Ever thought of a city break in Brno? Czechia’s 2nd largest city is close to Vienna, Prague and Budapest, which attract millions of tourists yearly. Few of them bother to stop in Brno. No wonder: Brno lacks the pompous historical landmarks of the nearby capitals and looks rather modest in comparison. A closer look, however, reveals a certain potential for dark tourism.
Many of Brno’s attractions are underground or indoors, which is perfect with miserable weather in winter. Quite impressive is the 10-Z bunker system used as a top-secret nuclear fallout shelter during the Cold War. The bunkers below Špilberk hill are now open to the public, which is even encouraged to touch all the objects on display (quite unusual for European museums!) or to wear the gas masks.
10-Z is a series of tunnels with all the infrastructure needed to keep the Communist party leadership happy underground, including a canteen, commando posts and communication hubs. After the downfall of socialism in 1989, the tunnels fell into disrepair, and most rooms are left how they were found a couple of decades later. A couple of TV screens were added, short videos tell the visitors about the past of the place and other dark details of Brno’s history.
The last bunker houses a beautiful and cosy bar called “Luftschutzraum” (air-raid shelter), which is also accessible from outside.
One of the most bizarre places I have seen recently is the ossuary below sv. Jakub (St. James) church. These vaults have been used for centuries to store the skulls and bones of previous “occupants” of St. James’ cemetery. In the 18. Century, the vault has been closed and forgotten since – until 2003, when it was rediscovered during the renovation of the church. The sheer amount of bones must have been quite a shocking revelation!
What is even more astonishing is what the responsibles did with that situation. They checked all skulls and bones (for scientific findings) and cleaned them. Then, they were rearranged in the vault. The result looks pretty much like a hip art installation, complete with music composed specifically for this place.
Containing the remains of about 50.000 persons, the St. James ossuary is believed to be the 2nd largest ossuary in Europe (Paris claims to house the largest). The way these remains are dealt with is beautiful and disturbing at the same time.
Other strange places in Brno include Villa Tugendhat, which is mainly famous for the fact that the dissolution of Czechoslovakia was sealed here in 1992. The place bears significance also for its architecture, but the fact that a country simply ended here – just with two signatures, no popular referendum or civil war! – is much more fascinating.
A perfect place to conclude a day of dark tourism is Schrott – a craft brewery and pub in industrial look, located in a dark (at least in winter nights) area next to the railway station.
Bonus: Not in Brno, but worth a detour on your way back to Vienna: Bratislava’s Slovak Radio building (Slovenský Rozhlas) is a perfect example of socialist brutalism, a rather concrete architectonic style of the 60s and 70s.