In the northwest corner of Czechia, the town of Aš may be home to just under 13,000 people, but it has a long and turbulent history. Part of the larger panhandle of the same name, surrounded by Germany on three sides, it became a locus of turmoil due to its complex geopolitical situation. The town was home to Konrad Henlein, head of the Sudeten German Party, whose pro-Nazi stance caused much of the Czech population to flee in the late 1930s. After World War II, the Germans were then expelled, marking a 40-year period of isolation that coincided with the rise of communism. Located just a few metres east of the Iron Curtain, Aš became a contentious place where only those deemed trustworthy by the communists could safely live.

A Czech Park Elegantly Marries Past and Present

In the wake of these events and the mass displacement that ensued, cutting the population in less than half, Aš became a near ghost town. Vacant buildings, along with the town’s largest cemetery, were demolished in the 1970s to make way for concrete apartment blocks, rendering the town devoid of architectural and cultural identity. Even in recent years, dilapidated buildings and empty plots remain as scars of the past.

Park of Memories

Slowly, the region is healing. At the westernmost point of the Czech Republic, the former Iron Curtain fence has been transformed into a tourist path, and a humble wooden footbridge, aptly dubbed “Bridge of Europe – Bridge of Friendship” and built in 2008, marks an old crossing to Újezd u Krásné, one of many Sudeten Czech villages levelled by the communists. In Aš’s town centre, at the intersection of Goethe Square and Okružní Street, the Park of Memories, designed by Prague firm SOA architekti, is the latest of these endeavours which seek to reconcile the old with the new.

Park of Memories

Named for the famous German writer, Goethe Square, a Baroque landmark, reflects the heyday of Aš, while Okružní Street represents the era of late socialism, followed by the development boom of the 90s. The park works to link these vastly different parts of the town’s heritage. Partially funded by a cross-border program with the neighbouring German city, Selbe, it is also a poignant symbol of unity. “The design uses geographical and symbolic potential to revive the forgotten values ​​of the city neglected by the previous regime, through which it casually guides the visitor along,” the architects explain.

Remains of the former church of St. Trinity, which dates to 1370

Conceived by SOA as a spatio-temporal experience, the Park of Memories creates a gradual transition from the urban park space around Goethe Square to the more freeform forest park on Okružní Street. Both the botanical and architectural strategies reflect the city’s diverse historical periods. Along the route, various points are connected with the interactive Time Trip mobile app, which uses VR to display historical objects and events at their original locations, allowing visitors to step back in time to learn more about the city’s past.

Public square with water features set into the granite cobblestone flooring

At the easternmost end of the site, the experience begins with a public square, replete with water features set into the granite cobblestone paving. Further down the path lies the remains of the former church of St. Trinity, which dates to 1370. The project was a massive undertaking in restoration, which included the repair of the oldest stone bridge in the city which connects the old and new parts of the Lutheran cemetery. The design work was accompanied by an architectural survey which revealed old graves and the remains of both humans and buildings, as well as historic cellars that will now be used for cultural events.

Memorial at Park of Memories
Memorial at Park of Memories

But SOA did much more than restore what already existed. A clearing in the forest reveals a new monument to the former cemetery: a series of granite blocks of different sizes composed to form a rectangular plinth with recesses for candles. It serves as a meeting place where people from Aš and neighbouring Germany can gather together to remember their ancestors.

Wood and steel footbridge hovers about the forest landscape
Park of Memories

The park’s defining design move, however, comes in the form of an undulating wood and steel footbridge that weaves its way through the landscape, its subtle material palette and spare form allowing it to blend seamlessly into the lush context. For the most part, it hovers above the ground, a symbolic choice made out of respect, so as not to touch the surface of the original cemetery. At key points, it touches down to animate the park, connecting with wooden platforms, walkways, and a children’s playground. A vital piece of public infrastructure, the Park of Memories reinvigorates the town of Aš through recreation, education and, of course, beauty.

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