It’s a bit of a grey day here in Dvur Kralove. About the brightest thing I have seen so far is a café called Santorini, which has a picture of Greece in its window. But, there is more to Dvur Kralove, I have been told, than first meets the eye, and I am on my way to the zoo to find out.
Eureka the Siberian tiger flares up as I visit her enclosure. I’m in the big-cat house at Dvur Kralove zoo with Erich Kocner, a zoologist and my guide for the day:
“Here in the Carnivore House we are surrounded by animals from all over the world, which is slightly unusual for our zoo here, because we actually specialize in African fauna, and more specifically in large African hoofed animals. Actually, in Dvur Kralove you can see the biggest herd of giraffes in captivity in the world, and you can see the biggest herd of zebra as well, that is, outside of Africa.
Meanwhile, over in the Primate House, it’s feeding time. On the menu are peanuts, which seem to be a hit with the chimpanzees. In the feeding frenzy, I nearly waved goodbye to my microphone, when one of the chimpanzees lost interest in shelling peanuts, and tried the same technique on my radio equipment instead.
Dvur Kralove zoo spans some 28 hectares and, in terms of the number of animals it contains, is the largest zoo in the Czech Republic. In communist times, it was one of the best-known zoos in the country, with buses of workers arriving at the zoo from all over Czechoslovakia. But does it still get a lot of visitors today? Erich Kocner again:
“The zoo here in Dvur Kralove became famous for all of the African animals in its collection. When it started to specialize in African fauna forty years ago, this is when it really got famous. It was presented as the first safari park in Eastern Europe, and people from all over the former Czechoslovakia came to see it. It got a lot of media attention from even further afield as well. And its reputation has lasted right up until today, we get a lot of visitors from Poland, Germany, Slovakia. The zoo is well known throughout Europe.”
“We are standing on T. G. Masaryk’s Square. This is the historic centre of Dvur Kralove nad Labem. In the middle of the square is the Marian [Plague] Column, and on the right side is a statue of Zaboj.”
And can you tell me a bit about the history of Dvur Kralove? Because it seems to be quite a historic town.
“The first information we have about the town Dvur dates back to 1270, but we don’t have too much information about the beginnings of Dvur Kralove, because that remains uncertain. In the 14th century, Dvur Kralove became a dowry town for Czech queens, and it remains a dowry town even now.”
Dvur Kralove’s heyday lasted right up until the 17th century, then came the Thirty Years’ War, and the town took a bit of a bashing, with Swedish, Saxon, and Imperial forces all ransacking and plundering the settlement. As if that wasn’t bad enough, then along came the Seven Years’ War, and the ransacking and plundering started all over again.
Dvur Kralove may have been all but destroyed on several occasions, but some old buildings do remain - like the Town Hall, claiming somewhat dubiously to date from the 16th century. And, as Jana Mikiskova says, it isn’t all bad to be a resident of Dvur Kralove in modern times either:
“I like this town, this town is good for life.”
The next stop on my tour with Jana is Fugnerova street:
“We are standing in front of the municipal museum. The museum has three buildings. In the first building is an exhibition of the history of Dvur Kralove, the second building is on our right hand side, and in there are exhibitions and concerts and different activities. And the third building is closed to the public.”
This is really super, is this some sort of children’s part of the museum?
“Yes, there are exhibitions for children here, and they are interactive exhibitions.”
“Right now we have an exhibition going on which takes brainteasers and mind-games as its theme. And as you can see, the children are really making the most out of it. They have to consider the problems, engage their logic and concentrate on what is going on. So they are having to work hard, and they are absorbed in the exhibition which they seem to be enjoying. So I think this has been a rather successful exhibition.”
As Jana Mikiskova tells me, Dvur Kralove is also quite an industrial town. The town traditionally made textiles but, in modern times, it has become more famous for its chocolate factory, and its Christmas decorations.
Mr Sorma is giving me a tour of the Christmas decoration factory, which sits on the edge of the town. Groups and individuals can visit the factory too with a bit of prior arrangement. I’m not sure that such a factory would ever be open to the public in Britain, the whirring that you heard there was the sound of 1,000 degree flames, which are used to melt the glass into shape.
Back in the comfort of his office, Mr Sorma tells me the history of the factory.
“This used to be a bead-making factory, it was set up at the end of the 19th century by a Mr Kincuch, who learnt his trade in Vienna. It was a rather successful factory, but then, during the First World War, Japanese prisoners of war were sent here to work. So they learnt the secret of how to make these glass beads, and after the war, they went back to Japan and started to make these beads there, and priced us out of the market. So we stopped making beads, and started making blown-glass Christmas decorations. We became a cooperative in 1931, and we have been making Christmas decorations ever since.”
I returned from Dvur Kralove all covered in glitter, and with much more
information about the Christmas decoration factory than there is time to
put here. So look out for a Christmas special on the making of Czech
blown-glass Christmas decorations, or alternatively, get down to Dvur
Kralove to take a look for yourself!
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