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A Day's Jaunt to Krummau

CZECH REPUBLIC | Monday, 9 January 2017 | Views [313]

A Day’s Jaunt to Krummau

 It had been raining for a few days and Salzburg remained overcast.  I had wanted to visit the medieval town of Krummau for quite awhile as a number of travel sites list it as one of the ‘must see’ small towns in Europe.  I called my friend Jeannie in the evening to see if she would be interested in going with me; she was, and we left at 7:15am for the two hour drive via Linz to the Czech border and then on to Krummau.  The weather was still fairly dreary until we got to the large crossroad section separating the A1 into roads going north to Linz and the Czech Republic, south to Styria, or east on to Vienna. The landscape north of Linz by the border consists of green lightly rolling hillsides with intermittent trees. Cows graze peacefully on the meadows between the small villages that periodically appear as out of nowhere. It seems quite idyllic, and yet as we were crossing, I couldn’t help but wonder what the region was like back in the 70s and 80s, when the border was lined with barbed wire and soldiers with guns on either side. The economic and political disparity between the two sides must have been very difficult to live with.  Today, thanks to the Schengen Agreement, there is only a sign that marks the border; all traces of the past division have disappeared. People and animals are free to roam the region without fear; a freedom that is not to be taken for granted and one that I hope can be preserved.

Krummau is only a small town, but its history is indicative of the numerous political and national affiliations this region has seen. Settlers are supposed to have first arrived in the area during the Neolithic era and artifacts from Bronze and Iron Age inhabitants are displayed in the town’s historical museum. The real beginning of the town and castle as they exist today, began around 1240 when the Vitkovci family, who had been in the region for a few centuries, started construction on their castle fortress on the inside of a horseshoe bend in the Vtlava River.  The name in German, Krummau, is said to come from Krumme Aue, or Crooked Meadow. A painting in the castle museum documents the distribution of land among four of the Vitkovci sons, “The Division of the Roses”; roses were part of the insignia of the family. The Krummau Vitkovci family line died out in the early 1300s, and as all estates without direct heirs reverted back to the king, King Wenceslav II agreed to give it to a different branch of the Vitkovci family, the Rosenbergs.  The Rosenbergs lived and ruled the region for about three centuries, until the last, Peter Wok von Rosenberg, ran into debt and had to sell the estates to Habsburg Emperor Rudolf II. During the Rosenberg period the town experienced massive growth on both sides of the river and the two sides, which had been in competition with each other, as the commercial center on one side and the administrative on the Latran, or castle, side, were finally united by a bridge in 1555.  The Rosenbergs were responsible for much of the way the castle looks today and for the churches on both sides of the river. After the Thirty Years War, the Emperor gave the estate to the Styrian Eggenberg family. When they died out in the early 17th C, the property went to the Schwarzenbergs , who brought an aura of Viennese baroque to the castle theater and some of other buildings.

Up until the early 20th C the German, Austrian and Czech populations got along fairly well with each other. At various times, one ethnic group was in the majority, at others a different one, but by the end of the 19th / beginning of the 20th C, this region followed the other nationalist movements and fights between the groups in the town of only about 5,000 broke out. By 1920 the Czech name, Cesky Krumlov, became the town’s official name, although it is still called Krummau in German.

During the early part of the 20th C, Krummau was at times part of Austria, part of Germany, then Czechoslovakia and now the Czech Republic.  Through all these political changes, the historical center and the castle have remained remarkably intact.

Today, the city is definitely geared towards tourism. The old town on both sides of the river is reserved for pedestrians, making for a relaxing way to window shop at the numerous craft stores and galleries that line the main alleyways and narrow streets that wind around museums and gothic churches. Cafes and restaurants serving fresh fish from the Vltava overlook the river. Kayakers and rafters can rent equipment to float over the gentle rapids that snake through town. The castle is the most prominent feature of the skyline as it rises from the hill to command the lower lying areas.  Entrance to the main court is free, but there is a cost to go into the museum and up the tower. That fee, however, is covered by the Krummau card, which is good for a full year and covers the entrance to five museums. Jeannie and I purchased our cards at the History Museum near the entrance to the pedestrian zone and were glad we did.  Besides simply wanting to visit the town, we both wanted to see the Egon Schiele Museum, and this is included in the visitor’s card.

Egon Schiele is an early 20th C Austrian painter, whose works were the subject of considerable controversy. He was heavily influenced by his mentors, Gustav Klimt and Oskar Kokoschka and became a member of the Vienna Secessionist movement and then the Neukunstgruppe in Prague. He stayed off and on in Krummau, where his mother had come from, for a few years, before the townspeople ran him and his girlfriend, Wally, out for what they considered scandalous behavior. His erotic paintings caused a small riot. Today, his museum is one of the main tourist attractions. It is nicely laid out over two floors with excellent descriptions in English, German and Czech throughout the museum.  The collection follows a chronological approach so that one can get a sense of the changes in his mood and style.  Schiele died in the Spanish Flu epidemic during WWI when he was only 28, but during his brief life, he was extremely prolific. In addition to his museum, the garden at the house where he lived and worked was open, and it was interesting to tour both of those as well.

After a very full day of sightseeing, we headed back to Salzburg.  The weather was somewhat cloudy, but fine as we pulled onto the Autobahn by Linz.  When we got to the Mondsee, the heavens broke open with a torrent of water such that we couldn’t see out the window. It wasn’t safe to pull off the road, but it wasn’t safe to stay on it either.  Luckily, we were right at the turn off to the Mondsee reststop and were able to get the car safely parked to wait out the storm.  Within 20 minutes the worst had past and we were able to get home. Our day’s jaunt to the Czech Republic had gone extremely well and even the weather cooperated – at least until we got back to our rain soaked homeland. 

Tags: city visit


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