A May 2005 trip
to Olomouc by captain oddsocks
Quote: Olomouc, as the former capital of Moravia, has long been a centre for culture and the arts, and this is reflected in its vibrant program of seasonal festivals and celebrations.
Moravia has a more religious population than Bohemia and religious holidays are celebrated enthusiastically. Mikulas (December 5, the Eve of St. Nicholas’ Day) is the day of reckoning for naughty children, while December 24th and 25th are celebrated with the family, perhaps with carp and potato salad for dinner.
Olomouc’s long association with music and literature is also reflected by the Festival of Independent Music, Festival of Sacred Songs and Dvorak’s Olomouc in the spring, the Olomouc cultural summer program of concerts, and the International Festivals of Organ Music and Spiritual Music in the autumn. There’s also a festival of documentary films in the autumn and the International Poetry Festival takes place annually in October. The poetry festival is very highly regarded and past performers range from former president Vaclav Havel to former Dead Kennedys frontman Jello Biafra.
It’s not all culture and high art though; the Czech Republic’s largest beer festival is held in Olomouc, the week long city festival to mark the beginning of the summer holidays, and of course New Year’s Eve on the square provide plenty of opportunity for Olomoucans and visitors to the city to let their hair down.
Even remnants of Pagan traditions still linger. On Easter Monday, men and boys might try to whack female legs with a decorated willow rod called a pomlaska, in a ritual originally meant to symbolize the rejuvenation of spring. Girls and women might retaliate by throwing a bucket of cold water over their pursuers, or they might just avoid all public contact for the day and wait for the custom to die out. At the end of April, the burning of the witches is a night for warding off evil by burning old brooms on bonfires.
The monthly entertainment guide INFO is also a useful source of more up-to-date details about festivals and their programmes. It costs 15Kc and available from every news-stand in the city.
The Tourist information office can be contacted at their office in the town hall beside the astronomical clock, or by telephone on (+420) 585513385 or through their website.
For the festivals out of the city, the online train and bus timetables are the best way to find accurate transport information. The larger festivals (Zahrada, Hanacke Slavnosti) usually have an area set aside as a festival-weekend-only campground.
Attraction | "May"
The Festival of Independent Music was on the 4th of May in 2005. The jazz club hosted performances by Dlhe Diely, from Bratislava; Priessnitz, from Jesenik in northern Moravia; and Glen Hansard, from the Irish group, The Frames.
May 8th is the anniversary of the liberation of Moravia at the end of the Second World War. On the main square there are displays of military hardware and techniques, as well as marching bands and a large-screen display of historical footage of both the liberating Red Army and the Nazi occupants and their Führer in Olomouc.
Dvorak’s Olomouc, the festival commemorating the music of Antonin Dvorak, starts in the second week of May and runs for about a month, with at least two performances each week by various artists and orchestras. One of the best things about this festival is the access it gives to historical buildings that are usually off limits, such as the red-domed Hussite church and the celebration hall of the Hradisko monastery. It’s also a good chance to hear the monumental Engler organ in action at St Moritz’s church.
The largest beer festival in the Czech Republic is held in Olomouc in May. More than 80 breweries promote their wares on the field beside the law faculty of the university, on Třída 17 Listopadu. Some of the best bands in the country come to perform, which makes the 50Kc/day entry price worthwhile, even if you are a teetotaler. It’s the only beer festival I’ve ever been to, but friends who came with me (veterans of the Oktoberfest) said that they couldn’t believe how civilised it was.
The last weekend of May seems to be fairytale weekend at the nearby castles, with Sovinec castle putting on the Láry Fáry do Pohádky fairytale festival and Helfštýn Castle’s Kralování Na Hradě Helfštýn. The festival at Sovinec is aimed more at children, with games competitions and a children’s knight tournament complementing the fairytales, puppet theatre, and magic performances. Helfštýn is probably more for bigger kids. Troubadour songs, Renaissance music, and dance battles are to be heard over the musket practice, fire swallowing, and falconry demonstrations.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on July 20, 2005
Olomouc, Czech Republic
Attraction | "June"
The undoubted heavyweight of the June festival calendar though, is the week long City festival in honour of the patron saint of Olomouc, St Pauline. It begins on a Monday with a burst of musket fire from 400-year old ghosts of Swedish soldiers (or maybe they were members of a folklore troupe in historic costume) and a lamplight parade from the Trinity Column to St Moritz church, where there’s a short service, and a tour of the crypt. The crypt is normally off-limits to the public, but on this occasion, the Swedish soldiers guide and light the way through the dusty caverns and tunnels.
A mix of Czech and foreign films in their original languages are shown for free on the main square every night, and the woodcarvings of the sculpture symposium gain shape as the week progresses. Cultural events like a traditional wedding in the full regional costume and historic reenactments mingle with more lighthearted events such as the great whipped cream battle and the world championship of eating tvarůžky.
Tvarůžky are small, round cakes of a particularly pungent cheese made locally and well-known across the country. The final of the contest is taken quite seriously, with the winner being eligible for entry into the Guinness book of records. Two rounds of heats narrow the field down a final ten competitors. On the main stage their task is to consume 3x100gram packets of Tvarůžky, a 100gram raw onion, two slices of bread and butter, and a half-litre of Litovel beer. The 2005 winner, Vladislav Najman, accomplished the feat in 1 minute and 47 seconds, breaking his own world record in the process.
Sunday marks the end of the festival with a medieval fair, knights’ tournaments and Renaissance music. At the end of the day the recreation of the procession of St Pauline’s remains and a re-internment ceremony in the St Moritz crypt ensure that the city is safe from the plague for another year.
Olomouc, Czech Republic
The battleground is a small part of the main square with a row of wooden benches at each end. Assistants portion out whipped cream onto paper trays and lay them along the benches. The volunteers (mostly children) are divided into opposing teams and asked to arm themselves with trays of cream. There’s a countdown and then the teams rush towards each other. When the teams meet each other in the centre the cream starts to fly and a wave of laughter comes over the crowd. A lot of the cream misses its target, but enough gets rubbed into hair, clothes and shoes to have cleaning products salesmen wringing their rubber-gloved hands with glee.
The smaller children started first and had great fun throwing the trays at their opponents, and looking around for their mums to make sure that they were not in trouble. The older children had the second turn on the already slippery battlefield. They were rougher than the younger kids, but quicker and more inventive. Great fun to watch!
The whipped cream battle was a great spectacle and the only people not left with a smile were the city workers who had to clean up afterwards. It’s not the sort of event you’d plan a trip around, but it’s certainly worth making the time for if you’re in Olomouc at the time of the festival.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on July 20, 2005
The Great Whipped Cream Battle
Horni Namesti/ Upper Square
Olomouc, Czech Republic
Attraction | "July"
There are two public holidays in early July. Saints Cyril and Methodius’ day on the 5th is the anniversary of the arrival of the first Christian missionaries to Slavic lands in the year 863 (in South Moravian Velehrad). The following day is Jan Hus day, the anniversary of the reformist leader’s execution at Constance in 1415. Hus was lured to Constance by the ecclesiastical council under the pretext of reconciliation talks, but the talks were a ruse, and Hus was summarily tried and burnt at the stake. Historic folklore troupes perform at Helfštýn castle both days and the centre of Olomouc rings with church bells inviting citizens to commemorative mass.
On the weekend of the 8th and 9th the Hanacký Woodstock music festival was held. Te intended venue was the TJ Sokol athletics field, but due to inclement weather it was moved indoors to the nearby AMC student club. The first day from 2pm was dedicated to blues and alternative music, with the highlight being local songwriter Karel Plíhal. The way the previously unruly crowd settled down and SHH-ed each other so they could hear Mr Plíhal clearly demonstrated the high regard in which he is held. The second day belonged to rock and heavy metal fans. Heavy rock is not my thing so much, but the AC/DC and Rolling Stones revival bands are always good raw fun, if not an horizon-broadening cultural experience.
Mid July is a busy time again at Sovinec castle, with the reenactment of the Swedish siege during the Thirty Years’ War. The festival begins on Saturday morning at 9am and continues until Sunday afternoon, with a nighttime reenactment of the siege and fireworks on the Saturday night. There are also theatre, dance and music presentations, as well as the usual range of festival food and craft stalls. In the middle of July there’s also a film, music and theatre festival in nearby Boskovice and Slovakia’s’ biggest summer music festival, just across the border at Trenčín.
The Olomouc Cultural Summer Festival is also underway in July, with at least one concert each week, usually on Thursday evening in the courtyard of the 13th century town hall. MCH band played on the 14th, and the Jiří Stivín jazz quartet on the 21st, but to my mind the highlight of the month’s program is the concert of Sephardic Jewish and old Moravian songs performed on traditional instruments. (Vladimír Merta and Jana Lewitová, 28th July).
Olomouc, Czech Republic
There are four stages in various locations around the grounds of the château. The smallest was at the chapel, which is where the lesser known bands performed and competed for the peoples’ favourite award. The main stage is set within a huge amphitheatre. There were enough wooden benches for about 2000 people and the hillside behind could possibly hold another 3000. There were ample portable toilets provided and the usual range of festival food was available. Let waistlines beware the fruit-on-a-skewer covered in three kinds of chocolate! Many of the visitors to the festival slept in their tents, but it’s also easily possible to visit from Olomouc on one of the many trains or buses.
A day-pass is 370Kc and a three day pass 760Kc. That gives you access to all four venues. Performances begin around 2pm and progress well into the evening.
One of the highlights for me this year was Tolhaje, a band from just across the Polish border in the Bieszczady/Beskydy mountains. Their music is modern, something between jazz and folk, but draws on the tradition of the Lemks and Boyds, the former tribal inhabitants of the Bieszczady. The clarinet and the accordion feature strongly, but the band’s wide range of instruments also included everything from the ancient didgeridoo to the latest synthesizer. At the end of their concert, I rushed straight up and bought a CD, and the main vocalist was happy to autograph it for me.
Another highlight was Terné Čhave, a band from Hradec Králové in East Bohemia that plays Romany music with Romany lyrics. There are a couple of guitarist/vocalists who play seated, another two who stand, a drummer, a bongo-player and a violinist. The music is fast paced, and has a rhythm all of its own, but if you think of Latin-American guitar tempered by the thoughtful sobriety of an Eastern-European winter, you’re on the right track. The audience couldn’t help but be drawn to the dance-floor. If I’d had enough money left, I’d have bought one of their CDs too.
I just went for a day this year, but next year, I want to go back and camp for a couple of nights. Looking forward to it already.
Zahrada Folk and World Music Festival
Olomouc, Czech Republic
Attraction | "August"
The cultural summer festival continued with a concert at the town hall every Thursday night. This month it was everything from legendary folk musicians Jan Hruby and Vladimir Misik, to the velvet underground revival band, to the punk music of Za Trest and Zona A. At the other end of the musical spectrum, the baroque music festival was also underway, with three concerts during the month at the Corpus Christi chapel and Our Lady Mary of the Snows church.
A medieval craft fair was held at Sovinec castle on the 13th and 14th. The traditional skills and crafts on display included blacksmithing, pottery, jewellery making, woodcarving, and goldsmithing. Visitors to the festival had the opportunity to try their hands at many of the skills, and on Saturday night, there was a country ball and fireworks display.
The third weekend of August belongs to the Summer Flora exhibition. Olomouc is well known as a city of parks, gardens, and fountains so it’s an appropriate place for the country’s largest horticultural fair. The different pavilions of the fairgrounds host various exhibits dealing with flower breeding and arrangements, fruit, and vegetables. The area around the exhibition centre is filled with stalls offering every plant you could imagine for sale. Last year, a friend who’d been conducting a long, fruitless search for an elderberry plant managed to find exactly what he was looking for tucked away at the back of one of the stands. Be sure to book your accommodation well in advance if you think your visit to Olomouc might coincide with Flora.
The friend with the elderberry bush had actually come to Olomouc for the Hefaiston international blacksmithing festival at Helfštýn castle. In 2005, the 24th annual festival again managed to surprise onlookers as to what could be made from iron. Hefaiston consists of a week-long series of workshops at the castle and then a public festival for the weekend. There’s the usual range of festival food, an entertainment program with historical music and dance, and hundreds of pieces of blacksmiths’ artwork on display and eligible for prizes. My favourites were the fanciful chess boards and the metres-long pterodactyl with moving joints.
On the same weekend as Hefaiston was the town festival at Náměšt na Hané, 15km from Olomouc. Concerts of musicians, such as the immensely popular Richard Krajčo, began at 10am on Saturday and ended on Sunday evening, and other attractions included displays of historical fighting with both firearms and cold arms (swords and armour), jumping castles and competitions for the kids, and displays of historical automobiles.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on September 1, 2005
Olomouc, Czech Republic
Attraction | "Radecký (German: Radetzky) celebrations"
Field Marshall Josef Václav Radecký (1766-1858), was celebrated for his military prowess, particularly in suppressing the armed rebellion of Northern Italy in the revolutionary year of 1830. In the mid-1800s, he was the commander of the Olomouc fortress and had his residence in the imposing Edelmann palace on the main square.
The commemorative entertainment starts on Friday afternoon, with demonstrations of marching troupes from across the Czech Republic accompanied by music ranging from the classics to "Oh, Mickey, you’re so fine, you’re so fine, you blow my mind, oh, Mickey". In the early evening, the Olomouc military band perform a concert in St Moritz cathedral, and later the military band of the Czech Republic perform for two hours on the main square. The main square concert included a selection of music from centuries-old traditional marches to compositions by George Gershwin and Dusty Springfield. After two encores by the military band and the Czech Republic’s velvet-voiced answer to Tom Jones; Bohuš Matuš, the fireworks began. Cascading sparklers turned the Arion fountain into a waterfall and the skyrockets sounded like guns going off and showered the nearest corner of the town hall with colourful sparks.
Saturday morning begins with the welcoming of important guests, including the ghost of Marshall Radecký himself (or an actor in ceremonial costume with white face paint). Energetic majorettes then lead in the military bands of France, Germany, Austria and Olomouc, who play for almost two hours until Radecký takes the stage again to thank them with a ceremonial volley of musket fire from his personal guard regiment.
After lunch, it’s the turn of the military bands from Italy and Turkey. The two bands couldn’t have had more different uniforms; the Turks had beautiful intricately patterned costumes, traditional hats and boots, and carried ornate golden sceptres, while the Italians in jackboots and camouflage gear looked ready to drop their instruments and jump into battle at any second. No celebration honouring Radecký could be complete without a performance of Strauss’s Radetzky March, and the Olomouc band provided it as the Turkish and Italian contingents stood respectfully at attention.
The celebrations end with a speech from Radecký in which he points out that invading armies have often been uninvited guests on the cobblestones of Olomouc’s main square, but that foreign soldiers armed only with musical instruments were most welcome now and into the future.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on September 6, 2005
Radecký Celebrations (German: Radetzky)
Olomouc, Czech Republic
Attraction | "Early September"
The Moravian philharmonic orchestra holds its season opening concert on the first weekend of September, but it has to compete with the colour and multi-national pomp of the Marshall Radecky celebrations.
Also on the first weekend of the month is the Ring of the Black Widow Gothic "Mumraj" at Sovinec castle. My dictionary translates mumraj as "hustle and bustle, pandemonium, bedlam, hubbub", and it’s a weekend long festival of gothic music, dance, and theatre. Apparently when Katerina of Eder, a former owner of the Sovinec estate was left a widow, one of the methods she used to determine to whom she would offer her hand in marriage was to hold a knight’s tournament. Admission to the modern version of the tournament is 80kc and all parts of the castle are open to visitors. The theatre, music juggling, sword fighting, and period costume parades all take place in the upper courtyard, while the knife-throwing and archery demonstrations are in the lower courtyards, and the food, drink and craft stalls are all just inside or just outside the main entrance gate-tower.
Lovers of classical music find plenty to occupy their time in early September, with performances of the Annual Baroque Music festival on the first three Sundays of the month. There are also two performances each week of the International Organ Music Festival on the largest pipe organ in Central Europe, at St Moritz cathedral. Attendees at both festivals are expected to dress as well as possible, with many of the ladies in heels and most of their male companions in suit and tie. If your travel wardrobe doesn’t quite stretch that far, you might peek into St Moritz on the afternoon before a performance and be lucky enough to catch a rehearsal. When I did just that during last year’s festival, the musician was making a seamless switch from whatever piece he was rehearsing into some 50’s rock and roll that seemed remarkably at home in the house of the lord.
The Days of European Cultural Heritage took place on the second weekend of the month, with free access to all cultural monuments, including some that are usually off-limits to or restricted from the public, such as the red evangelical church, archbishops palace and Hradisko monastery. Specific to the 2005 cultural days was a commemoration of the 5th anniversary of the Holy Trinity Column’s entry into the UNESCO world heritage list. Members of the Moravian Theatre performed excerpts from ten baroque operas on the steps of the column and a colourful light show and fireworks display showed the column in its full majesty.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on September 19, 2005
Early September Celebrations
Olomouc, Czech Republic
Attraction | "Late September"
The 2005 International Organ Music Festival (on central Europe’s largest pipe-organ in St Moritz cathedral) wound up on the 19th with a performance of Bach and Handel by Reitze Smits from Holland. Fortunately for lovers of classical music, the annual Sacred Music Festival was ready to take its place on the cultural calendar in the last week of September. The 2005 12th annual festival began at St Michael’s church with a performance of Bach masses by the Prague philharmonic orchestra. The second performance was a few days later on the eve of the public holiday to commemorate Sv Vaclav/St Wenceslas day. Appropriately Sv Vaclav/St Wenceslas’ cathedral was the venue for Musica figuralis to perform works by Pergolesi and Mozart, among others. The festival continues on well into October and visits in turn the grandest of Olomouc’s historic religious buildings.
Gaudeamus igitur orientation-week student festival was also held on the eve of the St Wenceslas day public holiday. The wide field between the law faculty buildings (formerly the communist party headquarters) and the student dormitories on Trida/Avenue 17 Listopadu saw thousands of students and the general public gather for an evening of free concerts and fun. The 2005 headline band were the cult neo-punk Horkýže Slíže (Bitter Tears) from Slovakia. Their energetic performance had most of the attendees enthralled, but there was also plenty going on at the other end of the field for anyone who needed a break from the crowd. The beer and food tents were good value and well-patronised and huge inflatable competitions allowed people to test their tug-of-war and bull-riding skills, and knock each other from pedestals with long padded poles. All this was filmed and immediately projected onto large screens so that the action could be seen by the whole crowd. The Gaudeamus Igitur festival originated in Plzen in 1998 and now takes place in the nine largest universities around the country.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on October 6, 2005
Late September Celebrations
Olomouc, Czech Republic