Prostejov's enchanting Art Nouveau house of culture

The house of culture in the Moravian town of Prostejov is one of the country's best examples of the art nouveau style. Built by the famous architect Jan Kotera, it celebrates its 99th birthday this Friday. Dita Asiedu takes a tour around the newly renovated structure with the house of culture director Alena Spurna:

"Jan Kotera is a renowned art nouveau architect and his works are everywhere in Central Europe - in Prague, Vienna and so on. So, experts or those who understand architecture appreciate him very much. When he built the national house [house of culture] here in Prostejov he was only 33 years old. He was a very charming young man and a lovely person. So, it was rather daring to ask him to design such a big project but it turned out to be a very good choice."

Describe the building to us please. What makes it special?

"Well, I think the atmosphere is beautiful. Some people say that the theatre is the core of the building and has a fairytale-like atmosphere. The art nouveau style which is on the ceilings, the chandeliers, the lights, and in the colours makes it a harmonious building."

We're now standing in the green room. There is also a red room and there is a blue room. Do you know what they were used for in the early 20th century?

"Yes. We are in the social part of the building, so it was meant for socialising and still is. The whole building had three different parts - the social part that we are now in, the restaurant and café that are downstairs, and the theatre itself, which is the main part of the building. By socialising, I meant everything from seminars and balls to family evening events."

The town of Prostejov enjoyed a very rich cultural life at the end of the 19th century and the start of the 20th century...

The house of culture in Prostejov
"Yes, it was a flourishing town and was one of the biggest towns in Moravia at the time and the industry was also flourishing and prosperous. There was no media - no television or radio - so people loved the theatre. There were travelling groups of actors and they loved to come here because the conditions for performing plays were very good... they were good at the various pubs and inns around the town and after 1907 when the national house was built there was an even more luxurious space for actors to perform at and so they loved to come here even more."

The darkest period for this building was WWII. How did it suffer in those years?

"In 1942, the Germans decided to change the building according to their own vision, taste, and style and they started to rebuild the theatre. Art nouveau decorations, stucco and glass decorations, as well as the lights were taken away. They didn't destroy them but stored them in the attic and other places and changed the style from the decorative art nouveau to something rather simple, pure, and blunt. The war was also about fighting cultures and they wanted to have their own culture in here."

[In the theatre] It sounds like someone is already rehearsing...

"We are adjusting our sound system because it hasn't been in use for about half a year."

Going back to the days when the national theatre got back into the hands of the Czechs, after the Germans left, what condition was it in?

The house of culture in Prostejov
"After the Second World War, as probably was the case with any bigger building, it was dilapidated and there was no time to repair it because there were other priorities like schools and so on. Finally in 1956, they decided to do the necessary plastering and piping. They planned this for four years but ended up taking fourteen years. So, there were constant renovations. Now, though, we also focused on the interior."

Let's walk down the corridor to one of two hidden chambers which are rather unique. Each of them is attached to a balcony that looks out over the stage of the theatre. [In the chamber] Is this what life was like a hundred years ago?

The house of culture in Prostejov | Photo: Andrea Fajkusová,  Radio Prague International
"I think so. I think the mayor of the town used to come here with some VIPs and before the play they would have some coffee or wine and probably hold some important negotiations. I think the atmosphere here is very noble and somewhat mystical."

There are a few armchairs, there's a fireplace, and a very large mirror. Is this the original furniture?

"Yes, but it was renovated. Jan Kotera planned and designed all the furniture in this building himself."

We are now in a corridor of the theatre that finally has its original appearance back...

"It's not easy to explain why I'm so happy to be standing here under this high ceiling. During the German renovations in 1942, the Germans decided to make the ceilings lower and they actually hid the stucco decorations, took away the chandeliers, and now it's all back in its full beauty. I think the residents of Prostejov will be very surprised to see it."

During the renovation work, you found out that it actually only took a year and a half to build this building...

"That's true. I think it was a record. It was a really short time."

The building is turning one hundred next year. How are you going to celebrate the birthday?

"There will be many different events. There will be concerts and exhibitions. The celebration will culminate on December 1, 2007, with a big concert - the philharmonic orchestra with popular soprano Eva Urbanova."