalist, children’s author, biographer, essayist, illustrator, photographer and translator. In the early years he often collaborated with his brother Josef, an accomplished artist in his own right. Karel Čapek argued that each person has his or her own truth, showed many perspectives of reality and criticized modern society. His writings also expose fears of Fascism, describe everyday events and warn against the abuse of technology. His works include Tales from One Pocket and Tales from the Other Pocket, War with the Newts, The Gardener’s Year, The Makropulos Thing, From the Life of Insects and R.U.R., a play which first used the word “robot.” He is buried in Prague’s Vyšehrad Cemetery.

Miloň Čepelka (born 1936)

A brilliant actor, Čepelka is best known for his roles in the plays of the Jára Cimrman Theatre, where he has graced the stage for half a century. The former teacher and reporter with Czech Radio dazzles the audience in plays such as Hospoda Na mýtince (The Glade Tavern), České nebe (Czech Heaven), Akt (The Nude) and Cimrman v říší hudby (Cimrman in the Paradise of Music), for instance. His singing in Cimrman v říší hudby is extraordinary. In Vražda v salonním coupé (Murder in the Parlor Car) he teams up with his son, who is also an actor. His biography Nedělňátko was published in 2016. He is also an accomplished poet and prose writer.

David Černý (born 1967)

A rebel artist, Černý never fails to spark controversy with his shocking and provocative creations set in public areas. He has painted a Soviet tank pink and designed male figures that urinate into an enclosure shaped like the Czech Republic, for instance. His 1997 creation “Hanging Man” consists of a 220-centimeter Sigmund Freud hanging by one hand onto a roof of a building on Prague’s Husova Street. In the main passage of Prague’s Lucerna Palace, his 1999 “Horse” shows Saint Wenceslas on an upside-down horse. Located in a courtyard in front of Prague’s Quadrio shopping center near Národní třída, his monumental installation of the head of Franz Kafka, also referred to as The Metamorphosis, consists of 42 moving layers that rotate 360 degrees and occasionally align to resemble Franz Kafka’s head. Weighing 39 tons, the Metamorphosis measures 11 meters or 36 feet in height.

Charles IV (Karel IV) (1316 – 1378)
The first King of Bohemia to become Holy Roman Emperor, Charles IV was crowned in 1346 and made Prague his capital. During his rule the city played a prominent intellectual and cultural role in Europe. A major patron of Prague, he also had the Charles Bridge built, established the first university in Central Europe and founded the New Town in the capital city. He had Karlštejn Castle built to safeguard the crown jewels.

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Jan Amos Comenius (Komenský in Czech) from Dobré knihy

Jan Amos Comenius (1592 – 1670)

This 17th century religious and educational reformer was fiercely Protestant, a member of the Unity of the Brethren denomination (also called Unitas Fratrum) and its last bishop. His work and life focus on his relationship to God, and he became a religious refugee on more than one occasion, living in Sweden, the Holy Roman Empire, England, the Netherlands and other countries. Jan Amos Comenius (Komenský in Czech) wrote innovative textbooks, encyclopedias, dictionaries and philosophical and theological studies. He even penned one of the most prominent works of Czech literature, the allegorical The Labyrinth of the World and Paradise of the Heart. Some of his reforms of the school system are still in use today. Comenius contributed greatly to universal education, and it is no wonder that he is considered a symbol of the Czech nation.

Ema Destinnová (1878 – 1930)
A Czech opera singer born in Prague, she started her career successfully in Berlin and later became a member of New York City’s Metropolitan Opera, where she performed in Smetana’s The Bartered Bride, Puccini’s La fanciulla del West and Wagner’s operas, for instance. Because she had connections with the Czech resistance, her Czech passport was revoked in 1914. Two years later, when returning to the Czech lands from the USA, the Austrians accused her of espionage and placed her under house arrest at her chateau in Bohemia. During 1918 she was back in the limelight, singing on Czech stages. Even the first president of Czechoslovakia, Tomáš G. Masaryk, visited her at the chateau she called home. She died at the age of 51 and is buried among great contributors to the Czech nation at Vyšehrad Cemetery in Prague. She also wrote poems, songs, novels and plays.

Josef Dobrovský (1753 – 1829)

This philologist, historian and Jesuit priest played a significant role during the Czech National Revival, although he did not write in Czech. Dobrovský, one of Europe’s first and foremost linguists, founded Slavic studies in the Czech lands. He was a key figure in establishing the Royal Czech Society of Sciences and Prague’s National Museum. His writings focus on Slavic studies, historiography and philology. He also contributed to the study of archeology and botany.

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Václav Havel hugging Alexander Dubček, picture from Czech Free Press

Alexander Dubček (1921 – 1992)

Dubček is best known as the Slovak First Secretary of Czechoslovakia who instigated the liberal reforms of the Prague Spring in 1968, when the country experienced more freedoms. At that time, Czechoslovakia seemed destined to find its own individual identity while remaining a Communist country in what was called “socialism with a human face.”  The Soviets put an end to the Prague Spring in August of 1968. Dubček also was a prominent politician before 1968 and after the Velvet Revolution of 1989. His life ended tragically on November 7, 1992.

Antonín Dvořák (1841 – 1904)
Neo-Romantic composer and head of Prague Conservatory, Dvořák was strongly influenced by Czech, Moravian and other Slavic folk music. The creator of nine symphonies, he is best known for From the New World, which was inspired by a tour of the United States. From 1892 to 1895, he worked as director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York City. His opera Rusalka has achieved worldwide acclaim. Dvořák also composed two sets of Slavonic dances, symphonic poems, songs, choral works, chamber music and piano music, for instance. He created the religious work Stabat Mater, the chamber piece Dumky Trio, the Cello Concerto and American String Quartet as well as the Moravian Duets. He admired Richard Wagner’s operas. The librettos of eight of his nine operas were written in Czech. He often travelled to England and also visited Russia.

Miloš Forman (born 1932)
This film director, screenwriter and professor greatly influenced the New Wave movement in the 1960s with movies such as Talent Competition, Black Peter, Loves of a Blonde and The Fireman’s Ball. During this time period he often focused on reality and everyday life, sometimes using individuals who had no acting experience to play main characters. After the Soviet tanks ended the Prague Spring of 1968, he emigrated to the USA, where he experienced more success. There, his films often dealt with themes of alienation and craziness. His 1975 hit One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest captured five Oscars, and his 1984 creation Amadeus nabbed eight Oscars. He also directed a film version of the musical Hair.

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Josef Gočár (1880 – 1945)

One of the pioneers of modern Czech architecture, Gočár has created architectural masterpieces in Prague, Pardubice and Hradec Králové, to name a few places, implementing styles of Cubism, Rondocubism, Functionalism and Constructivism. His contributions to architecture between the two world wars have distinguished him as one of the most significant personalities in Czech architectural history. From the House of the Black Madonna in Prague to the development plan of modern Hradec Králové to the Grand Hotel in Pardubice, his awe-inspiring creations spectacularly dot the Czech landscape.

George of Poděbrady (1420 – 1471)

George (Jiří in Czech) of Poděbrady served as King of Bohemia from 1458 to 1471 and also was leader of the Ultraquist Hussites, who were not the radical branch of the Hussites. The Hussite wars in the 15th century set factions of Hussites against each other, and foreign armies took part, too. He was successful on the battlefield during these wars. He defeated the Austrian troops of King Albert II in one battle and greatly contributed to the demise of the extreme Taborite branch of Hussites in another battle. Though he made many efforts to get the confidence of Pope Pius II, the Pope did not approve of him. He often found himself in conflicts with Rome. Pope Paul II excommunicated George of Poděbrady when his nobles revolted against him.

Karel Gott (born 1939)

Often called the “Golden Voice of Prague” and the “Sinatra of the East,” singer and painter Karel Gott is a master performer of romantic ballads. Yet his success – from 1960 to the present – is largely due to a diverse repertoire that includes operas, classical compositions, jazz, musicals, rock ‘n roll, country, western and disco music. The most acclaimed singer in the country, he has performed all over the world.

Jan Grossman (1925 – 1993)

Grossman’s tenure as artistic director of Prague’s Divadlo Na zábradlí (The Theatre on the Balustrades) from 1961 to 1968 is considered one of the most significant eras of Czech postwar theatre. There, he directed Havel’s The Memorandum and The Garden Party, Jarry’s Ubu The King and Kafka’s The Trial, to name a few. He was punished by the Communists on numerous occasions. After the February 1948 Communist coup, he was expelled from university, forced to leave his job as lecturer at the National Theatre and banned from publishing for a lengthy period. When he again was allowed to work in the literary sphere, he edited books by significant Czech authors, including František Halas and Miroslav Holub. After the tanks of the Warsaw Pact countries entered Prague and the 1968 Prague Spring was crushed, he was no longer allowed to direct in Czechoslovakia. He had to work abroad. Then, in 1975, the Communists revoked his passport, and he was forced to do his directing in the country but outside of Prague. From 1989 to his death in 1993, he was once again creating stagings with Divadlo Na zábradlí, directing Havel’s Largo Desolato and Temptation as well as Moliere’s Don Juan and Bennett’s Kafka’s Dick.

Dominik Hašek (born 1965)

This legendary Czech goaltender was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame during November of 2014. His career spanned 16 seasons, as he represented the Chicago Blackhawks, Buffalo Sabres, Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings. He also tended goal for Czech HC Pardubice and Spartak Moscow. Dubbed “The Dominator,” he starred in the NHL from the 1990s to early 2000s. From 1993 to 2001, he was awarded the NHL’s Vezina Trophy six times. He played a vital role on the Red Wings when they captured the Stanley Cup in 2002. Hašek holds the distinction of having the highest career save percentage ever in the NHL (0.9223). He was 43 years old when he retired.

Jaroslav Hašek (1883 – 1923)

This writer, journalist, pubgoer, hoaxer and anarchist is best known for his four-volume epic The Fortunes of the Good Soldier Švejk in the First World War, a picaresque novel focusing on the lovable idiot Josef Švejk, who messes up orders by acting them out literally. The book expresses the plight of the common man in the dawn of a new age and is famous for its Czech humor and anecdotes. Hašek also succeeded as a story writer – overall, he had about 1,500 stories in print. The writer fought in World War I but was captured and placed into a POW camp in Russia. Then he joined the Czech Legion. The former bank clerk and dog seller was no stranger to prison, as he was sometimes jailed for his unruly, bohemian behavior.

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Václav Havel, former dissident and President of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic

Václav Havel (1936 – 2011)

The playwright-turned-president led Czechoslovakia and then the Czech Republic for a total of 13 years, shaping his nation into a Western style democracy. He was the first President of Czechoslovakia to be elected in a democratic election in 41 years. Under his guidance the Czech Republic became a member of NATO, and he contributed greatly to the Czech Republic’s acceptance into the European Union. He left the political sphere in 2003, During 2008, his play Leaving premiered in Prague and later was made into a film. Havel was one of the country’s most prominent writers, penning plays, essays, letters, poetry, memoirs and speeches. He worked as playwright and dramaturg at Prague’s Divadlo Na zábradlí during the 1960s, where his absurd plays such as The Memorandum, The Increased Difficulty of Concentration and The Garden Party were first staged. He helped instigate Charter 77, a document signed by dissidents, promoting human rights and taking a stance against the repressive regime. Havel was imprisoned for his dissident activities under Communism several times. He spent almost four years in prison from 1979 to 1983.

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A young Olga Havlová and Václav Havel, photo from Knihovna Václava Havla

Olga Havlová (1933 – 1996)

The first wife of Czechoslovak and later Czech Republic President Václav Havel grew up in a working-class family with the name Šplíchalová, toiling in the gritty Žižkov district of Prague. This former First Lady worked in a factory after graduating from high school and later took on various jobs. She met Václav Havel for the first time in the first half of the 1950s and married him in 1964. A theatre and film enthusiast, Olga worked as an usher at The Theatre on the Balustrades during the 1960s, the same theatre where Václav served as dramaturg and staged his plays. She supported Václav’s dissident activities and even took part in them herself. From 1979 to 1983, Olga was the recipient of her husband’s letters from prison. Later, this correspondence would be published as the philosophical Letters to Olga. She co-founded the underground video magazine, Original Videojournal, which documented dissident activities. Olga also was a driving force behind the founding of About Theatre magazine. From 1989 to 1996, as First Lady, she devoted her time to charities and set up the Olga Havlová Foundation, which helps people with physical impairments and others who are the subject of discrimination in society. During 1991 a Norwegian Foundation named her Woman of the Year, and in 1995 Czechs awarded her that honor. In 1997, she posthumously received the Czech Republic’s Order of Tomáš G. Masaryk. A documentary film about her life nabbed the Czech Lion award for best documentary in 2014.

Milada Horáková (1901 – 1950)

A champion of women’s rights and democratic principles, Horáková was executed by the Communists on June 27, 1950. Her opinions and criticism of the regime had made her a target for the Secret Police, who incarcerated her on trumped up charges of conspiring to overthrow the republic. A show trial, reminiscent of those during the Great Purges of the 1930s in the Soviet Union and enforced by Soviet advisors, ensued. She received the death penalty. Horáková’s hanging marked the death of an anti-Nazi and anti-Communist fighter who had fervently fought for democracy and the ideals of first Czechoslovak President Tomáš G. Masaryk.

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Bohumil Hrabal, photo from Moderní-Dějiny.cz

Bohumil Hrabal (1914 – 1997)

This life-long pubgoer had a literary career that spanned six decades. He is noted for his grotesque, absurd and irreverent humor and anecdotes and often wrote in Prague dialect. While he is best known for his fiction, he scribed impressive poetry during the early years. Hrabal created the pábitel character, a dreamer living on the outskirts of society who often speaks in meandering, whimsical anecdotes. Hrabal held a myriad of jobs – train dispatcher, trainee lawyer, insurance broker, traveling salesman, paper baler and theatre stagehand, to name a few. He also worked at the Poldi steelworks in Kladno. After the Soviet tanks rolled into Prague during August of 1968, the Communists banned Hrabal’s writings. On February 3, 1997 he either fell or jumped to his death from a fifth floor window of the hospital where he was receiving treatment. Hrabal’s works in English include Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age, Harlequin’s Millions, Too Loud A Solitude, I Served the King of England, In-House Weddings, Pirouettes on a Postage Stamp and Closely Watched Trains, which was made into a film by Czech director Jiří Menzel and received an Oscar.

Rudolf Hrušínský (1920 – 1994)

One of the greatest Czech actors of all-time, Hrušinský hailed from a family famous for its contributions to theatre and film.  After sojourns with E. F. Burian’s avant-garde D 39 Theatre and Prague’s Municipal Theatre, he became a member of the National Theatre, where he graced the stage from 1960 to 1992. When, in 1968, he signed dissident Ludvík Vaculík’s 2,000 Words, protesting against the totalitarian regime, Hrušinský was severely punished by the Communists: He could no longer teach at the theatre university, act in film or television or take part in radio broadcasts. Later he was permitted to take up acting again. Some of his dazzling performances on stage took place in plays Ubu The King, Much Ado About Nothing, The Makropulos Thing and The White Plague. After the 1989 Velvet Revolution, he acted in Hrabal’s I Served The King of England along with one of his sons and his grandson at the Činoherní Klub. A prominent actor in films as well as in the theatre, he is known for his roles in the movies The Good Soldier Švejk, The Summer of Caprice, My Sweet Little Village, The End of Old Times, The Cremator, The Death of the Beautiful Deer and Larks on a String, to name a few.

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Jan Hus, photo from MojblognaATLAS.SK

Jan Hus (1370 – 1415)
Hus was a religious reformer, priest, university lecturer, preacher and Czech nationalist symbol who influenced Martin Luther. Inspired by the writings of John Wycliffe, Hus played a major role in the development of Protestantism and emphasized the moral weaknesses of the clergy when speaking from the Bethlehem Chapel in Prague’s Old Town. The Pope and Archbishop were far from pleased with his ideas. In 1414, he was called to defend himself at the Trial of Constance but was arrested immediately. He was burned at the stake as a heretic on July 6, 1415, a day considered the precursor to the Hussite Wars and now commemorated as a Czech national holiday. The Czech Brethren Church consists of his followers even today. Hus also was a pioneer of the Czech language, inventing diacritics. He was a prolific writer as well.

Leoš Janáček (1854 – 1928)

This Czech composer, teacher, folklorist, musical theorist and publicist was greatly influenced by the music of Antonín Dvořák and Moravian folk songs. He also was enthralled with Russian culture. His opera Jenůfa was dedicated to his daughter, who died young. He also is known for the opera The Cunning Little Vixen, the Sinfonietta that is inspired by his beloved Brno and the rhapsody Taras Bulba. From 1881 to 1919, he served as director of the school that became known as the Brno Conservatory. His string quartet, The Kreutzer Sonata, also is a top-notch work. He befriended theatre critic, dramatist and translator Max Brod, who published Janáček’s biography.

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Jaromír Jágr, photo from Týden.cz

Jaromír Jágr (born 1972)

One of the greatest ice hockey players of all-time, right wing Jaromír Jágr helped the Pittsburgh Penguins to Stanley Cups in 1991 and 1992 and guided the Czech National Team to gold in the Winter Olympics in Nagano during 1998. He has played for the Florida Panthers, New Jersey Devils, Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Dallas Stars and Boston Bruins, for instance. He also skated in Russia with Omsk of the Kontinental Hockey League during three seasons. He served as captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers. Jágr has won numerous awards in the NHL, including the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s leading scorer numerous times.

John of Nepomuk (Saint) (1340/50 – 1393)

This martyr of the Catholic Church and national saint of Bohemia was tortured and drowned in Prague’s Vltava River. Historians argue about the reasons for his horrendous fate. One possibility involves his being condemned to death by Bohemian King Wenceslas IV when he refused to divulge the queen’s secret confessions to the king while John of Nepomuk was the queen’s confessor. Another version states that King Wenceslas IV and John of Nepomuk disagreed on the appointment of an archbishop. He is now considered to be the patron saint against catastrophes, floods and drowning.

Josef Jungmann (1773 – 1847)

This linguist, translator and prose writer, along with Josef Dobrovský, is considered to have laid the foundations for the modern Czech language,. His most valuable work was his five-volume Czech-German dictionary, which includes the basis of modern Czech vocabulary. Jungmann put to use archaic words and borrowed words from other Slavic languages, and they became a part of the modern Czech language. He also wrote novels and polemic works. Jungmann translated into Czech from German, French and English, making the works of Milton, Schiller and Goethe available to Czech speakers. Emperor Ferdinand gave him with a medal for his dictionary.

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Franz Kafka, photo from kultura.zpravy.idnes.cz

Franz Kafka (1883 – 1924)
This German-Jewish writer born and brought up in Prague authored The Trial, The Metamorphosis, The Castle and In the Penal Colony, to name a few. He worked for many years as an insurance clerk. Kafka’s characters cannot communicate with others and find themselves consumed by anguish in absurd situations that they cannot control. Kafka wrote of guilt and despair and satired bureaucracy. Born next to the Old Town’s St. Nicholas Church, Kafka is buried in the New Jewish Cemetery in the Žižkov district.

Ivan Klima (born 1931)

This versatile writer of prose, plays, essays, feuilletons and children’s books spent three and a half years in the Terezín concentration camp along with his parents, persecuted for their Jewish origins. Somehow they all survived. After the war he joined the Communist Party but was expelled in 1967, reinstated in 1968 and expelled again in 1970. From 1970 he was a banned author, having to publish illegally in samizdat. Klíma has won numerous awards for his writing. Some of his books in English are Love and Garbage, My First Loves, My Golden Trades, Judge on Trial and his autobiography, My Crazy Century.

Frantisek Křižík (1847 – 1941)

This inventor and electrical engineering guru created the automatic arc lamp and built the first electric railway in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, as trains made their way from Tábor to Bechyně. Thanks to Křižík, the first electric street car line in Czech lands ran through the Letná fairgrounds at the Jubileum Exhibition in Prague during 1891. It was 800 meters long. He perfected the design of electric street cars and constructed power stations, too. His equipment was used in 130 power stations during his lifetime.

Milan Kundera (born 1929)

One of the world’s most well-known and most translated Czech authors, Kundera has published poems, plays, prose and essays. He has lived in France since 1975, and the Communists revoked his Czechoslovak citizenship in 1979. Under the totalitarian regime his books were banned. His most significant works include the novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984), which was inspired by Nietzsche’s philosophy and his first novel, The Joke, which criticizes the totalitarian regime. His writings have been inspired not only by Nietzsche but also by Rabelais, Robert Musil and Miguel de Cervantes, among others. Kundera used to write in Czech but since 1993 has penned his prose in French. He has been nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature several times.

Ivan Lendl (born 1960)

Born in Ostrava to two successful tennis players, Lendl continued the family tradition with a flourish, becoming the number one ranked player. He played a significant role in pro tennis during the 1980s and early 1990s and is considered to be one of the best players of all-time. He has won eight Grand Slam singles titles while competing in 19 Grand Slam singles finals and nabbed 22 Championship Series titles. Overall, he notched 94 singles titles. Lendl moved to the USA in 1981 and became a US citizen during 1992. Lendl retired in 1994, when he was 34 years old. An avid fan of Alphonse Mucha, Lendl owns an almost complete collection of this artist’s posters. An exhibition of his collection took place at Prague’s Municipal House during 2013.

Princess Libuše (pre-9th c.)
She is often called the “Mother of Bohemia.” According to legend, clairvoyant Libuše stood on a cliff on Vyšehrad Hill overlooking the Vltava River during the eighth century and predicted that Prague would be founded there. She and ploughman Přemysl Oráč established the Přemyslid dynasty, which lasted from the 10th century to 1306.

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Bohumil Hrabal and Arnošt Lustig in U Zlatého tygra pub in Prague

Arnošt Lustig (1926 – 2011)

This prolific Czech Jewish author focused on the Holocaust in his novels, short stories, plays and screenplays. Lustig spent time in three concentration camps during World War II. In 1945 he made a daring escape and hid in Prague for the rest of the war. When peace arrived, he became a member of the Communist Party, but Lustig gave up his membership in 1967. He was forced to leave the country after the Soviet tanks crushed the Prague Spring of liberal reforms in 1968. Lustig settled in the USA, and in the early seventies began teaching at The American University in Washington, D.C. After he retired from the university in 2003, Lustig moved back to Prague. Many of his novels are available in English: A Prayer for Katerina Horovitzova, Dita Saxova, Night and Hope, Darkness Casts No Shadow, Lovely Green Eyes, Indecent Dreams and others. Many of his novels have been adapted for the big screen. In 2008 Lustig was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.

Karel Hynek Macha (1810 – 1836)

This pioneer of Czech Romanticism died at the age of 25. Still, in such a short time, he found modern Czech poetry and wrote poetry. He authored one of the best poems in Czech literature, May (Máj), a lyric epic poem about a prisoner awaiting execution. It contains motifs of love, nature and country. Yet his writings did not receive much acclaim during his lifetime, and May was his only book that was published when he was alive.

Bohuslav Martinů (1890 – 1959)

This Czech composer created almost 400 works, including six symphonies, 15 operas, 14 ballet scores as well as orchestral, chamber and choral music, for instance. He is best known for his neoclassical style. The piano plays a major roles in many of his orchestral pieces. He also utilized Bohemian and Moravian folk melodies. Martinů lived in Paris from 1923 – 40 and then emigrated to the USA, settling in New York City. He wanted to go back to Czechoslovakia in the 1940s, but his hopes were dashed when Foreign Minister Jan Masaryk was murdered by the Communists in 1948. From 1953 to 1959, he resided in Europe. His compositions include Memorial to Lidice (1942), written for the village razed by the Nazis in Czechoslovakia. He also wrote the opera Julietta and the Double Concerto for Two String Orchestras.

Jan Masaryk (1886 – 1948)

The son of first Czechoslovak president Tomáš G. Masaryk, Jan made a name for himself as a Czech diplomat and politician. He worked as chargé d’affaires to the USA from 1919 to 1922 during the First Republic. From 1925 to 1938, he served as his country’s ambassador to Britain, but he resigned when the Nazis took control of the Sudetenland, which had been the part of Czechoslovakia with a German majority. He remained in London, acting as the Foreign Minister for the Czechoslovak government-in-exile during World War II. He continued to hold the same post after the war even though the Communist Party was becoming more and more powerful. Jan was still serving in this capacity after the February of 1948 Communist coup. On the morning of March 10, 1948, his body was discovered in the courtyard of Prague’s Černín Palace, where the Foreign Ministry has its offices. His corpse was found below his bathroom window. At first it was declared a suicide, but investigations in the 1990s and 2003 labelled his death as murder.

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Tomáš G. Masaryk, first President of Czechoslovakia

Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk (1850 – 1937)
This philosopher, professor and prolific author held the post of Czechoslovakia’s first president for three terms that lasted 17 years. Guiding the government in exile during World War I, he argued for independence rather than autonomy. When he married the American Charlotte Garrigue, he adopted her last name as his middle name. Masaryk took a stance against antisemitism in the Hilsner Affair. He believed in giving minorities the right to embrace their national identities, freedom of the press and universal suffrage. He was convinced that a small nation could play a significant role in Europe. He also promoted the most contemporary advancements in science, the humanities and world literature. He viewed religion as a source of morality. Masaryk traveled to Washington, D.C., where he received the support of President Woodrow Wilson at the end of World War I for a sovereign republic of Czechs and Slovaks. This nation was founded as Czechoslovakia on October 28, 1918. He resigned for health reasons in 1935 and died less than two years later. In his writings he described the oppressiveness of tsarist Russia, analyzed causes of suicide and warned Czechs against the dangers of radicalism and escapism. He also criticized Marxism and supported the women’s movement. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize 17 times.

The Mašín Gang – Ctirad (1930- 2011) and Josef Mašín (born 1932), Milan Paumer (1931 – 2010), Zbyněk Janata (1932 – 1955) and Václav Šveda (1921 – 1955)

The five anti-Communist fighters making up the “Mašín Gang” are remembered for their acts of sabotage in the early 1950s as well as for their 1953 death-defying escape to the West that covered 200 miles in 28 days. The group consisted of brothers Ctirad and Josef Mašín, Milan Paumer, Zbyněk Janata and Václav Šveda. During two raids on police stations to obtain weapons, the group killed two police officers. Then they shot a wages clerk to obtain 846,000 Czechoslovak crowns. During their escape, they were responsible for the death of three East German police officers. Their actions have triggered heated debates about whether they are heroes or villains.

Gregor Johann Mendel (1822 – 1884)
The father of genetics and the laws of heredity often referred to as Mendel’s Laws was a German-speaking Moravian scientist, born in Heinzendorf (now Hynčice, Czech Republic). Mendel was educated at an Augustinian monastery in Brno, where he also performed his experiments with plants. He founded the rules of heredity by examining seven characteristics of pea plants.

Jiří Menzel (born 1938)

This world-renowned director’s career in film was launched with his rendition of Bohumil Hrabal’s Closely Watched Trains, which won the 1966 Oscar for Best Foreign Film. My Sweet Little Village was nominated for an Oscar in 1985. Another much acclaimed film was Larks on a String, based on fiction by Hrabal. Other notable films he directed include the Summer of Caprice, The Beggar’s Opera, I Served the King of England and The End of Old Times. Since the 1970s he has devoted time to directing in the theatre as well, at home and abroad. He also has acted in films, appearing in Closely Watched Trains, The Cremator and Summer of Caprice, for instance.

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Alphonse Mucha, from the web page of Jarmila Mucha Plocková

Alphonse Mucha (1860 – 1939)
The imaginative and passionate creations by legendary Art Nouveau painter and decorative artist Alphonse Mucha are well-known throughout the world, especially the idealized images of Sarah Bernhardt with her poignant, exhilarating gaze. An avid supporter of democratic Czechoslovakia, Mucha is also celebrated for his patriotic and folk art themes that celebrate not only the Czechoslovak nation but also Slav unity. He was prolific, creating posters, books, magazine and book illustrations, stained glass windows, jewelry, theatre sets, costumes and more.  The Mucha style features beautiful, young women exuding optimism and happiness in extravagant, flowing robes designed in pale pastels. Flowers or crescent moons make halos around the enchanting figure’s head. He employed folk elements that were not only Czech but also Byzantine, Celtic, Rococo, Gothic and Judaic, among others. Tourists will not want to miss the opportunity to visit Prague’s Mucha Museum.

Martina Navratilová (born 1956)

Considered one of the best female tennis players of all-time, Martina Navratilová has an impressive list of accomplishments. She nabbed 20 Wimbledon titles and 18 Grand Slam titles. She remains the only player to ever rank first in both singles and doubles for over 200 weeks. She was the number one female in singles from 1982 to 1986. When she was given temporary residence in the USA during 1978, when the Communist government of her homeland revoked her Czechoslovak citizenship. She became a US citizen during 1981. She also has achieved much success as a tennis coach and has written several books.

Božena Němcová (1820 – 1862)

A significant writer during the Czech National Revival movement, she authored The Grandmother, based on memories of a happy childhood in the countryside. The main character, a grandmother, is a symbol of good, love and morality. The book has an optimistic tone. Němcová also wrote travelogues, fairy tales, legends and several other novels. The Grandmother has been made into a film and has been adapted for the stage.

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Jan Neruda, photo from ceskatelevize.cz

Jan Neruda (1834 – 1891)

This prolific writer of the Czech Realism movement was a poet, prose writer, journalist, playwright, literary critic, drama critic and translator. He hailed from Prague’s Little Quarter, and his collection of short stories, Tales of the Lesser Quarter (1877) are imbued with the special and magical atmosphere of this district. As a journalist he concentrated mostly on writing feuilletons and contributed greatly to the development of that genre. He wrote about everyday occurrences as well as exceptional events in Prague and its society. His prose also often was set in Prague. As a poet, though, he was pessimistic and skeptical. He also translated poetry, legends and national songs, for instance. He is buried in Prague’s Vyšehrad Cemetery, and the main street in the Little Quarter is named after him.

Jan Opletal (1915 – 1939)

This Charles University student was shot by German soldiers during the October 28, 1939 demonstrations against the Occupation. The strong believer in democracy died in the hospital November 11, 1939. His public funeral in Prague, held on November 15, became a spontaneous demonstration and would be the last big demonstration against the Nazis in the Protectorate. As a result, on November 17, German soldiers beat and arrested many students, even executing some and sending others to a concentration camp. Furious because of the demonstration at Opletal’s funeral, Hitler closed all Czech universities and dormitories for three years. Now November 17 is considered to be International Students’ Day and is a holiday in the Czech Republic.

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Jan Palach, photo from vsezlate.blog.cz

Jan Palach (1948 – 1969)

The 20-year old Charles University student set fire to himself on Wenceslas Square in Prague on January 16, 1969, protesting the lack of freedoms and passivity of Czech citizens. He died in the hospital from his injuries. Palach’s funeral at Prague’s Olšany Cemetery on January 25 turned into a huge demonstration against the Soviet Occupation. After Palach’s death, the Communists imposed the rigid rules of the normalization era. Commemorating the 20th anniversary of Palach’s sacrifice, Jan Palach Week in 1989 was marked by many demonstrations against the totalitarian regime, and police used brutality in response to the protests. Dissident Václav Havel was arrested and imprisoned during Jan Palach Week in 1989.

František Palacký (1798 – 1876)

This Czech historian, writer and politician who greatly influenced the Czech National Revival movement is often called “The Father of the Nation.” His mammoth literary accomplishment, The History of the Czech Nation in Bohemia and Moravia is one of the most significant books in Czech history and remains an authority to this day. He traveled to archives all over Europe to do research on the work. Palacký, a nationalist and a Protestant, envisioned Czech history as a constant battle between Slavs and Germans. He was also very active politically. During the Revolution of 1848 he took an anti-German stance. In the 1860s he joined the Austrian senate as head of a nationalist-federal party called the Old Czechs. He promoted the idea of Czech autonomy with Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia belonging to a Czech kingdom.

Jan Patočka (1907 – 1977)

One of the most significant philosophers in Central Europe during the 20th century, Patočka dealt with the philosophy of educational reformer Jan Amos Comenius and the first president of Czechoslovakia, Tomáš G. Masaryk, among others. He also focused on the philosophy of history and contributed to Czech culture. Patočka came up with a unique philosophy of three movements in human existence – receiving, reproduction and transcendence. He was banned from teaching during the Nazi Occupation and also for many years by the totalitarian regime. His philosophical thought greatly influenced the dissident movement in Czechoslovakia from the 1960s through the 1980s. Patočka was one of the first signatories of Charter 77, a human rights movement in the country drafted in 1977.  The Secret Police repeatedly interrogated him, and these lengthy interrogations triggered his death. At his funeral, Czechs demonstrated against the Communist regime.

Přemysl Otakar II (1233 – 1278)

Dubbed “The Iron and Golden King,” Přemysl Otakar II brought prosperity and prestige to the Czech lands as the fifth Czech leader, reigning from 1253 to 1278. With the exception of Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV, this energetic and well-educated ruler is the most revered Czech sovereign due to his penchant for promoting trade as well as making legal and other reforms. He created about 50 towns in Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia, Austria and Styria and founded Prague’s Little Quarter (Malá strana). He also had many castles built.

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Jaroslav Seifert, photo from Web-Blog.cz

Jaroslav Seifert (1901 – 1986)
The only Czech to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, Seifert was not only a poet, though he is best known for his works in this genre. He also worked as a journalist and translator, for instance. He published over 30 collections of poems. Seifert’s first poems appeared in 1921, and during the 1920s he was one of the founders of the influential journal Devětsil. Seifert signed Charter 77, a document calling for human rights and opposing the Communist regime. Even though his relationship with the Communist regime was complex, he was given the title of National Artist and received state prizes.

Bedřich Smetana (1824 – 1884)
An avid supporter of Czech nationalist identity, Smetana invented an entirely new genre of Czech opera. He composed eight operas, including The Bartered Bride and Libuše. He focused on Czech legends in his six symphonic poems called Má Vlast, and the Vltava movement in the symphony is always performed on the opening night of the annual Prague Spring Music Festival. A museum in Prague honors the composer who strove to express characteristics of the Czech people in his music.

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Ladislav Smoljak, the bust of Jára Cimrman and Zdeněk Svěrák, photo from lidovky.cz

Ladislav Smoljak (1931 – 2010)

Although he majored in mathematics and physics, Smoljak made a name for himself in the world of theatre and film. One of the three founders of the Jára Cimrman Theatre, he co-wrote for this theatre 13 plays with Zdeněk Svěrák and authored one by himself. He took on acting and directing in the ensemble. He was also a screenwriter and film director, often co-writing scripts with Svěrák. Smoljak was an expert on Czech comedy. A strong supporter of the Velvet Revolution, he was politically active as well. This dazzling performer for the Jára Cimrman Theatre was also an educator.

Josef Sudek (1896 – 1976)

Although he lost one arm while fighting for the Austro-Hungarian army during World War I, Sudek became one of the most renowned avant-garde photographers in the world and one of the most significant Czech photographers to work between the two world wars. A bookbinder by trade, he is best known for his photographs of Prague, including pictures of the interior of St. Vitus’ Cathedral and many photographs of the city at night. He also took snapshots of the interior of his studio and the views from its windows. Still lifes, landscapes and advertisements also make up the repertoire of his innovative work. While he focused on the Pictorialist style during the 1920s, most of his creations are considered to be in the Neo-Romantic style.

Josef Suk (1929 – 2011)

The grandson of composer Josef Suk and great-grandson of Antonin Dvořák, this violinist also played the viola and conducted. In 1961, he became a soloist for the Czech Philharmonic and performed with top-notch orchestras around the world. He gave concerts in the USA, Germany, Romania, France, Belgium and the Netherlands, for instance. He was renowned for his performances of pieces by Bach, Mozart and Beethoven. His rendition of Dvořák’s Violin Concerto received much acclaim. He also was a chamber musician, playing with the Prague Quartet, Suk Trio and Smetana Quartet. From 1974 to 2000, he conducted with the Suk Chamber Orchestra that he founded. Suk won many awards, including the National Order of the Legion of Honor in 2002.

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Ladislav Smoljak and Zdeněk Svěrák in the play Afrika, photo from showbiz.cz

Jan Svěrák (born 1965)

The son of actor and screenwriter Zdeněk Svěrák has made a name for himself as one of the best filmmakers of his generation. His film Elementary School, which takes place shortly after the end of World War II, was nominated for an Oscar in 1991. His film Kolya nabbed an Oscar in 1996. He often teams up with his father in his work. Zdeněk Svěrák wrote the screenplays for Jan’s feature films Empties, Dark Blue World and The Three Brothers.  His father acted in Elementary School, Kolya, Empties and The Three Brothers, too. Jan also filmed the documentary Papa, which focuses on his father’s intriguing life. Kuky Returns also received acclaim. During 2016 and 2017, he directed Barefoot Across the Stubblefield, a film based on his father’s biographical novella about life in a village during and after the Nazi Occupation. Jan also has received three Czech Lion Awards, a Crystal Globe and the Tokyo Grand Prix prize.

Zdeněk Svěrák (born 1936)

One of the most popular personalities in Czech culture, Zdeněk Svěrák is a man of many talents: He is an actor, screenwriter and writer of children’s books, stories and musical texts. Along with actor Ladislav Smoljak, he invented the fictional character Jára Cimrman, an unlucky Czech genius who, in his lifetime, did not get the credit he deserved for his masterful inventions and other achievements. Cimrman had been an inventor, detective, poet, writer of fairy tales, philosopher, gynecologist, dentist, philosopher and composer, for instance. Though fictional, Jára Cimrman was chosen the Greatest Czech in 2005. The extremely popular Jára Cimrman Theatre performs 15 of Cimrman’s plays set during the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Svěrák co-wrote 13 of the the plays, penned one by himself and acts in them. But Svěrák does not limit his acting to the stage. He is a well-known film actor and screenwriter, too. He has authored scripts that his son Jan has directed, including Kolya, which won an Oscar during 1996, Elementary School, also nominated for an Oscar, Empties, The Three Brothers and Dark Blue World. He also wrote and acted in the comedy Run, Waiter, Run! Other films in which Svěrák has cast his magical acting spell include My Sweet Little Village, The Snowdrop Festival, Larks on a String, Dissolved and Effused and Seclusion Near A Forest. His books in Czech include Stories, New Stories, Barefoot Across A Stubble Field and The Three Brothers.

Emil von Škoda (1839 – 1900)

Thanks to this prominent and industrious Czech entrepreneur, Škoda Works (now Škoda Transportation) became the largest industrial business in the Austro-Hungarian Empire and later in Czechoslovakia. At first the enterprise focused on steel but also manufactured equipment for sugar refineries, malt houses and breweries. Later, it became one of the largest manufacturers of weapons in Europe. Now called Škoda Transportation, the company concentrates on making trams, electric locomotives and rapid transit train systems.

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Václav Havel and writer Josef Škvorecký, photo from Aktuálně.cz

Josef Škvorecký (1924 – 2012)

Nominated for the Nobel Prize in 1982, Škvorecký was a prolific and prominent writer on the postwar Czech literary scene. He is best known for his novels and stories, but he also wrote essays, translated works by authors such as Faulkner and Hemingway into Czech and worked as a university professor in Toronto, where he settled after fleeing Czechoslovakia during Communism. Along with his wife Zdena Salivarová, he founded one of the most influential publishing houses, specializing in literature by dissidents, ’68 Publishers in Toronto. In his first novel, The Cowards, he introduced the character who would feature in many of his literary creations, Danny Smiřický, a young man with a passion for jazz and girls. The book takes place in a fictional town mirroring Škvorecký’s hometown of Náchod at the end of World War II. In another novel, The Miracle Game, Danny turns up again, this time amidst the political events of the 1950s and 1960s. In The Engineer of Human Souls, Danny is a university professor in Toronto. Life as an expat, the trials and tribulations of living under Communist rule and the magic of jazz are themes often found in Škvorecký’s works. Many of his books have been translated into English, including Miss Silver’s Past, The Swell Season, Dvořák in Love and The Bass Saxophone. He also wrote a trilogy of mysteries featuring Lieutenant Borůvka. During 1990 Škvorecký received the prestigious Order of the White Lion award from then President of Czechoslovakia, Václav Havel.

The Three Kings – Josef Balabán (1894 – 1941), Josef Mašín (1896 – 1942) and Václav Morávek (1904 – 1942)

A major player in the Czech resistance movement during the Nazi Occupation, The Three Kings – a code name coined by the Nazis who hunted them – made significant contributions to the Czechoslovak cause from 1939 to 1942. Working for the resistance group Defense of the Nation set up by former army officers, protagonists Josef Balabán, Josef Mašín and Václav Morávek relayed information about life in the Protectorate to the Czechoslovak government-in-exile in London via radio transmitters. News often involved the movement of goods and German transports as well as political and economic events. These resistance fighters also carried out acts of sabotage by staging bomb attacks and setting fire to factories. They collected weapons for the resistance and helped with the publishing and distribution of the underground magazine V boj! as well. In addition, the three-man team helped agents escape from the Protectorate.

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Josef Kajetán Tyl, photo from web pages of Středočeský kraj

Josef Kajetán Tyl (1808 – 1856)

This playwright, journalist, writer and actor wrote the words for the Czech national anthem, Where is my home? He served as actor, director and playwright for an amateur group who performed plays in Czech at Prague’s Theatre of the Estates, where most of the performances were staged in German. After Tyl left that theatre in 1846, he experienced the peak of his career as his collected works were published, and he received many awards. A key player in the Czech National Revival, Tyl got involved in politics during the revolutionary year of 1848, when the Czechs voiced their desire for independence from the Habsburgs.  Many of his 20 plays are still performed today. They basically involve three themes. Some focus on everyday life in Czech society while others portray historical events in the Czech lands. Still others can be described as fairy tales.

Petr Vok of Rožmberk (Rosenberg) (1539 – 1611)

The last of the prominent Rožmberk (sometimes called Rosenberg) dynasty, Petr Vok of Rožmberk created magnificent Renaissance chateaus in Bechyně and Třeboň and influenced the development of Český Krumlov Castle, where he also spent his early childhood. His collection of artifacts and instruments was vast and extremely impressive. A Protestant nobleman during the Catholic Habsburg era of the Holy Roman Empire, he became the non-Catholic authority in the Czech lands.

Wenceslas (Saint) (ca. 907 – 935)
The first Czech saint and the patron saint of the Czech state, Wenceslas (Václav in Czech) served as duke of Bohemia from 921 until his death in 929 or 935. Although he died young, this martyr’s accomplishments were many. He had numerous churches built in Bohemia and was revered as a pious, moral, educated and intelligent man who promoted the Christian faith and took care of the poor, the sick, the widowed and the orphaned by doing good deeds. He founded the rotunda of Saint Vitus at Prague Castle. Wenceslas was executed at the site of the present-day city of Stará Boleslav, on the orders of his younger brother, Boleslav, who took over the Bohemian throne. At the top of Prague’s Wenceslas Square, there is a statue depicting the saint on horseback. It was constructed in 1912.

Wenceslas III (1289 – 1306)

When Wenceslas III was murdered on August 4, 1306, it marked the end of the male line of the legendary Přemysl dynasty of rulers of Bohemia, a dynasty that dated back to the ninth century. The house of Luxembourg took control of the Bohemian throne in 1310. The teenage Wenceslas III ruled Hungary, Poland and Bohemia for a brief period, and his tenure on the throne was punctuated by much friction with Hungary and Poland. It is not known who murdered him while he was resting in a former deanery in Olomouc, Moravia. Wenceslas III had not yet turned 17 at the time of his death. Over the centuries his skeleton was lost.

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Jan Werich and Jiří Voskovec, photo from ceskatelevize.cz

Jan Werich (1905 – 1980)

Actor, dramatist and screenwriter Jan Werich dazzled the public in both film and theatre productions.  The comic duo of Werich and Jiří Voskovec dominated Czech avant-garde theatre between world wars. The man with the deep voice, the chubby cheeks and glowing smile of Santa Claus continued to be a major influence on Czech culture after World War II until his death in 1980.

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Statue of Jan Žižka in front of National Monument in Vítkov, Prague, photo from Alamy

Jan Žižka of Trocnov and the Chalice (1360 1424)

Jan Žižka is one of seven military commanders in history never to lose a battle and one of the greatest leaders in military history. His Hussite army was the first to use field artillery in battle, as Žižka employed unique and ingenious tactics. He brought armored wagons on which there were cannons and muskets into battles and was very successful. In the Battle of Kutná Hora during 1421 he defeated the Holy Roman Empire and Hungary. He led the Taborites during the Hussite Wars. Even going blind did not hinder him from leading his troops into battle.

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

Loučeň Chateau Diary

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Waiting for the tour to start, I was excited that I would soon see the historical interiors of a chateau I had never before visited. Although Baroque Loučeň (also sometimes referred to as Lautschin) had been open to the public since 2007, I had heard about by chance only in 2015 via an article posted on Facebook. The place sounded magical. I knew I had to make a trip there. And soon. While there are many tours for children, I had opted for the classic tour of the interiors.

I was surprised that a settlement at Loučeň had existed as far back as 1223. A castle was in the town even during the Middle Ages, but a turning point in the history of Loučeň came in 1623 when Adam von Wallenstein became the owner. That is when the chateau was built in Baroque style, construction taking place from 1704 to 1713. Adam had a famous nephew: Albrecht von Wallenstein had made quite a name for himself in the military. He even held the post of supreme commander of the armies of the Habsburg Monarchy and was a major player in the Thirty Years’ War. The Wallenstein family tree died out in 1752.
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In 1809 the Thurn und Taxis family came into the picture when Maxmilián Thurn und Taxis purchased the chateau. I had become familiar with this dynasty when I had visited Regensburg, where the family had had their main residence. I had toured their elegant palace and distinctly recalled the grotesque figures on the ceiling of the Conservatory, the Brussels’ tapestries in the Large Dining Room and the lavishness of the Rococo and Neo-Rococo Ballroom.

The family’s great influence on the postal system had left me in awe. The Thurn und Taxis family descended from the Tasso clan from the 13th century. During the end of the 15th century, Francesco Tasso created the first postal system going from Innsbruck to Brussels. It took a week for the mail to reach its destination. The key to its success was that the rider and horse were changed at each postal station. For his ingenuity, Tasso was given nobility status by Emperor Maximilian I and thus became Franz von Taxis in 1512. Before long the Thurn and Taxis family had the monopoly of the postal services in Central and Western Europe. By the end of the 18th century, the postal system was enjoying great success.
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The Thurn und Taxis clan had some prominent members, that’s for sure. For example, Rudolf von Troskow established the law journal Právník, the first of its kind in the Czech language. He also created some legal vocabulary that is still in use today. His interests were not limited to law, though. He was a patron of the arts as well.

During 1875, when Alexander Thurn und Taxis, a violinist and patron of the arts, wed Marie von Hohenlohe, an amateur painter as well as friend and patron of Rainer Maria
Rilke, times changed at Loučeň, a place many well-known artists and politicians proceeded to visit. Rilke stopped by – not once – but twice. He even dedicated his Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge to Marie. Composer Bedřich Smetana lived nearby toward the end of his life and performed on one of the Thurn und Taxis’ pianos. Smetana was a friend of the family; he dedicated his composition Z domoviny to Alexander. Other prominent visitors included Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, the first president of Czechoslovakia, his daughter Alice, Czech writer Eliška Krásnohorská, musician Josef Suk and American storyteller Mark Twain.

Alexander Thurn und Taxis was a man of many accomplishments. He gave his animal trophies to Prague’s National Museum and helped build the first railway in the region. During the tour I would discover the role he played in bringing soccer to Bohemia.

The Dining Room

The Dining Room


The Thurn und Taxis clan would lose the chateau at the end of World War II, when it became the property of the state. In 1945 the Soviet army and locals plundered the chateau. Under Communism the chateau’s history was not rosy, either. It became a recreation center for Ministry of Transportation employees. Later it was turned into a railway trade school. A landmark event occurred when the company Loučeň a.s. took over the chateau in 2000. Even some of the original furnishings were retrieved.

Our guide was a descendant of the Thurn und Taxis family. I had never been on a tour led by a member of a family that had had such a remarkable impact on the chateau I was visiting. It was a real treat. In Staircase Hall I was captivated by a large painting of Duino Chateau, a romantic structure perched on a cliff in Italy. The young man’s parents were there now, he said. The place had been the Thurn und Taxis’ property for centuries. Rilke had written his Duino Elegies there.
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In the first room there was a sleigh which had been used to move the mail through snowy terrain. It was painted black and yellow, and it was no coincidence that taxis often used the same shade of yellow. In fact, the word taxi derives from the name Thurn und Taxis. I also saw the huge winter boots that a postman would have worn delivering the mail in wintry conditions. A map of Bohemia from 1720 hung on one wall. I loved old maps! It made me think of the vedutas and maps of towns at Mělník Chateau. The family’s coat-of-arms was prominent, too. It featured a badger. (The original name of the family, Tasso, means badger in Italian.)
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I wanted to sit in the red, plush chairs at the dining room table and stare at the exquisite porcelain service. Overall, there were 600 pieces, but only a portion of them were on display. The fancy gold candlesticks got my attention, too. In the Chinese Salon I was impressed with the big Chinese vases, so colorful with superb designs. The white wallpaper featured pink flowers and green leaves and had a sense of fragility and intimacy to it.

The Prince’s Study was filled with his souvenirs from two trips to Africa, including a crocodile. Paintings of horses also decorated the study. In one rendition a horse was jumping over a barrier in a Pardubice steeplechase race. (I would learn more about the Pardubice steeplechase when I visited Karlova Koruna Chateau a few weeks later.)
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In the Prince’s Bedroom I noticed a photo of Prince Alexander with his four cats, three of whom slept on the bed with him. Curled up on the bed were three stuffed animal cats. I thought that was an interesting touch. My late cat had almost always slept on my head during almost 15 years, and I thought of how much I missed him. I wondered what my five-year old cat was doing at that moment. She liked to sleep at the foot of the bed. I didn’t think I could live without cats in my life. Maybe Alexander had felt the same.

In the servant’s bedroom I saw something that really surprised me. At first I did not understand why there was an iron next to replicas of old banknotes. Then the guide explained. The servant ironed the prince’s money so that it would not be crumpled. That was not all. The servant also ironed the prince’s newspaper to prevent the color from fading and to keep it from getting dirty.

In the hallway I saw a vacuum from the 1930s and red buckets on one wall in case a fire would break out. A picture of the Loučeň soccer team from 1893 also hung in the hall. That team played in the first official soccer game in Bohemia, thanks to Alexander’s interest in the sport.
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An avid fan of classical music, I have always enjoyed visiting the music salons in chateaus. This time was no different. I tried to imagine Smetana performing on the piano in the room. On the piano was a red box of Mozartkugeln truffles. The music sheets were turned to Concertino for violin and piano by Leo Portnoff, who was born in Russia during 1875 and emigrated to the USA in 1922.) I wondered if Alexander had played the violin accompanied by Marie on the piano when performing this piece.

The Princess’ Salon was decorated with books by Rilke and an upright piano from the 18th century. The view of the park from the window here was very romantic and picturesque. There were 10 mazes and 11 labyrinths in the park. I would have to check it out later, I told myself. I loved the bright green painted walls and a nook in one part of the room. I wanted to relax and read, seated in that nook, losing myself in a mystery or art catalogue.

The Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary

The Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary


In the Princess’ Bedroom I saw her ravishing pink-and-cream wedding dress, which she had donned at age 40. I marveled at how young she looked in photos. Crowns and lions adorned the light blue wallpaper. A piano made by Rudolf Stenhamer in Vienna stood in the room, too. I admired the richly carved patterns on the front and back of the bed. I also was interested in the personal items that had belonged to the princess. On display were fans, a crocodile handbag and beautiful necklaces as well as a jewelry bag. The Oriental carpet was a nice touch, too.
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The Children’s Room came next and then a small classroom for Thurn und Taxis children. It was very plain. There was a small bench for two students with small blackboards. On the desk were two books called Histoire de la Revolution Française. In the Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary there was a real treat. The artwork over the main altar was made by my beloved Czech Baroque painter Petr Brandl. I recalled his altar paintings in the cathedral at Sedlec, which I had visited earlier that year for what must have been the fourth or fifth time. Still, his work never failed to amaze me.
The ceiling of the church

The ceiling of the church


The library consisted of a gallery and ground floor. One of the books prominently displayed was an English version of a fairy tale by Princess Marie – The Tea Party of Miss Moon. I would have been interested in reading it to get a sense of the princess’ writing style, but it was not for sale in the chateau shop. The most valuable book was the huge chronicle of the Thurn und Taxis family. Another enormous volume on a table tackled the theme of the romantic Šumava region in the Czech lands. The room was not without its distinguished family portraits, either.

I walked through the park a bit and then made my way to Nymburk, a town closely associated with my favorite Czech writer, Bohumil Hrabal. In Nymburk I did not have much time for sightseeing, though. I peeked into a Gothic church and had lunch before heading back to Prague, more than satisfied with the trip’s outcome.

View from Loučeň Chateau

View from Loučeň Chateau


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

Vysoké Mýto and East Bohemia Diary

The vaulting of the Church of Saint Lawrence in Vysoké Mýto was spectacular.

The vaulting of the Church of Saint Lawrence in Vysoké Mýto was spectacular.

This time I traveled with UNISMA in a small group of 17 participants to see some wonders of east Bohemia. Two wooden churches and the town of Vysoké Mýto were a few places on the itinerary. I had only been to the bus station in Vysoké Mýto long ago. I had not imagined that there was anything interesting in the town.

The fountain with Saint Francis in Vraclav.

The fountain with Saint Francis in Vraclav.

First we visited the Baroque complex of the former spa town of Vraclav. A figure of Saint Francis poured water into a fountain. The Church of St. Nicholas featured 28 Baroque statues made of wood and polychrome plastic by an unknown artist before 1740. It was thought that the creator had been a pupil of Matyáš Bernard Braun, an Austrian sculptor who had worked extensively in the Czech lands and a leading representative of the Baroque style. Three of Braun’s sculptural groupings grace the Charles Bridge in Prague, and he also created a tomb in St. Vitus’ Cathedral. His renditions can be seen throughout churches, palaces and parks in Prague as well as at the former hospital Kuks, the monastery Plasy and the Duchcov Chateau, among other places. The statues had been moved to the Church of Saint Nicholas from a pilgrimage route that had led to a former monastery.

The Church of Saint Nicholas in Vraclav

The Church of Saint Nicholas in Vraclav

At the beginning of the 17th century a chapel and a hermitage were built on the site. From 1724 to 1730 the Baroque church was constructed there. A spring appeared at the chapel under the entranceway, where a statue of Saint Nicholas dominates. A spring flowed underground around the nave from both sides. This former pilgrimage site and spa deteriorated at the end of the 18th century. It was not reconstructed until the 20th century, 1976 to 1986.

Postcard of a statue in the Church of Saint Nicholas

Postcard of a statue in the Church of Saint Nicholas

At the end of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th century, a well-known spa had been located nearby. However, its popularity dwindled by the end of the 18th century, and the spa became dilapidated. By the second half of the 19th century, it had been abandoned and for the most part forgotten.
The statues of biblical scenes were expressive and dramatic. I especially loved the details in the depictions. In Ecce Homo I noticed the detailed teeth and tongues. They looked so realistic. One statue showed the Virgin Mary with a pleading expression and what seemed to be fluid hand gestures. I also liked her flowing drapery. In another statuary grouping I took note of the real-looking feathers in the helmets. In yet another sculpture Jesus Christ’s thumb looked so life-like. In one statue of Christ, I admired the artist’s rendition of Christ’s veins on his feet. The detail of this unknown artist was more natural than that in Braun’s sculptures. The Baroque artworks were imbued with strong emotion. Beautiful chandeliers complemented the statuary.

Postcard of a statue in the Church of Saint Nicholas

Postcard of a statue in the Church of Saint Nicholas

There was also a hermitage next to the church. It dated back to 1690. Pilgrims had come here to meditate. There was a legend concerning the bell of the hermitage. If a female rings it while thinking of her love, she will marry him within a year.
We trekked uphill to a former fortification from the 12th century. Now a monument from 1908 recalling the murdering of the Vršovec clan in 1108 is located on the site. Our guide explained to us why the Vršovices were killed. The tale fascinated me.
At the beginning of the 12th century during the reign of the Přemyslid dynasty, scheming and intrigue prevailed. In 1105 an ambitious Moravian Přemysl named Svatopluk overthrew reigning Bořivoj, and many of Bořivoj’s former supporters switched sides.
While Svatopluk was busy doing battle, Mutina took over the administrative responsibilities of the state. Mutina was a prominent member of the Vršovec clan. The Poles along with Bořivoj invaded the Czech lands, and Mutina did not seem too enthusiastic about fighting them. When Svatopluk returned from war, Mutina was called to the castle in Vraclav, the seat of Svatopluk, who accused Mutina of having ties with Bořivoj. Many members of the Vršovec clan were murdered there in an act of bloody revenge. However, the entire family was not wiped out. The following year one member of the Vršovec family murdered Svatopluk.

The monument honoring the Vršovec clan

The monument honoring the Vršovec clan

I recalled that Bohumil Hrabal had referred to this historical event in one of his books. (The legendary scribe Hrabal was my favorite Czech writer.) I was intrigued by such historical tales. That information alone made the trip worthwhile for me. And I loved the way the guide knew all the information by heart. I could hardly believe that she was able to keep so much information in her mind. It just spewed out of her mouth as if she were an encyclopedia.
Next stop: Vysoké Mýto, a town only six kilometers from the Baroque complex, with a population of 12,000 residents. Vysoké Mýto’s history could be traced back to the Stone Age. The town was created in 1262 by Czech King Přemysl Otakar II. In 1307 it became the property of Czech queens. We walked by the Prague Gate with rich decoration that went back to the Middle Ages, to the 14th century to be precise. A painting of Saint George fighting the dragon adorned the gate. A tower with a broken Gothic portal stood nearby. The main square, also founded by King Přemysl Otakar II, is the biggest in east Bohemia at a width of 152 meters and a length of 152 meters. Forty-seven houses surround it.

Prague Gate in  Vysoké Mýto

Prague Gate in Vysoké Mýto

The tour guide told us that the term Kujebáci or Kujebas enjoyed popularity here. The town’s sports’ teams were even called the Kujebáci. I found the legend about this nickname particularly intriguing. Many centuries ago, the emperor was slated to visit Vysoké Mýto. The townspeople prepared a huge feast, serving trout. However, the emperor did not show up, so the residents all had the delicious fish for themselves. The following day, though, the emperor did arrive in Vysoké Mýto. The inhabitants fed him trout, and when he remarked that the fish was excellent, a townsperson named Kujeba said, “If you think the trout is good today, you should have tasted it yesterday.” The emperor asked the man his name. “Kujeba,” he replied.
The emperor declared, “Then from now on I will call the residents of this town Kujebáci (the Kujebas).” While this term had once been used as a swear word or had referred to a stupid person, the Vysoké Mýto inhabitants were very proud of the legend and asserted that the name stood for someone who is wise.

The exterior of the Church of Saint Lawrence

The exterior of the Church of Saint Lawrence

The differing Kujebáci connotations reminded me of the controversy about Josef Švejk, the seemingly incompetent yet loveable Czech soldier fighting for Austro-Hungary during World War I in Jaroslav Hašek’s satirical, antimilitaristic, mammoth novel, The Good Soldier Švejk. Whether Švejk was really stupid or clever, exhibiting passive resistance, is open to debate.
In Vysoké Mýto we visited the Church of Saint Lawrence, a sight to be remembered. It was probably as old as the town itself, hailing from the 13th century. Several fires plagued the town and the church, in the 15th, 18th and 19th centuries. Consisting of three naves, the church boasted vaulting from 1525 at a height of 21.3 meters. The five-storey tower is 67 meters high.

The altar of Saint Joseph in the Church of Saint Lawrence

The altar of Saint Joseph in the Church of Saint Lawrence

Now it looks as it did after Neo-Gothic reconstruction from 1892 to 1899. There were 10 Neo-Gothic altars and Neo-Gothic wall paintings. The architects of the repairs were František Schmoranz and Josef Mocker. Schmoranz’s résumé included doing Neo-Gothic restoration on Žleby Chateau. Mocker had helped restore many structures in Prague, including the Old-New Synagogue, Prague Gate and St. Vitus’ Cathedral. He had even done some work on Prague Castle. His restorations out of Prague were just as impressive, including Saint Barbara’s Cathedral in Kutná Hora, Karlštejn Castle, Konopiště Chateau, Křivoklát Castle and Saint Bartholomew’s Cathedral in Pilsen.

The largest painting by Petr Brandl - The Assumption of the Virgin Mary from 1728

The largest painting by Petr Brandl – The Assumption of the Virgin Mary from 1728

I was excited to see this church because the painting of the main altar, “The Assumption of the Virgin Mary,” was the largest painting Baroque guru Petr Brandl had ever created, forged in 1728. I recognized his self-portrait in the figure of Saint John. I had admired his creations in many museums, the Prague Chapel of the Holy Mountain pilgrimage site, Jindřichův Hradec Chateau and in numerous churches.
A Late Gothic Madonna – the Vysoké Mýto Madonna – hailed from before 1500. I also marveled at a pewter baptismal font from 1499. Tombstones in the church dated from the 14th to 16th centuries. One of the bells was made in 1466.

Secession wall paintings in the Church of Saint Lawrence

Secession wall paintings in the Church of Saint Lawrence

I loved the Secession wall paintings, too, especially the angels fluttering near the choir loft and the peacock designs. In the windows motifs included stylized plants. I took note of the Fleeing from Egypt scene at the altar of Saint Joseph. Somehow the Baroque main altar painting and Art Nouveau wall and altar decoration complemented each other.
That would not be the most fascinating place I visited on the trip, however. We also saw the romantic wooden Church of All Saints in the village of Dobříkov. Originally located in the Podcarpathian Rus region that is today part of the Ukraine, the church was moved in four train wagons to this village in east Bohemia during 1930 thanks to the initiative of Czech statesman Václav Klofáč.

The Church of All Saints in Dobřikov

The Church of All Saints in Dobřikov

Dating from 1669, the Church of All Saints first moved – 200 years after its creation – to a village situated where the Romanian-Ukrainian border is now located. Then in 1930 it was transported to Dobřikov. Made of all wood, the church was small, with only one nave, 15 meters long and 6 meters wide. Above the entrance front was a 17-meter high tower with a spiked roof.

The icons inside the church amazed me. I felt as if I were in the Russian Museum in Saint Petersburg, only this was a much more intimate experience than gazing at artwork in a large building. The icons in the presbytery hailed from the 18th century. The icons on the sides were even older, dating from the 17th century. All the gold on the icons was overwhelming. On the sides the 12 Apostles appeared in groups of two. Mass was still said here, every other week.
I found it ironic that the church was situated next to a golf course. Wooden churches had been symbols of poverty in villages while golf courses were symbols of wealth. Seeing the two side-by-side was incongruous.

The church in Dobříkov

The church in Dobříkov

The church reminded me of my visit to Broumov a few years earlier, when I visited the Church of the Virgin Mary, the oldest preserved all-wood structure in Central Europe. There had probably been a wooden church on that site as far back as the 12th century, although the church was first mentioned in writing in 1383. It consisted of a single nave with a pyramid steeple and displayed stunning artwork.
Who was Václav Klofáč? I asked myself. I would find out when we walked to a small museum dedicated to the Czech politician. It was run by Klofáč’s granddaughter, a spunky, energetic 94-year old. I wondered if I would live so long, and if so, if I would be blessed to be so lively and communicative at such an elderly age.

Václav Klofáč Source: WikiMedia

Václav Klofáč Source: WikiMedia

Klofáč, who was born in 1868 and who died in 1942, had been a Czech journalist and politician who had led the Czech National Socialist Party and had worked in the Austro-Hungarian Parliament and later in Czechoslovakia’s Parliament. During World War I he was taken prisoner. After World War I, in 1914, Klofáč was wrongly arrested in Dobříkov and like other Czech heroes, branded a traitor because he had worked in the resistance movement during the war. He was freed in 1917. During 1918, when Czechoslovakia was created, he became the nation’s first Minister of Defense and also served as a senator for a long time. The Czech National Socialist Party, which he co-founded in 1898, was very nationalistic and abhorred Marxism. They sought to foster relations with Americans, for example.
I loved the photos of Klofáč accompanying first Czechoslovak President Tomáš G. Masaryk. If I could meet anyone who was alive or dead, I would probably choose to meet Tomáš G. Masaryk. If I could go back to any time period, I would travel back in time to Czechoslovakia’s First Republic, which lasted from 1918 to 1939. I would have wanted to see the First Republic from 1918 to 1932, before Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933 and the trends of Nazism, Communism and Fascism invaded the country. Masaryk was one of the people I admired the most.

Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk and Karel Čapek

Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk and Karel Čapek

During the First Republic minorities had rights, and all citizens were treated equally. Freedom of the press and universal suffrage existed. Elections were democratic. During Masaryk’s first term from 1918 to 1920, he eased Czech-German tensions. He also stayed in contact with the people. The country had a strong currency and experienced economic success. One of my favorite authors, Karel Čapek, prolific in many genres, was a good friend of Masaryk and even wrote a book about his conversations with him.

The wooden church in Veliny

The wooden church in Veliny

We saw another wooden church, too – the Church of Saint Nicholas in Veliny, which was a prime example of 18th century folk architecture. It was built in 1752 on the site of a former wooden church that hailed from 1576. The timbered church looked so romantic. The one-nave structure had a three-sided presbytery and a flat, wooden ceiling. The choir loft was supported by wooden, carved columns. The interior was sparse, nothing like the Church of All Saints and its dazzling golden icons. The pulpit hailed from 1903. The bareness of the interior emphasized it as a symbol of poverty. I personally liked the interior of the Church of All Saints better, but perhaps a wooden church should be sparsely decorated. It seemed appropriate for to portray such modesty.

The main altar of the Church of Saint Nicholas in Veliny

The main altar of the Church of Saint Nicholas in Veliny

Our last stop was picturesque Zámrsk Chateau with its three-floor, polygon-shaped tower. It was first mentioned in writing as a fortress in 1469 and various owners did restoration work. It burned down in 1924 but was repaired soon thereafter, during 1925 and 1926. There are still remnants of its Gothic days, though, in the east wing and in part of the masonry of both wings. In 1945 it became state property. Under Communism it served as an educational center for youth, and from 1960 to the present it has been the home of regional archives. We were not allowed to go inside, but the exterior was impressive.
The most tragic story concerning the chateau occurred a day after the Nazis took control of the Bohemia and Moravia, on March 16, 1939. At this time Jewish Arnošt and Truda Bondy were the beloved owners of the chateau. Aware that horrific times were beginning, on that day they committed suicide. Arnošt shot his wife and then himself. He fell into the river, where his body was later discovered.

Stories like this always brought to mind the reality of living in that period, and I thought of how I did not think I would have been able to survive living under Nazism, even though I am not Jewish. Living under Nazism and Communism was something I could not even fathom, something too disturbing to ponder.

The chateau in Zámrsk

The chateau in Zámrsk

Jan Blažej Santini-Aichel, of Czech and Italian origin, was considered to be one of the architects contributing to the chateau. His Baroque Gothic style sparkled in a church in the Sedlec area of Kutná Hora and at the pilgrimage church of Green Mountain. His staircase at Plasy Monastery was a gem. A few other sights to which he had contributed included the Kolovrat Palace in Prague’s Lesser Town and the Karlova Koruna Chateau.
Our tour soon ended, but during the ride back to Prague, our excellent and eloquent guide passed around booklets about Slovakia’s wooden churches, some of which I had visited about 14 years earlier. I remembered how my fascination with wooden churches began when I saw the wooden church at Bardejovské Kúpele in east Slovakia. She also let us peruse a book about Václav Klofáč.

The Secession wall paintings in the Church of Saint Lawrence

The Secession wall paintings in the Church of Saint Lawrence

I was more than satisfied with the tour. I had discovered places I have not known existed, such as Vraclav, Dobříkov, Veliny and Zámrsk. I had visited two wooden churches and had become acquainted with some of the splendor of Vysoké Mýto. I had also learned about the Czechoslovak statesman Václav Klofáč, who had greatly contributed to the democratic First Republic. I had been impressed with the historical tales, such as the slaughtering of the Vršovec clan. I was happy with the tour itself. We had an amazing guide. I had met many interesting people on the tour as well.
I came back to Prague richer in my knowledge of the country I loved so much, eager to describe my discoveries to English-speakers who planned on visiting the Czech Republic someday and to Czechs eager to see more sights in their homeland.

The tower of the church in Veliny

The tower of the church in Veliny

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

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.)

The main square of the town

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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