Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Olomouc - ecclesiastical metropolis and a proletarian clock

The main square at night
Though slightly disappointed in our hotel at Slatinice, we didn’t let that deter us from enjoying ourselves. First would be the ecclesiastical metropolis of Moravia, Olomouc, which can claim the best Communist astronomical clock in the world. Come for the clock, but stay for the Torture restaurant! 

Olomouc – where did all the Germans go?

The King takes a selfie
Olomouc has been around since Roman times, serving as a forward operating base against the German barbarians in the 2nd century. It was originally called Iuliomontus (or Mt. Julius), and eventually became a Slavic settlement in the 6th century and in the 9th century became a part of Great Moravia and became its religious center and capital, until the start of the next millennium when Brno stole the mantle of capital. It remained a religious center though, and as such, had very close ties to Germany and developed quite a large German population. During WWII, the city was strongly allied to Germany and somewhat proud of its occupiers, even renaming the town square in honor of Hitler. After WWII, the German population mysteriously vanished, the town declined and eventually turned into some sort of medieval college town, not unlike Krakow’s fate, just north of the Polish border.

One of the biggest clues to its fate was the odd atmosphere that we felt as we walked around. Despite the happening Easter market with the bizarre, Communist-sounding people’s choirs, the town was otherwise empty. Regular restaurants throughout the old town were fairly sparse, however the bars and kebab and pizza shops were plentiful. In all, it told me that story of endless fun during the school year nights.

A castle, or something like it

St. Maurice's

Olomouc’s castle is very similar to Prague’s in that you wouldn’t have realized you were in a castle until someone told you that you were. There are no walls, just a big square, a big church, and old palaces everywhere. The city itself was walled with a wet moat, though much of that has since disappeared. But doesn’t that deter you from going for a medieval experience. Some of the city walls still exist – and some even house dance clubs and coffee shops – and the entire place is something of a cobbled wonderland of churches and Baroque architecture. The two highlights of our short tour was the 15th century Church of St. Maurice, with its tower that’s crowned with battlements. I can’t find anything on why that style was chosen, though I do know off-hand that many Crusader orders decorated their churches back in Europe like this. Whether St. Maurice had any connection to the Templars or Hospitaliers though, I can’t say. Maybe the style was chosen as a dedication to their soldier saint patron. 

St. Maurice was originally born in Thebes, Egypt and became a Roman commander of the Theban Legion under the Emperor Maximian in the 3rd century serving in modern day Switzerland. As the Theban Legion was entirely composed of Christians, Maximian wanted to mess with them and issued the order that all soldiers must make sacrifices to pagan gods, but Maurice and his legion inexplicably refused. Maximian then ordered every 10 soldier to be killed, thinking that this would set his legion on the right and honorable path, but they still refused. So then, in one of the more extravagantly wasteful uses of soldierly ever in the history of the world, he had them all summarily killed and they legion of 6,600 soldiers set off to meet their Lord on that day without resistance.

Not your bourgeois movement

Stalin's favorite timekeeper
The next point of interest is the astronomical clock, which far outdoes the one in Prague for being awesome, decorative, and something that must have been in one of Vladimir Lenin’s wet dreams. People flock to the Orloj in Prague to see the giant medieval cuckoo clock where they can ooo and aahh and the saints passing by the windows and the skeleton marketing the time with a bell. But the real clock that people are missing is part of a giant socialist realist mosaic on the northeastern wall of the Town Hall. The clock used to be as cliché as the Prague one, but in 1945, as the Nazis were withdrawing, they did the Czechs one last favor and shot up the tower. After which, the clock was repaired and the little saints were replaced by hard working proletarians, with big hammers and scythes, and motions to depict the hard work of your everyday socialist (not those loafer versions you here Bernie talking about, real Socialists have to work for their free education!).

The clock has a seven-minute long chime and completely non-bourgeois dance and motion, and even marks the birthdays of Stalin and Lenin, and it also lets people know when it’s Labor Day. It also marks every saint day of the year, showing whose day it is on the green dial, with red markings whenever it’s a special Commie day and all the workers have to show up for some parade to show their solidarity.

Orthodox Torture

The Church at the end of the road
Another church of note in town is the pink and green, gold onion domed Orthodox Church of St. Gorazd, built in 1939, which crowns the road going to the East. St. Gorazd was born in Moravia and was originally a Catholic priest with an unhealthy interest in Saints Cyril and Methodius. During the time of the Czechoslovak First Republic, the Czechs and Slovaks were allowed complete spiritual freedom, and so many people left the Catholic Church to try and experiment with other ways of life, things previously outlawed like homosexuality, nationalism, and Orthodoxy. St. Gorazd then converted to the Serbian Orthodox Church and founded a new Czech branch, though when the Nazis came and occupied Czechoslovakia, the church administration shifted to Berlin. St. Gorazd was made famous when after the assassination of the Hangman of Prague, Reinhardt Heydrich, he helped the assassins make their getaway by hiding them in his cathedral. He was found out though and executed.

Inside the Torture Restaurant
Conspicuously on your way to the Orthodox Church of St. Gorazd, you pass by the Torture Restaurant. This was one of the only places we could find to eat that was open, so obviously seeing the title this was our choice. We descended down the wooden stairs – the rails were giant iron chains and the lights were glowing shrunken heads – and found ourselves in a huge dungeon. The bar was made of carved skeletons and dead bodies, and the decorations about the restaurant were of life-sized wood carvings of people getting tortured. Someone getting quartered there, on the rack over there, and before us a naked woman with her hands tied above her head, with only your imagination left to think of ways for her to get it. A classy joint indeed, my friends. The food wasn’t all that bad too, though the goulash was a touch fatty, the sauce did have a nice bit of spice. I’ve an Orthodox friend looking to get married in an Orthodox Church in Europe. It seems like St. Gorazd could have the ceremony and this restaurant would be the perfect reception.

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