Friday, 30 November 2012

Kladno | Art, Parks, Steel and Great Ice Hockey in a Czech City.




Kladno is a pleasant centre situated at just 25,0 kilometres Northwest from the beautiful, charming Prague, a place famous for art, parks, steel production but also popular for great Ice Hockey, a sport which has in that Czech city a relevant stronghold, an iconic sport extremely rooted in that beautiful European country.

Located on the E48 motorway leading to the famous and splendid Karlovy Vary, that large municipality of Central Bohemia with its approximately 70,000 inhabitants (110,000 with its adjacent suburban areas) lies on a gentle hill at an altitude of 384,0 metres surrounded by several huge verdant plateaus flanked by forests, ideal places to enjoy very pleasant walks and outdoor activities. 

That centre was for a long time during the period of the former Czechoslovakia in the Communist era linked to the times of the Soviet Unio one of the most important centres for what concerns the heavy industry linked to the famous, emblematic Steel Factory Poldi Kladno founded in 1889 by Karl Wittgenstein, a German-born Austrian  magnate of Jewish origin, friend of Andrew Carnagie, notorious Scottish-American industrialist. 

Historically the current centre always living in the shade of the nearest Czech Capital had a notable economic development when it became a very important mining centre since the 19th century but during the course of its history there was also the construction of notable, fine Baroque buildings, the transformation of vast green spaces in stunning parks which added an attractive appeal to its boundaries.

All that next to a fervent passion of the entire population as a sort of religious faith for a sport as Ice Hockey which became since the early 20th century part of the local culture and thanks to that  Kladno was elevated as a sort of National emblem.

The local history before the advent of its economic, industrial boom was the life of a peaceful rural settlement close to one of the most fascinating European capitals mainly populated by farmers which since medieval times consisted in tiny agglomerations scattered all around the current municipality which was for a long time linked to the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

The name of the town derives from Kladentši, an aristocratic family who was practically owner of the entire former village officially established in 1561 when those former lords who ruled that site until the late 16th century established a system mainly based  on a feudalistic organisation providing work to local people in the agricultural areas developed on the hilly slopes of the village in change of humble residences with a very poor salary.

At the beginning of the 18th century that centre had an important change when it was bought by Archduchess of Tuscany Anne Marie Françoise who improved the life of the inhabitants giving them a partial autonomy, times in which the community had a pretty wealthy development in terms of activities with an increasing trade mainly due to a notable  production of corn and wheat which started to have interesting results since 1705.

The entire boundaries of Kladno in 1848 were sold to the Religious Benedictine Order of the Monastery of Břevnov but soon that peaceful town constantly devoted to agriculture had  a successful economic escalation due to the discover of coal mines, an event which changed in large scale the destiny of a former quiet, tranquil communityin that corner of Central Bohemia.

Since then started the industrial golden ages of Kladno transforming that modest village in a very productive, powerful centre in the heart of the current Czech Republic. 

In 1870 Kladno thanks to an impressive development became officially a town and there was an intense urban change with protagonist the construction of several houses  elevated all around that hilly agricultural territory.

The year 1889 was the a historic date as previously mentioned with the opening of Poldi Steel Mill by  Wittgenstein and that name "Poldi" was assigned with familial abbreviation by that entrepreneur to pay homage to his wife called Leopoldine.

That Czech rural territory since those times started to be mainly inhabited by miners, mine engineers with a considerable increasing activity and  in 1898 that site was awarded with the title of Royal Mine City, a title delivered by Franz Josef I,  iconic Austrian Emperor who also delivered that site a new official Coat of Arms depicting mines, two hammers and golden ribbons.

The period related to the First World War in Kladno is associated with the movements born in Prague and all around Bohemia with strong separatist sentiments due to a fervent patriotism with desire of independence.

All that was highlighted by a notable intolerance against the Austrian rulers who with their centralised political system privileged apart Vienna and Austria also the nearest Hungary with its major centre Budapest leaving that Czech region and the City of a hundred spires in a very dark shadow.

After that war with the fall and dissolution of the last Empire linked to the Dynasty of the House of Habsburg born the new Czechoslovakia formed by three different vast lands such as Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia forming a new country with a pretty marked spirit of innovation, progress also highlighted by a marked Slavic identity.

That period was for Kladno positive, were created the first organised associations of workers with the creation of cultural centres, activities which changed the pretty gray atmosphere of the past always lived for the locals  in a sort of segregation highlighted by a constant sadness due to an Imperial ruler never loved which generated in a large part of the population depression and dejection. 

During the Nazi occupation of the country in 1939 Kladno probably lived a second dark page of its history in a Nation which ceased to exist, many inhabitants among them a large number of Jewish residents were deported and the majority of the lands confiscated. 

At the end of the Second World War with the reunification of the country in a new design of the European maps ruled by a Socialist regime closely linked to the USSR influence many things changed and that centre of Bohemia was transformed in a base mainly dedicated to productivity. 

The only social activities existing for the population after work in that period were mainly concentrated to meetings and Institutions organised by the Party with some sporting activities having as main protagonist due to an important tradition Ice Hockey which always occupied a relevant position, pretty rooted since the 20's and not a lot of things more.

Those associations of workers with cultural centres born before the advent of the Marxism disappeared, practically deleted by a new cycle of mutations managed by the Socialist rulers who concentrated every creation inside the hegemony of one party-state notorious for its ideological hostility to a bourgeois economical development and the capitalism governing the country without chances to create something of alternative for total lack of democracy.
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In the spring of 1968 as you know just like in the nearest Prague also that city was occupied by the Soviet tanks which repressed in a while the national sentiments of a free Czechoslovakia keeping the entire country for over two decades and more integrated in the notorious Pact of Varsaw signed in 1955 in the Polish Capital.

That well known treaty agreed by seven Soviet satellites states in Central and Eastern Europe was undoubtedly a relevant historic chapter which further divided the continent in two diverse blocks with that Iron Curtain generating those notorious, infamous times related to the Cold War with very tense diplomatic relationships with the countries on the other side of the world.

The modern history of Kladno is related to the fall the of Berlin Wall in 1989 with the "debacle" of the entire Socialist countries adherent to that former Pact, that Nation was protagonist of the famous Velvet revolution which took place in 1990, an event which changed the destiny of the former Czechoslovakia leaving the entourage of the former USSR.

Three years later the country ended to exist with the separation and creation of two new nations with the birth of the Ceská Republika,the current Czech Republic and the Slovenská Republika the present Slovakia.

Kladno is not small but not too big, the visit is pretty easy starting from one of its focal, strategic points, all the most important monuments of that centre are mainly concentrated around its central square called Pavel Náměstí, Paul Square which could be considered as the beating heart of the municipality.

You can start the visit form that neuralgic urban corner in which the major highlight is certainly Kladno Radnice, the Town Hall, an imposing construction erected in the late 19th century by the architect Jan Vejrich  consisting in a wide high building  designed in a splendid Neo-Renaissance style. 

At the centre of that structure was placed a tower topped by a copper roof with a clock inserted in the upper-central section. The splendid facade boasting fine, superb lines was decorated by Adolf Liebscher highlighted by the presence of a sculpture depicting a knight, a work by Antonin Popp.

The architectural style used in its development is very similar to many buildings you can see nowadays in Prague around Staroměstská Náměstí, the beautiful central old square of that magnificent city and Pařižská ulice,  that street leading from the historic core to the river Vltava, same architectural details, almost identical lines, projections with many elements such as frames, windows, doors in common using including equal materials in a sort of twin layout.
 
Worth a visit Kostel Nanebezveti Panny Marie, the Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, a Religious construction developed in a fine Romanesque replica erected in the 19th century on a previous Sacred Gothic temple dated 14th century.

Some architectural elements in a great operation of revival loyally reflect the traditional artistic movement born in the Middle Ages which was the predominant in that area of Central Europe extremely visible in that building.

Very similar is the execution of a central tower established in the middle of the main facade, as well as a long gray sloping roof, the presence of rose windows but with a more limited size than the previous elevated in medieval times.

The building is in addition highlighted by a traditional light sandstone colour, a tonality very common in a large part of that geographic area especially highlighted during the times of the advent of the Baroque in that concrete period.

Next to that Church you will see a big column with a circular basement about 10, 0 metres high with a statue dedicated to the Virgin Mary, a work in Baroque style dated 1741 by the sculptor Karl Joseph Hiernle commissioned by the Abbot of Břevnov, Benno Löbl

It is one of the most attractive sculptures and artistic compositions established in Kladno for its perfect lines and choice of location in front of the Town Hall filling with its scenic presence the monumental environment of the square.
 
In Masaryka ulice the former Royal Street, one of the most important streets of the municipality you can admire other monuments as another column with a statue depicting St. Jan Nepomuk, Patron Saint of the country well known to be the protector from floods and drowing.

Curiously that artistic work sculpted in 1706 was situated in the main square previously mentioned, Pavel Náměstí but  moved to the current place for desire of the Abbot Löbl to embellish with something of significant another urban corner.
 
That sculpture was also protagonist of a notorious historic episode when in 1919 fell during a Jan Hus celebration to commemorate that reformer, pioneer predecessor to Protestantism and during that event it was severely damaged.

After many years for desire of the inhabitants that statue was restored but in the place of the original on the column was placed a copy built by the sculptors Sulc, Malanik and Manina who also decorated the fountain while the original was totally repaired and conserved in the Church Dobry Kostel.


Continuing along Masaryka ulice you can admire other historic buildings as Kaple Svatého Floriána, a Chapel dedicated to St. Florian, a very attractive Baroque work elevated in the early 17th century over a former hospital which hosted humble servants. 

Highlighted by a wide scenic dome with a diameter of 8,9 metres, painted in a very pleasant light red colour with a vague tendency to a pink tonality a further highlighted is the execution of fine wide white outlines established around the main architectural elements.
 
Not far from that Church you can easily reach Kladno Škola, a large ochre building elevated between 1861 and 1874 characterised by large symmetrical rectangular windows placed beneath a long sloping red roof.

Pretty well preserved It did not have relevant restorations in the course of its history and  today that structure hosts the University and a Junior School with its headquarter entrance on another wing.


A further highlight of the historic centre is undoubtedly Apothekary U Ceské Koruny, a splendid Neo-Renaissance construction dated 1891 erected on a previous building, embellished by several showy decorations and charming windows.

The protagonist of that unusual masterpiece was the architect Vaclav Krotký who for its style and architectural lines pretty anomalous in that area took a sort of inspiration by a refined Art Nouveau style including in the use of materials you will notice on its splendid facade.


In Plk. Stříbného jako čp at the civic number 686 you can see a building erected in white marble representing Synagoga na Kladně, the former Synagogue of Kladno built in 1884 in Renaissance style by an architect from Prague called Emanuel Brandta Sacred site elevated on over a previous Jewish Temple.

The city historically had a numerous Jewish community practically disappeared during the times Second World War and the Communist Regime, it was never re-occupied by believers of that faith and it currently hosts the Czech Hussite National Church.

Reachable by a short stone step, the construction was developed on an ample, long rectangular base, it boasts very stylish lines with three naves, large rectangular doorways surmounted by pediments completed by some arched windows with an upper section which from far away appears as a second floor of the structure. 

On the western side you will notice some stylish decorations in black marble with golden inscriptions depicting the series of the Ten Commandments.
 
Another of the main local attractions is undoubtedly Kladenský Zámek, a manor, used as castle erected around the 15th century and restored in the second half of the 16th century. 

That splendid building had further arrangements in the 18th century when the Architect of German origin Kilian Ignaz Dietzenhofer from Prague son of the famous Architect Christoph re-arranged that refined construction in a splendid Baroque style. 

Inside that huge building is hosted a Museum displaying part of the history of the city, very suggested if you want to know more about some important chronological stages, in addition you can also visit a beautiful Chapel dedicated to St. Lawrence with some notable frescoes by a Czech artist called Kölar and a library. 

Poldi Kladno is an iconic part and highlight of the local history, that name related to the big company which managed the Heavy Industry and steel production was so famous all around the country and not only.

Many engineers from other countries of the former Pact of Warsaw such as Poland, the former German Socialist Republic DDR, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania often visited that Czech city trying to discover the secrets of the factories of that company with the aim to know and learn more the massive, successful productive processes managed in that site.

That industrial activity during the times of the Cold War was considered the economic engine of the former Czechoslovakia, a little, big empire and an example to follow for those Nations.

There was in that period in those Czech establishments a much more advanced technology than the other Socialist Republics with specialists and technicians of excellent level, furthermore there was a perfect process in specific phases where all the products before to reach the markets were tested for their quality, classified for category, finally selected for the exportation and every stock was branded for specific uses.

Poldi Kladno linked its name as a kind of "sponsor" although under the Socialist regimes did not exist business sponsoring Entities for obvious political reasons but the local Association of Ice Hockey consisting in the Club Hosk Kladno adopted that name living golden ages of its history with that denomination.

Later that Sporting Institution was also called for a short period Sokol Kladno, that word means falcon, a name spread in various Slavic countries also linked to nationalist movements in the former Czechoslovakia while in the 70's was known as Poldi SOPN Kladno Hockeyova

Despite that the glorious Club born much before because it was founded in 1924 and it has always been an emblematic symbol of the local community, something more than rooted, presents in the blood, in the DNA of the entire population. 

Recently it is called Rytíři Kladno, the Knights of Kladno and it continues its history but that former denomination related to steel is still alive than ever in the memories for several successes achieved during a glorious past.

The former Poldi Kladno has always had a great Ice Hockey tradition; the club won 6 National titles and 1 European Club Championship, the equivalent of the Champions League in Football.

Great results considering that city is not a big centre as Prague or Bratislava former cities of the former Czechoslovakia or even as others as Brno or Ostrava and reaching those prestigious goals with prestigious triiumphs was a pride for the entire community.

That Institution thanks to a very old foundation which linked the passion of the locals for that sport and the brilliant results conquered at National, International levels is part of the culture of that small city.

The glorious, legendary Poldi Kladno went to play  to Prague against celebrated, powerful, famous clubs such as Dukla, Sparta  winning in several occasions, a Club of a current centre of a little bit more than 70,000 inhabitants with 40,000 more living in the extra radius area  with much less residents in the past but despite that it conquered the National and International scenes, for someone something incredible, for many people representing a novel, the Ice Hockey novel of Kladno.

In that period and we are talking until the fall of the regime, those Sporting Associations previously mentioned Dukla and Sparta had among the best players chosen all around the national territory including Slovakia and they were among the most organised at national level.

The athletes in those two Sporting Institutions of the Czech Capital despite the times of a Socialist State lived a sort of veiled "professionalism" with a good basic salary, extra economical compensations for results  a car, a house, many advantages offered by the former Regime and in addition supported by the political spheres especially the Dukla which was linked to the Army.

Poldi Kladno had and lived a different reality, the steel factory did not pay a lot of money, the structures and facilities were highly inferior to those icons of the capital and there was also a notable difference in terms of visibility.

While a player of those two Entities playing in one of those Clubs had an international window with the opportunity to move after a determined age abroad (in those times many players could leave the country when they were close to the 30s) they also participated to several friendly invitations in Trophies celebrated worldwide, the situation in Poldi Kladno to have that "visibility" was simply to win.

The former Club with his players in largely part made at home played and defended the colours of the Poldi with the name of the city all around Europe in Sweden, Finland, Germany, Switzerland, including in the former Soviet Union playing memorable matches against all the most important, celebrated Clubs in Moscow but also in other temples of that sport as Helsinki or Stockholm, the elite and Gotha of that sport on ice.

That Czech Institution became soon a much respected Club in the European panorama, the city lived magic moments next to something which was more than a symbol, for many people including all that was as to live a tale.

The Poldi lost a final versus a legend of that sport as the masters of CSKA Moscow in the season 1975-76 but in the following year with an unforgettable triumph won against another prestigious Russian Club the Spartak Moscow  achieving the title of European Champion in 1977, a result that from abroad was seen as a miracle, including as myth.

 
In the following two seasons Poldi Kladno continued to be a great protagonist reaching the final of the European Cup twice again losing those finals against that formidable Russian team previously mentioned, the CSKA  but all that was something simply stunning and unique, four finals in four years for the heroes of the steel factory.

When I visited that city some years ago I immediately understood what is and represents for the people of Kladno Ice Hockey

Local newspapers had news about that sport in the first page, in the taverns people drinking a cool beer were talking about players, choices of the Coach, events and decisions of the Club and kindly asking if you were there to watch an Ice Hockey match or simply a lover or a fan coming to see the ČEZ Stadion,the complex and what the Club represents.

Along the streets was easy to see flags of the Club in many places, outside houses, on balconies, gardens, bars including outside offices, as a special land in which you breathe air of Ice hockey practically everywhere as something it is part of the local history since its foundation.

Ice Hockey in the former Czechoslovakia and much more in Kladno also has a philosophy: culture and tradition to defend the colours and the history of the Institution honouring it, that sport and the city.

A friend and locals explained me many things about all that, firstly the Club launched and launches players in the 90% of the cases born and bred in the city while others, a minimum part comes from villages in the immediate proximity and also that was and is a pride of the entire community.

It is something similar to the famed football club Athletic Bilbao in Spain which has in its team players from the Basque Country but coming from other provinces of Euskadi, in Kladno all that is much more amplified, firstly because the Czech city is much smaller and in addition because the major part of the players are from the city, a  reality much deeper and marked. 

The philosophy and traditions of that Sporting Association is to produce champions  creating a school of Sport, the young players have to start to play taking it as an activity forming them as athletes but also growing up as men.

During the training with the formation it is also transmitted what is and means that Institution with the potential opportunity to be someone in future honouring the colours of that glorious Ice Hockey Entity and all that formed players with a strong, solid mentality.

The Institution to incentive promising players as a prize offer them periodical stages with sessions of training with the Senior Team, that is an immediate, great motivation for the young to learn secrets by expert players, improving technically, all that means they are not living always in a limbo of a youth category but they have the chance to gain more experience with those opportunities.   

Historically travelling to Moscow or Helsinki to mention two international cities very related to that sport and winning was a pride not just for the Club but also for the inhabitants to see players representing the National Team coming from the city, another aspect is that an athlete after that automatically became a sort of illustrious son of Kladno highly regarded as entering in the city's history.

All that increased the desire of successful goals in the young members of the Club who could be seen as emblems of a community which live all year taking them as examples or models, that was and is a further motivation, including for someone a responsibility to donate happiness to his fellow citizens. 

All the satisfactions, the triumphs later were shared in Kladno with all the inhabitants living with participation and passion those magic times all together linked to something they totally feel inside.

 That is part of the culture lived there supporting a team, the players have a sort of duty to respect the supporters giving them joys because also that it taught in the Club transmitting that the local fans are part of the soul of the Institution.



The culture of that hard sport in Kladno had and has the objective to lead the young players to debut in the first National League playing later against Russian, Finnish, Swedish, German schools to show the rivals always respecting the ethic and codes of a sport that they are not inferior.

All  that related furthermore is transmitted with a message, that they come from a small country, in a city not too big but they can show how it is possible to compete at the  highest levels.

The following stage is to reach the Intercontinental level to compete against Canada and U.S.A with opportunities to play in their famed leagues in future.

That extremely rooted tradition and philosophy seems worked very well generation by generation there are not many cities in the world with that size having so many successful players.  

In some cases can happen that for integral changes in a Club focused on different strategies something does not work as in the past, another reason could be generated by management mistakes or when the tradition is not enough and there is a stop or a lack of new talented potential champions with consequent unsuccessful cycles, something that in Kladno never happened. 

It is enough to check how many stars were launched in the International scenery with success all along its history and then challenging in Intercontinental competitions as World Cup or Olympics the Canadian and American masters too.

The old legends of the Club are many, some of them among the most awarded are Bohumil Prošek, Milan Nový, František Pospíšil, František Kaberle Senior, Michal Pivoňka, Miloslav Hořava, Vaclav Sýkora, Vladimir Kameš, Petr Tenkrát, all superb protagonists with many medals, titles in European competitions, World Championships and Olympic Games.

The history of the champions made in Kladno is almost endless because many others in more recent times consisting in the new homemade heroes continued and continues that old great traditions following the successes of their old famed predecessors becoming stars or very distinguished players in the prestigious American NHL. 

It is the case of Pavel Patera, Tomáš Kaberle Junior, Jaromír Jágr, Ondřej Pavelec, Michael Frolík, Jiři Tlustý, Jakub Voráček, Ivan Huml, Tomáš Plekanec, Radko Gudas, all them from Kladno born and bred in that Czech centre.

Naturally the children in that city love Ice Hockey, they are enchanted by the myth of who reached those prestigious results in a professional career as others boys who love Football, Baseball, Basket or other sports in different countries admiring a star.

The dream of many of them is naturally to play in the Club, then moving to Super Leagues as the NHL or as a second option to be famous in Germany Sweden, Switzerland, other countries with excellent leagues and all that continues. 

Kladno in the past was a very green city and despite there was a big change with the construction of several factories linked to steel production it is still a place which has preserved its magnificent verdant spaces.

Packed by parks as Lapak Les, a Forest Park simply beautiful and ideal for long relaxing walks in contact with nature, also beautiful is Bazantnice Park, an immense wide area with a lake and several trails for cycling. 

Some others pretty attractive are Trilobit, Sitna and worth a mention also the park of the castle all them are  excellent lungs to enjoy pleasant times breathing peace, serenity, fantastic to practise different kinds of outdoor activities.

That Czech centre is also well known for the production of an excellent local beer called Starokladensky, very popular in Czech Republic, you can also find it in some breweries-bars of Prague, really very appreciated by many people while about the local cuisine due to the proximity of Prague all the culinary specialities are very similar to those of the Capital.

That site is not far from the major centre of the country, if you have time or you are planning to visit for some days Czech Republic very close to the fantastic city of the 100 towers you can stop for a while or  during a tailor made tour in the region of Bohemia in that Czech city called Kladno you can see something of extremely interesting linked to its historic past including art, parks, steel and of course great Ice Hockey.

Francesco Mari


Recommended Accommodations in Kladno in the case you decide to spend a day there, other solutions and options due to the proximity are in the beautiful Prague very close to that city.

Hotel La Park  
Hotel Hoffmann

Useful links