Br(u)no: Explaining Brno’s Phallus-like Chronometer (to Teenagers)


Photo credit: KK.

Like it or not, Brno has become known for a black, six-meter-tall, bullet-shaped, rounded obelisk that is positioned at the edge of náměstí Svobody. Look at the local postcards and T-shirts and you know it’s true: Paris has the Eiffel Tower, New York has the Statue of Liberty and Brno has the Chronometer.

I, for one, am proud.

Public art is supposed to provide some sort context for an element of the city; it is supposed to be an adornment; and, in my opinion, most of all, it is supposed to inspire opinions and lead to conversation. Check, check, check and check.

Many people believe that the clockworks looks like a large penis, and that mental image is, admittedly, hard to erase. Apparently, that is the reason many people do not care for it. I don’t find that to be a disqualifying point.

I have often argued for why those who are less than appreciative of the Chronometer should reconsider — and this is my strategy for explaining to my visiting teenage nephews that it is not, in fact, a giant black penis:

  • The official name, according to the information panel, is the Chronometer. It is a functioning clock, but the timekeeping aspect is only for symbolic purposes. It may best be called a granite monument because it depicts the disorienting time-telling that, according to legend, saved Brno from the Swedish army during the Thirty Years War. In 1645, after a monthslong siege, the Swedes were tired and annoyed. Finally, Field Marshal Lennart Torstensson set a deadline: if the city walls were not breached by the noon bells, his army would move on. Locals caught wind of the plan, barely maintained their defense of the city and cleverly rang the noon bell an hour early. Brno was saved. It would not make sense to have an easy-to-read clock face on the Chronometer.
  • The monument was unveiled on Sept. 18, 2010 to mark the 365th anniversary of the resistance. A 24-hour band that spins exactly once per day fits.
  • There is a daily souvenir to further commemorate the historical moment. At 11 a.m. – Brno’s noon – a glass marble tumbles down to one of the four holes. Does the Space Needle in Seattle or the Sydney Opera House give you anything?
  • The overall shape is definitely phallic. What’s wrong with that? It means power, potency.
  • In terms of gender equality, one should also consider that the Venus of Dolní Věstonice is less than 300 meters away in the Moravian Museum. The Venus of Dolní Věstonice is a statuette from 29,000-25,000 BCE that was found just south of Brno. Nobody knows what it was used for, but theories include that it was a religious totem to suggest Mother Earth, fertility, childbirth and as pornography to get males aroused.
  • • The shape of the Chronometer is representative of the most basic type of ammunition used throughout the centuries.
  • If it is a penis, then it symbolizes the largely male habit of getting into pissing contests that lead to wars.
  • Who wants another traditional clock? This timepiece has its mechanism shifted 90 degrees toward the sky and rotates on a horizontal plane. The insides are incredibly intricate.
  • Who wants another traditional orloj, the Czech name for it? Prague and Olomouc already have impressive astronomical clocks that have been around for centuries.
  • The time is available on the Clockworks at the top, but it requires a bit of understanding and patience. It’s pretty cool when you figure it out.
  • If you really, absolutely need to know the time of day, look at your watch, your phone, the digital scroll inside the passing tram or the receipt you just got from the Albert supermarket. Or ask someone. Nobody talks to people any more and most Brnoans are very nice and helpful.
  • The monument provides a nice middle ground within the surrounding architectural mishmash, fitting in with the traditional buildings and the post Communist-era Omega building.
  • Many creative and interesting names have been developed for the Chronometer. Bravo! People being creative and using their minds is never a bad thing.

All of this, of course, means nothing to most people, and will probably not impress teenagers. Fair enough.

At least my nephews will likely remember something from their trip in Brno, which is more than I can say about any number of middle-sized cities that I visited during my youth.

At the very least, it is a story to tell their friends back at school.

I hope that this column will provide thought-provoking observations of local life that will be interesting for a Saturday-morning read. If you have any suggestions or comments, please pass them along to

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors. The publishing of this article does not constitute an endorsement of or any other expression of opinion by the management of Brno Daily.

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