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How COVID has heralded a golden age for Czech cottage culture


A couple of months in the past, Richard, a college professor within the japanese Czech metropolis of Olomouc, put down the cash to purchase a small hut deep within the countryside. After the delivery of his first baby, he and his spouse wished someplace quiet to go on weekends.

“COVID and more stable jobs are another factor; since it is now more difficult to travel abroad we want to enjoy more time here,” he mentioned.

They aren’t alone. Purchases of small countryside cottages have boomed within the Czech Republic for the reason that starting of the COVID-19 pandemic, making a “new era” of cottage tradition, the social geographer Dana Fialová advised the Aktuálně newspaper this month.

However, that has raised issues abnormal Czechs may now be outpriced. As the broader property market noticed costs enhance by between 20-30 per cent since early 2020, cottage gross sales elevated by 12 per cent within the first 9 months of that 12 months alone, with values up virtually a 3rd on 2019 costs, in line with a survey by Reas, a neighborhood actual property agency.

Countryside cottages – most small two-storey huts, with an attic bed room and small kitchen downstairs, in addition to an ample plot of land – are ubiquitous throughout the Czech Republic. In 2015 the newspaper Lidovky estimated {that a} third of households personal one.

Other reviews say one-in-seven, but as a result of most family and friends share cottages a fair better share of the inhabitants has entry to a rural retreat.

“Most people try to either move out of the city and have their own house, or as a substitute, have a weekend [cottage] to go out and spend time in nature,” mentioned Richard.

Communist legacy?

Although it’s a convention that dates again centuries, proudly owning a rustic cottage actually started through the communist period and has remained a function of Czech life since.

“Cottages are important for Czech people,” mentioned Ondřej Zuntych, a journalist in Olomouc. In regular occasions, many Czechs, however particularly the aged, transfer to their cottages for the hotter months of the 12 months, he defined.

But the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and the strict lockdowns enforced by the authorities all through a lot of 2020 and 2021, when freedom of motion was drastically restricted in city areas, noticed an exodus of Czechs to the countryside.

Those suggested to work at home discovered they may achieve this within the sticks. Parents not wanted to be close to faculties, which have been closed. Low-interest charges made mortgages extra enticing.

So integral are cottages within the nationwide psyche that Czechs even have particular nouns, chataření and chalupaření, to explain what one will get as much as at a cottage.

And conversations with Czechs about their weekend getaways can typically get slowed down in terminology.

There’s a distinction between a chata and a chalupa, notes Zuntych.

The former is often a small hut and backyard, used primarily for weekend recreation, resembling gardening and rest. Most don’t have any electrical energy nor operating water. Outside bogs are a close to certainty.

The latter, although, is a rebuilt small home within the countryside that may typically be lived in all 12 months lengthy. Invariably, English translations to cottages, cabins, chalets and huts seldom conjure the multitude and number of these properties.

But, Zuntych mentioned, what folks do of their retreats is identical, from rising greens to sitting round an open fireplace.

Cottage tradition

The Czech Republic isn’t alone in its obsession with countryside cottages. They’re standard throughout elements of Central Europe and Scandinavia.

But the Czech historical past is exclusive.

Cottage tradition predates the communist takeover of what was then Czechoslovakia in 1948 nevertheless it was formed by the socialist authorities’s insurance policies, famous the historian Paulina Bren in her influential 2002 essay, “Weekend Getaways: The Chata, the Tramp, and the Politics of Private Life in Post-1968 Czechoslovakia.”

By the Nineteen Eighties round a 3rd of residents of Prague, the capital, owned a countryside cottage, and one other quarter had entry to 1, she famous.

A authorities research that decade discovered folks have been spending between 100 and 120 days annually at their second properties.

Writing in a 1982 ebook known as Problems Of Communism, the historian Vladimir Kusin described a typical picture of Czech life on the time. An “early escape on Friday afternoon in a private car laden with stacks of precooked Wiener schnitzel for a weekend away from it all at a private country cottage.” Chatař (“The Chata-Owner”) was one of many extra standard magazines through the communist period, which got here to an finish in 1989. Skoda, the Czech automobile big, would function its newest fashions parked in entrance of nation cottages in ads.

Like a lot of Czech historical past, the expansion of what Bren calls “chata culture” — the “ever-expanding Czech pastime of long weekends spent at a private country cottage”, as she put it — was a results of the Prague Spring.

In 1968 the reformist communist chief Alexander Dubček tried to liberalise the nation however was ousted when Soviets troops invaded Czechoslovakia.

Afterwards, the brand new communist authorities adopted a coverage generally known as “normalisation” that is major goal was to maintain the Czech folks docile.

Gustáv Husák, who took over the Communist Party in 1969, justified the crackdown by claiming most Czech folks weren’t all that focused on politics. “A normal person just wants to live quietly,” he mentioned, including: “this Party wants to safeguard a quiet life.”

Bren, the historian, pinpoints the explosion of “chata culture” as beginning in 1969. Although it contradicted their opposition to personal property and materialism, the communist authorities subtly inspired a surge in cottage possession, permitting Czechs to sate their consumerist, particular person needs in ways in which didn’t immediately problem the regime.

“The weekend retreat into the Czechoslovak countryside – while not comparable to a trip to Italy – promised to deliver on a regular basis the sort of rewards that communism and the communists had been promising for so long,” Bren wrote.

At the identical time, the authorities have been additionally blissful that “chata culture” meant cities emptied most weekends, whereas the plenty might need gathered to make their political emotions recognized.

“Chata culture could ostensibly provide for a depoliticised, government-mediated escape,” Bren acknowledged.

‘Unthinkable luxurious’

The different purpose was financial. During the extra liberal years of the Nineteen Sixties, Czechs have been allowed to journey overseas fairly freely, however “normalisation” made it tougher. Denied a vacation overseas, extra Czechs started vacationing at residence. And in contrast to in a lot of the communist Eastern Bloc, “the Czech economy did reasonably well throughout the 1970s and the standard of living continued to rise until the 1980s,” wrote the sociologist Kristina Alda in an essay revealed in 2020.

This meant that abnormal Czechs have been capable of afford a cottage, “an unthinkable luxury, not just for much of [the] East, but also the West,” she added.

An “unthinkable luxury” stands out as the case sooner or later, nevertheless. Radim Maštalíř, an asset valuation professional at ČSOB, a Czech financial institution, mentioned the steep rise in the home costs, basically, has affected the cottage market, particularly within the neighborhood of huge cities.

Czech property costs rose by round 11.9 per cent within the first quarter of 2021. In the second quarter of final 12 months, they have been the second fastest-growing in Europe, after Hungary, in line with the home value index database by Eurostat.

A latest report by Deloitte, a world consultancy, discovered property within the Czech Republic was the second-most unaffordable in Europe in 2020, costing a mean of 12.2 gross annual salaries for a “standardised dwelling”.

But “chata culture” has all the time proved resilient. After the autumn of communism in 1989, cottage life hit a nadir as Czechs most well-liked to trip overseas, particularly to Western Europe, the place they have been beforehand not allowed to go to.

But an upswing in cottage possession came about after the financial disaster in 2008-2009 when most Czechs spent much less cash on overseas holidays, the social geographer Fialová mentioned in an interview with native media this month. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in one more wave of cottage possession.


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