The miller’s daughter tried to break into society but failed tragically
Every young woman wants to be popular. On Kampa Island, near Charles Bridge, lived a miller’s daughter who wanted to break into high society.
Kampa, back in history, was filled with mills powered by the Čertovka stream. The daughter of a successful miller was not happy with the family’s station, though. The family was comfortably well off in terms of money, but that was not enough. She wanted her family to be elevated to noble status so she could be a countess, with servants and silken fashions. When she wasn’t sweeping up in the mill or sewing up sacks of flour, she was looking in the mirror and imagining a fairytale life.
She forced her father to try to ingratiate himself with hangers-on of noble families, hoping that somehow he could be noticed for his services to the grinding art, but a miller is a miller and a count is a count. Never the two shall meet.
When word leaked out that there was going to be a formal ball at Liechtenstein Palace, just across the street on Kampa, she schemed about how she could get an invitation to the dance. If she couldn’t become a countess by royal appointment, perhaps she could dazzle a minor nobleman and marry into her desired station.
But no amount of hinting or cajoling of the wealthier customers produced an invitation, in fact, the attempts at social climbing hurt the business as both rich and poor started to snicker behind the miller’s daughter’s back.
But she was not out of options. Čert means Devil, and Čertovka is the Devil’s Stream. While the daughter was lamenting her lack of social progress by the mill wheel, a single tear dropped into the stream. And who should pop up? Well, yes, the man who is always willing to fulfill ill-thought-out plans and make dreams almost come true. The Devil himself. He comforted the daughter and said he could sneak her name onto the guest list and procure her a printed invitation.
All she had to do was sign on the dotted line.
The day of the ball came, and she dressed up in a homemade gown and went to the palace with her invitation. She got past the doorman but that was the least of her worries.
The men at the ball recognized her for what she was, a muscular working woman with calloused hands in an improvised gown, sewn with the same thread and stitching that flour sacks have.
Nobody danced with her, or even spoke to her. But that would have made things only worse. She spoke with an accent, using low class slang mixing together German nouns with Czech verbs, and her only dance teachers were a coat rack and a mirror.
She realized the Devil had gotten the best of her. She would not find a husband at the ball, and now that she had made a laughing stock of herself she likely would not find a husband ever. She collapsed dead from a premature stroke, and fell from the top of the stairs. The servants took her twisted corpse home on a portable table.
But her soul remains at the palace to this day. After midnight, her twisted and bloody apparition awkwardly tries to entice young men to dance with her. And she grows insanely violent at the sight of pretty women, attempting to scratch their faces and bite them. She also attacks old men and women, whom she irrationally blames for her plight.
Her haunting, though, is rather lonely. Liechtenstein Palace is now a government building used for official functions such as meetings or receptions and is usually empty by dark.
Some visiting dignitaries have stayed there overnight, though, including Spain’s King Juan Carlos and his wife, Sophia; Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom; and Japanese Emperor Akihito with Empress Michiko. They did not mention any spectral encounters.
The location of Liechtenštein Palace (Lichtenštejnský palác), on the banks of the Vltava river on Kampa Island, is first mentioned in 1555 when the Grand Prior of the Maltese Knights gave land on the bank of the Vltava river to Jiřík Velik of Šonov.
A building with one upper floor and an attic was described in 1606, and in 1613 there were two houses in the surrounding Velikov Garden, but both were destroyed in the Thirty Years’ War.
In 1660, General Jan de la Cron bought the garden. In 1684, his daughter gave it to her husband, General František Helfried of Kaiserstein, who had a two-level palace constructed based on an irregular hexagon around the courtyard, with a gallery on the upper floor. There was a garden with flowerbeds and fountains. Two towers rose from the main western facade connected by means of attics with onion-shaped cupolas. The concept was by French architect Jean B. Mathey, implemented by Czech architect of Italian descent Giovanni B. Alliprandi.
The palace changed hands several times. In 1726, Jan František, Count of Kaiserstein, sold it together with the garden to Ferdinand Adam Kustoš of Zubří. At that time the palace contained eighteen rooms for the noble family and seven for servants, plus three stables for twenty-two horses.
In 1741, the palace was acquired by Barbora Kolovrat-Krakovská. In 1831, Count František Antonín Kolovrat Libštejn sold it to General Prince Jan Josef of Liechtenstein, who had the two towers removed and his coat of arms mounted above the portal.
The palace eventually did fall into the hands of a family of socially rising millers, when wealthy business families began to displace the idle nobility.
When the palace was purchased in 1864 by miller František Odkolek it achieved its current look. A third level was added, designed by the builder Karel Srnec, and the Baroque facade was changed for a Neo-Renaissance one. Only the columned entry portal and the balcony with a balustrade remained. The palace interiors come from this time, though some original vaults remain on the western side of the courtyard. The Odkolek name is still a brand name for mass-produced baked goods.
From 1895, the palace belonged to the City of Prague, which used it for a variety of official purposes, and made several adaptations. The enclosing wall was pulled down in 1941–42, and after World War II the garden became a public park.
Between 1979 and 1991, the palace was adapted for the Government Presidium. It was enlarged by one basement level and the exterior walls were strengthened against the threat of slipping down into the Vltava river.
The floods in 2002 devastated the lower floors, and the palace had to undergo another renovation. Currently it is used by the Czech Government for official functions and visiting dignitaries. The ground floor halls and rooms are used for working meetings and receptions.
The artificial stream Čertovka has had many names, and seems to have not been officially called the Devil’s Stream until the 19th century, but the name is too good to leave it out of any stories that happen there, regardless of the small anachronism. The name could come from a building called House at the Seven Devils at nearby Maltézské náměstí. Another explanation is that a demonic woman lived in the area of Maltézské náměstí, and a third explanation relates to the historical language for a territorial border.
The House at the Seven Devils is now more commonly called Palác Straků z Nedabylic, and is a conservatory for visually impaired students. The name Seven Devils came from a mural in the arcade painted by an artistic tenant. There were only six devils in the mural, and the seventh was the owner. The painting no longer exists but some other murals have been discovered inside during renovations.
The stream was made by the Sovereign Military Order of Malta in the 12th century, and Kampa Island was created at the same time. The Knights of Malta are still present on next to the stream, and their embassy grounds contain the famed John Lennon Wall.
The stream was used to power mill wheels, and two can still be seen. Other mills existed on the river side of Kampa and other parts of the river, but the wheels were torn down as part of efforts to straighten and dredge the river for shipping.
There is another Liechtenštein Palace at Malostranské náměstí, named for a different branch of the same family. It serves today as part of the music academy and is also alleged to be haunted by a White Lady, but that is another story entirely.