Czech national Archive acquires Karel Kryl’s personal belongings

Karel Kryl

The Czech National Archive has made a unique acquisition. After years of negotiations, last week it took over the personal belongings of legendary Czech protest singer Karel Kryl. Apart from all sorts of documents and sketches, they include the guitar he played at his very last concert.

Karel Kryl, perhaps the greatest Czech protest singer ever, spent most of his years in exile, after being forced to leave Czechoslovakia in 1969. Despite a 20-year-long absence, he became a voice of a generation. His song Bratříčku zavírej vrátka (or Close the Gate, Little Brother) became a symbol of protest against the Soviet-led invasion of the country in 1968.

Now, 27 years after his premature death, the National Archive has acquired Kryl’s extensive personal archive. Jakub Šlouf is in charge the items:

“Here in the depository, we have a personal archive of Karel Kryl. And in this safe we have his guitar, which he played during his last ever concert.”

The guitar, which still has a list of songs typewritten on a piece of paper stuck to its side with sticky tape, was also played during Kryl’s legendary concert on December 3, 1989.

The Concert for All Decent People, as it was called, was Kryl’s very first performance following his return to Czechoslovakia from forced exile. When Kryl sang the first notes of his song “Morituri te Salutant”, people immediately started singing along, catching the singer off guard and bringing tears into his eyes.

Now, after more than 20 years of negotiations with the singer’s German wife Marlen, the Czech National Archive has finally succeeded in acquiring his inheritance, says the archive’s director Eva Drašarová.

“His wife kept and looked after all his personal items with great respect. So, we received not only his written documents but also his personal items.”

The archive includes, among other things, Kryl’s first German passport that he received in 1970, but also his paintings, both from his childhood and from the later years in exile.

There are also hundreds of pages with notes, documenting the genesis of Kryl’s songs, and of course all the lyrics of his ballads and songs, including the legendary Bratříčku zavírej vrátka.

“We do have a typewritten copy of the song’s lyrics from the year 1968. Unfortunately, none of the previous handwritten drafts or concepts have been preserved to this day.”

Karel Kryl’s life will be the subject of an extensive exhibition prepared by the National Archive, due to take place in three years’ time. Among the objects on display will be the items from the newly received inheritance.