Brno from B to Ž: A Tough-Love Guide to the City’s 48 Neighborhoods, Part 9 – Dvorska
5 things you didn’t know about Dvorska
1. It exists.
Was what 100% of my friends said when I told them that my next Brno neighborhood to explore was Dvorska.
If, like everyone I know, you don’t know anything about this obscure blip of Brno, and if you’ve never been there, or never even realized it was somewhere you could go – I don’t blame you. You have to really, really want to go to Dvorska to go to Dvorska.
And I’ll be honest. It’s extremely likely that, after reading this article, and hearing a few reasons why you might possibly find it mildly interesting to go to Dvorska, you will not see any good reason to go to Dvorska. And I respect that.
But I want you to appreciate, faithful readers, that I take my self-inflicted duty of visiting every neighborhood in Brno, and showing you what’s there (or in the case of Dvorska, mainly what’s not there) very seriously. Even if it means that over the last several months, I boarded the #48 bus at Úzká and endured a 30-minute ride out to the flat, southeast ass-end of Brno (numbing my own ass on a hard plastic seat) – not once, but three times, just so I could make sure that I hadn’t missed anything of interest in Dvorska to tell you about.
I have probably not missed anything of interest in Dvorska. And actually, I’ve ended up having a pretty good time there. So let me tell you about it. And even if you decide not to venture there yourself, at least when someone else mentions Dvorska to you in the future (no one else will ever mention Dvorska to you in the future), instead of just saying “Huh?” you can say, “Huh? Oh yeah…yeah, sure, Dvorska…”
2. It looks like it hasn’t changed in 100 years. But it has.
With around 400 residents, Dvorska has the fewest people of any neighborhood in Brno. And it’s been tiny for a long time; about the same number of people lived here in 1930 as do now.
At first glance, Dvorska seems like it can’t have changed much since then. It looks, sounds, and smells like a small farming village, its frayed ribbon of one-story houses holding up a few dilapidated barns and garages. On my first visit last summer, it took me about 30 minutes to walk every street (there are only three streets) – and that included a pause of several minutes to gawk at some hens squabbling in a backyard, and to take in the earthy smells of hay and horse manure.
I haven’t confirmed this yet, but I’m fairly sure that Dvorska is the only part of Brno with no paneláky – those grey concrete mushrooms that sprouted in every moist crack of Czechoslovakia from the 1960s to the 1980s. Here, the only buildings that rise above the red tile roofline are the little chapel on the main street and the two-story brick schoolhouse along the main highway heading east.
But even though Dvorska’s rural vibes and its lack of modern eyesores suggest a sleepy continuity with the past, the village is hiding some deep historical scars.
For one thing, most of today’s Dvorskans (I’m assuming the demonym works like Nebraska’s) are not the descendants of those pre-war Dvorskans. Back then, the population was about half Czech-speaking and half German-speaking, and the village still appeared on maps beside various spellings of its old German name, Maximiliandorf.
But if you know your Brno history, you know the German half of the village was violently relieved of their homes and land after the war. Once they were gone – well, someone needed to plow the fertile fields and occupy the empty homes – so a new cohort of Czechs moved in.
But that wasn’t the end of the upheaval. Not long after the Germans were marched out, the Czech Communist Party marched in, forcing the owners of small farms to give up their land and equipment to the collective agricultural cooperative, the JZD (Jednotné zemědělské družstvo). In most places around the country, this collectivization did not go well, with the newly empowered Communists using brutal tactics to push out landowners. And with little to show for it, since the cooperatives often failed miserably under inexperienced management, and sowed bitter resentment among villagers.
If you want to feel the poetry and the pain of this sordid chapter in Czech history, you can watch the great film Všichni dobří rodáci. And if you want to pay your respects to its local victims, you can visit the Monument to Farm Owners in nearby Podolí.
But in Dvorska itself, the only evidence of this history is the crumbling hulk of the old JZD complex on the eastern edge of the village, now taken over by an industrial coating company. The buildings there breathe out a stale silence.
3. It’s home to Brno’s biggest (and deadliest) horse racing track.
If you actually do know anything about Dvorska, it’s probably this.
You might also know that Brno is not on any world-class horse racer’s schedule. Even in the Czech equestrian scene, we’re a bit of a backwater; the level of racing here is several tiers down from the big leagues at Velká pardubická.
But if you don’t care about hobnobbing with the horsey elite (that’s what they call themselves!), and you just want to see some big animals going fast with people on their backs – then the races at Dvorska (which happen three times a year) can be a lot of fun.
Last October I convinced my friend David to come with me to the races. We each prepared in a way that reflected our priorities: David dressed up all dapper-Kentucky-gentleman-like in a beige suit and a fine cap. I put several healthy shots of cheap (Tennessee) bourbon and mint in a thermos, shook it up with some ice, and called it a mint julep. So, together, we made one complete simulation of a person who pretends they know what to do at a horse race.
And we had a fabulous time! David’s fancy getup allowed us to slip through security to a VIP watching area (security was a bored teenager). We got to see some horses going fast up close, and we got to see some silly grins on the faces of the horses’ owners as they hoisted their trophies and bouquets on the finish line.
If I remember correctly, it cost around 100 Kč to enter the racing area. I managed to win the ticket money back by betting wisely on one of the first races. Then, predictably, I lost that money a few times over again by betting bourbonly on the next few races.
It wasn’t all hilarity, though. As the sun set, we broke away from the crowds and the Tipsport stands, and walked down to the southeast curve of the track. There, hidden behind a parked car, we found a monument to one of the darkest days of the Dvorska racetrack.
On May 2, 2010, jockey Zdeněk Kaláb was rounding the final curve of the race when his horse lost its footing and slipped. Kaláb fell, and the horse fell on top of him. He lay on the track unconscious for ten minutes before paramedics made their way to him; they were already treating another man who had fallen in the previous race. Some blamed the ambulance for not responding sooner, and some blamed the organizers for continuing the race while another jockey lay injured. But Kaláb probably wouldn’t have survived in any case; his injuries were extreme, and he died not long after reaching the hospital. It was the first horse racing death in the country for many years, but shockingly, it wasn’t even the last at Dvorksa – yet another jockey died here in 2015.
But the races are usually a cause for joy and adrenaline rather than sadness, and let’s hope it continues that way for a long time. This coming Saturday, April 16 is the first race of the year – and you can find the other dates and more info here. If you’re looking for a good excuse to go to Dvorska, this is probably the best one.
4. Napoleon didn’t sleep here. But you can walk from here to where he did.
Maybe the second-best excuse to go to Dvorska is that it’s about as far as you can possibly ride from the center on your šalinkarta. And once you get this far, you’re a pleasant jaunt away from one of the world’s most famous battlefields.
On almost all maps of the bloody action at Austerlitz, you can spot old Maxdorf – but only on the far western edge. Nothing related to the battle happened in what’s now Dvorska, unless maybe some soldiers passed through here and gawked at some chickens (before stealing and eating them).
But from Dvorska, you can take a nice hike to Sokolnice, where some of the fiercest fighting took place on that foggy day in 1805. The village changed hands several times during the battle before finally falling to the French for keeps late in the afternoon.
It’s about a 4.5 kilometer walk from Dvorska to Sokolnice, along dirt roads that cut through undulating cornfields. If you take the round trip shown below, it’s about 9 km, with nothing much to see along the way but sky and wide horizons, and nothing to hear but rustling corn (and the occasional drone of a plane taking off from Tuřany). It’s a nice sensory vacation from the jangle of Brno.
Image source: www.mapy.cz
And if you make it to Sokolnice, there’s a couple of lovely attractions to waylay you. There’s a chateau with a three-tiered, crenellated clock tower – and behind it, a sprawling obora (or game park), shaded by tall trees and stocked with shy deer who flit through the shadows.
More importantly, there’s the village brewery, which opens onto a big, bright garden, and serves yummy beer (and decent enough food to sustain you for the walk back to Dvorska).
5. It’s part of our hometown.
Earlier I said that I’ve probably not missed anything of interest in Dvorska.
That’s a stupid thing to say. Of course I have. I’m sure if I went back to Dvorska a fourth or a fifth time, I would notice something new. It would probably be something small and not very interesting. But then, uninteresting things have ways of becoming interesting, don’t they?
Dvorska only joined Brno in 1971, so it’s one of the city’s newest acquisitions (although not the newest – that was Útěchov in 1980). But that means it’s been part of the city for over 50 years. It still remains slightly aloof, sitting out in its windy cornfields. But it’s Brno, whether we know about it or not.
If you’ve been reading my articles, you know I have a fondness for peripheral places – places that sit just past the edge of more obvious seats of power and interest. I like the fringes of cities, the suburbs and the sub-suburbs, like Dvorska. Maybe that’s because they represent those places within myself which I don’t know much about, which I sometimes feel I want to know better, but sometimes feel I want to stay wilderness.
If you identify with Brno, if you claim it as your hometown, then you are also claiming Dvorska. And now that you know that Dvorska exists, you are responsible to it. You can begin to let it tug at your consciousness, let it bewilder your identity with horse manure and mystery.