Playing Czech Hansel & Gretel at Pardubice’s Gingerbread House

What happens when you are possessed by a sudden childish need – nay, obsession – to visit a real-life Gingerbread Cottage?

Ask my friend Daniela, who I dragged along with me on my fairytale adventure, after making her come with me to Prague just to get pralines and insisting she sit still for two hours at Pardubice’s famous Café Bajer so I could draw her portrait.

Thankfully Daniela’s got the same sense of adventure I have, and she shares my constant need to explore – and specifically shares my “I just learned about it so I have to do it this weekend impulse.

However, I’m more of a city person while Daniela is more of a nature person, and we talked about how strange it was for her to go “touristing” in Czech Republic when it wasn’t in the forests or fields.

Pardubice is the home of the Velká Pardubická, a horse-racing event; Pernštýnské náměstí (Pernštejn square) and the Pardubice chateau. Clearly, the city of 90,000 shows a lot of influence from the Pernštejn family, and Vilém II of their line is responsible for the Renaissance chateau.

It was so calm and relaxed in the area by the chateau, and many cityfolk walked their dog or took this route for their morning run.

After a short city tour, we made our way by local bus to the long-awaited Gingerbread Cottage (Perníková chaloupka)! It’s a museum of the gingerbread-making history that Pardubice is especially famous for and the accompanying fairytales that everyone who was ever an awestruck child knows.

The Gingerbread Cottage is actually located in the nearby village of Ráby, and is not supported by the city of Pardubice at all, just by the patronage and donations of its visitors.

This tourist attraction is set up like you are leaving your time and entering a fairytale land. You have to exchange your CZK for their medieval version, DKP, and signs address you in unusual language:

“Foreigner,

deign to admire the goats/breasts

of our princess.”

This, of course, is located in front of a goat pen. Ah, rude wordplay 🙂

Walk a little further down the path and you will see…

The building that houses the Cottage and Museum is originally a hunting lodge from 1882. You enter the museum from the side, while the front leads into a café where you can try their many types of traditional coated gingerbread. Pistachio was my favorite. There was even chilli!

Since – as usual, I get joy from doing activities meant for children – the majority of those on the tour were families with young kids, our guide was a pro at spinning the tale of Jeníček and Mařenka, the Czech names for Hansel and Gretel.

The museum was equipped with all the little details that would scare a young kid into being good, and as all the boys and men transformed into Jeníček and the girls and women into Mařenka, we tried fitting our fingers into this test for gingerbread thieves – if you fit the largest, it’s straight into the oven for you — after, of course, a short stint in prison.

We learned about the history of gingerbread and followed a maze through the “forest” (a room draped with green and camouflage-print sheets, low lights, and fake animals and trees) to Ježibaba, or Baba Jaga, ‘s house. There our tour guide introduced us to Baba Jaga herself, an old warty witch woman who explained to us that IF ONLY THE CHILDREN WOULD HAVE ASKED NICELY, or even just knocked, instead of sneaking around and stealing her famed gingerbread, she wouldn’t have tried to bake them!

Now that actually makes sense, but… if the children weren’t crying through the forest ordeal, they were definitely crying now 😉

Baba Jaga showed us house to make her classic gingerbread, including the crucial addition of honey. Then we had the chance to buy edible and non-edible (decorative) gingerbread and see an exhibition of traditional gingerbread through the ages made with special celebratory molds, as well as those by modern gingerbread artists – you would not believe how elaborate and artsy some of these are (but we were not allowed to take photos because of their need for donations)!

They are so heavily guarded I can barely even find examples on Google, but here’s one of the less impressive ones (so just imagine!).

Gingerbread artist: new coolest job title.

Since the Gingerbread Cottage is at the foot of the castle ruins at Kunětická Hora, we made the short trek up to this view point. On this beautiful day, families were out picnicking, kids were riding bikes, dogs were chasing around birds, and lovers were cloud-watching (in a cloudless sky). It was a really impressive and easy addition to an already great trip.

You’re not a child, you say? No matter. Get in touch with your inner young spirit and take the leap into the Czech version of the Grimm fairytale. It’s not for the faint of heart, at least if you’re younger than 12, and you may have to pre-arrange an English tour. It’s definitely a novel – heh, heh – way to spend an afternoon – that is, if you don’t mind a lot of whiny, sneezing kids (okay, I think I just ruined my pitch. But really, go for the gingerbread).

Astrological mural in Pardubice train station

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VERONIKA GREGUŠOVÁ

Copywriter & Interviewer

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