Czech town Havlickuv Brod has an affinity for Italy's Brixen

Karel Havlicek Borovsky

Karel Havlicek Borovsky was a 19th century Czech journalist, writer and politician. Now the name my mean little to you unless you are Czech. In fact while Borovsky is little known outside the country, almost every Czech schoolchild knows that he was exiled by the rulers of the Austro-Hungarian empire to the town of Brixen in South Tyrol. Now the towns of Havlickuv Brod, where he went to school, and Brixen have established a closer relationship.

The town of Havlickuv Brod, some 100 km South-East of Prague, has become a twin town of the community of Brixen, Northern Italy. Such close relations are being established between many cities and towns across Europe and it would not be particularly noteworthy if it weren't for a curious link lying deep in the past of these two towns. Claudia Messner is an official at Brixen town hall.

"The relationship between our two towns has deep historical roots. Perhaps everybody in the Czech Republic knows that Karel Havlicek lived in exile in Brixen between 1851 and 1855. In the last 20 years, some relationships have been established especially on the institutional and cultural levels, and there have been many exchanges between the two towns."

Until 1945, the Czech location was known as Nemecky Brod, or German Brod. Immediately after the war it was rid of the German part of is name and became Havlickuv Brod, literally Havlicek's Brod, in honour of Karel Havlicek who was born in a nearby village in 1821 and went to school there. For his political activities, he was exiled by the Austrian government in 1851 and spent almost 5 years in Brixen, then part of the Austrian Empire. Political analyst Bohumil Dolezal, who thoroughly studied Havlicek's work, says that although he was not an original thinker, he was very important to the Czech society of his time.

"Havlicek's merit lies in the fact that he mediated liberal and democratic principles to Czech society in a very comprehensible and intriguing way; he did it in such a way that was accessible for Czech society then."

Havlíčkův Brod | Photo: Thalion 77,  CC BY 2.5
The legacy of Karel Havlicek Borovsky is a now common link between Havlickuv Brod and Brixen. While students of both countries have opportunities to visit another country, the special relationship that was officially agreed in September also helps the large numbers of Czech tourist who come to see the town where Karel Havlicek Borovsky wrote some of his major works. Jana Fischerova is the mayor of Havlickuv Brod.

"It is very important for us that in Brixen, they published Czech leaflets and that the house where Havlicek stayed was marked with a plaque in three languages. Tourists can now come and visit it. The house it is in private property of a family whose ancestors were actually there when Karel Havlicek came to Brixen."

While Havlicek's exile in Brixen is a very well known fact among Czechs, the relationship between Brixen and Havlickuv Brod might appear somewhat one-sided. Are the inhabitants of Brixen aware that their town once hosted a Czech writer? Claudia Messner of Brixen town hall again.

"I think especially the festivities and ceremonies for the partnership we established this summer help make people aware of the historical relationship. So we are quite sure that, of course not everybody, but many people here in our town are aware of this partnership."