Sandra Dudek, born and raised in Austria, came to the Czech Republic in 2001 because of love, but not, as in many other cases, because of a person: it was the Czech language she fell in love with. Graduated in communication sciences and Czech studies at the University of Vienna, she worked as a teacher of the German language at Charles University in Prague as well as a journalist for Prager Zeitung and the German radio station Radio Prague. In 2006 Sandra moved to Brno; since then she has been working as the Director of the Brno branch of the Österreich Institut, the official Austrian language school abroad.
What do you like and what don’t you like in Brno?
What I like the most is that Brno is like a little Vienna. To be serious: I like the size of Brno – my home, work and the locations for spare time activities are all within a walking distance. The farmers’ market at Zelný trh is an absolute highlight as well as the small but well-cultivated arthouse cinema-scene (Kino Art Brno and Scala). Brno is a lively small town, not least inspired by thousands of students, which can also be seen in the individually designed cafés and pubs around the town. I like the great cultural heritage, especially the Functionalist oriented buildings, and how it naturally coexists beside modern buildings (e.g. at Náměstí republiky).
My sympathy for Brno is definitely challenged on Friday afternoon when I go by overcrowded tram no. 1 to the also overcrowded station, surrounded by people snubbing me. The public transport system works very well, but it is really hard to understand why the municipality takes so little effort to improve the situation of too few trams for too many people and to clear more space for pedestrians and cyclists – more and more cars are parking on pavements and the newly reconstructed Husová street is conspicuous by the absence of bicycle paths.
Do you know some “best practices” or experience from living in other cities that could be of use in Brno, too?
The best practice has its source in another attitude. Concerning traffic that means “humans first” (and not “cars first”): in Vienna, Zurich and many other cities, pedestrians, cyclists and passengers of public transport take absolute priority over car drivers – they have to stop in front of tram stops, so that people can easily get on and off a tram without doing slaloms; changing from one line to another does not include 5 minutes waiting at the traffic light or searching for it around the corner; pavements are reserved for what they are meant to be and are not extended streets and parking places with a half metre strip for walking (see e.g. on and around Veveří street).
A lot has changed in the last few years, but there is still great potential for improving the supply and quality of services at the station, in the buses, in restaurants, in shops … A friendly “No, I’m sorry, but the chocolate cakes are sold out today” in itself offers a bit of comfort, and a “Good bye!” combined with a nice smile hurts no-one and makes life so much easier.
What do you think is Brno’s advantage compared with other cities?
Brno is not overrun by tourists and therefore it is not anxious to please at all costs: buildings are lovingly reconstructed and serve people for working, living and spending their spare time and are not turned into tourist hot spots or museums. The city is small, but it combines everything you need for a varied life: good (international) job facilities, individually designed cafés and bars, excellent book shops (if your Czech is good enough), some nice places where you can relax and at the same time enjoy a pleasant view out over the town, and the wonderful surroundings of southern Moravia for short weekend trips.
How can Brno become more open and attractive for foreigners?
As written above, a modern city should not lack in bicycle paths and good services/customer relations. Doctors who speak a foreign language and treat their patients with respect make a visit (not only by foreigners) more comfortable/human. Also policemen, immigration officers and tax authorities should be able (or at least willing) to communicate in another language than Czech.
What’s your favorite place in Brno, somewhere that’s really unique?
Kraví hora and Wilsonův les (Wilson Wood) are wonderful places for jogging, taking a walk, playing frisbee or lying on a blanket on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Café Spolek (where you can read the German weekly Die Zeit) in Orlí or Salon Daguerre in Slovákova are great cafés for hanging out and the “Avia” restaurant serves delicious meals Mediterranean-style for reasonable prices. And don’t forget to stop at the farmers’ market at Zelný trh these days to buy a pumpkin.
Written by: Petr Marčišák
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