Coming Soon: Austerlitz Theme Park!

Austerlitz: the very name is covered in glory for the French, as well as for anyone else with any knowledge of the Napoleonic Wars. For it was on this Central European battlefield in 1805 (a little less than two months after the sea Battle of Trafalgar, as it happened) that Napoleon Bonaparte faced down the combined armies of two great empires – the Austrian and the Russian – and beat them bloodily and decisively in a battle regarded as a tactical masterpiece. In the aftermath the Austrian Emperor Francis would sue for peace, acknowledging France’s previous conquests in Italy and Germany; what was left of the Russian army would be permitted to scurry back on home; and Prussia (non-participating) somehow would become annoyed enough with this result to shortly go to war against Napoleon itself (bad move). In today’s Paris you will find a Gare (i.e. train station), a Quai (i.e. embankment), a Pont (i.e. bridge), a Rue (i.e. street), a Port and a Villa d’Austerlitz – despite the name itself being about as un-French-sounding as you can get while still staying within the Roman alphabet.

In fact it’s a German name, of course, because back in those days of the very early 19th century German culture and the German language were dominant over Central Europe, as they had been since the Thirty Years’ War, and the major city outside of which the battle was fought was known as Brünn. Things changed somewhat in the twentieth century, after the First World War, when the country of Czechoslovakia came into existence, Brünn definitely became known as Brno instead, and the village that gave had given the 1805 battle its name became Slavkov u Brna. (Not to be confused with another Czech Slavkov, located to the northeast, near the Polish border and the town of Opava. By the way, Brno and Slavkov u Brna were not even “German” enough to be made part of the Sudetenland, i.e. the allegedly German-majority territories that Hitler managed to intimidate Neville Chamberlain and Czechoslovakia into returning to Germany in the Munich Agreement of 1938, before he moved his army in to take over the whole country the following year.)

Then came the Second World War, after which the Slavic nature of much of Central Europe was reinforced by the military and political hegemony of the Soviet Union. Not only did the name of the little village outside Brno remain Slavkov u Brna – i.e. with absolutely no resemblance to “Austerlitz,” so that if you were searching for where the battle took place you’d first have to look up somewhere the village’s new name – but the Communist authorities also understandably had little interest in commemorating some long-ago battle, especially one in which the Russians had been beaten. For that matter, even the Czechoslovaks after the 1989 “Velvet Revolution,” and the Czechs after the 1993 “Velvet Divorce” with Slovakia, had many more-important things upon which to spend their limited public monies. Yet somehow they managed to do just enough: Your very own beloved EuroSavant remembers driving down in the summer of 1995 from Prague to check out the battlefield (gross misuse of company car and associated gas station charge-card, I’m sorry to report), and being impressed with the rather large battlefield statue and associated explanatory plaques placed at the peak of the (not-very-high) Pratzen Heights, the strongpoint at the center of the Russian-Austrian lines which was the focus of the decisive French attack. That was it: there was no other indication anywhere else in the area that a battle had ever taken place but, then again, that area was still mostly woods and fields and streams, and, especially if you had a map of the battle, you could drive along well-placed country roads and gain a good appreciation of what had happened at the various points of the battlefield, not just on the Pratzen Heights.

Creeping Brno

But that was more than ten years ago, and in the meantime the Czech Republic has entered the EU (1 May 2004) and so become a full part of the prosperous European political economy. One thing that means is that its cities cannot help but expand outward, and so Brno is getting ever-closer to the fields and villages around Slavkov u Brna. As the leading Czech business newspaper, Hospodářské noviny, now reports (Slavkov, pardon, Austerlitz; the article is in its Real Estate section), a big Central European property developer now has its eye on bringing, let us say, a little proper civilization to the area. That developer is called Quinlan Private Golub (honest – check it out, those are the three first words of the article proper), and in its proposal for a new “multifunctional project” for the Slavkov u Brna area – to cost up to €250 million – QPG includes just about everything: office space; retail shops; 86,400 square meters of residential buildings, divided into three complexes to be named after the supreme commanders at the battle (Napoleon, Alexander, and František, i.e. Francis); and a luxury hotel, named Jurys Inn [sic] and to be run not coincidentally by the Quinlan Private hotel chain. Oh, and there will also be an Austerlitz Museum – in fact, the whole complex is to be known as “Austerlitz Centrum,” and the central avenue issuing out from Brno, around which everything will be built, is to be known of course as Třida Austerlitz, or “Austerlitz Avenue.”

“Austerlitz Centrum will be a pulsating quarter of the city with an exceptional atmosphere, which will of Brno’s southern part one of its most attractive localities,” declares a breathless press release from QPG. Everything will be done with the highest quality, of course, of both architecture and materials; and the developers will certainly take care to involve the local communities in every phase of the project’s development, adds Stephen Haigh (most definitely not a Czech name), QPG’s general manager for the Czech Republic.

To me, though, this sounds like the classic case of having the bulldozers move in to tear out all the elm, oak, and beech trees by the roots to prepare the space for housing tracts, which are then arranged along Elm, Oak, and Beech Streets. Via the marvelous resources of Wikipedia you can get a good sense of what the Slavkov u Brna area looks like here – you’re looking over the village of Prace (Pratzen) eastward towards the heights beyond much as the soldiers of Marshall Soult’s IV Corps did more than two hundred years ago as they advanced to take them. Take a good look, for soon that area may be covered by the usual Western urban sprawl, if the skyrocketing cost of gasoline and shrinking sources of credit for housing purchase don’t manage to rescue it. What Communism managed to preserve, even despite itself, rabid capitalism could soon take away.

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