What do I know about Český Krumlov? It's a town in the Czech Republic and it sounds like a character from Harry Potter.
Ok, I know a little bit more than that. When I was in Prague it was the word(s) on everyone's lips:
"You must go to Český Krumlov."
"Český Krumlov is my favorite town in Europe."
"Český Krumlov is the real Czech Republic."
The implication being, of course, that anyone uncool enough to visit the Czech Republic without going to Český Krumlov was a losery *sniff* tourist unfit to grace even the world's crappiest shared dormitories. Naturally, I never made it there. In the words of my dear friend Sara: Phooey.
Of course, the fact that Český Krumlov is an obligatory stop for the backpacker set makes it trite in its own way. Obviously, that doesn't mean I don't want to go there. It also doesn't mean that my friend Krista, who inspired this post, is in any way lame for declaring it her favorite town in Europe. In fact, she might be the coolest, most untrite person I know. Hence, this post.
Český Krumlov is a town of about 14,000 in the southwest of the Czech Republic. You might know this area as "Bohemia." (Just as you might consider this post "rhapsodic.")
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Český Krumlov has changed hands quite a few times over the years; Austria-Hungry, Nazi Germany, Czechoslovakia, etc. and so forth. Today its population and geopolitical orientation are firmly Czech. By all accounts it has come through its share of conflicts relatively unscathed and with much of its original 13th century-ness intact. When the Czech Republic was established as a sovereign nation in the years following the Velvet Revolution, much attention was given to the restoration of Český Krumlov and it has since flourished as a popular tourist destination.
I mean, tell me you don't want to go there right now.
Český Krumlov is everything a proper European town ought to be. It has a castle, sits on a famous river, and has been a filming location for a variety of Hollywood movies. Its river, the Vltava, is more famous auf German: The Moldau. You might not know it, but you've probably heard Smetana's symphonic poem of the same name. Before you bring it up at a cocktail party, (or in the library of prestigious music school) remember that "Smetana" has two syllables, not three. Or does it...
The castle is considered quite large, and not just because it sits in the middle of quite a wee town. Now who doesn't love a castle? Each one seems to bring something unique to the table- the Tower of London with its ghosts and jewels, Mont Saint-Michel with its tides...Eureka's Castle with its creepy puppets. In this case, Český Krumlov's contribution is an original Baroque theater.
A crash course in Baroque opera: That s*** was wack. In other words, opera productions, like everything else in that era, fell prey to some serious decorative excess. It was like the Cirque du Soleil of the 17th century. Of course, all of this spectacle required some crazy stage technology, costumes, sets, etc., much of which the theater in Český Krumlov's castle still uses and maintains. Twice a year the public is given the opportunity to attend a fully staged Baroque opera, complete with simulated candlelight. Awesome.
While the music and drama nerds geek out at the Baroque theater, art nerds can head over to the Egon Schiele center. Schiele and his lover left Vienna for Český Krumlov in 1911 and lived there until the Krumlovers (not what they're actually called) drove him out on account of his artsy fartsy behaviors. I make light but really, his is not a happy tale. He died in the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 at only 28 years old. If you're not familiar with Schiele, (I wasn't until I studied in Vienna) I recommend checking him out. His work is controversial, dark, and deeply affecting.
Well, that's music and art nerds covered. At this point you must be saying, "Julia, what about those of us who enjoy the odd Renaissance Fair?" Well, RenFair nerds, fear not. Český Krumlov also happens to put on a large festival every June devoted solely to the elaborate recreation of a medieval town. Relatively easy to do in...an actual medieval town. It's called the Festival of the Five-Petalled Rose. If ever I were to go to a Renaissance Fair, this would be the one.
I'll leave you with a final word of caution: Don't confuse Český Krumlov (Bohemian Krumlov) with Moravian Krumlov. That would be embarrassing for you.
Český Krumlov Castle
Schiele Image Gallery
Leopold Museum Wien