Influential residents and famous visitors

Ota Pavel

Ota Pavel (born Otto Popper in 1930 in Prague) was a Czech writer, journalist, and sport reporter. In his autobiographical prose he was often coming back to his childhood memories of Buštěhrad, where he spent part of his life with his grandparents. Ota Pavel's short stories also focused on sports, and especially fishing. Some of his works were adapted for the film: Zlatí úhoři (Golden Eels) and Smrt krásných srnců (Death of Beautiful Deer). Two of his books, Golden Eels (Zlatí úhoři) and How I Came to Know Fish (Jak jsem potkal ryby) were translated into English.

Writer Ota Pavel in memories of a writer and publisher, Slávka Kopecká, also another well-known native of Buštěhrad:

“The Popper family had always been quite special in the life of the town, mainly thanks to his father - Leo Popper - a sales representative of Elektrolux company. It could have been thanks to a certain dose of his father’s buffoonery and fantasy, that his son became a writer. Ota went through a lot of lovely as well as dramatic or tragic life experience with his mum and dad, granny Malvína, his brothers Hugo and Jiří and a significant part of his life is tied to our town.

Born in Prague in 1930, he moved to Buštěhrad, to a small house of his granddad near the two ponds, as 6-year-old boy. He was only 9 when the World War II broke out and being a Jew did not make his life any easier either. Thanks to his young age, he escaped the transportation to a concentration camp, to which both of his older brothers and his father were deported. Luckily, both brothers and father survived Nazi imprisonment and returned home after the end of the World War. After the war Otto went to apprenticeship and served his military service, where he first tried to write. Even those earliest writing attempts of his already indicated an outstanding literary talent and refer to Buštěhrad, inviting us to his childhood here. 

After the military service he worked for an army magazine. Not having the necessary education, he had to start from the very scratch. He took a distance learning course and graduated at the High School for Workers while writing his way through in the papers working hard on getting the needed routine and necessary experience. He loved two things - journalism and sport.

He was an enthusiastic football and hockey player. However, he played hockey much better. He started ice-skating on the local ponds and made it to play for Sparta club, where he stayed on to train its junior team. He made friends with many sportsmen and he knew how to write about them. During the 20 years of his career as a sport reporter and journalist he got to the top. As an author of short stories about sports he was the best. Yet, he wrote simply, clearly and knew how to move his readers.

Dukla Among Skyscrapers (Dukla mezi mrakodrapy), Box full of Champagne (Plná bedna šampaňského), Price of Victory/Triumph (Cena vítězství), The Cup from God himself (Pohár od pánaboha), Tale of Raška (Pohádka o Raškovi)... those were his most famous books featuring sport environment, which had in some time become too narrow topic to write about. He was about 40 years old by then. He claimed he had reached the age one knew what he had to do and knew equally well what he would never do. It was that time when he wrote two narrow books: How I Came to Know Fish (Jak jsem poznal ryby) and Death of Beautiful Deer (Smrt krásných srnců). They were blockbusters on the Czech literary heaven. Jan Werich (famous Czech actor) then said: “Had he been writing in English, the world would lie at his feet.”

 It was around those times when he confided to me, he had been writing under strong inner pressure afflicted by a prolonged disease. I was lucky then I could learn to know Ota Pavel closer. When we met, he was excited I had been from Buštěhrad. He knew my relatives, my granny, uncles, and aunts… I was working for Květy magazine editing short stories. His story Long Mile (Dlouhá mile) was first published there. Ota used to call me to the office in the mornings, as he knew when my bus from Buštěhrad arrived. He would ask unbelievable questions and inquire most peculiar information, like how many hookers used to go to the restaurant “Vypich” and what their names were, how many collaborators there were during the war and who they were or who would be a regular to visit the pub familiarly called “V prdeli” (“In the Arse)”... We would always have a laugh in the mornings. In the course of the time, I would muster my courage and ask him for advice on how to write a good short story. “Well,” he told me, “it is about ten essential points, I’ll put them down for you!” I was begging for at least those first points and he said: “First, it is important to live your life out at full blast and not skimp on it. Then you need to write a lot and about everything, daily and in the papers ideally, short pieces that inure you. However, for a short story one must be mature – one must be forty at least!” He also shared with me his intention to write a collection of short stories from his childhood in Buštěhrad and that might have also been the reason why he liked to talk to me about our hometown so much. Ota Pavel visited Buštěhrad just a month before he died. We had been arranging to meet up here, in our town, then, however, it never happened. Ota was walking through the countryside of his youth all alone. He visited places he loved, he stopped by the ponds, where he first cast his fishing line, he went to Dříň, where he used to train running craving to overtake the champions. He wrote me a letter:

24th February 1973

Dear Miss Kopecká,

On Saturday, in an awful weather, I was in Bustěhrad, and it was gorgeous. Such a bleak snow blown country of hardworking industrious buildings, the conversions, and the old houses one could picture behind them, the ones you used to know and may have even loved. On my way back in direction to Bouchalka I saw such huge unploughed clods, slightly snow-covered, wind drifting snow over them a little and the fading sign “Bouchalka” on the house. Linden trees by Vypich, dark and upright and Koníček’s mill house.

Of that, too, I have memories and I wrote about it the first short story for my forthcoming book from childhood: “Buštěhrader Railway”. When you have finished reading it, please, send it back.

Best Regards Ota Pavel


This letter addressed to my name, came to be his very last one. Deeply touched I keep thinking about it, with love and respect, and being a writer myself, even with a certain commitment.

Ota Pavel died on 31st March 1973. I never managed to send his story back to him. And he never managed to send me those ten points on how to write a good short story. He knew them, whereas I – still fumble.”

Extract taken from: CACHOVÁ, Věnceslava - VESELÝ, Karel - KOPECKÁ, Slávka: Slavní v obci. In: 500 let města Buštěhradu. Sborník o historii a současnosti obce, vydaný u příležitosti výročí udělení městských práv. Buštěhrad: Obecní úřad, 1997. s. 106-111 5 ilustrací


So much about Ota Pavel from writer Slávka Kopecká. Concerning author’s premature decease, it may be added, that he showed signs of a mental illness during the 1964 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, where he accompanied our team as a sport reporter.

Ota Pavel described the episode in his book How I Came to Know Fish (Jak jsem potkal ryby):

"I went mad at the winter Olympics in Innsbruck. My brain got cloudy, as if a fog from the Alps had enveloped it. In that condition I came face to face with one gentleman - the Devil. He looked the part! He had hooves, fur, horns, and rotten teeth that looked hundreds of years old. With this figure in my mind, I climbed the hills above Innsbruck and torched a farm building. I was convinced that only a brilliant bonfire could burn off that fog. As I was leading the cows and horses from the barn, the Austrian police arrived..." (copied from Wikipedia)

Following this he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, that would later end his official journalistic career. In 1966 the effects of this disease led to his retirement and thereafter several admissions to mental hospitals for treatment. This difficult period in his life was also his most creative, in which he produced his strongest and most lyrical collections, including How I Came to Know Fish. In 1973 Ota Pavel died of a sudden heart attack caused by an unknown condition. He was 42 years old.

Anna Maria Francesca, The Grand Duchess of Tuscany

Anna Marie Francesca, Princess Saxe-Lauenburg, Countess of Neuburg and The Grand Duchess of Tuscany, belonged among the most significant noblewomen of baroque time in the Bohemian kingdom. She was only 26, when she decided Buštěhrad chateau to be built. Alongside with Buštěhrad she owned dozens of manors. She was a very enterprising lady with business talents, a competent organiser as well as a capable rider and huntress. She lived a very devout life and treated her subjects with unusual justice. She visited her manors on regular bases, checking their running and administration, which commanded much respect in both, the administrators and her serfs. She spent most of her life improving her manors and making her property thrive and prosper. She built new castles, churches and parsonages, she purchased relics of Saints from Rome for the churches in her parishes. In 1718 she bought an unfinished palace in the close neighbourhood of Prague Castle from the Count of Thun and had it finished to its spectacular looks. Today it is called The Tuscan Palace and resides the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Joachim Barrande

Renowned Frenchman J. Barrande (1799-1883) is famous thanks to the development of geological exploration and palaeontology in our country. However, only few people know, that he also spent a short time of his life here, in Buštěhrad.

He arrived in Bohemia as a tutor to the French successor to the throne Henri, the Count of Chambord, grandson of the dethroned French king Charles X. The royal family running away since revolution in July 1830, when the king abdicated, was granted asylum within the territory of the Habsburg monarchy. The Austrian Emperor offered them residency at Buštěhrad chateau, where the royal family remained until 1832, when they left due to outbreak of cholera.

After his service to the royal family had come to an end and after he had met the eminent Czech scientists and scholars, Barrande decided to settle in Bohemia for good. Because of his knowledge of geology and education of a civil engineer he was asked to assess a project of possible lengthening of horse powered railway from Prague - Lány to Plzeň (Pilsen) through the valley of Berounka river. The plan has owing to a lack of financial resources never been realized. Nevertheless, thanks to those numerous expeditions and fieldwork concerning that engineering project, Barrande got to know more about the interesting geological structure of the Bohemian massif. At the same time, he learnt about the plenitude of fossil fauna, that inhabited the local Palaeozoic sea in this area and discovered rich deposits of fossils, especially trilobites. His attention was from then on attracted to the fossils for the rest of his life and results of his research were published in his crucial writing Systeme Silurien du Centre de la Boheme.