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Professor Milan Zábranský , Tour Guide
There's a bakery, two museums, and an antique shop on todays itinerary, with your good friend Milan Zábranský as your tour gouide. Click on this copy or image to read about Milan and his crčche collection…
Krkonošské Museum Mechanical Nativity
Home to Jáchym Metelka's (1853-1940) mechanical wonder

This breathtaking display of one man's ingenuity and devotion to his art occupyies almost a whole room in the Krkonošské Museum, Jílemnice. Jáchym Metelka's creation that reaches to the ceiling took 30 years to create, and must be considered one of the most beautiful examples of the mechanical nativity genre. A city rises in the center of the Krkonošské crib, an angelic orchestra is seated on a cloud above, and palm trees dot the background. There are over 150 (I lost count, because I kept watching the show) masterfully carved figures. (Photo courtesy the Krkonošské Museum.)
A bell strikes twelve; a cuckoo sings; angels begin to play their harps to the accompaniment of a sweet music box tune; sheep safely graze bobbing their heads, and a man tosses and turns in his bed. Draw near, Metelka's marvel has come to life…
"The Castle" in Jilemnici, home to the Krkonošské Museum and the Metelka Mechanical Crib. Jáchym Metelka (1853-1940) who founded this museum in 1891, was a Girls' School Headmaster who devoted 30 years creating his remarkable mechanical crib. You'll want to linger among the lush vegetation of the museum grounds or by the cool fountain that murmurs in front of the entrance. But you'll want to go in—before Metelka's crib is set in glorious motion.
You'd never guess that past the history of skiing exhibits, adjacent to a fine art permanent installation, past the funeral standards of Czech artisans a locked door conceals one of the holy grails of the creche universe. A curator unlocks the door, and you let out a gasp: there it is, reaching to the ceiling and occupying a whole corner of the room—the Jáchym. Metelka Mechanical Bethlehem Scene." It's impossible to take the whole marvelous creation into your field of view, let alone take it all in. How did a Girl's School Headmaster come up with this? Did he really spent 30 years creating it? Does it really work? How did he come up with all those lovely figures, dressed in all those colorful costumes? But your thoughts are interrupted by the loud turning of a large handle as it raises a heavy weight off the floor. Then the curator pulls on a string, and the magic show begins. A bell strikes midnight; a cuckoo calls twelve times; a night watchman turns and blows on his horn; angels high above strum their harps; and two angels gently rock Baby Jesus in his crib. And all of this is accompanied by glorious sound: a music box, cuckoo bellows, a trumpet, a pipe organ. But the real show stopper are all those figures engaged in all that motion: a procession of monks appears and disappears in an arcade; a brass band plays their instruments; woodcutters obliviously go on with their work; a blacksmith sharpens his instruments on a grinding wheel; sheep, sheep, and more sheep move in a seemingly choreographed, hypnotic, dance; a windmill turns; another night watchman, asleep standing up against a tree-trunk, wakes up momentarily only to fall asleep again; and, my personal favorite, a man in a hat and carrying a backpack tosses and turns in his sleep.
A cuckoo is perched on a palm tree, a shepherd is fast asleep, two woodcutters are hard at work, and a traveler has fallen asleep on a crag. But don't be fooled by stillness of this snapshot—the Metelka Mechanical Bethlehem scene springs to life. (Photo courtesy the Krkonošské Museum.)
Some figures execute as many as seven separate motions. This is accomplished by a complex web of cams, spokes, pulleys, springs, weights, and ropes that are hidden underneath and behind the crib. It all looks like a tangled mess—but don't let appearances fool you. Jáchym Metelka brought a schoolmaster's attention-to-detail approach to his project: he made exact drawings, and often improved on his work by simplifying it. Jáchym Matelka was inspired by traditional costumes in carving his figures. But where did he get his inspiration in creating all those buildings? Clock towers, arcades, arched thoroughfares, even Herod's palace: there he is, waving his arms in frustration since he couldn't get his hands on baby Jesus. It would take many pages, and an image so large no computer monitor is large enough to display to adequately describe the "Metelkuv Mechanicky Betlém," Metelka's Mechanical Bethlehem Scene. You try to take it all in, but it's impossible to catch every move, appreciate every delicate maneuver, savor every note. Then another song begins to play, and heavenly angels, circling the Star of Bethlehem which shines down from high above, begin to rotate. You find yourself mesmerized by it all, and then there's silence. The Metelka Crib has once again fallen asleep, until the next group of creche pilgrims stands before it. To fully appreciate the Metelka Mechanical Crib you have to see it in person. And if you'd like to know more about this marvelous creation, there's a delightful booklet available in English from the museum: Krkonošské Muzeum Jilemnice, Zámek 75, 514 01 Jilemnice. Tel: 481 543 041; Museum home page: (in Czech); E-mail: Tell them Milan Zábranský sent you!

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