By Michael Werbowski
Michael Werbowski, originally from Canada, is a consultant who moved to Brno, the Czech Republic’s second-largest city, from Vienna in 2016.
Brno is the perfect alternative to Vienna and Prague. Why? Having worked in both those cities, I find Brno less sniffy than Vienna, 130km to the south, and not swarming with tourists, as Prague is, 215km to the north-west.
Don’t get me wrong, the Czech capital is splendid and Austria’s too is majestic. But Brno is more laid back, cheaper and easier to live in, and offers stimulating culture, work and learning. I came to Moravia’s historical capital for professional and personal reasons and made it my central European home.
The city is culturally vibrant. It is the birthplace of novelist Milan Kundera (whose works include The Unbearable Lightness of Being and The Joke), and composer Leoš Janáček spent part of his childhood in the city; the Janáček Academy of Music and Performing Arts, in the city centre, is named after him. A new concert hall, the Janáček Cultural Centre, is planned and there is a hot jazz scene, including the annual JazzFestBrno, an annual festival that showcases global jazz and attracts more than 10,000 visitors.
Brno is a city for pedestrians. At weekends I take long strolls, meandering along the traffic-free high street, Masarykova, named after Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, the founder and first president of Czechoslovakia.
I might pop into Barvič & Novotný, one of the city’s best bookshops (with branches on Masarykova and nearby ÄŒeská). It has an outstanding selection of books, gifts and CDs, for even the most refined classical music lover, in addition to all sorts of literary works in English and other languages. It is the perfect place for the expat who is feeling homesick or hankering after a good read in their native language.
Then for foamy libations I usually stop by at the Stopkova Plzeňská Pivnice pub for excellent Czech draft beer and traditional Czech food.
There are several parks and green spaces close to the city centre to continue your stroll. One of the best known — and my favourite — is Lužánky Park. It offers escape and contemplation, as well as a breath of fresh air — which leads me to an environmental cautionary note: Brno does have its bad air days. That is why the municipality is investing in public transport and discouraging car use in the centre.
The sought-after Masaryk University is the country’s second-largest, making for a student-friendly and vibrant city — it reminds me of the northern English city of Leeds, where I was a student.
If you are in the mood for a wonderful weekend brunch, there is nowhere better than 4pokoje, a student haunt close to the university.
Finally, Brno is easily accessible from other major central European capitals. The high-speed Austrian Railjet service stops several times a day in Brno. I often use it when I go to Vienna (85 minutes away) or Prague (three hours) on business, comfortably returning in the evening to my beloved Brno.
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Photographs: Dreamstime; CTK Photo/Igor Zehl; CTK Photo/Vaclav Salek