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Tram Number 4

"It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door," [Bilbo] used to say. "You step into the Road, and if you don't keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to. . . ."
from the Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

When I wrote about tram customs I had a crazy idea that I would ride all the trams in Brno, take pictures, and write about the trips. This project didn't really pan out past the number 4, although I may still carry through with the threat. (My apologies if you've been holding your breath on this project. If you share an interest in this sort of thing, then you might be interested in this site about various transportation systems, primarily in Australia but in many other places around the world too.) My impressions came from a ride along the route late last October.

This is my tram. It runs from my old neighborhood, the Masarykova čtvrť just west of the center, to the suburb Obřany on the northeast edge of the city. Along the route it also passes through Husovice, my new neighborhood. It's now running a temporary route due to the repairs being done on the main square and so, unlike any other tram in Brno, the route is different in both directions.

I began at the western endpoint, náměstí Míru (Square of peace). Kraví hora (Cow mountain) dominates this square. One of Brno's most appealing parks is situated on the low grass-covered hillside that rises off the square's eastern edge. There is a spacious grassy (in summer at least) meadow with lots of open space, and nearby is a a newly-built ("award-winning") swimming pool. On the far side of the green you can see the Copernicus planetarium situated at the top of the gentle slope. People are often flying kites or walking on the park's paths in the summer, and in the winter the slope makes a prime sledding hill.

The dominant building of the square is the Church of St. Augustine, a unique functionalist Catholic church. Churches, unlike tram stops, don't strike me as buildings one would immediately choose to build in a functionalist style, but Brno has a few of them (there is even a functionalist synagogue). This church was designed and built in the late 1920s (finished 1929) by the Brno architect V. Fischer. Like most functionalist buildings it looks plain, square, and boxy on the outside. Most of the exterior has only straight lines and there is little decoration of any kind--the paint is plain white and even the windows are only minimally decorated. But if you take the time to go inside, you notice that there is a lot more to this church than its modernist aesthetic. There is a beautifully maintained organ that is usually played during services, the windows are not stained glass (they appear to be grey from outside) but do feature silhouettes of religious icons, and if you wait for the hour, you will hear the church's real bells (not just a recording, as you so often get from American churches). The bells ring often, usually early in the morning on Sundays or on religious holidays), and used to wake me up in my old apartment.

From náměstí Míru, the tram runs through the historical center, past the main train station, through the old industrial neighborhoods on the east side of the city (mostly old textile factories--there is even one stop called Tkalcovská, or "knitting way"--but there is also a cement factory and an industrial cooling tower), and into older village-like suburbs. Obřany was a town of its own until, I assume, the early twentieth century when many outlying towns were incorporated as parts of Brno. It still stands at the edge of town and borders a state nature reserve (Státní přirodná památka) in the foothills of the Moravian karst (a unique hilly limestone region just north of Brno).

At the far endpoint of the number 4 line, I was pleased to find an "instructional path" (naučná stezka) that wound up into the hills past the edge of the city. This path winds along the Svitava river and then goes up into the hills of the nature reserve. The forest is mostly hardwood: beech, European maples, and alders. It was a perfect day to make this trip since it seemed to be the peak of the color season. Upon reaching the top of the hills there was a beautiful view over the city and I could see the hills of southern Moravia stretching off into the distance. There were also ruins of two ancient castles.

Riding the number 4 takes you on a trip through many layers of Brno's history. In the center one can observe the bustling rebirth of the city--new shopping malls, designer stores, and streets full of shoppers and people at work. A few blocks away the tram runs through poorer neighborhoods that are home to much of the city's Roma population. For a few stops the atmosphere of the tram usually enlivens with snippets of song and conversation (unlike the silence that usually reigns). For a short stretch the tram skirts the area where the city's mediaeval walls stood before they were demolished in the 1870s to accommodate a new city design complete with ring-roads, wide tree-lined boulevards, and spacious parks. This was when the center got is "Viennese" makeover. From the 1920s developments, models of "modern living" at the time, that one sees in the Masarykova čtvrť to the industrial factories, products of the industrial booms of the 1890s as well as the 1950s factory-in-every-town dream of the Communists, the ride is like riding through a short history panorama.

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Anonymous Anonymous said . . .

Had to return to this post, as I couldnt bare to leave it lying - unloved - in some dark and dusty corner of the web. I found it whilst looking for references to kite flying in Brno. Someone - I think maybe Frank Zappa - once said "The trouble with the world today is not enough people fly kites".
So far, my only tram journey on my only visit to Brno was the No 12 out to the Technical museum - my friends have a thing about the rusty old jet fighters out the back. We did some of the usual tourist things as well, but your blog just shows how much there is to experience in this great city.    

10:58 PM, March 07, 2008

Blogger morskyjezek said . . .

Hi there, thanks for your comment. I'm glad that you've also had a chance to explore the city!!    

9:03 PM, March 14, 2008

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