The Melting Pot of America Reaches All the Way to Brno
There are several places that you can feel the influence of the United States in Brno, even if they are not exactly “American”. Title image: @BrnoDaily
By Bruno Zalubil
It is difficult to pin-point an “American” place in Brno. Frankly, it is difficult to pin-point what “American” even means.
Is America fast food and obesity? Or is it health-nut fitness freaks and the social pressure to be thin?
Is America Donald Trump, Republicans and guns? Or is it Hillary Clinton / Barack Obama, Democrats and anti-guns?
Is America a warmonger that starts wars on false pretenses to protect oil? Or is it a democracy whose citizens jam streets for non-violent protests?
Is America a place to hate and the perfect symbolic target for terrorism? Or is it the land of opportunity that says: “Give me your tired, your poor / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
The truth is America is all of these things to some degree. America is a melting pot with every nationality and religion and culture and political position mixed together into one messy sludge of freedom and liberty.
A lot of that messy sludge has been exported around the world. There are several places that you can feel the influence of the United States in Brno, even if they are not exactly “American”.
When I first came to Brno I remember the disappointment of walking into Vankovka. It is a nice shopping mall with nice stores — but it is exactly like every other shopping mall that I had ever visited in America.
There is nothing European about Vankovka. It is America through and through. I didn’t want the mall to follow me to Europe. Surprise: It was already here.
The shopping mall started in the United States. Southdale Center in Edina, Minnesota, is the first fully enclosed and climate-controlled shopping mall. It opened in 1956 and it is now preparing for yet another Christmas rush. Minnesota also has the Mall of America, the largest in the world: 1.15 miles (1.85 km) around one level; more than 520 stores; 70 degrees every day; and more than 8,700 weddings every year. Every decent-sized city in the United States has a mall.
(Interestingly, Southdale Center and the mall concept was created by a man who was born and raised just down the road in Austria. Victor Gruen, a Jew, studied architecture at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts — the same school that had not accepted Adolf Hitler a few years earlier — and emigrated in the same week as Sigmund Freud when the ominous winds of World War II were gaining strength. Gruen enclosed the public square and added inward-pointing storefronts, forever giving teenagers a place to hang out and the American capitalist economy a place to grow.)
Black Friday is this week and it is a uniquely American event that grew out of the built-in day off after Thanksgiving (which is always the fourth Thursday of November). Black Friday is the unofficial start to the holiday shopping season and gives consumerism free reign. Videos of crazy people trying to get deals will be all over the news. Now, even in the Czech Republic, there are Black Friday sales, and Cyber Monday has become a worldwide phenomenon.
FOOD – American style in Brno
Inside shopping malls there is always a food court. Vankovka, Olympia, Avion, even Campus Square, have some mix of the famous American fast-food restaurants: McDonald’s, Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken. These places exist in the center of the city, too. Subway recently opened several storefronts at the same time. Even Starbucks has entered the local market.
Yet, is any of this really “American” cuisine. Pizza and pasta are clearly Italian. Chinese food is quickly identifiable. And Indian food has a distinctive look, taste and smell. Just what is an American meal? Most everything associated with America came from somewhere else via immigrants. I would argue that the only real American foods are chili and barbeque, particularly the BBQ sauces. In my experience, neither of those exist in Brno.
Yet, ask a normal person on street about American food and they will probably say one thing: hamburgers.
Hamburgers, at least the name, come from Hamburg, Germany, because hundreds of years ago sailors returned to port with beef tartare that they had discovered in the Baltic States. Nevertheless, hamburgers are generally considered to be the touchstone of American cuisine. Unlike a decade ago, pretty much every restaurant in Brno now serves them.
Here is a short and non-comprehensive list of local restaurants with an American theme:
• The East Village Diner (Jaselska 185/2) has gone the extra mile to create a replica of the most basic of New York City dining establishments. They serve an American-style breakfast and a bottomless cup of drip coffee, in addition to the burgers. Each table has a ketchup bottle for which you need not pay — a very American touch. (Even Czech McDonald’s restaurants make you pay for ketchup!) Click here for the Facebook page.
• U Starýho Billa (Old Bill’s Steak House; Kudelova 1853/5) has offered Tex-Mex cuisine for many years. It has some of the best steaks in town and the interior is jammed with Southwestern artwork and knick-knacks. Click here for the English-language website.
• Burger Inn (Běhounská 9) is a relatively new addition to the city center. It’s a small place, but it has delivery and take out. The burgers taste great. A good place to start a night of beer drinking. Click here for the website.
• Texas Burger (Nerudova 6/630) clearly is going for a connection to the states. A bit north of the city center on a cold street, but worth a try. Click here for the Facebook page.
• Úvozna Restaurant (Úvoz 82/39) has images of New York City on the wall and a wide array of burgers available. Click here for their website.
• Buffalo American Steakhouse (Křížkovského 416/22) has American flags outside and American-flag throw pillows inside. It’s small but it packs a lot of different tastes onto each large wooden platter that is serves. It’s been around since April. Click here for their website.
Hot dogs are very “American” but it is too much to say that America was an inspiration for the locally ubiquitous parek v rohliku. Besides, an individual hot dog is called a “frank”; that is the short version of frankfurters, which gets its name from Frankfurt, Germany. (In other words: blame the Germans for both hamburgers and hot dogs!)
Dessert is a bit different. We have the saying “As American as Apple Pie”, so we should consider apple pie to be pretty important. For the record, I’ve never had good apple pie in the Czech Republic. Apple strudel, definitely, but never apple pie.
Donuts and cupcakes are both quite “American” — and both are the latest dining craze in Brno.
• Mlsna Holka (Kozí 27/2) opened in summer. It is a tiny store which offers donuts and coffee and you can sit and watch the busy street in the center. And it smells like cinnamon heaven. Click here for the Facebook page.
• Funky Donuts (Lidická 28) started as delivery-only and opened their store three months ago. They offer around 14 kinds of donuts and coffee. It’s cozy and calm. Click here for the Facebook page.
• La Donuteria Brno (Zelný trh 14) is in the newly opened Tržnice Brno building. They offer five standard kinds of donuts and two weekly specials. There are tables and chairs available in the food court. Click here for the Facebook page.
• Kafe & Kobliha (Pekařská 433/68) opened in September. You can literary watch how the donuts and kobliha’s are made. There are no chairs but you can sit on the window sill. Click here for the Facebook page.
• Vegan Sweet Bar (Orli 27) opened in late August. They offer vegan donuts and cakes. It’s quite a big place with plenty of seating where you can enjoy the sweets and coffee. And if you want, you can peek through the door behind the counter to see how the sweets are made. Click here for the Facebook page.
And, of course, Vankovka has a new donut place, too: • Mr. Donut (Vankovka, first floor) is chain restaurant with several locations throughout the Czech Republic. Click here for the website.
• Cupcakekarna specializes in cupcakes. They are located in two different locations: nám. Svobody 92/21 and soon in Tržnice Brno building (Zelný trh 14-16). Click here for the website.
America often gets the blame for negative aspects of various holidays. But just exactly what is an American holiday? Halloween comes from the Celtic paganism of the British Isles. Celebrations on Christmas Day — December 25 — were first held in the 336 by the Roman Emperor Constantine and the Santa Claus legend started with a monk named St. Nicholas, who was born in modern-day Turkey in 280. Valentine’s Day also has roots in Ancient Rome and Feb. 14 has been the name day for centuries. America doesn’t even have name-day calendars. Yet, many people associate these holidays and their images with America.
Like many things, America takes the holidays and makes them bigger and (arguably) better: television shows and movies tell stories about the holidays, products are created to celebrate them and a price tag is put on everything.
Then other countries are willing to take the products and sell them. That’s why Santa Claus, with his red Coca-Cola cloak, has become a common image in shopping centers in the Czech Republic. It’s also why Feb. 14 has become a profitable day for many local restaurants and Halloween parties are commonplace.
Thanksgiving (which will be celebrated tomorrow) is the American holiday that has not made it locally. In recent years, however, frozen turkeys have begun to appear in Tesco and Makro.
TYPICAL AMERICAN SPORTS IN BRNO
The Big Three American professional sports are well-represented in Brno.
Baseball started during the American Civil War during the mid-1860s. It has been played professionally for 141 years. In the Czech Republic, Brno Draci have dominated with 21 championships. Cardion Hrosi and Technika Brno also play in the extraliga.
American Football started in Northeastern universities in the 1880s. The National Football League is the largest professional league in American and a juggernaut of influence. Every winter, hundreds of locals converge upon Brno sports bars to watch the Super Bowl. This past July, the Brno Alligators beat the Brno Sigrs in the Bitters Silver Bowl XII, 38-31.
Basketball was developed by Dr. James Naismith in December 1891 in Springfield, Massachusetts. It is now played at a high level by both genders internationally.
Women’s basketball has a long history in Brno. Basket Žabiny Brno won 13 consecutive league titles from 1996 to 2008, and added another in 2010. They also won the FIBA EuroLeague Women’s Tournament in 2006. There are currently three Brno teams throughout the standings of the top women’s basketball league (ZBL): KP Brno is fourth in the league and also playing in the EuroCup; Žabiny Brno is fifth and playing in the Central European Women’s League; and Technic Brno is 11th.
In men’s basketball, mmcité+ Brno is having its best season in years, largely behind American players Brian Sullivan and Kevin Mays.
Follow the Brno Weekly Sports Report for more information about upcoming basketball games.
American movies and music are hard to ignore.
The cinemas are full of summer popcorn movies. Hollywood blockbusters are just as successful in Europe as in the American heartland. Star Wars, for example, is wildly popular with present-day Czech teenagers. Leonardo DiCaprio is a heartthrob everywhere.
Music is similar. Most hits top the charts on both sides of the Atlantic. And, when shopping in a Brno grocery store, you are much more likely to hear an English-language rap song (profanity and all) than a German or French pop song.
Additionally, this week will be the premier performance of the Ballet National Theatre Brno interpretation of West Side Story. The musical is a very American form of theatre and West Side Story is a very American interpretation of William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”. Where is it set? It is set in the city that welcomes immigrants from around the world with the Statue of Liberty and mixes them into the ultimate American melting pot: New York City. Click here for more information.
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For good or bad, America has permeated the world and Brno, too. There is no one place in Brno that is perfectly “American”. Even the homes of American expats are no longer strictly “American”; now, they are simply Brnoan.
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