CESKY KRUMLOV, CZECH REPUBLIC — Two little kids are splashing around in the small, plastic bathtub on the busiest street of Cesky Krumlov, small medieval city in the south of Czech Republic. It is a hot summer day, hustle and bustle everywhere, as droves of tourists are passing through, taking photos of everything they encounter – including the children. „They will not remember why they took the photo,“ said Vera Carkova, 36, the mother of the children. She is a perky and energetic teacher, who is currently on maternity leave. Besides bathing the children, she would do all kinds of things on the main street – barbecue, water the plants or dry the laundry.
All of the mentioned things seem like ordinary activities, except that Carkova‘s family was paid for doing them – just like other families participating in the contemporary art project titled UNES-CO. Its aim is to to revive the downtown of Krumlov by bringing everyday life to the streets that have been almost abandoned by the locals. Instead, hundreds of tourists rush through the centre every day.
Cesky Krumlov has around 13 thousand citizens, with no more than 350 residents living in the small city centre. Reachable within three hours from Prague, the city is a popular day-trip destination for the visitors of the Czech capital. Numerous souvenir shops featuring all from Czech ‘blue onion’ porcelain to Russian matryoshkas, pubs with traditional food and beer and stalls with famous ‘trdelnik’ made from rolled dough can be found all over the city. „In a way, Krumlov is similar to Bronx,“ said Katerina Seda, the author of the project and an artist who has been previously focusing on ghettos. „Mix of languages, shops that no one needs, inconsideration,“ she said. The idea behind the project is to return the aspects of normal life to the centre full of touristic attractions.
Her project is representing the Czech Republic at the architecture competition Biennale currently taking place in Venice. Cesky Krumlov and its centuries-old cobbled streets and picturesque buildings of the historic city centre are listed in UNESCO world heritage list – just as Barcelona, Venice and Dubrovnik, cities that are similarly overflowing with tourists. According to Seda, cities that are on the list suffer similar negative consequences of tourism. In some of them, such as Barcelona or Venice, tourism has even sparked protests. Residents there write angry graffiti or participate in demonstrations against mass tourism, holding up banners saying ‚Tourist, go home‘ or ‚This is not tourism, it is an invasion‘.
Carkova decided to apply to the project when she noticed duvets placed in the windows of the town hall to lure attention to the project. „I was thinking, what the hell is going on here?” said Carkova.
Born and raised in Krumlov, she moved only a few streets closer to the centre. She got an apartment for free and a description of what her new daily job titled as ‘normal life’ includes.“It was not a show and we were not actors,” said Carkova about the job, that lasted a month, “we just did what we always do. My son learned to ride a bike, we had a grill party, we were having visitors.” What is happening in the main streets of Krumlov is being broadcasted into the Czech pavillon at Biennale in Venice. Participants also have to observe the life in the city and share their impressions online. „It was like we were writing a diary,“ said Carkova.
According to Cesky Krumlov Tourism Board, around 2 million tourists visit the medieval city every year, and growing number of them stop to visit the main attraction - the castle. This year it was 543 170. Most of the locals live at the periphery, renting their houses in the centre to the visitors. “2800 people work in tourism field and 40 % of the job offers is in that field,” said Eva Vaneckova, manager of the Tourism board. “Locals feel like somebody stole the centre from them and they do not even benefit from it,” said Seda, referring to the fact that the town hall does not collect fees for entering the city. “Most tourists run through the city within the horizon of three hours and do not spend almost anything,“ said Seda, explaining the frustration of the locals.
Locals are torn about the project. While some of them are worried that attention from the media might attract more tourists to Krumlov, others seem to think the opposite. „I do not see any point in this project,“ said Sarka Vaneckova, a bistro owner. Josefina Holcova, 16-year-old student, does not think that tourists are hindrance to the normal life in the city. “We live in the centre and my little brother does not mind playing football among the tourists,” she said. “One thing is sure, finally somebody is listening to us,” said Petra Lewis, resident of Krumlov, “Before UNES-CO, not even one journalist came here.”
“It brought us locals together,” said Carkova about the effect of project. „We would have coffee in our apartment in the centre and discuss the things we do not like in the city.“ She says that she wants to be more active and convince the town hall to do the best for the locals. „All Krumlovians know about this project. It started a discussion and may lead to a change,“ said Carkova.