Everywhere, people are afraid that an irreversible and pervasive modernity has swept the world. People simply walk away from old ways of life, heading in the direction of the future, leisure and comfort. The things that get left behind are unloved for being old, it’s thought, and they crumble and fall in on themselves. This is the driving idea behind the “skansen.” Unlike clocks or tin boxes or rocking chairs, old houses often find themselves without a collector; the least loved of all are the small, hovel-like buildings that once covered much of the European countryside. Also unloved, many of the labor-intensive tools and machines that haven’t got much aesthetic value and take up more room than modern life affords them.
Skansens bring these buildings and things together in a kind of rambling museum. They crop up everywhere and have many different names – in America, “colonial villages” are a kind of version. Here in Rožnov pod Radhoštĕm, a little town famous mostly for its three skansens, relocated and recreated wooden buildings abound. They huddle like a flock of sheep clustered together by prowling dogs. Gas stations and hotels slink around the outskirts offering free wi-fi and coffee to go. There is a sense, here, that this museum world has been completely cut off from history and from the land around it – but that it also depends on a certain external benevolence to continue. This man obediently pounded at a horseshoe when the guide told him to, then sat and stared at us as we were urged to look at the display of iron objects for sale.
The three skansens are really part of one, big complex, so going through the whole thing is easy. The first and most visited is an orderly little town square, ringed mostly with replica buildings including a post office, butcher, mayor’s house and a functioning “hospoda,” or pub. People have set up stands where they sell carved wooden trinkets and lollipops. Unlike the wonderful Polish skansen in Ciechanowiec, which felt as though it were shutting down for the winter, this place had an expectant, springtime air. Though relatively quiet while we were there, the people were setting up for summer hordes. This is the interior of the church, which is one of the original buildings in that section and was ringed with actual graves.
We took a tour – conducted in Czech and accompanied by an English booklet for us – of the adjacent water mill skansen, which is closed to visitors not on a tour. This was definitely the most interesting of the three because most of the mills were functional and the guide proudly showed them off. An oil crusher, a felt mill, a sawmill and a flour mill and bakery all ran on a complex system of ponds and sluices. We were fascinated by the sawmill and loved this little box flourmill and sifter. It was much smaller than other ones we’ve seen, and especially elegant.
There were a number of these ancient beehives, carved from large tree trunks. Some of them, in a peculiar Wallach style, were decorated with human faces – the bees enter through the open mouths of the figures. It’s unclear how the honey is then extracted, but we’re guessing that it’s through the top.
The urge to compile these collections of buildings is spurred by loss, as the landscape of development and employment shifts. In some parts of the world, the change happened much earlier than it did here, where some of the structures were inhabited up to the nineteen sixties. The Czech countryside was kept as it was for a long time, and I think the people who visit Rožnov pod Radhoštĕm aren’t as impressed by the difference in lifestyle as the typical American might be. There are still folk festivals on many summer weekends, and they involve a lot of people. On Sunday, as we were arriving in town, busloads of teenagers milled about near the exit. Some wore traditional dress, some had already changed back into their street clothes. Last night, from the outdoor bar near our campsite, we fell asleep listening to a group of men sing folk songs accompanied by a guitar. A smattering of recognizable, modern tunes were mixed in, and we talked about how close the old ways seem here.
We never finished seeing the third skansen, which is where most of the oldest buildings are located and which features a complimentary collection of farm animals. It’s up in a nice clearing behind some trees, where the sound of traffic is faint and the schlocky souvenir feeling of the first museum isn’t so strong. As we walked we got caught in a downpour, which the sky had been threatening us with for hours. This is the porch where we took cover – dry, but held captive. It is part of a building built in the 1780's and was once home to a glass-cutter named Petr Jochc.
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