Last weekend was busy, and really really odd. I thought I had seen it all, growing up in a state with an arterial tract of ghost towns. But one thing my repertoire was missing was a shoe empire.
Enter Zlín, a Czech town built on Baťa shoes. Once one of the world’s largest suppliers of shoes, Zlín has since lost its factories. Today the town seems to exist as a memorial for the business know-how of Mr. Baťa. Our summer school program took us to the former company headquarters, built in the early 1900s—At the time, the second largest building in central Europe. This building in unique for one reason: One of the elevators doubled as the boss’s office! Think of a typical large office, complete with furniture, phone, computer, etc. Now put it in an elevator. It was meant to aid communication with employees.
Tomáš Baťa, in addition to building a wildly successful company in this town, built employee housing with incredibly strict standards of living. Future employees and housewives were trained as Tomáš Baťa University, and Bata was even the mayor of Zlín. From my understanding, the town was built on the shoulders of one man and for one purpose: Functionalism. I didn’t take pictures of the houses he built, but believe me when I say they all look the same. Baťa stated that he built the town as a model of Henry Ford, with the goal of emulating the production model of Ford Motors. I have a suspicion Mr. Donald J. Trump would think quite highly of Tomáš Baťa.
Possibly my favorite part of this city-wide tour devoted to literally a sole, unsurprisingly chauvinist man was the Tomáš Baťa Memorial. Baťa died in an airplane crash along with his pilot outside of Zlín. A year later, the memorial was complete.
As you can see, there’s not much to it. Our tour guide said the memorial aimed to emulate Baťa’s ideals and a person and a businessman, such as genuineness, optimism, and aspiration toward the future. Learn more here.
Personally, I think it was a social experiement to see how long 40 people would stand in an empty building if they are told it is an important place. Another part of me wondered if the townspeople even liked Baťa in the first place—this building has no air conditioning, no heat, no running water, and was erected in 1933 on the first anniversary of Mr. Baťa’s death. Also, there’s a life-size model of the plane he died in overlooking the ground floor. Like of all the symbols to represent Bata…Why the plane he died in???
Nonetheless, I saw Zlín and will probably never go back. And now it is my mission to get a new of those damn Baťa shoes in Prague, since dear Tomáš has taken up so much of my time already.
On the way back to Prague, we stopped at a beautiful castle called Buchlov. Someone in our ground told me it was the most medieval castle he had visited, and he said it felt reinforced instead of suctioning as a mere display of power. In fact, our tour guide said none of the attacking armies (dating back to the 1500s) ever succeeded in capturing Buchlov!
We got back to the dorm around 9 on Sunday, and had class Monday morning. Hence, you are reading this today! (Tuesday?)
To close, let me leave you with a pre-translated quote from Tomáš Baťa himself: “Don’t say it can’t work; you better say you can’t do it yet.”
Quite relevant to my increasingly difficult daily language classes.