Constantin Kinsky was born in 1961 in Paris, France, to one of the oldest aristocratic families of Bohemia in French exile. Educated in France, he became a successful investment banker and strategic consultant and advised the Czech governments of Josef Tošovský and Miloš Zeman thus helping to save the Czech banking system during the crisis of the late 1990´s.
For nearly twenty years, now, Constantin Kinsky has been working on the revitalization of the family estate in Žďár nad Sázavou. It consists of a 13th-century Cistercian monastery turned nobility country house and an extensive forestry and fresh water fisheries business. Among other projects, he started the award winning „New Generation Museum“ and cooperates successfully with the nearby UNESCO World Heritage Pilgrimage Church at Zelená Hora which is in the care of the Catholic Church.
"The first thing you should know is that the Czech Republic is not only Prague. There are many, many things to see and if you come to Žďár, from here you will have 6 UNESCO Heritage sites within one hour, one-hour fifteen-minute drive max.“
Meet Constantin Kinsky and hear his mantra: get out of the capital and come and see the country! We are walking through the cozy museum cafe and as soon as we sit down he does not wait a second to promote the estate he is evidently so proud of.
"This place has been in the family since the early 19th century when the monastery was secularized or rather nationalized and sold by the Roman Emperor Joseph II. It was bought by my ancestors and in the beginning of the 20th century it ended up in the hands of my grandmother.“
The Kinsky family lost control of its property not once but twice during the 20th century, first during World War II.
"When the Germans took over the whole estate and we were forbidden to be here because my grandfather was known as an anti-Nazi militant citizen. And of course, we lost control again under the communists. So we are now trying to come back to the long term tradition, long term vision: how do you manage an estate like that?“
Coming back in the 1990´s after decades of communist neglect and mismanagement was bittersweet.
"It was a miracle because everybody knew the regime would fall apart one day, that the whole thing was totally absurd. But, frankly, nobody expected the communists would fall so quickly and it would end up like that. At the same time, I knew the country, I had visited it under the communist regime and knew what the atmosphere was. You could sense it immediately all around you. When I came here with my father right after the fall of the wall there was dynamism and optimism, everything was possible. It was amazing. On the other hand, the estate was so devastated! Everybody kept asking: ,Can we repair all the things? Make it start again?’ There was a huge task before us. But we started doing things step by step and it worked. We have made good progress and the people around us realized that when you team up when you have a vision and love the place where you live, things work out.”
Undoubtedly the greatest magnet of Žďár nad Sázavou is the iconic Pilgrimage Church of Saint John of Nepomuk on the hill overlooking the former monastery. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1994, it draws not only the eye but large numbers of visitors. Nowadays, it is officially not part of the Kinsky´s estate. The Catholic Church administers the picturesque church as well as the Basilica of Our Lady of the Assumption situated within the Kinsky´s complex. To Constantin this is just a technicality.
"This place was founded in the 13th century around a certain vision of how people could live in a forsaken place and live within the context of good management of Nature and at the same time construct nice buildings where they could live in their faith. The monastery was reconstructed in the Baroque days with the same vision and we are now doing the same. This place is so powerful that it carries people. Our relationship with the parish is actually very good and it is a part of life. Everything belongs together, the church uphill, the basilica under it, the castle, the new museum we have created, the artists´ residence, the people who come here just for a weekend or longer, it all lives together. And so does also the school with five classrooms and firemen brigade center which was created by my great-aunt. It all still functions and lives together. This is, simply, a living place, where people meet and live their lives."
As you may have noticed, Constantin Kinsky often talks about „vision“ both past and present. He explains his credo and long-term objectives in greater detail.
"Natural, cultural heritage only has value, if it still carries meaning, if it is still fuelling meaning and creativity for the present and future generations. So we are trying to open up as much as we can to that creativity and life and enable local people to live here. We have weddings, here, and many festivals: folk, jazz, and hard rock music. There is a contemporary dance event, new circus, we have school programs, guided tours in the forest, and all that to promote creativity and local life. The first motto is: Our past is the source of our future. And the second motto is: The society that creates, lives."
As we later stroll around one of the restored courtyards I ask the questions that have been nagging me for some time: Why does a successful investment banker, advisor to governments, need to involve himself and his wife so deeply in such a project? After all, Žďár is just a provincial backwater. Why not sell the estate and enjoy the proceeds?
Constantin Kinsky manages the family estate with his wife Marie, herself a descendant of an old noble family. In 2016 they together received the Glass Medal – highest honor of the Vysočina Region of the Czech Republic.
"(Laughing) No, we can´t do that. We are crazy romantic idiots, that is true. And sometimes we ask ourselves: why do this? There is so much to do, so much work. But, you know, it is meaningful. One can do a job, make money, have a comfortable life, but then what? Coffins have no pockets. It is better to leave something behind you. So that´s what we try to do and the feedback we get from the people we work with is so great that it gives us energy. Helping this place to live on and carry meaning for future generations, whether it is by managing nature in a sustainable way or by restoring buildings so that they carry living culture, it is fulfilling."