If one were to go on first impressions, then I suppose the Czech Republic’s second city could be classified as sleepy or even, dare I say it, boring. But first impressions are never true and by now we should know that nothing is ever what it seems! Yes, Brno might lack the crowds and the famous sites of Prague. It might not be the prettiest town in the Czech Republic, but looks aren’t everything! There’s plenty of quirky places to uncover in Brno to keep things interesting, and the Kammená Kolonie, a counter-cultural artists’ community, is no exception!
When we took the 4 hour train journey to Brno, I had no idea what to expect. It my first time to the Czech Republic and I wanted to experience something other than Prague for my first time. I found Brno itself rather charming. I liked how the white Špilberk Castle gazed down of the city, and I loved the city’s turreted churches and the echoes on the narrow cobbled streets in the moonlight. We explored Brno’s micro-breweries and underground tea houses. We even found a hidden absinthe bar with about 50 types of absinthe to choose from, which came with our own fountain! There is even a huge ossuary tucked under the heart of the city and along with the vibrant street art in the “shadier” boroughs, so Brno is worth a visit to the curious traveller. However, for those who love going off the beaten track into a different world, then a trip to the Kammená Kolonie is a must.
Brno’s Alternative Suburb
Originating in a shanty town in an abandoned quarry, Kammená Kolonie is a curious community that eventually evolved into an artists’ colony.
Armed with only a map covering “alternative Brno”, at first it felt like we were going off the beaten track into a place we were not supposed to be visiting. We crossed the river and entered an area that was best described as the suburbs – family houses with gardens paved the street, and we could have been anywhere in Central Europe. The map pointed up towards a road that led up the hill through the wooded area. At first it seemed like a hike leading out of the city, but we decided to give it a go – even though it started raining again.
The water-sogged map didn’t lie though. At the top of the hill we we found ourselves among makeshift houses sporting graffiti and creative artistic accents. Items adorned the doors, windows and walls mixing and matching other people’s rubbish and transforming them into a modern art creations.
The strangest thing about our venture into this colony was that the neighbourhood was completely deserted on this particular rainy Sunday afternoon.
The Story of Kamenná Kolonie
The colony began its life as an illegal shanty town in the 1920s. It was built in an abandoned quarry by the city’s poorest workers who has no place to go. These cottages were built from makeshift materials like stone, wood, paper – what ever was available at the time. In the 1960s, it became quite a hippie quarter, but at least by then the state offered its colonists the chance to live in houses with running water and electricity supply.
Since then, it evolved into what is supposedly the only art colony in the Czech Republic and a curiosity in itself. Artists, bohemians and people living life outside of the mainstream found themselves attracted to this quirky area overlooking the rest of the historic city. While the community feels more like a bohemian satellite orbiting Brno, there is a family mentality here. The community here works together and create art in a collective setting.
Walking the Kamenná Kolonie
Even though the Kamenná Kolonie is a free-thinker’s paradise and is an inspirational place to work and live for artists, sculptors, and craftspeople, the colony is still considered the town’s “outlaw”. There are no shops or amenities, except for a local vet and the Duck Bar, an alternative watering hole for those artistically inclined.
The area might feel like a run down suburb on first impressions, but take a closer look. Details like mosaic work in a house’s portico or broken embedded tiles lie dotted about the community, along with sculptures and avant-garde creations. The devil here is really in the details, and while on a rainy Sunday the colony feels like a ghost town, its creativity simply breathes through its windows and walls that line up with the rugged walls of the quarry.
I would love to return one day when the weather is better and have a chance to sit down in the famous Duck Bar with the locals and find out what it’s really like to live in the Czech Republic’s main, and possibly only, art colony.
Cover photo by Kirk and all other images by Jillian Higson.