Has overpopulation made people less empathetic

The genius loci in the cultural landscape, especially in the border regions

A series of “data” is hidden in the cultural landscape, which reveals a lot about the ecological behavior of individuals and society as a whole. In a more and more globalized world, our relationship with the landscape, its image and its influence on the lives of its inhabitants - that is, on us - is becoming one of the few relationships that defy the tendencies towards standardization and superficiality. Our landscape thus protects evidence of uniqueness, regional differences and cultural diversity, which are inseparable from the richness of human history. Václav Cílek expresses this in his book "Krajiny vnitřní a vnější" as follows: "Just as humans shape the landscape, the landscape also shapes people."

The landscape as we know it from our geographical longitudes and latitudes is the largest project in human history. Because it is the only living being that does not have its own environment that is based on universal symbols and values, humans had to design the landscape. In order to sustain his life he needed an environment that would become his home. To this day he has been working on it, maintaining it and developing it according to his current and long-term needs. Everyone has the chance to intervene in this project and does so.

The basic motivation of all participants is the creation of a safe, familiar, meaningful and more or less compatible - i.e. connectable - space. This connection between the human world and nature is also intended to “contribute to ecological stability.” In this way, islands first emerged, later areas connected by paths, with the help of which the culture and cultural landscape project could expand - a so-called “cultural landscape” emerged Corridor". Around these designed areas, parts of the more or less “wild” nature were preserved, from which humans set themselves apart. He was aware that he was leaving the self-regulating womb of mother earth, but he needed other places to realize his life and his ideas.

Cultural landscape sees itself as a means of adapting people to their environment. It is the result of human work to secure the nutritional basis and the projection of human imagination into nature, which creates a feeling of "being at home". The more extensive the cultural landscape project was and the more people brought in their own ideas about the world, the more beauty, diversity and symbolism the landscape gained. It was functional, personal, at the same time very compatible and harmonious in its entirety.

In the course of the 19th century the employment structure of the population began to change, and at the same time the number of people increased. The landscape project lost the support of a wide circle of participants - only those who (have to) deal professionally with the landscape remained. Fewer and fewer people are working in agriculture, houses are being built turnkey and based on templates. The building materials themselves will also be standardized. The loss of the landscape's memory is one of the reasons for an architecture that is unable to tie in with tradition. Often the more capable people moved from the country to the city. Lately there has been an individual return to the country, but they have little information about life in the landscape context. As a result, settlements and houses emerge that do not communicate with their surroundings or romantic daydreams without reference to everyday life. With this process the landscape loses its creators, the city loses the landscape and people lose interest in both.

The human world begins to focus on other projects that are only designed by a small group, especially people with narrow and selfish interests. The wholeness is lost as a conscious goal of human existence. People spend their time “maintaining” an imposed lifestyle in an increasingly virtual world. You just drive quickly through the landscape, at best you sunbathe or bathe there. But less and less work is done in it. In the course of their thousand-year tradition, a social environment has been created in the cities in which people can meet and get to know each other. Just like the village square in the country, town squares, boulevards, markets and parks counteract the anonymity of the cities.

As long as the city's development took place within its fortress walls, one had to plan carefully. With the 19th century, when the city blew its walls and the first suburbs emerged, the era of modern urban planning began: fast, practical living is preferred to the creation of an inhabited social environment. Around the cities we find new settlements and communities that gradually became part of the big city. They lack a center such as a church, school, pond, park or other non-profit organization. On the other hand, we are sure to find a rest stop and a car dealer, factory buildings, gas stations and warehouse for floor coverings here. In this environment, the car is the basis of life. The drive to work in the city leads to the traffic collapse of the metropolis. Your social space, which has been carefully and deliberately created for so long, is thus destroyed.

It is not entirely absurd to point out that the area around Prague is sometimes referred to as the “Inner Sudetenland”. The reason is the proximity to this strong socio-cultural and economic center. The result is the uprooting of society, the destruction of the bond between its members and the environment around them and the transformation of this area into the recreational area of ​​the big city. Another side effect is the emergence of isolated satellite cities without their own culture. We can see this process in the majority of the world's major cities. It is referred to as "urban sprawl" - "the city flowing apart".

But let us now come back to the uprooting and its consequences, which we find in the landscape, culture and architecture of the former settlement area of ​​the Sudeten Germans. Even if we do not want to ignore the ethnographic, cultural and economic differences between the individual regions of the Czech border area, we allow ourselves, above all, to draw attention to the common problems they share.

In our country we find many places where we have stopped living. Property was taken, stolen or destroyed. However, many artifacts have been preserved that, following changes in society and ownership, are now without ownership and care. The buildings of the former LPGs, fields, forests and meadows remained. All of this begins to deteriorate or overgrow. Instead of the cultural landscape, there is succession.

Another element that has survived in the landscape and refers us to its history are (small) church monuments. Wayside shrines, crosses and ways of the cross can draw attention to important local events. They refer to the relationship between people and God. Thus they had a four-fold meaning: symbolic (they lead the visitor to special points in the landscape), religious (the opportunity to pray and find one's role in the divine order), historical (relationship to a certain event) and handcraft ( each wayside shrine or similar worked according to a different model, regional peculiarities).

One of the fundamental problems that today determines how we deal with the cultural heritage of our landscape is the question of whether the material cultural monuments should be "evacuated" from this area or left in their place of origin. If the culture of our rural area is renewed, we have to think about this question and make decisions too. In connection with this, a case that journalist Tomáš Feřtek came across is very interesting. In Gratzen in South Bohemia he met Mr. Blíženec, who tries to restore monuments and create cultural landscapes according to old patterns, as we know them from the past. His credo is to renew the monument and keep it in its original location. He does not accept moving to a nicer, more inhabited or visited place. In the border areas in particular, it is important to preserve the remnants of the landscape's memory, as it has lost much of its memories. A wayside shrine in the bushes, says Mr Blíženec, conveys the message that should speak to us here: “Look, there is nothing beautiful or even alive here, but once there was a village here, paths led along here. People sail past here, rejoicing in the world. Something happened here and that's why this wayside shrine is here. "

The owner of a hut in the same area is of the opposite opinion. So that we can keep people in the landscape, we have to bring them closer to the life in it and teach them how to care for them, we have to offer them beautiful paths and frame them with local cultural artefacts. This is the only way to attract tourists, investors and life here. His credo is the implementation of the smaller monuments in the landscape on "educational trails", the memory of the landscape should be concentrated in a small area and thus an entire region should be presented.

It is clear that both gentlemen do not understand each other in their opinion on this problem. It is all the more interesting that both met, at the wayside shrines. One wanted to renew it and leave it in place, the other wanted to implement it. Such a fundamental argument broke out ...

The following opinion is held in specialist circles: “In order to evaluate the conservation of a landscape, it must first and foremost be divided into visually connected spaces that are separated by barriers - in landscape units. It would be pointless for the landscape to protect only a wayside shrine or a beautiful tree in the middle of a garbage dump. ”It is therefore clear that efforts in the search for a new task for the monuments in the interest of preserving their monument value are not opposed either then not if they are implemented in a completely different place and in a different context. The area, however, in which a piece of landscape culture was lost, has thus perhaps been written off.

Who today has the right to decide whether a monument will remain where it is or whether it will be implemented? Should we preserve the memory of the landscape, even if it will not be used by anyone, or should we put it in the vicinity of our luxury houses and thus create a cultural-landscape zone in the vicinity of our cities?

The insidious thing about this question, however, is the fact that there are good reasons to defend both opinions when dealing with cultural heritage. It seems that it will not matter how this or that decides. It will be important that the monument and the historical landscape are dealt with sensitively and tastefully. If a dispute like the one in the Gratzener Gebirge arises, however, a law has to be resolved that objectively sets priorities and at the same time insists on the context of the monument.

There is no doubt that the Sudetenland has its genius loci. But one can argue about whether this is alive or rather dead. Christian Norberg Schultz speaks of the genius loci as a special effect of the positive values ​​of an inhabited space. The spirit of a place is shaped by its geographical location, the history of the place, the architecture and its symbolism. With the term used, the place of residence of the person is described as follows:

“It emerged during a slow evolutionary process; it enabled self-organization on the basis of negative and positive effects. In creating the environment in this way, a choice of forms was made that respected both the natural characteristics and the needs of everyday life and, at the same time, expressed man's ideal of the world and his own destiny. "

In their books, both authors do not speak of the spirit of such places that have undergone a radical change.

Can one even speak of a genius loci in a disturbed landscape? Don't these two words already contradict each other?

If we look at the problem of the recognition of the genius loci in the Sudetenland from this point of view, we can see that the question we asked at the beginning has found an answer.

The Sudetenland is a place that has lost the genius loci and is now slowly awakening again to the life of its direct successor, who emerged from the reconstruction of the original. But this will have to respect a work that was left behind by the wild spirit of the communist years that ruled here for so long. It was a strong storm and a destructive force that leveled and destroyed all expressions of the landscape, the architectural characteristics and cultural tradition. This storm devastated the richest cultural layer of the border area, left behind uniform buildings and dragged entire villages that were found in the depths of this landscape. He carried with him wilderness and silence, which remained here after this storm - and which became the new genius loci. It is precisely this silence, the beauty of nature and the house that can be restored that the city dweller longs for.

This interpretation of the shape of the border area is based on a broader concept of the genius loci. In this wider sense of the word, it shows us a completely different view of the matter. A spirit of a place conceived in this way is viewed as a value that is not judgmental. Every place that has been interpreted by human intervention gains an idea, a spirit.

The current conception of the genius loci is therefore a consequence of turning away from the created space.

If the original traditional architecture is present in the landscape, in a municipality or in a city, and is contrasted with a new architecture that does not respect the local character, breaks in the original genius loci occur. The former is precisely the leitmotif, according to which the townscape can be gradually renewed. The quoted opinion is also an argument why the cultural landscape in the border area can be renewed on the basis of a conversion of monuments and conversions. The presented model is the opposite of the Bohemian interior, because here the awareness of traditions and events connected with the landscape and the architecture in the life of the inhabitants was preserved. Society is then able to maintain this tradition in any location.

The original spirit of the Sudetenland was badly damaged. Part of its material side was retained, its cultural and spiritual aspects almost completely disappeared. The new spirit of the place is alive, but it has a completely different character. The future will show whether the effort to renew traditions or to create new values ​​for an environment that has developed discontinuously is the better way forward.

In the Sudetenland, construction was carried out according to different patterns than in the rest of Bohemia. The architecture is a fundamental aspect by which we can recognize the cultural boundary between the inland and the border area. Artificial places, as understood by Christian Norberg-Schulz, were usually created in a dialogue between urbanism and a rich landscape relief. The most dominant place in the vicinity of rivers was therefore used the fastest - such as the city of Elbogen on the rocky banks of the Eger meander. The image of the inhabited landscape is determined by an agricultural culture under extreme conditions. The small field behind the house meant survival in the long winter months. That is why the landscape at that time with its cultivated and populated southern slopes was so intensely designed.

One of the fundamental factors in the reinterpretation of the landscape in the border area after 1945 was the new settlers' relationship with architecture, tradition, and living culture. The adaptation of the genius loci of the areas influenced by German culture to Czech tastes was decisive in the relationship to the border area in general. In 1945 there were still so many preserved buildings and architectural details that it did not occur to anyone to reconstruct these valuable structures. On the contrary, you had to cheer up the “German gray faces” with bright colors and a smile like that of Schwejk. The previous character of the landscape of the foothills and mountains was lost very quickly. The houses were cheap and so numerous that they were actually of no value. The oversupply of living space and a lack of feeling for German tradition are characteristic of access to the site and its architectural development to this day.Until the owners of huts who come here on vacation saw the original appearance of the houses as a model and as an aesthetic value of the border area. They didn't care whether it symbolized German tradition or not. These types of houses simply fit into the environment, they fit here, were a symbol of the mountain landscape that is ours and will be ours in the future. The long-established residents, both German and Czech, and on the other hand the new settlers, who took up new forms of living and building much more intensively, had a different view of the reconstruction. In the north Bohemian border area, for example, the conversion of windows and doors and the redesign of facades were very rare and essentially only occurred among new settlers. Such conversions were unthinkable for the long-established residents. Hereditary conservatism and the tradition of many previous generations were evident here. In their imagination, modernity had no place in an old building. Modern buildings are to be built on the green field.

The majority of the new residents had to get used to the new living environment for a few years. In addition, some of the apartments in the villages in the border region were at a relatively low level as a result of the war, the social position of the Germans and their certainly conservative attitude, and some electricity and water pipes only had to be installed now. It was clear that the new residents would change the appearance of the architecture in the border area significantly, thereby excluding themselves from the community of long-established residents and erasing all references to the former German culture. The main aim was to keep people in these regions, and so nobody cared how the new settlers looked for a relationship with their new home and interfered with the traditional architecture. From a temporal distance it becomes clear that the reinterpretation of the cultural code in the border area was necessary. New people create a new look.

In contrast to this traditional and wise view, the new settlers in their efforts to find a home contradicted the principles of monument preservation and the aesthetic and historical feeling. An article by Josef Scheybal in the magazine “Český lid” explains the reasons: “The houses in the mountainous border area appeared sad, cold and dark to the inhabitants of the sunny Bohemian lowlands and hills. The former residents 'preference for dark tones bothered them, and they were also bothered by their weakness for the gray color, which has traditionally been anchored here since early classicism, when the wooden houses of the North Bohemian workers' settlements and towns were painted light gray. Some new settlers got to know wood (half-timbered) constructions for the first time. This construction reminded them of the original population and therefore they looked for a way to cover it up quickly and easily. Then there was the aspect of practicality: the effort to strengthen the weak wall, to protect it from the weather and at the same time to insulate the interior. With the increased demands on the home decor, the upper floors were also intensively expanded, in which independent apartments were created, which led to the need to reinforce and conserve the walls. Many were content with an internal renovation, others “clad” their house inside and out in such a way that its original material disappeared under layers of chipboard, Eternit, plastered wire and wooden cladding. … In the northern Bohemian cities, the new population mostly did not find a good relationship with the traditional beauty of the sandstone portals from around 1800. The portals were removed and replaced by new, simple doors made of lacquered boards. So far we have not been able to find out where the general reluctance against the careful, masterful processing of natural materials came from! Do-it-yourselfers with a sense of humor enriched the portals with sparkling paint and screaming latex. ... The general abandonment of natural materials celebrated ... triumphs! People with an "artistic" streak also found a field of activity. In the unfamiliar environment, they conjured up a piece of the familiar home on the wall. They painted the castles Karlstein, Trosky, Křivoklát, Humprecht and the Hradschin from postcards. Among the bravest were the figuralists who painted a beautiful, aproned elf ... or a strong turnip on the wall of their veranda. "

Today, important biotopes that can no longer be found elsewhere are the bearers of the genius loci of the border regions. Fields became mountain meadows, which gradually overgrown with trees and spruce trees. Settlements and roads have disappeared here. Today the stone foundations of the houses with their fireplaces and chimneys can no longer be seen on the slopes. Only piles of stones, walls and dirt roads remained, which are now home to lizards, mosses and blueberries. These areas are today the most characteristic and beautiful part of the current genius loci of the border regions. The nature that returns to these places appears in an aesthetic quality that corresponds to today's life of the local residents and vacationers.

If we want to protect these areas as in the Bohemian Forest National Park and at the same time point out the original face of this landscape at the time of its settlement, the creation of an educational trail would be the ideal way. Here you could learn something about succession, the return of plants and animals. As part of such a project, it would also be possible to reconstruct at least one piece of property in the original way it was cultivated. With this comparison, the comparison would be perfect.

Since the genius loci is a historically active force, one can only speak of the spirit of the place in today's Sudetenland in a future that cannot be precisely determined. The interest in the tradition and the original character of the place is a fundamental expression of the genius loci of today's Sudetenland. Therefore, the current efforts to renew the functional, aesthetic and spiritual places of the border area can be seen as a way to return to a balanced genius loci. In other words - after the consequence of many changes in the border area after the Second World War and after 1989, an unlimited period of relative calming is necessary. An acceptance of innovation and renewal of traditions must slowly come here. Equally important is that the original houses can be reconstructed in such a way that their residents can live comfortably in them. Only then can we talk about the further maintenance and characteristic development of the individual regions. People have to decide whether they want to adhere to ideological dogmas and a national-cultural purity, or whether beauty, harmony and tradition are not more important to them, whether they come from whoever. Such an attitude cannot be expected or imposed overnight. It has to mature slowly.

In today's society, slow development is seen as a scarce commodity in the maintenance process of people's relationship with their environment. Social ecologists consider “flowing acceptance” to be a key factor in cultivated and social, ecological and economic behavior.

We perceive the change of the border area from a densely populated area (which was sometimes also referred to as overpopulated) to a half-empty free landscape in which succession takes place as an encroachment on the landscape that has been abandoned by humans. The model described is therefore a possible example of how one can deal with similar landscape processes in the future.

We have inherited many such “post-cultural landscapes” in the border area. Which path we choose in their development is also up to us and our commitment in discussions with experts and officials.