Another Brno museum article that I updated was that of the Museum of Romani Culture. I’ve given the article fresh pictures. As there have been no changes to the museum’s permanent displays, the article text has not been changed:
While taking a break between larger posts, I decided to participate in one of the various fun photo challenges that some other bloggers run.
This photo is on the theme of “Things People Grow” for the photo challenge run by Cee Neuner on her photography blog.
I took this picture in June of 2018 near the small village of Koněšín in the Vysočina region of the Czech Republic. The area has a lot of poppy farms around and this seemed to be one of the last flowers left intact in the fields when I passed by it:
To see more of Cee’s blog and what other people may put up in this and other photo challenges there, follow this link:
Located in the western reaches of Bohemia, approximately 90 kilometres south west of Prague, lies the city of Plzeň.
This is a city that has played a significant part in not only a number of national historic events, but also several international ones. It is also the birthplace of two iconic Czech brands known worldwide: Pilsner Urquell and Škoda.
First mentioned historically in 976 and officially made a municipality in 1295, the city has served as a centre of business and trade from its earliest days and played a very important role on the trade route linking Bohemia to points in Bavaria.
Plzeň was the nerve centre of Catholic anti-Hussite activity during the Hussite Wars which lasted from 1419 to 1434. It was beseiged three times during the Thirty Years War; successfuly by German forces between 1618 and 1621 and unsuccessfully by the Swedish in 1637 and 1648.
The city saw a significant surge in industry through the latter half of the 19th century that included the establishment of the Škoda Works in 1859, a company that would grow to become the country’s largest and most powerful engineering company for a number of years.
The late 19th century also saw an influx of Jewish families to the city which created an additional cultural influence in the city alongside residents of Czech and Germanic ethnicities.
Plzeň was geographically part of the Germanically influenced Sudetenland area. After the end of the First World War and the establishment of a free Czechoslovakia, there was a strong movement within the region to be made geographically a part of Austria rather than Czechoslovakia. Despite being made part of Czechoslovakia, Germanic influences remained and are still visible today alongside Czech and Jewish influences. In fact, perhaps the most obvious sign of retained Germanic influence can be seen by the use of the old German spelling of the city’s name “Pilsen” for international purposes.
It doesn’t take long after arriving in Plzeň to realise that it’s a city that wears its history on its sleeve.
If you’re a fan of architecture, Plzeň has much on offer for you. It is quite possible to organise your own self guided tour of various districts of the city that have notable architecture in them.
The centre of the city has been a cultural heritage preserve since 1989 and a host of different architectural styles are readily visible both in the centre and points beyond. Baroque, Classicist, Gothic, Modernist, Moorish Revival, Renaissance and other styles intermingle with each other to give Plzeň a very unique architectural face.
A very popular attraction to visit while in Plzeň is a series of restored Modernist interiors that some of the city’s wealthy industrialists from the interwar period commissioned from famed architect, Adolf Loos (1870-1933).
The Loos interiors are notable for their spaciousness, a hallmark of modernist style, and the variety of high quality materials used in their construction. Exotic woods along with high grade stone and glass figure prominently in the interiors.
It should be mentioned that if you wish to visit the Loos interiors, it is best to book ahead as they are popular and tours fill up quickly. Additionally, tours are not an everyday occurence.
As many of the people who commissioned Loos to create these interiors were from the city’s Jewish community, they represent more than just the Modernist architectural style; they also represent the influence of the Jewish community in Plzeň from the late 1800s until the Second World War.
Beyond the Loos interiors, the Jewish influence gave the city two other Architectural gems; one you have to look for and the other you can’t avoid: the Old Synagogue and the Great Synagogue.
The Old Synagogue is towards the south west corner of the centre and tucked away from view in a courtyard near Smetana Park. It is possible to view the interiors of the Old Synagogue and a unique monument to victims of the Holocaust.
On the western edge of the centre, you’ll find the monumental Great Synagogue with its eye catching Moorish Reivival facade and interiors.
This is the largest synagogue in the country, the second largest in Europe and the third largest in the world.
Besides being a stunning architectural attraction, it is without a doubt the city’s most visible testament to the wealth and influence the city’s Jewish population had prior to the Second World War.
Thank You, America
A short walk from the Old Synagogue will lead you to the monument to the American army units who liberated the city in May of 1945.
Plzeň continues to show gratitude for its liberation in the present through its annual Liberation Festival in May.
The festival includes a convoy of historic vehicles and many people in military uniforms of the period. If military history is your thing, a visit to the city in May could be worth looking into.
The city also has a museum dedicated to General George Patton, who led the liberation. However, the museum has been closed for renovations since May of 2018.
A Pause for Thought
After a day of walking around and taking in Plzeň’s attractions, you might want to take some time to relax a bit.
The city has a number of parks you could use to take a breather, but one is particularly special.
On the city’s southern edge, you’ll find the meditation garden that includes a memorial to all victims of evil.
The beautifully landscaped and tranquil garden was the life’s work of Plzeň resident Luboš Hruška (1927-2007).
Hruška was a soldier who was caught while trying to escape the newly Socialist Czechoslovakia in 1949 and was sentenced to 18 years of hard labour.
He was transfered through a number of prisons and labour camps before receiving an amnesty in 1960. As a result of the cruelty he endured and saw others endure in prison, he resolved to convert a fruit orchard he had inherited from his parents into a monument to all victims of evil regimes.
Upon his release, he set to work clearing that land and learning the fundamentals of landscaping and plant care. The garden includes a number of different plant species as well as pilgrimage path with 12 unique sandstone sculptures as well as a chapel.
The garden can be reached by public transport and some walking.
The Nation’s Beer Capital
Even though I’ve written a dedicated blog post about the legendary Pilsner Urquell brewery, which is a major tourism draw in the city and I heartily recommend visiting it, there’s more to Plzeň and its beer culture than this most famous of beers.
Beyond the brewery, there is also a beer museum in the centre of the city in the old municipal brewery building.
Additionally, there is no shortage of pubs around town where you can try a wider variety of beers. Definitely have the Pilsner Urquell experience while you’re in Plzeň, but by no means limit yourself to that one brand.
Paying a Visit and Learning More
Over all, Plzeň has a fairly relaxed atmosphere and doesn’t come across as touristy. It has a respectable range of accomodation and dining options to suit a variety of tastes and price ranges.
The main toursit information office is beside the town hall on Republic Square and is stocked with a good range of souvenir items and brochures for attractions. We found the staff friendly and helpful.
While Plzeň is well connected by both rail and bus to points of interest around it, getting to the city itself from points further away can be time consuming. Travelling by train from Brno took us roughly five and half hours each way and involved a transfer in Prague. The trip was worth it, but quite long relative to the physical distance between Brno and Plzeň. I have it on good authority that the trip takes almost as long by car.
These links will help you see the city from an architectural focus. The first is for the city’s architectural manual, which includes maps for self guided touring and detailed information about the various buildings you can see. The second is the dedicated page for the Loos interiors where you can book a tour: http://pam.plzne.cz/en/ http://www.adolfloosplzen.cz/en/
On November 11 of 1842, in the West Bohemian city of Plzeň, a watershed event took place when the first glasses of Pilsner Urquell beer were served to the public during the annual St. Martin’s Day festivities.
Prior to that date, nobody had seen beer of its clarity or tasted beer of its crispness and balance. Modern beer had arrived.
The beer was an immediate hit locally and had achieved international acclaim within a few short decades. The beer world would never be the same following the introduction of this very influential brand.
Pilsner Urquell was the world’s first pale lager and became easily the most copied beer in the world. Around two thirds of the beers the world knows today were influenced by Pilsner Urquell.
All of this renown and prestige most certainly begs the question of exactly what lies behind this legendary brew that not only enabled it to take the world by storm, but keeps it so respected in the modern age.
Happily, a trip to Plzeň will give you access to the historic Pilsner Urquell brewery. Tours of the brewery run regularly in Czech, English and German languages and give one a very good overview of what makes this beer what it is.
The New Standard
Upon passing through the historic entry gate, we were struck by the mix of historic and modern buildings on the site. This is a company clearly in touch with their roots and they wear their pride on their sleeves.
Individual registration for the 100 minute long tours happens in the clearly marked visitor centre.
The tour starts with a historical overview of how Plzeň’s over 200 independent brew houses were consolidated into a single municipal brewery in the early 1840s under the watch of Bavarian brewmaster, Josef Groll (1813-1887).
This part of the tour also outlines how Groll developed and perfected the recipe for the new beer and the awards and accolades that he, his beer and the brewery had bestowed upon them following the beer’s introduction.
Starting at the Finish
From the visitor centre, our tour group was taken across the brewery area by bus to the packaging facility. Along the way, our guide pointed out the various historic buildings on the site, what they had been used for and the period they were in use for those purposes. The amount of historical preservation here is remarkable.
The packaging hall is immense in every regard. Our group boarded a lift that our guide informed us was the largest passenger lift in the Czech Republic. Once on the upper floor, the guide rattled off some utterly astounding figures for how many bottles, cans and kegs could be filled and sealed per hour here.
From there, the group went out on a balcony that overlooks the floor of the sprawling packaging hall. While workers cleaned one bottling line, a seemingly endless line of bottles were travelling along an adjacent line to be filled.
It should be noted at this point that there is no guarantee that you will always see bottling in progress on a tour.
Fermenting the Revolution
Our next stop on the tour was the brewing hall. It was here that were learned exactly what makes Pilsner Urquell the unique beer that it is.
First, all of the ingredients are Czech in origin. Plzeň’s own water, known for its softness, gives a smooth texture. Special hops from Žatec, in the north west of the country, give the beer low bitterness and notable aromatic qualities.
Special strains of brewer’s yeast and Bohemian barley are also part of the recipe.
Aside of ingredients, special triple malting and cold fermentation processes also contribute to this beer being unique.
As we passed through the modern, computer controlled brewing hall, our guide drew our attention to the large copper vats that dominated the room. In spite of its high material cost as well as labour and time intensive maintenance regimes, copper is still considered the ideal material to brew beer in.
Getting Old School
After looking at the modern side of things, it was time to balance the tour with a look at the historic end of the business.
Keeping things cold is the key to good lager and prior to the advent of modern refrigeration methods, keeping things deep underground was the best way to keep them cold.
The brewery built an extensive network of underground tunnels for keeping things cold in their early days. Our tour finished by taking a look at a small fraction of this tunnel system.
Here, we were shown older brewing methods and told a great deal about the use of oak casks in the brewing process prior to the use of metal containers.
The brewery still makes small batches of their beer by these traditional methods and the tour ends with a free sample of unfiltered and unpasteurised Pilsner Urquell beer tapped straight from an oak cask.
Gifts and Grub
The tour lets off at the brewery’s sizable and well stocked gift shop. Here, you can browse a wide variety of apparel and other gift items emblazoned with one form or another of the Pilsner Urquell trademark.
I would recommend first going to the brewery restaurant, Na Spilce, however.
Not only does the legwork of a 100 minute tour develop an appetite, but if you indulged in the free sample of unfiltered and unpasteurised beer at the end of the tour you might want to get a pint of the modern item for comparison while it’s still fresh on your mind and palate.
We very much enjoyed our post tour lunch at Na Spilce. The beer was as fresh as you would expect for being right at the source and the food was top notch.
Paying a Visit and Learning More
Plzeň is not the easiest of Czech cities to travel to. While there is a direct train between Prague and Munich that stops there, if you’re going to the city from anywhere else in the Czech Republic that is a significant distance away you’ll likely be in for a longish trip regardless of your mode of transport.
That said, once you’re in the city, the brewery is very easy to reach on foot from Plzeň’s historic centre.
If you go there as an individual or only two or three people, you likely won’t need to reserve a spot on a tour ahead of time. Tours run regularly and you can browse the gift shop or have a pint in the restaurant to pass the time if there’s a wait for your tour.
If you’re a beer fan and in the Plzeň area, a tour here is a must. Even if you’re not a beer fan, it’s a fascinating look into one of the most influential products to ever come out of the Czech lands.
This link will tell you all you need to know about tour schedules and prices:
Vranovsko is a microregion of South Moravia that sits on the border with Austria and is part of the larger Znojemsko administrative district.
Nature and outdoor activities are the main draws to the Vranov region, though the area also boasts a number of historical sites that are well worth visiting.
We recently spent a long weekend in the area, while it certainly wasn’t enough to see the whole region, it was enough that I can give you a small taste of what’s there and what’s possible to see and do with two or three days there.
At that, let’s see a bit of Vranovsko:
Day 1 – Vranov nad Dyjí
We took our accomodation for the weekend in Vranov nad Dyjí, the town from which the microregion takes its name.
The town sits on the Dyje river, known as the Thaya river in Austria, and is about three kilometres from the Austrian border. The town site is located inside the borders of Podyjí National Park, a transboundary park which connects to Austria’s Thayatal National Park.
On first impressions, Vranov might come across as a bit sleepy. However, it makes for a good base to visit the region, has accomodation and restarant options, a good tourist information office and attractions of its own to offer.
If you don’t have a car, Vranov can be reached by bus from points around. We reached it by a combination of a bus from Brno to Znojmo and another bus from Znojmo to the town.
Vranov’s primary tourist draws are its spectacular Baroque chateau that looks down upon the town site from the rocks above and the extensive Vranov reservoir area.
After we checked into our hotel, we walked to the chateau via a trail through a nature park. It was a lovely area to walk through, but with a significant incline to the trail. It definitely is not for anyone with mobility issues or who isn’t of a reasonable level of physical fitness; if you fall into one of those categories, you’ll want to ask at tourist information about alternate methods to reach the chateau.
As with all wooded areas of the Czech Republic, a good insect repellent specified against ticks should be going with you if you go there.
Day 2 – Znojmo
On our second day, we took a day trip to Znojmo, a popular tourist city with important ties to both the historic and contemporary faces of the country.
From a historical point of view, Znojmo maintains a good degree of medieval architecture including a castle complex that dates to the 11th century. You can also tour the city’s network of underground tunnels that date to the 14th and 15th centuries.
Other important historical sites in the town include the St. Nicholas church which dates to the 1340s and the town hall tower which dates to the 1440s.
In the Contemporary sense, Znojmo and the administrative region it’s the heart of make up the western edge of the South Moravian wine growing regions. As such, a good glass of local wine is never far away when you visit here.
Day 3 – Vranov Reservoir and Bítov Castle
On our third and final day in the region, we paid a visit to the scenic and extensive Vranov reservoir. Nicknamed by some as the “Adriatic of Moravia”, the reservoir is large enough to feel like an inland sea.
The reservoir is noted for the warmth and cleanliness of its water and is very popular for a wide variety of watersports, hiking and cycling trails around it and as a venue for special events of many sorts.
A system of transport boats operates to take visitors around the reservoir for both sightseeing and to visit castles, such as Bítov and Cornštejn, which overlook it.
There is a very friendly atmosphere to the reservoir. Many people keep weekend cabins there and there was no shortage of people waving and shouting greetings from the shore as our boat went past.
After an hour long and very enjoyable boat ride, we arrived at our destination – Bítov castle.
Dating to the 11th century, Bítov is one of the oldest and largest of Moravian castles. It’s been remodelled by various owners through its history and its current look was established in the 19th century.
There’s quite a bit to see at this castle, so you could certainly make a day trip of it. Four different tours of the interiors are on offer.
If you have mobility issues of any sort or are not of reasonably good physical fitness, you should certainly not try to access Bítov via the reservoir boats. The trail leading to the castle from the boat dock is steep and uneven.
Visiting and Learning More
As I stated at the beginning, this blog entry was simply to give you a small taste of what one can do with a few days in the region.
Vranovsko offers much more than what I’ve covered here.
If you have a week or more and like nature, castles and wine; you may want to try out this particular nook of the Czech lands.
This link will take you to the official Vranovsko tourism website so you can see all of what’s on offer and plan your own visit there:
Established in 1934 by Jan Antonín Bat’a (1898-1965) in the eastern Czech town of Otrokovice, the Zlín aircraft company began life as a division of the world famous shoe business founded by his half brother, Tomáš (1876-1932) in 1894.
One might well wonder what the logic of a well established shoe company expanding into aviation might be, especially in light of the fact that Jan Antonín inherited the company after Tomáš had died in a plane crash while on company business. In fact, it made sense to do so on a few levels:
Firstly, the Bat’a shoe company is noted as being one of the world’s first, perhaps the world’s first, business concern to regularly use aircraft to conduct business. As such, aircraft were part of the Bat’a business model even before Jan Antonín took over the running of the company.
Secondly, the First World War completely changed public perception of the aircraft and its practicality. Prior to the conflict, most people viewed airplanes as curious toys for wealthy eccentrics and dreamers; through the course of the war, aircraft had proven their worth in a variety of applications to the point that they were seen as a technology well worth developing. A number of competent aircraft companies were established in the former Czechoslovakia from shortly after the end of the war. The young country certainly had the talent pool early on to make aircraft that were competitive on the world stage.
Thirdly, Jan Antonín Bat’a had grand plans for the company his half brother had founded. Under Jan Antonin’s leadership, the company expanded at a rapid pace from a shoe company into a business empire with arms in a variety of other business sectors.
A consumate industrialist, Jan Antonín was noted as a very competitive and visionary person. He saw the value of aircraft and the bugeoning domestic aviation industry growing right in front of him; it made sense for him to try to compete in it.
Throught its history, the company has built it’s reputation primarlity on sport and training aircraft.
At that, let’s take a look at Zlín and their place in Czech history:
While the company was established in 1934, the seeds for what would become Zlín Aviation had already been sown in the mid 1920s with the creation of the Bat’a company’s own flying school and air park at Otrokovice. A strong proponent of aviation, Jan Antonin Bat’a used the flying school as the foundation for creating the aircraft company.
Initially, the company only produced gliders. However, this changed when Jaroslav Lonek (1904-1945) served as the company’s chief designer between 1935 and 1938. During Lonek’s tenure, the company would move from gliders to powered aircraft designs and see their first great success, the Z-XII sport and touring aircraft.
The Z-XII first flew in 1935 and was used by military and civilian operators in no fewer than 15 countries. This was a great moment not only for the company, but also for the country as the Z-XII was the first Czech designed and built aircraft to see significant export success. The aircraft was praised widely and a total of between 250 and 260 were built.
Another significant aircraft design produced during Lonek’s time at the company was the Z-XIII. While only one was ever made, it stands as testament to the level of patriotism Jan Antonín Bat’a possessed alongside his business accumen.
Bat’a had given much support to the creation of a strong national military through the interwar period. This included the purchase of aircraft and other equipment as well as the provision of training facilities for pilots and mechanics.
Bat’a, along with many others in Czechoslovakia, rightly saw Hitler’s rise to power in Germany in 1934 as reason to ensure that the nation had a military strong enough to defend itself. To this end, he gave Lonek the task of designing a high performance aircraft.
When the Z-XIII first flew in 1937, it was officially said to be intended as a high speed courier aircraft for company business. However, with the aircraft’s very smooth and refined finish, blistering speed of around 350 kilometres per hour and ease with which it could be switched from a two seat to single seat arrangement; it was not at all hard to see the fighter that Bat’a had envisioned it to become lurking just under the surface.
The company offered the aircraft to the Czechoslovak military as a potential fighter in 1938, but it was already too late. The Munich Agreement of 1938 allowed the country to be occupied by German forces soon after.
Bat’a and his family fled the country shortly before the start of the war and spent a brief time in America before settling in Brazil.
Jaroslav Lonek also fled the country prior to the war, but only briefly. He travelled to the Soviet Union and became a secret service operative before returning and setting up an anti-German espionage ring. He was discovered and arrested in 1941, sentenced to death in 1943 and executed in Dresden, Germany in early 1945.
For his work against the Germans, Lonek was posthumously awarded the Czechoslovak War Cross of 1939 medal for his heroism and sacrifice.
Weathering the Storm and Picking up the Pieces
With flight training and aircraft production facilities well established at the site, it was logical that the German occupational forces would use Otrokovice as a training base and the Zlín factory facilities to make the training aircraft.
While Zlín employees were busy being put to work building German trainer planes, some also busied themselves in efforts to protect the Z-XIII from German attention.
The Z-XIII had remained at Otrokovice and many attempts were made to hide it from German eyes. A plan was made to fly the aircraft out of the country to safety, but it was discovered before it could be put into action. The Z-XIII was then disguised as a derelict in the factory and German interest in it eventually subsided.
The Z-XIII survived the war and was put in the collection of the National Technical Museum after the conflict.
At the end of the war, with a great deal of German material present in Czech factories and a skilled workforce at the ready, several Czech companies were nationalised and able to resume busines almost as soon as the war had ended. Zlín was no exception.
Initially, Zlín restarted business after the war by developing German designs they had built during the war. However, before the 1940s were out, they had introduced some new glider types and a aircraft of their own design that became the progenitor of a family of aircraft that would make the Zlín name legendary in top level international aerobatics competition for decades to come – the Z-26 Tréner.
For all the international acclaim the Tréner family would go on to receive, its beginings were really quite modest in that the original Z-26 began simply as the company’s response to an early post war tender for a new basic training aircraft for the Czechoslovak air force.
As the design was being developed further in the mid 1950s, its aerobatic abilities were discovered and subsequent versions focused on honing those aerobatic qualities.
The Moravan Era
The 1950s brought change for the company in that it was renamed Moravan, a name it would keep from 1953 to 2010. By the time the name change came around, the Zlín name was so well established that most people kept using the Zlín name when talking about the company’s aircraft.
The 1950s could be seen as the beginning of the company’s “Golden Age”. It was in that decade that they began to build their worldwide reputation for training and sport aircraft. Before the 1950s were out, the Z-226 version of the Tréner was already winning international aerobatics competitions. By 1959, the Z-326 version had debuted and the company was set to be a dominant force in competition through the 1960s to the mid 1980s.
When not developing the Tréner further, the company often was subcontracted to produce components for other companies or was involved in joint projects.
One such joint project was the Z-37 Čmelák (Bumblebee) agricultural aircraft which first flew in 1963. Teaming up with the Let aircraft company, based in nearby Kunovice, Zlín had a hand in creating the first purpose designed Czech agricultural plane.
Being in an area of the country with a great deal of farming activity, the two companies were well placed to gather information directly from end users of the aircraft about exactly what qualities it should have to be effective in the job. The resulting aircraft was a rugged and reliable performer that was exported to no fewer than a dozen countries. A total of around 700 Z-37s were made.
1965 saw the company awarded with a “Diplome D’Honneur” by the International Air Federation (FAI) in recognition of their contributions to the development of sport and training aircraft.
The company introduced the Z-526, the ultimate aerobatic version of the Tréner, in 1966. As with the Z-226 and Z-326 versions before it, the Z-526 came in two seat trainer versions and single seat competition optimised versions.
By the late 1960s, the company had begun work on a new and versatile family of training aircraft known as the Series 40. Prototypes for the Z-42 two seat version and four seat Z-43 version first flew in 1967 and 1968 respectively. Both types were in full production by the very early 1970s. The aircraft of this family, like the Tréner line before them, have been developed and advanced through the years and have earned international respect and export success for the company. Descendants of the Z-42 and Z-43 are still in production as of 2018.
During 1974 and 1975, the last Tréner aircraft were produced and its aerobatic successor flew for the first time.
After a production run of nearly 30 years with over 1,500 made, the Tréner had more than proven itself on the world stage and Zlín was hungry to keep their place of prominence in aerobatics. The Z-50 was designed to carry that legacy forward.
The Z-50 holds the distinction of being the world’s first purpose designed aerobatics machine. Computers figured prominently in the design process and the result was a very clean design that kept the Zlín name dominant in world class competition into the mid 1980s.
The company finished the 1970s with the debut of the Z-142 in 1979.
The Z-142 is a refined and improved variation on the Z-42. With around 360 built and used widely in both civil and military hands, the Z-142 is certainly the most popular of the Series 40 family and, arguably, Zlín’s most popular aircraft overall thus far in the company’s history.
The company spent the 1980s to the early 2000s further developing the Series 40, servicing their existing aircraft models and producing components for other companies’ aircraft.
The Moravan era of the company’s history came to an end in the 2009-2010 period when the company was shut down.
The end of Moravan was not the end of the Zlín name in aviation. The company was Re-established as Zlín Aircraft a.s. in 2009 at the historic facilities in Otrokovice.
In the present, the company continues the Zlín legacy in sport and training aircraft through the latest generation of the Series 40 as well as running maintenance facilities for the company’s more established aircraft types that still remain popular.
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