Located in the east of Czechia (because according to Google Maps, that’s what we’re calling it now – RIP ‘Czech Republic’), in the region of Moravia, Brno is the country’s second largest city, losing out only the the capital, Prague.
The city has a bit of a dull reputation among locals, and at first glance, it’s easy to see why. Aside it’s towering cathedral and hilltop castle, it’s difficult to pinpoint many other attractions, and even the nightlife seems a bit dead. Still, I was set out to find something interesting about this city, with varying levels of success…
For starters, there was my accommodation. An ex-Soviet bomb shelter, 10-Z Bunker was initially built as a highly-classified nuclear fallout shelter in the Communist era (circa 1959), to protect the city’s politics representatives. It could house up to 500 people for three days, and had been kept top secret under Czech army control – until 1993. It now operates as a hostel and museum, offering guests an authentic experience of bunker life. Cold, damp air, sleeping bags as duvets, and a shower that works on a pulley were just some of the things I experienced; another was breakfast.
Now if you’re anything like me, and are incredibly fascinated by Soviet politics and the Communist era (seriously, had my History GCSE had been more about Soviet ruling and less about McCarthyism, I probably wouldn’t have gotten a D), then you’ll likely not mind this at all and will chalk it all down to learning something new. However, even I struggled to stomach my plate of pork greaves (pig fat) smeared on to stale bread, or the toothpaste-y tasting dry pastry we were given. I almost pride myself on my ability to eat everything, however this had me beat and dry heaving my way through it.
Despite its shortcomings, I really do recommend a stay at 10-Z, as it’s unlikely you’ll find something similar anywhere else; it truly is unique. And you really can’t fault its location – right at the foot of Špilberk Castle.
For more than seven centuries, Špilberk Castle has dominated Brno’s skyline, and is now one of the most valuable monuments the city. It’s a bit of a hike to the top, though I have to admit I was disappointed by the view – there really isn’t a lot to see in Brno, despite being a city that prides itself on its modernist era architecture. The castle itself is interesting, however after seeing the views both of and from Wawel Castle just a couple of days back, I struggled to be too impressed (Krakow, you well and truly spoilt me).
This same feeling followed me throughout Brno, and I couldn’t help but feel a bit underwhelmed. Even the Czechs didn’t seem to particularly like it (but then, supposedly Czechs are among the most pessimistic nationality on the planet, so this isn’t particularly surprising).
Sure, there was a nice little outdoor festival I stumbled across, and David Černy’s Pink Tank – stationed outside the Evangelical church on Komensky Square – which polarised the country due to its controversial approach. There’s also the UNESCO World Heritage Vila Tugendhat, one of the most prominent Modernist designs in Europe (although – if I’m honest – I really didn’t ‘get’ it). There were even blackout drunk people attempting to steal the show from impromptu Contemporary Orchestra performances (at 6pm, no less). But apart from that, not a lot else was really going on.
Overall, I think Brno’s saving grace was the fact that you could buy a pint of beer for the equivalent of 80p, which is probably just as well as you’d need a lot of it to spend a substantial period of time there. If Soviet history isn’t for you, then I doubt you’ll find too much else in this strange, empty city. But if you really must visit Czechia, I hear Prague is wonderful.