A Tram Ride to Břevnov Cemetery

This beautiful cemetery was founded in 1739 as the burial ground of the Břevnov Monastery monks. A number of courageous personalities are buried here: the abbot Jan Anastáz Opasek, philosopher Jan Patočka, poet Vladimíra Čerepková, the singer-songwriter Karel Kryl, musicologist Ivan Medek and translators Hana and Aloys Skoumal.

Břevnovský Hřbitov (Břevnov Cemetery), Prague 6
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With the monastery on your right, U Vojtěšky street leads you to the Břevnov Cemetery.

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This beautiful cemetery was founded in 1739 as the burial ground of the monks of Břevnov Monastery. Let us mention a few of the courageous personalities buried here. Jan Anastáz Opasek (1913–1999), was sentenced to life imprisonment in a show trial in 1950. After the 1989 Velvet Revolution when the Monastery was again used for its original purpose, he became the first abbot and organized open debates under the auspices of the Catholic Opus Bonum initiative. He invited people from the artistic underground, anti-totalitarian dissenters, members of the 1948 and 1968 generations, but also members of the Communist party. [Anastasius Opasek’s grave is located in the middle of the cemetery.]

Jan Patočka (1907-1977) was a Czech philosopher. He dealt with phenomenology, the philosophy of history, the philosophical works of Edmund Husserl, J.A. Komenský and T.G. Masaryk, Czech and European literature, arts and culture. Later he also influenced the thinking of anti-totalitarian dissenters and of Václav Havel. Although the greatest Czech philosopher had not previously been politically involved, after signing Charter 77 he became one of its three spokespersons. Following Socrates’ example, Patočka engaged in direct conflict with the political establishment and his meeting with the Netherlands’ foreign minister, Max van der Stoel, on van der Stoel’s visit to Prague in 1977, set the secret police against him. After several long and exhausting interrogations, Jan Patočka was hospitalized and died on March 13, 1977. His funeral, which took place on March 16, 1977, was deliberately disrupted by a passing police helicopter and the mourners filmed by the State Security. [Jan Patočka’s grave is located at C 16 10.]

True, the word has become flesh: this event of being has chosen man as the place of its revelation, it has found its fullness in a wholy “true” man, living fully in a devotion, beyond mere self-interest, but not as wild beasts and birds of the air on the soil of instinct, which binds the existence of a being merely to existence, but in the light of being. If the event of being is conceived as one with which the divinity is inextricably connected, then one can say that a person so wholy true, justly bears the name of god-man. Now, however, the appearance of such a man must necessarily be conceived as an attack on what rules the world, on the type of self-understanding which shuns and closes the self, and which devotes all its government over the world and the meaning of its actions to the given, to the present, to its organization and power. Jan Patočka, 1969 (Trans. Ondřej Skovajsa)

Vladimíra Čerepková (1946-2013) was a Czech poet whose work had a lot in common with the authors of the beat generation and whose life brought her close to the French poetes maudit. Her childhood was spent mostly in young offenders’ institutes and in adulthood, she did not have a permanent job but made money by publishing her verses. After emigrating in 1968, she lived in Paris, Nanterre and the French countryside, where she made a living doing various jobs. She took care of the sick author, Jan Čep, helped in the household of Jiří Kolář, published in Tigrid’s Svědectví, did tie-dying and wrote poems. She died in Normandy, in the town of Saint Valéry en Caux. Her poems are often flooded with light:

I will give you the light of my hands
my hands have been eaten through by moths
The light is what has been eaten through

Into the night I’m going to search
A second pair of such hands
Mad to misfortune
I will carry my head in my hands
Eyes have heads
I will carry my head in my hands

The whole sky will burn
I will set everything on fire
I will carry my head
With my hands of light

The moths have eaten them through
There are moths in the world
Who eat through hands into the light
Ryba k rybě mluví mluví (A Fish talks to a Fish, 1969, extract). Translated by Ondřej Skovajsa and Liz Coling.

Karel Kryl (1944-1994) was a Czechoslovak poet with a guitar, known for his anti-communist protest songs, for the authenticity and urgency of his voice and the beauty of his poetic paintings. He wrote his own music and lyrics, using simple guitar accompaniment. In 1969, he emigrated to Germany, worked with the Free Europe radio station, returned to Prague on 30 November 1989 and immediately became one of the voices of the Velvet Revolution. After 1989 he criticized the new establishment, satirizing neoliberal fundamentalism as represented by the policies and attitudes of Václav Klaus. At his death, the requiem mass in the monastery church of St. Markéta was celebrated by the late abbot Jan Anastáz Opasek. Although the church was packed and about four thousand people waited in front of the monastery, political representatives were mainly absent. Ivan Medek, who attended on behalf of President Václav Havel, said: “... Karel was wrong to believe that those he criticized did not like him.”

Leftovers for the rats in the bowl of goulash
Writing love letters, throwing Black Jack and dice
The journey is ahead of us, so let us throw these boots away
Under the blanket, then, we dream as we masturbate

ami G
Oh Love, lock yourself in a room
Ami G
Oh Love, the war is my girl
C G Ami G Ami E
I make love to her as the nights are getting shorter
Ami G
Oh love, there is sun on your fan
Ami G
Oh love, two cherries on the plate
C G Ami G Ami E
I will give them to you when I get back.
Love! (1970, excerpt, translated by Ondrej Skovajsa)

Ivan Medek (1925-2010) was a journalist, musicologist, son of the writer and legionnaire Rudolf Medek, and brother of the painter Mikuláš Medek. The Czechoslovak secret police (StB) wanted to work with him in 1948, but their own report showed that it was impossible: “Ivan Medek’s nature and character are a barrier preventing his involvement in our work. He appears to be very direct, sincere and /self-critical, he is profoundly thought-based, and in this sense, much burdened by Catholicism.” After 1969, he was banned from public activity and in January 1977, having signed Charter 77, he was immediately fired from Supraphon Records. He then worked as a sanitary worker, a dish-washer and a restaurant cloakroom attendant. After a number of interrogations and assaults by the StB in 1978 – he was kidnapped outside Prague, beaten and left alone in the woods – he emigrated to Austria, where he worked for Voice of America, with other radio stations, and with Anastasius Opasek’s lay Catholic association, Opus Bonum.

Hana a Aloys Skoumalovi were brilliant literary translators. Hana Skoumalová translated, among other works, E.M. Forster’s Howards End, V. Woolf’s Between the Acts, short stories of D. H. Lawrence, A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh and Henry James’ What Maisie Knew. Aloys Skoumal translations include Joyce’s Dubliners, Portrait of the Artist, and Oddysseus, Laurence Stern’s Tristram Shandy, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travel and, Catherine Mansfield’s short stories. Together they translated Kipling’s Jungle Books and Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Their painstaking work encouraged intercultural dialogues.

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Where next?

Take the tram to “Královský Letohrádek” and then continue on foot via the Václav Havel Bridge straight to Chotkovy Sady. From here, all routes lead to the Metronome. (If you travel from “Břevnovský Klášter”, the tram ride to “Královský Letohrádek” takes about fifteen minutes and a further fifteen-minute walk will take you to the Metronome. The journey on foot from Prague Castle takes about half an hour.)