Brno capitulates in dispute over Villa Tugendhat

Haus Tugendhat (Foto:

The city of Brno has relented. Brno's city council yesterday approved a plan to return the Villa Tugendhat, a UNESCO landmark, to the children of the original owners. The path to giving back the historic villa, however, won't be so simple.

Three weeks ago, three adult children of Fritz and Grete Tugendhat began legal proceedings to reclaim the house which still carries their family name. The city of Brno, the current legal owner of the 1200 square-metre home, responded that it would do everything in its power to retain the property. Now, the city says it will give up the villa, in a bureaucratic procedure that's a bit complicated.

Jiri Sebela is the city's spokesman:

"The city council of Brno has decided to prepare paperwork for the transfer of the deed to the villa to the Czech state so that the Czech state could, in compliance with the law, return the villa to the Tugendhat family."

A lawyer for the Tugendhat family, Augustin Kohoutek, believes it could be a matter of months before the villa is back in the Tugendhat family's hands.

Sisters Danielle and Ruth Tugendhat,  photo: CTK
"We are basically happy that the request was not refused and rejected. And we are also happy about the fact that the city expressed the opinion that the villa should be returned to the family. And now we think there must be certain legal technicalities and issues solved in order to make the entire process occur"

Kohoutek cautions that the return of the villa is not yet certain, and the position of the Czech government is still unknown.

Throughout the 1990s, the Tugendhat family had declined to reclaim the functionalist house, which was built by the architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and which they occupied for eight years until the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia forced the family, who are Jewish, to flee.

In recent years the villa's foundation had begun to crack, while the planned restoration of the building got bogged down in a scandal-ridden bidding process.

Zdenek Lukes of the National Heritage Department in the Office of the President of the Czech Republic, welcomes the decision.

"I hope that something like a foundation for the restoration of the Tugendhat Villa will be established again because something like a foundation was established in the early 90s, to collect more money, and it's also possible to collaborate with some institutions like UNESCO and the World Monuments Fund."

The Tugendhats have already said they do not intend to live in the house, but want to keep it open to the public.

Property disputes are not new to the villa. In 1993, Czech and Slovak leaders met there to discuss the division of state assets resulting from the breakup of Czechoslovakia.