Two weeks ago I took my third trip to Brno, in the south-east of the Czech Republic (Czechia), for work purposes. I must say that now Brno has managed to win me over and creep into my heart, which surprised me because I was not so enthusiastic about it after the first visit. This is mostly because the first time I visited was on a freezing cold day in the middle of winter about two years ago and we were only there for a day trip to visit my husband’s tenants and look around for as long as we could bear the outside weather.
We went up the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul and the top level of stairs was pretty scary. On top we found out that mist had come over so there was not much view.
In the main square of the town there was also a lot of construction. We did however get to visit the Mendel museum, which was of course a must-see for me, being a biologist. Gregor Mendel is known as the father of genetics and I still remember learning about his heredity experiments with sweet peas in my high school biology textbooks. Imagine my surprise when I found out that these experiments were conducted in Brno. At the Mendel museum, which is located on the grounds of the Augustinian abbey in Brno where Mendel lived and worked, you can see his original lab book and read more about his life and experiments. My favourite part was seeing the pea plant seeds and being able to try to sort them out as he did for his experiments, which is not as easy as it sounded in the textbooks because the distinction between yellow and green and smooth or wrinkly is quite subtle in some cases.
Then, believe it or not, two years went by before we visited Brno again! It is relatively far from Berlin where we live; about a 6 hour drive or 7 hour train ride, whereas for example Prague is about 4 hours away and my husband’s family live about 5 hours away (the new highway has shaved about 30 minutes off the travel time). That time we just went to clean and fix up my husband’s apartment to show it to potential new tenants. For more on that, see here. We did a short walk around at night once we were done with our work and I began to realize that it is quite nice in Brno.
Now finally on my third visit to Brno I had some time to explore it a bit more, and I really enjoyed walked around the old town.
The weather was good and I went on a similar walk around three days in a row, enjoying it every time. The first night a colleague and I wandered around and enjoying admiring whatever we came across.
The second night we had a guided tour with the other members of the meeting we were at, so we learnt a bit about the history behind some of the sights we’d seen on the first night. Finally on the morning of the final day we had free time to walk around on a beautiful sunny day and see how beautiful Brno was in daylight.
The details on the beautiful buildings really stood out. The building style reminded me a bit of Vienna, which is probably not surprising considering that Czech Republic used to be part of the Austro-Hungarian empire.
The old town hall is probably my favourite building in Brno.
Another thing I really liked in Brno was the market square (called Cabbage market) where people sell fruit and vegetables for most of the year, except the winter months.
In this square you can also see a little winged statue that represents Mozart, standing outside a concert hall where he once played. At night, the shadow behind the statue looks almost alive.
The old theatre in Brno is also an interesting building, by day or night.
The other thing that stood out is that there are a lot of churches in Brno. During the 30 years war, the Czech defended Brno against the invading armies of Swedes and other Protestants. They won and so they managed to keep their beautiful churches and the Cathedral of St Peter and Paul, known there as Petrov.
The story goes that the leader of the Swedish army said that if he had not captured Brno by noon on the 15 August, he would withdraw his army. Somebody smart in Brno thus had the idea to ring the noon day bells one hour early at 11am, and the Swedes left. To this day, the clocks in Brno still ring the noon day bells at 11am.
This includes the new astronomical clock in Brno. At first you might not realize that this black, bullet-shaped object in one of the town squares is a clock. However it is a clock, although it is quite tricky to tell the time with it, even with the instructions that are printed next to it on a board. The best thing about this clock is that it contains glass balls, and at 11am each day, one of the glass balls falls down through the clock and pops out at one of the four holes. If you catch it before it goes back inside the clock, you can keep it at a souvenir. At 11am every day you will see people waiting with their hands inside the clock, ready to catch the ball.
Apparently there are even “glass ball mafia”, people who go every day to wait for the ball. Nevertheless, I decided to try to catch the ball on the one day I was free to be at the clock around 11am.
And guess who caught the ball – me! The glass ball mafia looked surprised. For 5 minutes i felt like the queen of Brno, as everybody around wanted to look at the ball. Now I have it at home as a great souvenir of this lovely city.
On the guided tour we heard many stories about Brno. For example, there is a stuffed crocodile hanging up in the old town hall. This was a gift from a visiting dignitary from Turkey. Since no-one in Czech Republic at the time had ever seen a crocodile, they thought it was a dragon, and now it is known as the dragon of Brno.
Hanging in the same building is a large wooden wheel. Apparently somebody once boasted at a pub that he could make a wheel from scratch in one day, starting from cutting down the tree. Nobody believed him, so he made a bet for 10 silver coins. Amazingly he managed to finish the task, and received his silver coins. Unfortunately the people of the town then started saying he couldn’t have completed the task without witchcraft, so he was chased out of town.
Somebody else who apparently had to leave town in a hurry was the sculptor who made the decorations for the town hall. Apparently the city council didn’t pay him properly for his work, so he purposefully made the central spire of some decorations on the town hall skew.
People liked using sculptures as revenge in Brno it seems, because there’s also a sculpture of a little man mooning the world from the walls of St James cathedral. You can read about that legend here.
And don’t forget the historical Špilberk Castle, which has been around since the 13th century. We didn’t get a chance to climb up to it during the short time we were there, but we had some good views of it from near the Cathedral. This castle used to be a fortress and a prison up until 1959. Now it houses a museum.
As you can see, Brno is a town with a lot of history. It’s great just to walk around, taking in the old buildings and hearing their stories. You can also do underground tours, although I haven’t had a chance to do that yet.
But, I’ll be back!
PS – when you are in Brno, don’t forget to try some wine! Brno is the main city in Moravia, an area known for its good wine.
… and if you prefer beer, you will also not be disappointed!