Prague IS spectacular, and I’ve enjoyed being one of its tourists. But it’s the country’s second city, Brno, that bares it soul so clearly to me. I’ve been living here for 3 months and in that time, I’ve explored the long corridors of Spilberk Castle’s casemates (dungeons) where armies sheltered, and prisoners languished, and I’ve ventured down into the Capuchin crypt to see the mummified monks. If I gather enough nerve, I just may descend the 200 steps into an underground labyrinth of tunnels under the Cabbage Market – but maybe not. Rather, the castle lures me back with its hilltop views, courtyard festivals, and historic exhibits like the one I viewed today, “1918 – What the War Gave Us and What It Took Away.”
1918 … 1939 … 1989 Revisited
November 11, the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day—the end of World War I—was celebrated here in Brno with reenactments. On my routine walk to the town center, I passed soldiers bivouacking in parks and citizens strolling in period costumes.
Struggle for Freedom and Democracy Day
November 17th, International Student Day, is also a significant day in Czechia and called the “Struggle for Freedom and Democracy Day.” It commemorates the Nazi storming of Czechoslovakian universities in 1939, the execution of 9 students and professors in Prague, and the sending of students to concentration camps. On its 50th anniversary in 1989, student demonstrations helped to spark the Velvet Revolution, ending Communist rule.
On November 17 in 2018, university students in Brno gathered in the town center to hear speeches and the playing of the national Czech and Slovak anthems. I was fortunate to join them as they held a memorial lantern-lit march to historically significant sites, lighting candles in memory of the victims of Nazism and Communism.
On daily walks through Brno, I’ll also encounter an occasional “stolpersteine” (German for “stumbling stone”) in the sidewalk – plaques in front of apartment buildings that honor former Jewish residents. In 1944 Herald Deutsch was deported to a concentration camp/ghetto in the Nazi-occupied Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, and then transferred to a slave labor camp near Dresden where he died, perhaps from brutal work conditions or from Allied bombing.
Graffiti in Brno
Graffiti is everywhere in this city — and most of it makes no sense to me. But I came upon this small window up in the castle and finally found some nicely familiar signs and symbols.