Last weekend, tired of rainy, cold Vienna, we decided to head for the Czech Republic, where the sun actually briefly shone. The usual destination would be Prague, which is all the rage these days as a next stop for Vienna visitors, but if you only have a day or two for traveling, you might want to do what we did and head for Brno instead.
Prague is over 3 hours by train, and too rich a city for a weekend trip. Brno, on the other hand, is about an hour and a half by train—not far across the Czech border. But though it’s a short jump away, it feels very unlike Vienna. Some features are recognizable—the Habsburgs were obviously there, for instance. One can see it in the architecture:
And in things like this over-the-top fountain (by the Viennese court architect Fischer von Erlach):
At the same time, there was a pleasantly Eastern European feeling of socialist-style architecture and run-down businesses. Vienna is too rich for this sort of thing these days:
In the city center, a vegetable market is held against the backdrop of a mishmash of these historical moments:
On the upscale side, take a bit of a walk uphill out of town (winding through the edges of the city, where we took the photo of the lonely Tabak) and you come to an extraordinary early functionalist villa by Mies van der Rohe. The Villa Tugendhat was built for a young Jewish industrialist couple; it was seized by the Gestapo after they fled to Switzerland, and eventually transferred to the city of Brno, which, at times in cooperation with the family, has restored it several times. The villa has reopened after its most recent restoration, in 2012; its ownership is contested by the family, who have asked for restitution (for a summary of those events, read this). Its history is bitter and conflicted, but the building is an unmixed statement of purely functionalist architectural principles:
Back in town, you can visit a Capuchin crypt, where bodies, mummified in the open air, provide a bracing confrontation with one’s mortality:
Oh, cheer up. The beer in the Czech Republic is some of the best in the world, and there were also fresh peas:
One last reason to visit Brno: Because trying to pronounce Czech is fun!! Schladzscky! Moravuschky! Hurayescheschk! Or something.