Bored in Brno


People in Prague sometimes sneer at the country’s second largest city, Brno, for notoriously lagging behind the Czech capital. The good people of Brno are accused of suffering from an inferiority complex towards Prague, and looked down on as a simple country folk. I recently revisited my home town after several years and saw that even though all this may true, Brno’s charm is impossible to resist.

For years, I had some sort of mental block with the city. I was born in town outside Brno, and my family moved to the city when I was about nine. I left the Moravian capital after finishing university, and after my parents moved out to a house on the outskirts, I rarely came back. Sometimes I felt that people have a point when they say that Brno is the last inhabited curve on the road to Vienna. Last month I spent a week there; being a tourist in my home town I noticed things I previously had no idea about.

After some five years away, the first thing that struck me was the different pace of life. People move slower and they even stop on the street. I repeatedly saw people meeting each other in the street, and pausing for a chat. I saw people walking slowly to trams stops after work, in a sharp contrast to the races held in Prague metro every day.

Brno has street cafes, just like Prague – but none of them are tourist traps. What’s more, there are no tourists! People actually live and work in the city centre. There are regular shops, and none of that tourist junk.

People speak nicer, too. Although the city lost its large German community which was pushed away after the war, the local Czech dialect has been developing undisturbed. You hear a lot of closed vowels, lots of long O and U sounds, and the way they end words! As everyone knows, they also have their own words, the most famous being the Brno term for tram: šalina. Interestingly, it comes from the German expression elektrische Linie, or electric line.

So I got off the šalina and went for a quick beer. Another remarkable difference: pubs in Brno offer much greater variety of beers than in Prague. While Prague is plagued with Pilsner and other brands from the same beer maker, in Brno I had beers I had not tasted in years – Černá hora, Bernard, Litovel, Hostan, and of course the local brew, Starobrno.

When I told my Brno friends of my amazing discoveries, they looked at me funny. One girl, a native of north Bohemia who came to Brno to study and never left, said that the relaxed pace and ease of life gets boring after a while. I almost forgot!

But all in all, Brno is nice, friendly and important: when Queen Elizabeth visited for four hours in March 1996, she said Brno was the crossroads of the continent. Although what she probably meant to say was the last inhabited crossroads on the road to Vienna.