Useful information A to Z
In general, the climate in the Czech Republic is continental, with hot summers and cold winters. During most of the autumn and spring semesters, however, Brno does not suffer from extremes of heat or cold. There is, for example, occasional snow from December to February, but it does not remain on the ground very long (this is not true in the mountainous regions of the country, of course, where the excellent skiing conditions last several months). Similarly, the spring is pleasantly warm, and the autumn crisp but not cold.
Average daily temperatures in Brno (°C)
Note: these are average temperatures; in the summer months highs may be in the 30s, while in January and February temperatures sometimes drop to -12°C.
The Czech currency is the koruna (crown, abbreviated Kč), which is made up of 100 haléřů (hellers, abbreviated hal.). Coins in the following denominations are in circulation: 1 crown, 2 crowns, 5 crowns, 10 crowns, 20 crowns and 50 crowns. In addition there are the following notes: 100 crowns, 200 crowns, 500 crowns, 1,000 crowns, 2,000 crowns and 5,000 crowns.
Restaurants, pubs, cafés – eating and drinking places of all kinds – play a central role in Czechs’ lives. For many and perhaps for most Czechs, these are the natural places to meet – for relaxation, for intellectual debate, for discussing plans, for gossiping and plotting. As a result, there is a whole range of different kinds of places where you can get a meal and/or a drink, and a whole range of prices as well (as a rule they are surprisingly low). We have made no attempt to provide you with a list of recommended places for eating and drinking. To paraphrase a famous Zen koan, “Every pub and restaurant in Brno is the best”. Or at least each has its own fans. And certainly Czech students will be only too pleased to show you ones are theirs.
The electric power in the Czech Republic is 220 volts, 50 Hz AC, so you may need an adapter and a converter to use your electrical appliances. If you have dual-voltage appliances, you will only need an adapter. It is best to purchase what you might need in your home country.
Throughout the Czech Republic, you can use the general European Emergency Number, 112, in all cases of emergency.
In the case of fire, the urgent need for an ambulance, or crime, the following numbers can be dialled:
Fire – 150
Ambulance service – 155; but see also “Emergency cases” under “Health care”, below.
Crime – 156 (City police), 158 (Czech police); see also “Police”, below.
Excursions / Day trips
Each semester the Office for International Studies prepares a number of weekend excursions to major cities in the region for international students In recent years these have included such places as Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Bratislava and Krakow. Those of you who are coming to the Masaryk University on the CESP, ISEP, ISEP Direct and TESOL TE programmes can take part in these excursions free of charge; other students must pay themselves. Participation fee, however, are very reasonable. Several one- and two-day trips are also organised each semester by the International Student Club. Information about these excursions is posted outside the OIS, and be found on its webpages and those of the ISC.
In addition to going on these excursions, you will probably want to spend some of your weekends exploring the countryside round Brno. The southern Moravian region has many attractions, far too many to list here: what follows is a brief survey highlighting some of the main ones.
The battlefield of Austerlitz (“Slavkov” in Czech), the site of one of Napoleon’s most famous military victories, is easily reached by public transport as is the impressive Baroque chateau at Slavkov itself, where Napoleon stayed after the battle.
North of Brno, the deeply wooded, hilly countryside is criss-crossed by a maze of trails that serve for hiking in summer and cross-country skiing in winter. A favourite destination here is the pilgrimage church at Křtiny, one of the country’s most magnificent Baroque monuments. Slightly farther north (but still only 25 km from the city centre) lies the karst region of the Moravský kras, with its spectacular limestone caves.
To the south and east of Brno, the land opens up into the shallow, rolling hills that provide the perfect conditions for the country's best vineyards. The local towns and villages abound in wine cellars, both public and private; these are ideal places to enjoy the vintage celebrations in the autumn and tasting of the new wine in late winter. This is also one of the richest regions in Europe for folklore; the annual international folk festival held at Strážnice in June attracts visitors and participants from across the continent.
Other nearby attractions are not difficult to find – the quintessential medieval castle, at Pernštejn; the great collection of epic paintings by Alfons Mucha, whose work has come to define Art Nouveau, at Moravský Krumlov; the haunting Jewish ghettos and graveyards in a score of towns and villages, in particular at Mikulov, Boskovice and Třebíč; the Romanesque rotunda with its unique eleventh-century frescoes at Znojmo. Quite remarkably, in Brno and within easy reach of the city there are no fewer than six UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the Tugendhat Villa in Brno itself; the perfectly preserved town of Telč, with its Renaissance chateau and Baroque town houses; the Baroque gardens at the chateau of the Archbishop of Olomouc in Kroměříž; the Lednice-Valtice complex, with its two sprawling chateaus, gardens, artificial ponds, many Romantic and Neo-Classical follies and vast stretches of landscaped countryside; the quirky Gothic-Baroque (!) pilgrimage church at Zelená hora near Ždár nad Sázavou; and the Jewish ghetto and ancient basilica at Třebič. Add to these two UNESCO biosphere reserves, at Palava and the White Carpathians, and the exceptional historical and natural richness of the region is beyond dispute.
Foreign-language press, books
If you are looking for foreign newspapers and magazines, the best places to find them are at the Main Train Station or in any of the major hotels (International, Continental, Grand).
There are also two weekly newspapers published in the country in English and German - The Prague Post and Prager Zeitung. These, naturally, enough, offer wide coverage of Czech news, though The Prague Post tends to be a bit top-heavy on Prague-focused items.
There are also several on-line news sites reporting on the Czech scene. Both The Prague Post and Prager Zeitung appear in an electronic version (www.praguepost.com and www.pragerzeitung.cz). The Prague Daily Monitor (www.praguemonotor.com) has very comprehensive coverage relating to the events in the Czech Republic, while Topix (www.topix.net/world/czech-republic) includes world and US news in addition to Czech items.
If you are looking for foreign books, several bookshops have a range of books in other languages than Czech, the most common being English, German and French. The widest selection can be found in Academia (nám. Svobody 13), Jiří Šedivý (Masarykova 6), Barvič a Novotný (Česká 13) and Ryšavý (Česká 31).
With your health insurance (see section Health insurance) you are entitled to visit any general practioner. When you arrice in Brno, the Office for International Studies or the Faculty will supply you with the name of a doctor who speaks English and has had experience in treating international students.
Again, you may visit any dentist; the Office for International Studies or the Faculty will supply you with the name of a doctor who speaks English.
If you have eye problems you should first visit a general practitioner, who will examine you and then, if necessary, arrange for you to see a specialist.
Most of the medicines available elsewhere can be obtained here, though not necessarily in every pharmacy. In case you need some kind of medicine in the evening, at night or over the weekend, when shops are normally closed, there is a non-stop pharmacy located conveniently in the centre of the city, just off náměstí Svobody, at Kobližná 7.
If you are faced with an urgent need for medical attention at a time when doctors’ offices are not open, you should go to the emergency service at nám. 28. října 23, which is open Monday – Friday from 19:00 till 6:30 and non-stop on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. Emergency dental care is also available at the same address and telephone number.
The city of Brno operates a cultural and information centre at Radnická 8, in the building of the Old Town Hall. It has a wide selection of maps, brochures and other information on Brno and the surrounding region. See www.ticbrno.cz
Leisure time and entertainment
As the information below indicates, Brno has everything that one would expect to find in a thriving middle-sized European city. Incoming students will be given more information, as well as tours of the university and city on which some of the main cultural facilities and places of entertainment will be pointed out, upon arrival in Brno. Once you are settled in here, there are various publications you can turn to keep track of the city’s many cultural events and recreational opportunities. The monthly magazines Kam v Brně and Kult are both available at any newsstand in the Brno city centre. The bi-monthly bilingual flyer Do města / Downtown is free of charge and can be picked up in cinema foyers, many restaurants and other public places; its information is more up-to-date.
In here, we offer only some general comments on the main cultural institutions and kinds of entertainment in Brno, to give you some idea of what to expect and where to find what interests you.
Most theatres sell tickets for their performances at their own box offices, as do cinemas and clubs; the Philharmonic too has its own ticket outlet. For most other cultural activities, especially one-off events, the best place to turn to is usually the central advance booking agency at Běhounská 17.
As films are a popular form of entertainment with the Czech public, there are plenty of cinemas in Brno, and the city now has two multiplex cinemas, one in the centre of the city at the recently opened Velký Špalíček shopping centre (Mečová street) the other at the Olympia hyper-store on the city’s outskirts (reachable by free shuttle-bus from the stop alongside the Tesco department store behind the main railway station). At these and other cinemas in Brno you can see the latest American and European films – though you should check first to find out whether they have been dubbed or subtitled. For those with a deeper interest in film, there are three other possibilities. The Kino Art cinema (Cihlárská 19) offers a good selection of less commercial (what the Czechs refer to as “more demanding”) films and film classics, films not targeted at the general public, films from unusual countries and so on. The programme varies from month to month: sometimes an individual director is highlighted, at other times films from a particular country or region or representing a particular genre. Each year it hosts the country’s main festival of gay and lesbian films. As with films generally, you should check to see whether the films you wish to see are dubbed or have subtitles.
Every Spring Brno hosts the Febiofest, a major film festival that screens old and new films and includes many special categories of films - retrospectives of particular directors, films from regions such as Latin America or the Far East, films from individual countries. In spring there is also a second big film event, the two-week Festival of European Films, bringing about thirty recent films from all over Europe. At both the Febiofest and the Festival of European Films many of the films come from countries with lesser-known film industries; this may give you a chance to see films you would be unlikely to come across in your home country.
Finally, the International Student Club offers weekly showings of Czech films with English subtitles.
This is a jungle, since Brno has so many clubs, designed to cater to such a wide range of tastes. What’s more, they tend to appear and disappear with more frequency than theatres, cinemas and even restaurants. Unfortunately there is no convenient way to find out about everything that is going on at the city’s clubs. Kam v Brně and Kult are helpful; because of its bi-monthly format, Do města /Downtown tends to have more recent information. And it’s worth remembering that many clubs advertise their programs through posters. In all probability, though, most of the time you’ll probably learn about what’s coming to the clubs by word-of-mouth.
Museums and galleries
The five main institutions here are the Moravian Museum, the Moravian Gallery, the Technical Museum, the Museum of the City of Brno and the House of Art , each of which has facilities at more than one location. Besides their permanent collections, they also mount many temporary exhibitions each year. All museums and galleries are closed on Mondays; some also close other days. A sixth significant museum is the Museum of Roma Culture (Bratislavská 67), the only museum in Europe devoted solely to the Roma (Gypsies).
In addition to the above institutions, of course, there are many galleries, both public and private, with continually changing exhibitions of paintings, sculpture, graphic works, photographs and media art. One of these, the Design Centre of the Czech Republic (Radnická 2), specializes in publicising the latest in all aspects of Czech design.
The major musical body in Brno is the Brno State Philharmonic, which offers a whole range of different kinds of concerts throughout the year. These are presented in a series of “cycles” devoted to particular kinds of music – symphonies, chamber music, and so on – each of which comprises half a dozen or more concerts in the course of the year. Tickets can be bought for individual concerts, or you can take out a subscription for a whole year’s cycle. Full information on the Philharmonic’s activities can be obtained at its box office in Besední street.
The Philharmonic’s activities account for only a fraction of Brno’s musical life. In addition, the city has many choirs, chamber orchestras and smaller groups (quartets, quintets and so on), old-music ensembles, folk music groups, jazz groups, modern folk groups, bluegrass groups, rock groups – the list is endless – and of course welcomes many groups like these from other places in the Czech Republic and abroad. To keep up with what’s happening, it’s best to buy Kam v Brně and/or Kult (or pick up Do města / Downtown), keep an eye out for posters advertising these events, and ask your Czech friends for tips. Tickets for the majority of these kinds of musical events can be bought at the central advance booking agency at Běhounská 17.
The theatres in Brno offer a wide range of stage productions – dramas, operas, ballets, operettas, musicals and puppet plays. Here we list only the main theatres and the kinds of productions you can expect to see in them. In addition, there are also a number of smaller theatres in the city, often with interesting repertoires and inventive productions.
The Janácek Theatre (Rooseveltova 1–7) has the largest stage in Brno and is the venue for the opera, operetta and ballet productions of the National Theatre in Brno. Its second stage, the Mahen Theatre (Malinovského nám. 1), an opulent neo-Baroque building dating back to 1882 – worth a visit in itself – is devoted largely to the National Theatre’s drama productions, with a repertoire running from the classics to contemporary premieres, as well as the occasional musical. The advance booking office for both these theatres is at Dvorákova 11.
The Brno Municipal Theatre (Lidická 16), with its splendidly refurbished premises, is usually sold out. The company is famous for its dynamic productions of stage dramas and its ambitious musicals, many of them original works.
Brno is unusual in having two experimental theatre companies, both with an international reputation. The Goose on a String Theatre offers exciting, visually stimulating productions, largely of original orprovocatively adapted plays, in its state-of-the-art complex of buildings at Zelný trh 9. HaDivadlo operates out of a newly renovated venue at Poštovská 8d and is notable for the intellectually demanding content of its (usually original) plays and its highly expressive acting style.
The Bolek Polívka Theatre (Jakubské nám. 5) brings to Brno some of the best Czech theatre productions as well as performances by Bolek Polívka himself, a brilliant mime and one of the country’s most popular theatre figures.
Studio Marta (Bayerova 5) is the theatre of the Janácek Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts: its lively and controversial production are the work of the Academy’s aspiring young actors, directors and stage designers. In spring the Academy organise a week-long festival that brings to Brno exciting productions from drama schools all across Europe.
Everyone whose childhood was spent in Brno is familiar with the Radost Puppet Theatre (Bratislavská 30-32). But this is more than just a company for children: some of its productions are designed for adults.
Finally, don’t miss the productions by students at the Faculty of Arts and Education of plays put on plays in English, German, French, Spanish and even, on occasion, Latin and Greek.
The cost of living is very low in the Czech Republic compared to most Western countries, and you will be able to live very comfortably without spending large sums. ATMs are generally the easiest and cheapest way to manage money here, and the Brno city centre features numerous conveniently located automated bank machines capable of handling transactions with Western financial institutions.
Foreign currency can be exchanged at any bank, though you might check around to see which one gives the best rate, since these can vary considerably. The small exchange booths along Masarykova street are said to offer the best exchange rates in the city.
Some of you may wish to open an account in crowns or a foreign currency at a local bank, especially if you are going to be in Brno for more than one semester. This can be done relatively easily at virtually any bank, though you will probably find that banks in the city centre, especially branches of the larger banks, offer the best range of services. The Office for International Studies can advise you on which bank might serve you best.
Credit and electronic debit cards (MasterCard, Maestro, Visa) can be used in most restaurants, as well as in larger shops. In smaller shops credit cards are less likely to be welcomed; there you will probably have to pay in cash.
There are two separate police forces in the Czech Republic, the national police force (Policie České republiky) and municipal police forces (Městská policie). They can be distinguished by their uniforms, the Czech police wearing grey trousers with blue jackets and the municipal police black uniforms. The Czech police deal with such areas as criminal activities, road traffic (accidents, fines and so on), and visas for foreigners. The municipal police have limited powers to maintain law and order within the town or city where they work.
Most post offices are only open on weekdays. The one beside the Main Train Station remains open non-stop, 24 hours a day seven days a week. It should answer most of your communication needs. In addition to sending letters and packages, you can use their fax and wire services and phone long distance, paying cash upon completion of your call (though this will be more expensive than if you phone from a payphone).
|1 January||New Year’s Day|
|Easter Monday||moveable; the Monday after Easter Sunday|
|1 May||May Day|
|8 May||Liberation Day (marking the end of World War II)|
|5 July||Feast day of the Apostles of the Slavs, Sts Cyril and Methodius|
Day marking the anniversary of the death of Jan Hus|
(burned at the stake in 1415)
|8 September||Day of Czech statehood (the feast day of St Wenceslas)|
|28 October||Day commemorating the founding of Czechoslovakia (in 1918)|
|17 November||Day of the struggle for freedom and democracy|
|24–26 December||Christmas holidays|
Brno municipal transport
The public transport system in Brno is quite comprehensive and reliable. The many tram, bus and trolley-bus lines allow you to get quickly to any part of the city throughout the day and the evening. Several trams and buses run through the night as well, at one-hour intervals. You can buy individual tickets for the public transport system at most newspaper stands, in some food stores and from machines located at key stops; the price of the usual adult ticket is 22 CZK. It is also possible to buy a ticket directly from the tram/bus/trolley-bus driver, but in this case it costs 30 CZK. You must stamp the ticket as soon as you enter the vehicle, using one of the small devices attached to the vertical poles near the doors. Tickets, which allow you to transfer, are valid for 60 minutes. If you anticipate a journey to some distant part of the city that will last more than 60 minutes, you can buy a more expensive ticket, for 24 CZK (valid for 90 minutes).
Most students, however, prefer to purchase a monthly or quarterly pass, especially since there is a considerable student reduction. At the beginning of orientation week those of you who so wish will be taken to one of the city transport offices, where you will be able to purchase your pass. Public transport schedules and maps can also be obtained from these offices.
Special one-day, three-day, seven-day and fifteen-day tickets are also available, of particular interest to those of you who might have guests coming to visit while you are in Brno.
Brnocity transport offices:
Mendlovo nám. 19
Hlinky 151 (near the Vinarská halls of residence)
Detailed information about municipal transport services can be found at www.dpmb.cz.
The Brno Main Train Station (“Hlavní nádraží“) lies on the major rail route connecting Berlin with Prague, Vienna, Bratislava and Budapest. Brno is linked to Prague by many daily express trains (some of them international) as well as several Eurocity and Pendolino trains, which make the journey in less than three hours.
Coaches and buses
Bus travel in the Czech Republic is very inexpensive. Brno has two bus stations. The main bus station, “Zvonařka”, is about a ten-minute walk from the Main Train Station. It serves as the point of arrival and departure for buses linking Brno with places within the Czech Republic as well as for international coaches. The downtown bus station is the place to go for buses to and from Prague. The station is located less than five minutes from the Main Train Station, opposite the Grand Hotel. Three companies operate buses on the Brno-Prague link, Student agency (www.studentagency.cz), Tourbus (www.tourbus.cz) and Eurolines (www.eurolines.cz). Service is very frequent, with each company operating more than a dozen buses on weekdays and about half that number on weekends. Tickets are purchased at the station (where each company has its own ticket office).
The Czechs as a nation seem to be one of the most “atheistic” in Europe: at the 2001 census, 58 per cent said they were non-believers. Among believers, the largest group is that of the Roman Catholics (about 26 per cent of the population), followed by considerably smaller numbers of Protestants (around 4 per cent), Orthodox Christians, Jews and members of other faiths. In Brno, and even more in southern Moravia, the proportion of believers is higher than the national average, but still rather low by European standards. So do not be surprised if few of your Czech friends attend religious services. Nevertheless, there is a wide range of denominations and faiths represented in Brno, though in most cases their language of worship will be Czech.
Most Roman Catholic churches have two or more masses a day on weekdays, more on Sundays. The Jesuit Church (Beethovenova street) has services for students (in Czech) on Monday at 19:00 and Wednesday at 8:00. The student centre at Kozí 8 (first floor) has a library and reading room open on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 14:00 till 18:30 and on Wednesday from 8:00 till 18:30. Consultations with a priest in German and English are possible on Wednesday.
Many Protestant denominations are active in Brno, among them the Czechoslovak Hussite Church, Baptists, Seventh Day Adventists, Church of the Brethren, Unitarians, Salvation Army and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Perhaps the best-known Protestant church building is the historic “Red Church” on Komenský Square, which belongs to the Evangelical Czech Brethren Church. It holds its regular services on Sundays at 10:00 (in September at 9:00).
The “Majak” ministry organizes an interdenominational Protestant service in English that is held on Sundays at Dusíkova 5 (in the suburb of Lesná) at 17:00. Enquiries at 548 221 566.
The single Orthodox church in Brno (a remarkable example of Functionalist architecture) is situated near the beginning of Gorazdova street, on the slope leading up to Špilberk from the western side. Services are held on Sundays at 7:00, 9:00 and 19:00 (in winter at 18:00). Further information can be obtained from the Orthodox Church community office, at Úvoz 62 (tel. 542 214 030), in Czech, Russian, Greek and Ukrainian.
The one synagogue that survived World War II is located at Skooepka 13. Services are on Fridays at 17:00 and Saturdays at 9:30. For more information, you can get in touch with the Jewish community office, třída kpt. Jaroše 3 (tel. 545 244 710).
Brno enjoys the distinction of having the first and so far only mosque in the Czech Republic. It is part of the offices and cultural centre of the Islamic Foundation in Brno, situated at Vídeňská 38a (tel. 543 243 352). Worship is held five times daily; the main service of the week is on Friday at 12:30 (when the country is on standard time) or 13:30 (during summer time). Detailed information is provided on the Islamic Foundation’s Website,http://brno.muslim.cz/http://brno.muslim.cz/.
Brno has seen a flurry of new commercial ventures in the decade since the end of Communism. Brno’s attractive city centre features hundreds of shops offering everything from designer clothes to books in various languages to beautiful antiques. For miscellaneous daily needs, students often find the Tesco department store and supermarket, located behind the Main Railway Station, a useful resource. Stretching beyond tesco is Galerie Vaňkovka: with its 130 shops, food courts and other facilities, it is the largest shopping complex in Moravia. Smaller supermarkets and convenience stores are located close to the Vinařská residence facilities. For the more ambitious, the Hyper Tesco and Ikea super-stores can be reached via free shuttle buses departing from behind the downtown Tesco.
Opening hours vary greatly. Most shops are open Monday to Friday from 8:30/9:00 till 18:00, and those in the centre of the city on Saturday as well, from 8:30/9:00 till 12:00. Supermarkets and convenience stores throughout the city are often open for some hours on Saturday and Sunday; convenience stores calling themselves “Večerka” are open late in the evening and usually over the weekend. At the shopping centres ringing the city, most of the shops are open seven days a week.
Sports and physical activities
Brno offers a wide range of sporting and recreational opportunities. Masaryk University operates several gymnasiums, including one adjacent to the Vinařská residence where most international students live. The city of Brno also provides dozens of sporting facilities, including thirteen indoor and open-air swimming pools and two winter stadiums.
The Brno Lake, easily accessible by public transport, is a popular site for swimming, skating (in winter) and outdoor recreation. The area also offers opportunities for golf, hiking, and skiing.
Information about specific sporting and athletics facilities in Brno can be found on the City of Brno Webpages; visit www.brno.cz.
If you are studying at Masaryk University for more than one semester, you may wish to join some sports club. The Office for International Studies can provide you with information about where you might go for the particular sport you are interested in.
Brno taxi services have a much better reputation than those in Prague. Overcharging does not happen so often and the taxi-gang wars are not an issue here. In any case, when using the taxi, ask in advance the approximate price of the service and make sure that the taxi-meter has been set to zero at the beginning of the ride.
For the sake of convenience, many students purchase a cellular phone for incoming and outgoing phone calls, thus avoiding reliance on public telephones and the telephones available in Masaryk University’s residences. There are three mobile phone operators in the Czech Republic – T-Mobile (www.t-mobile.cz), Vodafone (www.vodafone.cz) and O2 (www.cz.o2.com). North American students should ask for a tri-band phone if they want to use the phone after they return home.
To make an international call, dial 00 followed by the country code. A full list of country codes can be found in the Yellow Pages. Within the Czech Republic the nine-digit numbers can be dialled direct.
For information on telephone numbers in the Czech Republic dial 1180, for information on telephone numbers outside the Czech Republic 1181.
Visiting Czechs in their homes
The almost universal custom in Czech households is to wear slippers inside the house or flat. This means that if you are visiting friends at their home, you will probably be expected to shed your shoes too. However, most households are normally prepared for this: there is a selection of slippers for guests waiting at the entrance to the home or flat.
If you are invited to someone’s place for a meal, it is the custom to take a small gift – often something to consume, such as a bottle of wine or a box of chocolates. Or a small bouquet of flowers might be appropriate.