The Thonet Family: Restoring the family castle in Slovakia

Velke Uherce, photo:

The castle in Velke Uherce in Central Slovakia has belonged to the Thonet family for almost 200 years. Michael Thonet was a world famous furniture maker. After the communists came to power in 1948 the castle was confiscated and the Thonet family persecuted for political reasons. Three years ago the great grand son of Michael Thonet, Flavio, who lives in Austria, bought the castle. Now he and his wife Sophia are involved in its reconstruction. Ela Nahalkova met Flavio Thonet and his wife Sophie and spoke to them about their plans for the castle.

Flavio Thonet: "Mr. Michael Thonet was my grand grand father and he came from Geramany. Then he went to Vienna, prince Metternich called him for making furniture there. And then he began to make these famous chairs and he was so successful that he had to have enough woods, he bought the woods in Slovakia therefore the Thonet company bought also at that time Velke Uherce - the castle and the property around and very much woods. During the war the when the communists came, from one day to the other day, it was in I think 1940, 1941, they had to leave this property. My father lived at that time in Vienna and he was lucky not to be here. His brother Louis Thonet was in Uherce, he was the governor of Uherce. The communist party kept him and took him to prison and he was kept there for fifteen years. My father told me always the story about Uherce but he didn't want to go back because it was maybe dangerous for him."

Ela Nahalkova: "When did you first time hear about the castle or what did you know before you came first time here?"

Flavio Thonet: "I began to know about the castle certainly from my father. We had a few photos left from Uherce from the castle. And when I was young I was always very curious to see maybe this fairy tale if it's true or not true. In 1987 I decided to go to Bratislava and I wanted to visit Uherce. And my wife, former my girlfriend, Sophia went with me and we went with a car and there was police behind us."

Sophia Thonet: "We came over with a little bit of fear."

Ela Nahalkova: "What was your first reaction when you saw the castle?"

Sophia Thonet: "On one side it was wonderful to see that all the stories were real and reality but on the other side we were shocked because there was so much damaged, everything stolen out, the wonderful chapel was not a chapel anymore."

Flavio Thonet: "After many years I've heard that the castle was sold to the obec (town) of Velke Uherce. So I decided to come to Velke Uherce and see what the starosta (the mayor) and obec (the town) wanted to do with this castle. I made him an offer and I said if it's possible I would be interested now. On my birthday, first June, four years ago, I signed the contract. It was a good feeling because I said after all the troubles which my family had here in Uherce I bring this property back to our family. And then we began to see and we saw how much work it would be. With the few people we began first to clean the property. It was very hard work."

Ela Nahalkova: "How do you plan to use all this area?"

Flavio Thonet: "We want to use it mostly privately. We do not want to make a luxury hotel but I want to make a perfect restoration work. I want to restore the chapel, I want to restore the rooms in the kastiel (the castle) and use it maybe in part also for the public for weddings or congresses. And maybe make a little restaurant and certainly we want to also reconstruct the original park."

Sophia Thonet: "The thing we want to do, is to give back the spirit to the old house and to the old family which was broken in that period. So that's the most important thing and all the rest we grow."