Tuesday, March 22, 2016

a brief on Cesky Krumlov

Cesky Krumlov on a cold morning
My first visit to Cesky Krumlov was a romantic overnight stay last winter - and I've been back three times. Overnight with a lover is really the best way to see the beautiful crown jewel of South Bohemia. Cesky Krumlov is settled on the tight bends of the Vltava River with several scenic bridges spanning over the sanguine stream, and two large hills littered with cottages and Baroque blocks and one precipitous climb with a castle grasping on the ledges of granite. In the winter, when we were first there, the nights are quiet and the lights dot the darkness like candle flames, the reflection of the water flickering as the gentle wind blows. In the summer, during the days the streets are packed with tourists and the river crowded with kayakers, making their journey through the castle riddled hills of the Czech Republic. 

The night lights
The town and castle were founded in 1240 by the Vitkovci clan to protect an important trade route on the southern road leading from Prague to the Alps. The town was built in two stages. When the castle was built, the town Latran was built underneath it, mainly for the administrative staff and servants of the castle. As it expanded, it grew across the river to a “green meadow”, where no previous settlement had been. In fact, that expansion and term led to the name of Krumlov, which itself comes from the German for “crooked meadow”, or Krumme Aue – to Krumlau to Krumlov, "crooked" because of the river.

One branch of the Vitkovci, the House of Rosenberg, came to prominence and took over the castle. The Rosenbergs have a weird family history for Slavs, though it followed the fashion of the time. Many of the old Greek families traced their origins back to the gods, the Roman families often linked their families to the Greeks of myths (or the gods), and the medieval nobility linked their own to the Romans. The Rosenbergs linked their family to the Ursini family, who were said to have resided on Mons Rosarum (hence, Rosenberg). Ursa itself means bear, which led to the family deciding to take on the care of some friendly bears in their moat, a tradition that continues even today.

The crooked meadow
The House of Rosenberg came into decline, especially after several pricey renovations of their castles. Finally, in 1601, Peter Wok von Rosnberg had to settle his debts and sell the castle to Emperor Rudolf II Habsburg. Several wars and a Swedish occupation later, a future Emperor handed the property over to the Eggenberg family. The Eggenbergs died out and the property went where all properties in Bohemia eventually went, to the Schwarzenbergs.

Though Cesky Krumlov can be reached in 3 hours by a Student Agency bus and can be handled within a day, I’d recommend staying the night. Take some time to meander through the cobblestone alleys and streets, have some shisha in the Moroccan flavored Dobra Cajovna, and in general just enjoy the medieval beauty and atmosphere of the old town. Most of the restaurants there are delicious too – there’s always some fresh game at Rozmberska basta, while Kolectiv serves up a fine enough breakfast. For beer, there’s the local Eggenberg brewery which has been supplying the town with brews for the past 500 years.

A Paval work
There are three main attractions in the city. For those of you liking castle tours, the Cesky Krumlov castle is one of the best (the best in the area is in Hluboka, if you can, go there for the tour). Even better though is what’s literally underneath the castle. Within the old wine and storage cellars (and perhaps dungeons?), there is now housed a museum of statues by the Czech artist Miroslav Paval. His work looks like Rodin slipped on a Freudian banana peel and came out with a sexualized statue representation of Dali’s paintings. Which is to say, in a word, awesome. Though most plaques accompanying the scuptures of perverse, mutated figures with seemingly anal fixations have right out political descriptions, one takes notice that there must be something else going on inside of Paval’s mind. However, I still like what he has to say, such as on his statue “Guardian of the Intestines”:
“Up to that point, they were used to living in socialism, ie to go once per year to the Baltics for holidays, to have free weekends, to work only eight hours per day. After the change of regime they suddenly found out they had not enough free time. Successful entrepreneurs stared spending most of their time with their good-looking secretaries and soon after divorced their wives. They used unfair business practices as part of their strategies to be successful. What started to appear in society can be called a new form of aggression – my territory, my carrion, my intestines.”

Lastly not to be missed is the Egon Schiele museum. Mostly the museum has local and national modern Czech artists. But as you get lost in the bizarre layout of the winding corridors, you find a large collection of Ex Libris plates, chocked full of art nouveau occult symbols, and then up finally to the namestake of the house: Egon Schiele’s rooms. There are mostly copies of his work with a few originals, and some of his clothes, along with texts about his life. Schiele was a protégé of Gustav Klimt and spent much of his life in Cesky Krumlov, where his grandmother was from. Most of his art looks starved and deranged and features an almost melting quality, as if the skin and the souls of his subjects were under and intense and putrefying heat. His best works are his nudes, which look like vapid connections to their representations, with hollowed husks of hips and emptied, sagging breasts.

If you only have a day to hit Cesky Krumlov, then do it. But try at most to spend the night and see everything the town has to offer. There’s plenty to do there and around.

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