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Adventures in Writing, Reading & Book Culture

The House of the Dead

Cesky Krumlov back streetThis is the House of Horrors bar. The entrance is down a narrow lane (too easy to call an alley, but then most of the streets are no wider than this one). You have to use your shoulder to open the thick wooden door, then you walk slowly down ten stone steps leading steeply into the bowels of the building. The walls are curved, arched ceilings overhead, rough-hewn stone, like a dungeon. The floor is stone, hand sized pieces set in cement. This space looks like it was once a root cellar, or a beer cellar, or a wine cellar. Or a dungeon.

Most of the seats are church pews, remnants of the pious turned into café kitsch. The bar is stuffed into the far end of the room. A Christian cross is nailed to its facade. Candles light the room; candles are everywhere, on the tables, on the floors, in wall sconces; all diffuse red light from their votive holders. Fake skeletons and hatted skulls hang from the ceiling.

Crematorium BarI want to leave, frankly. This is pure cheese, I think. But good blues comes on: Eric Clapton jamming with BB King. I’m thirsty for a coffee, and want to write in my journal. And then I want a drink. It’s early evening, it’s cold outside; I don’t want to go back to the pension or walk aimlessly. The place is empty except for the bartender. I like the look of this cellar, and decide I’ll overlook the decor element.

The bartender walks over, sees me with my open journal. He takes a taper from a nearby table and sets by my journal, lights the candle and there is much better light by which to write. This is Michael. He runs the bar and has learned English over the years by talking with people in the bar. I order a coffee and ask to see the CD cover of the disc he’s got playing. He brings the disc case over with my capuccino. I order a brandy on the side and when Michael brings that I ask him about the CD and his other music. He tells me Clapton is coming to Prague in February ’09.

stone chamberI have to ask Michael about the cheesy decor – the skeletons and the skulls and the cobwebs; I notice a hangman’s noose further down – but I don’t use those words. Michael has a story to tell. The house has been here since the early 1600s, which fits with my knowledge of Cesky Krumlov: the local beer, Eggenberg, has been brewed along the Vltava River since 1564. Michael explains that this house was the town crematorium. This main bar room was used as a prayer room. The side room, its entranceway lit by candles on the ground, led to a smaller room that Michael said was the crematorium.

Why not? I think. Every other business in Cesky Krumlov that was once a thriving workshop is now a bar or restaurant. Just then a couple comes down the stairs, they look around and go into the crematorium room. Twenty seconds later they walk out of there, the woman holding a strange look on her face. They take a pew near the bar.

[quality pics of beautiful Cesky Krumlov are at my Flickr page]

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