Tag Archives: Travel

Brno: The Poor Man’s Prague

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:

So it looks. Our hotel — 4 stars, and with an interior worthy of Bela Lugosi — is on the right.
So it looks. Our hotel — 4 stars, and with an interior worthy of Bela Lugosi — is on the right.
Facade of house in Brno, Czech Republic
Bits of Brno recall the way Vienna must have looked before recent cleanings gave it its current sugar-sweet appearance. The architecture is familiar, yet alien and atmospheric. I loved it.

And in things like this over-the-top fountain (by the Viennese court architect Fischer von Erlach):

The Parnas Fountain, a late-17th-century extravaganza by the Viennese court architect, Fischer von Erlach.
I like the mold all over this. You’d never see that in Vienna, but it’s so atmospheric.

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:

You don't see stuff like this in Vienna anymore, more's the pity. I love me some Eastern Europe.
You don’t see stuff like this in Vienna anymore, more’s the pity. I love me some Eastern Europe.

In the city center, a vegetable market is held against the backdrop of a mishmash of these historical moments:

I love the mix of medieval, Baroque, and Soviet-era architecture on this main market square, where the sun was shining and the potatoes were plentiful.
I love the mix of medieval, Baroque, and modern-era architecture on this main market square, where the sun was shining and the potatoes were plentiful.

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:

The Villa Tugendhat, seen here from the garden side, is inaccessible, both geographically (it's well outside the city center) and logistically (to go inside, you need to book months in advance). But it is a Mies van der Rohe masterpiece of early functionalist modernism, and well worth the hike up the hill.
The Villa Tugendhat, seen here from the garden side, is inaccessible, both geographically (it’s well outside the city center) and logistically (to go inside, you need to book months in advance). But it is a Mies van der Rohe masterpiece of early functionalist modernism, and well worth the hike up the hill.

Back in town, you can visit a Capuchin crypt, where bodies, mummified in the open air, provide a bracing confrontation with one’s mortality:

I feel that I have erred thus far in my life by taking too little interest in Capuchin monks, who do these crazy open-air mummifications in sprawling crypts. The one in Rome is, I gather, the lodestone of Capuchin crypts, but this one was a good introduction. Here you see one room among the dozen or so filled with skeletons (most of the others are in coffins). Without exception, all of the other visitors when we went were families with children. Keepin' it real, Europe!
I feel that I have erred thus far in my life by taking too little interest in Capuchin friars, who do these crazy open-air mummifications in sprawling crypts. The one in Rome is, I gather, the lodestone of Capuchin crypts, but this one was a good introduction. Here you see one room among the dozen or so filled with skeletons (most of the others are in coffins). Without exception, all of the other visitors when we went were families with children. Keepin’ it real, Europe!

Oh, cheer up. The beer in the Czech Republic is some of the best in the world, and there were also fresh peas:

My motto is, "Everything's better with peas." SUPER PEAS!!
My motto is, “Everything’s better with peas.” SUPER PEAS!!

One last reason to visit Brno:  Because trying to pronounce Czech is fun!! Schladzscky! Moravuschky! Hurayescheschk! Or something.

Posted in Adventures, Around Austria, Regan Writing | Tagged , , | Leave a comment