This summer, hundreds of thousands of Czechs have spent regular weekends and longer vacations at their chata (cabin) or chalupa (cottage) in the country. Such second homes are a deeply embedded aspect of Czech life. But what are the roots of the tradition? And how has Czechs’ relationship to their country house changed since the fall of communism? I discussed these questions and more with a leading expert in the field, Dr. Jiří Vágner of the Geography of Leisure Research Centre at the Faculty of Science at Prague’s Charles University.
Some 37% of Czech cottage owners have had their recreational houses burgled, according to a poll carried out by the STEM/MARK agency for the insurance company Generali. Police statistics from 2010 show that the average damage to cottages and property therein was nearly 19,000 crowns. The items most frequently stolen from cottages were tools (28%), electronics (20%) and common household appliances (20%), while food and clothing were also frequently taken.
After several years in this country I finally, finally had my first proper Czech chata (country cottage) experience a couple of weeks ago. The whole thing was a bit like a log-cabin version of Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, with me going into this weekend in the hills with a head full of horror movies, and primed by literature, well, like Northanger Abbey.
Under communism, when travelling was far from easy, many Czechs' main form of escape was spending time at their country cottages. In the 1990s it remained an extremely common part of life in the Czech Republic, with many families continuing to load up their cars and head to their chata every weekend. But now, it seems, this is changing.
The number of Czechs spending weekends at their country cottages has fallen significantly, suggests a survey quoted in Lidove noviny. The poll found that while in 2001 19 percent spent weekends at their "chalupa", in 2007 the figure has fallen to less than 8 percent. A sociologist told the daily the reason for the drop was that young people today have less free time and either work or stay at home at weekends.
"Chalupareni" which loosely translates as "a country-cottage lifestyle" is a Czech term coined in the second half of the 20th century when Czechs could not travel and when all their time and money was invested in their country cottages. As a result Czechs now top the European statistics in the number of country-homes owned per head. "Chalupareni" is still going strong but as Czechs get richer many are looking around for a different kind of holiday home.
In Business News this week: the number of Czechs with a private pension plan rises by almost ten percent to 3.6 million; the second phase of the Czech Republic's truck tolling system will mostly use satellite technology; Industry and Trade Minister Martin Riman wants to extend the mining limits for brown coal in two mines in north Bohemia; the Czech food production industry sees record sales last year, but is nevertheless in difficulties; and the number of Czechs buying a second home for recreational purposes is on the rise.