Sunday, April 29, 2012

Impressive Jewish Visitors' Center in Brno

This post originally appeared on my En Route blog, for the Los Angeles Jewish Journal

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

Once again I have to hand it to the Czechs for the exemplary way that they preserve and promote Jewish heritage, heritage sites and memory.

I spent a day this past week in Brno, the Czech Republic’s second largest city and the capital of Moravia. I was there for a totally different —- non-Jewish—reason (a country music concert and a meeting related to the Czech country music and bluegrass scene) but I took the time to visit the Jewish Tourism and Information Center that was opened last year at the city’s Jewish cemetery, a sprawling and beautifully maintained expanse that includes about 9,000 grave markers, from simple matzevot to grand family tombs.

The Center operates as part of the Jewish Brno Project, a collaborative initiative of the Jewish community in Brno and the city’s Tourist Information Center.

A deceptively boring view of the Jewish Visitors Center. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

I was already a big fan of the project’s web site—an informative and easy to use portal to Jewish heritage in Brno and at least 16 towns in southern Moravia where there are historic synagogues, cemeteries and old Jewish quarters – Mikulov, Boskovice, Trebic, Ivancice, et al.
The Brno Jewish Visitor’s Center opened in January 2011, and it sports the green “i” logo of general Czech tourist info centers. It occupies one of the three early 20th century buildings that form the mortuary complex.

The Cemetery is located at Nezamyslova 27, in the Zidenice district of town, an easy tram ride from the city center. Trams 8 and 10 from the main railway station stop right in front.

The Visitors Center provides a range of services, including guided tours of Brno Jewish sites, tourist packages and itineraries outside the city. There are stacks of free informational material, including well-produced brochures in various languages on local and regional Jewish heritage. The Center has free WiFi internet access, and there is an English-speaking staffer.

For the cemetery itself, it provides individual free tours as well as free audio guides. A brochure guide to the cemetery includes a map locating the graves of prominent people interred there – the brochure provides brief biographies and photos of their gravestones. And there is also a computer screen with a link to the cemetery database, so that you can search for individual tombs.

I didn’t have much time the day I visited, but I spent a very pleasant half hour strolling around the cemetery and following the map up and down the rows of tombs – most of them stately obelisks, and many (in the style of the late 19th century) bearing laminated photographs of the deceased.

Brno was a center of modernist architecture. Here's a modernist gravestone in the Jewish cemetery. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

Jewish Tourism and Information Center

Nezamyslova 27
615 00 Brno, Czech Republic
Tel: +420 544 526 737

Brno Tourist Information Center

Radnicka 8
658 78 Brno, Czech Republic
Tel: +420 542 427 150

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