This second city in the Czech Republic
after the capital Prague
is certainly not second in terms of dark tourism, in fact it offers at least as much as its bigger, more touristy counterpart, so it's well worth the trip.
More background info:
The city’s origins go back to the Middle Ages and it has had a chequered history, having been part of the Holy Roman Empire until the early 19th century, then part of the Austrian
and Austro-Hungarian empires until the founding of the first Czechoslovakian state in 1918.
Given this history it is perhaps not surprising that Brno used to have a German-speaking majority. In WWII
, Brno, like the rest of the Czech lands, was occupied by Nazi Germany
, and it was also during that time that its sizeable Jewish community was largely rounded up and deported in the Holocaust
, first to Theresienstadt
and from there onwards mainly to Auschwitz
At the end of WWII the ethnic German population was mostly driven out of Brno, as in other parts of Czechoslovakia, but in the German-speaking countries the old German name for the city, “Brünn”, is retained to this day.
Given the proximity to the city where I live, Vienna
, I had long wanted to make a short trip to Brno, especially to see the Capuchin Crypt
, as the only time I was there before was just for a birthday party and it was also out of season, so I missed out on that attraction. But in early August 2020 I finally made it back to Brno and had two intense and interesting days exploring the city.
It was the first time I’d travelled since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, so I was a bit apprehensive. But with disciplined mask-wearing, frequent hand-sanitizing and generally trying to keep a distance it was manageable. It was disconcerting, however, to see so many locals being totally blasé about the risks: lot’s of partying, shaking hands and hugging, the disinfectant dispensers in many shops were often empty and on the train Czech passengers only put on their face masks when they were admonished to do so on the Austrian side of the border. I wasn’t all that surprised when the Czech Republic suddenly became Europe’s top risk area once autumn came …
What there is to see:
All four dark sites in Brno that are given sub-entries here have in common that they are underground
, beneath the city’s pretty veneer. And two rank highly in the category
‘dead on display
In addition there are a few sites related to Brno’s darker history, e.g. the fairly large Jewish cemetery to the south-east of the Old Town (reachable by getting tram line 8 to the stop Židovský Hřbitov).
Just to the north of the Old Town, on Moravia Square, stands the monument to the Red Army, commemorating the liberation of the city from Nazi
occupation towards the end of WWII
, though as this was soon followed by Soviet
domination throughout the Cold-War
era, this monument is quite unloved by locals.
in the heart of the Moravia part of the Czech Republic
, some 120 miles (180 km) south-east of Prague
, 40 miles (65 km) south-west of Olomouc, and 70 miles (115 km) north of Vienna
Access and costs:
easy to get to by train; more affordable than Prague
Brno is on the main train line between Prague and Vienna, so is most easily reached that way from either of those places. From Vienna
it’s a mere 90 minutes or so, from Prague
up to twice that. You can also come by bus, but driving there in your own vehicle is discouraged because of a dearth of parking spaces. Brno also has an airport just five miles out of town (and connected to it by bus line 76), but for most travellers the train will be the most convenient and cheapest way of getting there.
Getting around is easy, all the individual sites covered here are within easy walking distance from the centre, if not right within it. Also convenient is the fact that the main train station is right on the southern doorstep of the inner Old Town.
For excursions further afield, there’s an excellent and affordable network of public transport, of which the trams are the most most convenient. You have to buy tickets in advance from machines or newsagents and validate them on entering any tram/bus.
Accommodation options are varied and many good deals can be found online, for both hotels and self-catering apartments.
Food & drink
are also comparatively cheap, but vegetarians
can struggle to find much to choose from in the local cuisine, as usual in these carnivorous lands. That’s why for those visitors, self-catering may be the best option. Although things are changing a bit and there are now some places specifically targeting a veggie and vegan clientele. Being Czech, this is very much beer country and if you’re happy with just the usual lager beer types you have countless cheap and cheerful places to choose from, but the craft beer revolution has also made its impact on Brno and there’s a handful of decent outlets, with Axiom easily taking the top rank.
Time required: if you only want to see the individual sites covered above, then a day and a half might just about do, but it’s worth allowing a little extra time to explore a bit beyond the dark.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
The easiest and nearest significant destination from a dark-tourism perspective is Vienna
over in Austria
, just a 90-minute train ride away. Equally easy to reach is the Czech capital Prague
to the north-west. And both cities offer onwards connections for places further afield.
Combinations with non-dark destinations: Brno is a veritable travel destination in its own right. The heady mix of old and modern architecture alone is a delight, so just wandering the streets is one of the best activities to pursue in this city. Those who want museums, art galleries and such things are also well catered for.
Specific attractions to point out include the iconic Cathedral of St Peter and St Paul, one of the city’s premier landmarks. Of the modern architectural marvels, Villa Tugendhat, a classic piece of functionalism designed by pioneer Mies van der Rohe, is perhaps the most celebrated one – it’s located outside the Old Town centre to the east of Lužánky Park, the city’s oldest and largest.
Within the Old Town, the triangular Freedom Square forms the centrepiece. On its south-eastern end is a peculiar construction that looks like a phallic sculpture and is referred to as an “astronomical clock”, though it doesn’t show the time. Just before 11 in the morning people scramble to put their arm inside the strange object in the hope of catching the glass marble that is automatically released by the mechanism inside. The lucky one grabbing it can take it away as a souvenir.
Another square of note is the Vegetable Market Square to the south, near the Capuchin Crypt. Underneath this cobbled expanse is another bit of underground Brno, a “labyrinth” of passageways and cellars, originally for the storage of goods, beer and wine barrels, but now all connected and open to the public.
Between the two squares is the Old Town Hall, which has a couple of unusual details to look out for too. The Gothic decoration above the arch at the bottom of the main tower has a bent pinnacle that is allegedly not a design fault or sign of deterioration, but was introduced by the designer deliberately, due to some dispute over pay. The other quirky thing is the Brno “dragon”, actually a stuffed crocodile, hanging from the ceiling of one the archways leading to the Town Hall.
Brno has some bizarre statuary too, like the little winged naked statue of Mozart as a child dancing on a tilted piano in the south-east corner of the Vegetable Market Square, or the equestrian statue of a knight in armour on horseback, but a horse with legs like stilts. It is to be found on the square outside the Church of St Thomas at the northern end of the Old Town.
Just keep your eyes open and you can spot plenty more often eccentric and unusual works of art in the streets of Brno.
Finally, owing to Brno being a university city, there are also plenty of attractions for a younger clientele and a vibrant nightlife scene to savour.
- Brno 01 - cathedral of St Peter and Paul
- Brno 02 - astronomical clock on Liberty Square
- Brno 03 - old Town Hall tower
- Brno 04 - deliberate flaw
- Brno 05 - open-air market
- Brno 06 - architectural contrasts
- Brno 07 -old and new
- Brno 08 - plenty of pretty buildings
- Brno 09 - lions and devils
- Brno 10 - heavy load
- Brno 11 - light-weight Mozart
- Brno 12 - knight on oversized horse
- Brno 13 - the dragon that is a crocodile
- Brno 14 - war memorial
- Brno 15 - golden egg sculpture
- Brno 16 - by night