BUT… WHY BRNO?
Photo: ZM / Brno Daily.
‘You’re moving from Prague to Brno?’
‘From Prague..to Brno?!
‘..but…Brno? Why? It’s…?’
Take your pick of what follows next, but I can tell you that in five years of living in Prague, I never got a glowing recommendation.
Of course at the time, my reason for moving to Brno was justified. I had just been offered a new job and I felt it was logical to relocate, rather than commute from Prague.
But there was another reason, one that had aroused my curiosity and festered in my mind since I first heard about Brno. Something that none of the ‘experts’ and ‘reviews’ mentioned, but all agreed on in that hidden-between-my-words kind of way, like a predetermined guilty verdict rendered in a lawless court.
Brno is the underdog.
And that was the clincher for me.
Let me explain.
See, I love movies.
In particular, I’m a sucker for a good underdog story.
You name it.. Rocky Balboa, Flashdance, Dirty Dancing, Rambo, 8Mile, Captain Jack Sparrow, the Good Soldier Svejk.. the underdog has been keeping me entertained and motivated for as long as I can remember. Whether it’s the relentless gritty fighter, the zero to hero artist, the smart drunken pirate or the simple comedic genius of a fool, the character always appealed to me, as I’m sure it appeals to many of you.
So naturally, having heard all the DEFCON 4 warnings about this somewhat enigmatic place, I couldn’t wait to move there.
And so the day came, in Autumn 2018, when I packed my bags and left the ‘City of 100 spires’. The farewell wishes felt more like condolence speeches for a recent demotion, but I was more excited about venturing into the unknown. As I sat on the train, having a hearty breakfast (guess which train I’m on?) I examined the few ‘facts’ that I had gathered so far about my soon to be home.
Second largest city in Czech Republic… check. Over a thousand years of history… check. Universities, so in effect a student town… check. Lots of wine, i think… check. A castle… check. Oh, and a strange name (is it just me, or does it look like it’s missing a letter?) … Czech.
I pulled into a train station that looked a hundred years old (about 180 years old it turns out, and one of the first railways in the world…huh) and followed the rest of the people leaving the train to the exit.
Outside, I got my first view of Brno. Tram tracks running up and down the road in front of me, trams tracking to and fro, different people, different races hustling and bustling around me.
And yet, the atmosphere seemed calmer somehow, warmer… first good sign.
I was supposed to meet a friend and had been given instructions to ‘meet him by McDonalds in the main square’. I did a quick scan of the Czech language in my head and found the sentence to ask for directions (I’m sure we’ve all worked out by now that I’m not Czech.. we’ll get to those proper introduction another time).
‘Can I help you?’
Surprised, I turned to face to a young man in his early 20s wearing a baseball cap and a rucksack on his back.
‘Hi,’ I replied. ‘I’m looking for the main square’
‘Ah, yes’, he pointed across the tramlines to a cobbled pathway between two buildings that curved around a KFC and out of sight.
‘Follow that road over there till you see the black cock and you will be there..’
‘Till i see…what?’
‘.. the black clock,’ he reiterated.
‘Aha.. thank you’..
‘No problem, Cau!’ He smiled, threw me a wave and was gone.
I set off in the given direction, making a mental note of the interaction as another factor that complimented this city… people were …nicer? Second good sign.
I walked up the narrow cobbled street, flanked on each side by shopping outlets, eateries and phone shops, looking upwards for my target. Just how far was this..black ..clock?
I had definitely misheard him..right? Or maybe I just chose to hear what I wanted to hear, a good ol’ Freudian slip and all. But, hadn’t I seen a cheeky smile dancing in his eyes?.. surely he knew what he said? Or maybe…
That’s when I saw it.
Clarity swept in and I cracked up laughing…
‘I’m gonna love it here’
…and i have.
It’s been quite an adventure, and as much as I could entertain you with the rest of this tale, and indeed regale you with the many other little adventures, time is fleeting and there is a point to this story.
Yes, ..but why Brno?
I’m sitting in a bar and a new friend has just posed the question to me.
This time, I’m not thinking of the usual social response. It’s been almost a year since I got here and in that time I’ve learnt to view this city in a different light. Not through the eyes of its sister city, the golden city, the largest city, Prague. That’s not a fair comparison. Brno is half the size, and in spite of that still has most of the same grand, high-quality architecture I’ve come to expect from the Czech Republic.
So, right now, I’m thinking of the new ‘why?’
And I’m back to the tale of the underdog.
The word, like many in the English language, has evolved from demeaning humble beginnings into a conquering force for good. When it first appeared on the scene back in the 19th century, the term was used in reference to actual dog fighting and saved for the weaker ‘inferior’ competitor. Interestingly enough, it was mostly used in comparison with the top dog, the fan favourite, and with those odds the underdog never stood a chance.
By the turn of the 20th century, the terms had become a part of our everyday language and the significance had evolved to refer to social status. So ‘dog fighting’ became the ‘rat-race, the ’top dog’ became the the 1% (whether we are talking about people or places)… and the underdog? Well, that’s the rest of us, the Average Joe, more commonly known as the middle class.
And the middle class underdog was a whole different breed.
Where once the roles had been distinctly defined, by the mid 20th century both roles began to be recognised for their wider attributes and characteristics rather than their original literal meanings.
The topdog pretty much remained the same, except moving slightly further towards an association with power and money. However the ‘underdog’ now came to represent survival, passion, relentless spirit, hope, growth, and above all compassion and love. This change was mostly recognised in the world of sport (ironic, since the term had originally come from a sport, albeit a despicable one) but soon crossed over to the world of movies and books.
And here we are, in the 21st century society and at the apex of this rant. We all know the topdogs of course (maybe uncles, aunts or distant relatives) or socially (myspace, facebook, twitter, instagram, we got them all right?) but what about the underdog? Well, we still use the term but we apply the characteristics which are more relevant.
Which leads me back to Brno.
Brno is a really great city: the sheer beautiful architecture on a smaller scale than Prague, but who’s comparing? Or the warmth of the people here that makes me feel like I’m talking to old friends, or how going out to my local pub or bar feels like leaving my bedroom… to go to my living room. But what intrigues me most are the sights between the stories. Those tiny screws that make the city stand out. Whether it’s the phallic sculptures (the horse in Moravske namesti, that’s one for the books) or the defiant cherub mooning on a church (Sv. Jakub’s Church, unreal), or the history behind the big black c(l)ock, Brno proves it’s not like every other city out there. What you get here is the raw, honest, undiluted, no-holds barred, straight talking underdog. From people to scenery, Brno dares to be defiant and human. And that’s what we can all relate to. Being human.
Standing up even when the world doesn’t believe you can, living the best way you know how, continually training and fighting for what you believe in and what you want… and not letting anyone stop you (anyone that has seen a good underdog movie, knows that the struggle just makes way for a great montage scene). Because you have people who are going through the same thing around you and can relate. So you can be your fullest self because you are all moving as one..
In comparison, Prague is a fast-growing metropolis, and while it retains its gorgeous culture, it can be more of the same: a chaotic rat-race that can give you the sense of being lost and alone in the crowd. Everyone is too ‘fast’ to care too much about the little things.
So I figured, given a choice, I’d take the humanity of Brno over the hustle and bustle of Prague any day. But that’s just me.
I guess that’s why I moved.. And that’s why i stayed.
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