Denisovy sady. Credit: NP/BD

Local Knowledge: Five Brno Places With Interesting Stories To Tell

A city is a living, breathing organism, which doubles as a place to live in the present, and a repository of the memories of those who lived there in the past. Our beloved Brno is of course no exception, and many of the famous and less famous landmarks of the city have fascinating histories. Here, Brno Daily’s Natasha Price takes a look at five interesting back-stories you may not know about!

  1. Kristek’s House

In the leafy residential area of Černá Pole, there is a very bizarre house, where it might take you a minute to register what is going on. The imposing purple house was created by surrealist artist Lubo Kristek between 2015 and 2017. The official name of the artwork is ‘Sisyphiade, or Boulder in Time’ which makes sense considering one of the main features to the house is a huge clock based on Albert Camus’ essay ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’. 

Kristek’s house. Credit: NP/BD.

Other features include a huge pair of golden hands cupped around the only tree in the house’s front garden, and a train on a railway line snaking down the side of the house, thought to be a tribute to the Brno to Tišnov railway line from Kristek’s childhood. The house is located on Tišnovská and is worth checking out if you’re ever in the area. 

On occasion the house opens up to the general public, allowing you inside to see the numerous pieces of artwork not visible from the outside, so keep an eye out for these events for a chance to explore this weird and quirky house.

  1. Mahen Theatre

The Mahen Theatre is one of Brno’s oldest theatres, opening in 1882, and it’s absolutely gorgeous. I had the pleasure of going to the opera there the other week, and I was in awe of just how beautiful it is. But there is an extra element of history to this theatre which not everyone knows.

Mahen Theatre. Credit: KJB/BD

Theatre fires used to kill hundreds of people each year, and when constructing the Mahen, the builders decided not only to add extra exits to the building, but also to replace gas lighting with a brand new invention – electric lightbulbs. Thomas Edison drew up the design himself, and his assistant Francis Jehl supervised the manufacture of the bulbs. This made the Mahen Theatre the first theatre in Europe to be fully lit using the electric lightbulb. 

Although Edison wasn’t present when the theatre opened, he did visit in 1911. You can still see some of the original wiring on display in the foyer of the theatre, as well as a commemorative art installation in nearby Malinovského náměstí of four intertwined lightbulbs. What else?

  1. Václav Havel in Brno

Václav Havel is generally considered to be one of the greatest Czech leaders, as well as an important playwright, poet, author and just downright cool guy. And there are two places in Brno which pay homage to him. 

The first is part of a worldwide project known as ‘Havel’s Place’. An idea created by the Czech Ambassador to the United States, Petr Gandalovič, and designed by architect Bořek Šípek, it consists of two chairs placed around a circular table. The idea is to create a public space where people can sit and chat, debate, tell jokes, argue, and just generally exercise their right to freedom of speech. It symbolically states that even those with differing opinions and political beliefs can still sit and talk around a table. There are currently 52 installations of Havel’s Place around the world, and Brno’s own version can be found on the Capuchin Terraces under Petrov Cathedral.

Havel’s Place. Credit: NP/BD.

The second dedication to Havel in Brno is a tiny little winding cobblestoned street leading from Divadlo Husa na provázku to Petrov cathedral, which you could easily miss if you weren’t paying attention. The idea to name a street after Havel was highly contested when first suggested by Vladimír Morávek, artistic director of Husa na provázku. The proposal was first rejected, but finally approved at a second vote. The next issue was which street to use. Opinions were very divided, with some believing that a man with a legacy like Havel needed a big grand central boulevard, and others wanting somewhere a bit less showy. I personally think theVaclav Havel alley, as it now is, perfectly suits his famous understated and modest nature.

  1. The Milan Kundera Library

Milan Kundera was a Czech author who was exiled to France during the communist regime. Born in Brno, he moved to Prague as a child, and then on to Paris with his wife in the 1980s. He sadly passed away last year, but left Brno a great gift in his will. In the Moravian Library, you will find Kundera’s corner (officially called the Milan Kundera Library, but I’m all for a petition to rename it Kundera’s corner in English).

 The Milan Kundera Library consists of all his books and his entire archive, donated by the man himself. You’ll find over 3,000 copies of various editions of his work in Czech and 50 other languages, including his novels, plays, essays and poetry. On top of this you can find additional works by other writers, to which Kundera contributed in the form of forewords, introductions, annotations and epilogues. 

  1. The Parks of Brno

Everyone who lives in Brno knows Lužánky park, and Denisovy Sady under Petrov, but not everyone knows the stories of how these green spaces are culturally or historically significant in their own way! 

Lužánky park, originally called Augarten, was donated to the city in 1786 by Emperor Joseph II, becoming the first ever public park in the Czech Republic, and one of the first in Central Europe. It was declared a National Monument as early as 1849, among the firsts parks to be granted this status. 

Luzanky Park. Credit: GM/BD

But Lužánky is not the only park in Brno to be the ‘first of its kind’. Denisovy Sady (Denis’s Gardens) were founded in roughly 1818, and while Lužánky may be the first public park in the Czech Republic, these were the first public gardens to be established by a public authority. Renamed in 1919 as a memorial to Ernest Denis, who was instrumental in spreading Czech history in other countries, these gardens are thus themselves a little piece of history – which is often lurking just around every corner here in Brno!

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