The 13th season of the LOUČEŇ CHATEAU and news of the Light Art Outdoor Installation
Kateřina Šrámková, owner of the Loučeň Chateau, the original residence of the Thurn-Taxis family, is a holder of the Exceptional Businesswoman award, although her own story and manner, of course, do not come off as exceptional. Her original profession was a tax advisor. She is also a mother to four children, as well as the person who not only restored the run-down chateau, but also created a unique system of 12 labyrinths and mazes in the chateau gardens. In keeping with her innovative approach towards running a historical building, Kateřina introduced the concept of the year-round season in the Czech Republic, along with experience tours of the chateau’s premises. A sharp contrast to any monotone interpretations of tangled data, names and events, like the organized tours we have become accustomed to in the past. Some routine elements of the tours left such an impression on visitors that many of them have requested these elements themselves. You are required to put on slippers in place of your shoes to walk inside the Loučeň Chateau, since visitors have taken a liking to this custom. Part of the Loučeň Chateau is the Maxmilián Hotel, which provides additional services. Loučeň is ranked just behind Karlštejn Castle within the Central Bohemian region and holds seventh place in the country-wide rankings. Seven is a lucky number for Mrs. Kateřina, and Loučeň actually commenced operations on 7. 7. 2007.
You can experience a tour at Loučeň with Mrs. Kateřina playing the role of the White Lady.The White Lady actually existed as Terezie Berková of Dubé, who was the daughter of the burgrave of czar Rudolf II and wife to Václav Berka of Dubé. The White Lady of Loučeň was a kind ghost who always gave out sweet pudding to children. Maybe thanks to her there is still a spirit of friendliness and well-being in the chateau.
Mrs. Kateřina, the turning point of the century was truly a turning point for you. In the year 2000 the LOUČEŇ company acquired the property of the chateau and park and the company left its established career. But you did not burn out or try to get away from the city, a pattern that is quite common today.
Nothing was impossible in the nineties. I was fulfilled in my original profession as a tax advisor, but after I bought the Loučeň Chateau, it became necessary for me to start concentrating on one thing. I ended my career of wearing pumps and working in a large office on Wenceslas Square, and I threw myself into everything that I didn’t know how to do and everything I wasn’t familiar with.
My intuitive decision probably wouldn’t seem correct according to many managerial guidebooks. Having two careers at once simply wasn’t possible any more. You can clone yourself at 150%, but not at 300%.
What do you consider to be exceptional?
After I received this award, my daughter gave me a flower dedicated to “the most exceptional businesswoman”. This was morethan the award I received at the beautiful Czech National Bank, because it was from someone very close to me. I don ́t associate with the word “exceptional” too much. For an industrious, tireless businesswoman yes, but exceptional?
What would you reward yourself with then? Do we, as women, even know how to award ourselves?
hat is a good question. I think that I was able to find a good mix between what is important and has to be done, and that which can wait or doesn’t have to be done. My work consists of the entire Loučeň complex, which has 23 hectares, combined with caring for a six-member family and commuting more than 100 kilometers daily, all of which must fit into one day that only has 24 hours. When others often ask me how I handle it all, I answer that I don’t know. I get up in the morning and start the day, and I finish in the evening and then I go to sleep. I think that the key is perfect organisation. And I am definitely not perfect. It’s like with the number of children. When a person has only one, they still feel like they can’t keep up. The more a person does, the more that person can handle. Gradually, the awards come from the outside. I am proudest, however, of the attendance at Loučeň, which varies between 160,000–180,000 visitors a year, depending on the weather, activities and other factors. I would like to point out that “the more visitors the better” does not always apply to attendance. Seventh place in attendance is better for me than first place, since that position belongs to the Prague Castle.
You are awaiting your 13th season this year. What’s something new you’re planning?
You are the first one to tell me that it’s the 13th season. I am excited about this season, because it will be different than the others. We are moving away from the format of short-term events, since this format has been exhausted in the Czech Republic. As our clients and their habits change, we are starting to focus more on activities that take place within a range of two weeks up to one month. We are planning a Czech fairy-tale summer for the month of August.
Czech castles and chateaus are unique, not only from the perspective of preserved and original historical facilities, but also from the perspective of public accessibility.Appreciative commentary often resounds from foreign visitors. Are we succeeding, as Czechs, in recognizing and appreciating the value of our cultural heritage?
I think that we appreciate its beauty as soon as we leave the country to travel abroad.Although I don’t have the statistics, I would presume that we must be in first place in Europe, not just for the number of accessible sights, but also for the number of guides, tour circuits and expositions. Such beautiful, historical interiors accessible to the public in such a plentiful amount is something I have not experienced in any other country.
You follow foreign trends very carefully and then try to bring them to Loučeň. You were inspired by labyrinths in France. What other new things are you planning?
I am planning something new, but this time it’s not the result of direct inspiration. I came up with a new concept myself after having tried to find a specific resource to implement. I discovered that they are already implementing a similar concept abroad, even at historical sites. On one hand, this made me happy, but on the other, I was disappointed. No similar place existed that we could draw inspiration from when we opened Loučeň. There was no example of good practice. We went with the trial and error method, and I am happy that there were more successful trials than there were errors. It happened many times that our ideas were actually brought to us by someone else. Personally, this made me very happy, because one does not copy the same bad idea twice.I was the one who first came up with the concept of the year-round operating season for castles and chateaus. Although we fought long and hard with the weaker winter season, the concept proved to be correct over time. It makes me happy to see how in November, everyone is issuing information regarding their Advent activities and winter tours. Not too many people will remember that before, sites like these were strictly open only from 1 April to 31 October.But back to my original thought. In English, the title is “Light Art Outdoor Installation”, but as for the title in Czech, we are still looking for one that sounds nice. This installation is about the use of modern technology that is capable of programming light, color, and intensity, and my vision is to make the park beautiful in the dark. Imagine the park in the dark, and in the dark there are illuminated objects – various trees, water areas, bushes and stumps, which are, in a sense, artistic creations in themselves, and now they will be illuminated and connected to a moving light show. I am consumed with this idea; I actually just returned from a trade fair in Frankfurt. Thanks to this installation, we can even extend the attractiveness period of the chateau to after sunset. The well-known Castle-Chateau Night is held on the last weekend in August, so we are aiming to introduce ourselves to the visitors. The climax will then be afterwards, during Advent and Christmas time.
I know that you don’t keep usual casual habits. You do not live at the Loučeň Chateau, because you think that the chateau does not belong to you. You are managing it for the next generation. If you were to create a coat of arms, what would you put on it?
A deer. The most elegant animal found in Czech forests in my opinion. When it snows, they kick up frost with their hooves. And another parallel? I love tall high heels.
Other than an invitation to Loučeň, what closing message do you have for the readers of the Czech and Slovak Leaders magazine?
In terms of business, I can’t advise the readers at all. Someone who has more experience than I can give advice on that. Instead, I will answer from the context of everyday life. You should never be afraid to take up arms for the right ending. Not in any situation or at any age. If we will not physically work with our hands, then there will be nothing left behind uswhen we’re gone.
By Linda Štucbartová