They say that love happens when you least expect it.

Well, I have to say I agree. I didn’t expect to fall in love when I visited Český Krumlov, at least not with a museum. Heck, I didn’t even expect to visit a museum during my brief time in the famously historic Bohemian town, but when the words “one of the oldest working photography studios in the world” were mentioned, the amateur photographer in me was instantly intrigued. So I turned my back on the stunning architecture of this medieval town that should have been used as a set for one of the Seven Kingdoms and I time-travelled to a different slice of history.

Cesky Krumlov Houses

Gloriously refurbished to how it would have looked in the early 20th century, the refurbishment of Fotoatelier Seidel took many years as a team from the Český Krumlov Development Fund used old photos of the Seidel home and photography studio, to its former glory. The studio hadn’t been used since 1953 when František “Franz” Seidel closed the business, due to the commercialisation of photography meant he was unable to continue the Seidel family’s traditional sources of business.

What he didn’t do, thank goodness, was empty the beautiful house built in 1905 of the Seidel company’s equipment, photographs and documents, which contained almost sixty years of  history about the company Franz’s father started in 1884 and about the local area. What is also revealed in this curious museum is a number of equally moving and fascinating stories about a German-speaking family that lived in the Czech Republic during a very complex time in modern history.

View of Cesky Krumlov Fotoatelier Seidel

I should backtrack a little and explain that when I arrived at the garden gate of Fotoatelier Seidel, I was late. Really late. And I hate being late. So I was flustered, embarrassed, and a little sweaty. It wasn’t an elegant entrance.

But as soon as I stepped foot into the cool and dimly-lit tiled entryway to the house – which was opened up especially for me as the museum is only open during summer months – I felt a strange sense of calm. Instantly, I knew what I was walking into was no ordinary museum; I noticed so many homely vintage details – the coat stand on one side and art nouveau painted details on the wall. I felt like I was stepping back into a period where time didn’t rush past so quickly. How I often long to go back there…

Office of Fotoatelier Seidel

The first stop was what was once the customer counter, a waist high bench that one of Josef or František’s staff must have stood behind and showed off the fruits of their labours to a happy customer who wanted to see the results of an earlier portrait session, as was the custom in the early decades of photography when cameras were too expensive – and technical – for families to purchase their own. I spent more than a few seconds admiring the type writer on a desk in the corner and noticing some familiar names pop out from vintage adverts.

Counter Fotoatelier Seidel Fotoatelier Seidel Typewriter

At this point I asked my tour guide if everything I was seeing had been found in the house. He nodded and said they had more memorabilia than they knew what to do with. This was a family who were well-prepared and well-stocked. He illustrated the point by pulling out a full box of unused pencils dating back to the 40s or 50s. “We have multiple boxes of  these,” he said.

Counter inside Fotoatelier Seidel

Also on the ground floor of the house was a small living and dining room and then a large bedrooom. The furniture belonged to the mid-20th century but the decor had been restored and beautifully soft pastel colours danced on the wall in a way that was popular in the time of art nouveau. Tactfully in each room where this paintwork existed – and I believe it was every room – patches of the original artwork had been left so you could see just how true the refurbishment project had stayed.

Bedroom Fotoatelier Seidel Home Details Fotoatelier Seidel

The German-speaking Seidel family weren’t the first to bring photography to Český Krumlov and they weren’t from the town. Josef Seidel was born in 1859 into a family of established glass cutters based in the Děčín region of the Czech Republic. He became a hobbyist photographer and refined his craft while travelling through neighbouring regions. He came to hear that a photographer was needed to take over a studio in Český Krumlov, which he eventually did in 1888. At this time a wooden studio stood on the sight I was standing in and as a part celebration of his marriage to Elizabeth Brod, a new house and studio was erected and the Fotoatelier Seidel became a successful business employing a handful of local people and photographing hundreds more.

Die Zeit Fotoatelier Seidel Fotoatelier Seidel Room

In one room there were a number of printing presses on table tops showing a popular use for photos a hundred years ago. Transformed into postcards that would be sent to loved ones far away. It’s funny how there are apps that let us do the same thing now.

Print stamp Fotoatelier Seidel

Stepping inside the dark room it felt as though the space had been left halfway through a job, photos developing under a dull red light. Staring at the equipment on display, I wondered about the sounds and smells that would have accompanied this scene. And then I tried to imagine what Josef and his son Franz would have thought about today’s photography – accessible to all and very rarely even developed.

Dark Room Fotoatelier Seidel

It’s Franz’s story that stayed with me because it is laced with both tragedy and also a small miracle in many ways. When his father died unexpectedly in 1935, František Seidel took on the family business. My tour guide explained that he wasn’t the best photographer in the world, but he was a good businessman and indeed the business flourished despite the onset of the war. In many ways, in fact, the war helped the Seidel family business as photos of soldiers that could be sent home or photos of wives and children that could be carried in breast pockets became precious commodities.

Postcard Photos Fotoatelier Seidel

Yet, the war took much from Franz as he ended up being imprisoned in a POW camp where he was forced to labour by runningmachinery. Following the end of the war in communist Czechoslovakia those who spoke German were forced to move to Germany, a fate which  Franz’s fiancée and brother were forced to succomb to. Franz and his mother managed to secure Czech citizenship and it wouldn’t be until 1959 when his fiancée returned to Český Krumlov that he could marry the woman he loved. By this time, there was no possiblity of them having children to carry on the family business which had already succombed to a local competitor.

Personal Belongings

It wasn’t until I stepped foot into the studio that I fully appreciated the beauty of Fotoatelier Seidel, and how special it must have been to call such a space home. Light flooded in from a wall to ceiling glass window which offered views of Český Krumlov’s famous rooftops. Several vintage cameras were laid out and nextdoor a small changing room with rails of clothes lay in wait, as though a family were due to pop in for a portrait at any moment.

Inside Fotoatelier Seidel Inside Studio Fotoatelier Seidel Inside the studio Old Studio Studio Fotoatelier Seidel Photo of Fotoatelier Seidel Studio Shelves Fotoatelier Seidel

But both Franz and Josef Seidel didn’t just take portrait photos. Both – particularly Josef – took hauled their bulky cameras around the local countryside taking photos of the changing seasons,  the new innovations in local industry and moments of celebration, development, or discovery. In short, it has been threw the thousands and thousands of glass plate negatives found at Fotoatelier Seidel that local historians have been able to visualise so clearly how this historic pocket of Europe looked throughout the last 100 years.

View through studio windows Fotoatelier Seidel Views from Photo Studio

The museum continues to carry on the tradition of the Fotoatelier Seidel by giving tours to visitors and inviting  the public to have their photo taken in the beautiful studio.

“Would you like your photo taken?” my tour guide asked. “I’m afraid I can’t use the cameras but I could use yours,”

All I had in my hand was my phone so I gave this to him feeling guilty to both Seidel Junior and Senior  that I didn’t have something more sophisticated to honour their memory.

Taking Photos Photo Museum Fotoatelier Seidel

I’m happy with the result. And I’m happy that I got to learn about Josef and František’s legacy, as I imagine in a city as beautiful as Český Krumlov it’s all too quickly overlooked, albeit completely accidentally. While I loved the towers, turrets and twisting alleyways of the Český Krumlov, there was something about Fotoatelier Seidel that spoke to me and has stayed with my ever since. That’s why it’s my favourite museum. That’s why I urge you to go if you have half the chance.

Equipment Fotoatelier Seidel

And that’s why I now look at photography in a very different way. It doesn’t document my history, and that of the people I am with, it is documenting our history, the one we share and the one we tap into when we travel the world. Think about that the next time you take a photo…

frankie-in-ljubljana

This post was written by Frankie Thompson who was a Travelette from 2012 – 2015. Originally from London, UK, Frankie was nomadic for several years before settling in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, where she lives with her Australian partner and baby boy. She spends her time buying vintage dresses, riding a rusty old bike around the canals and writing books inspired by her travels. Frankie blogs about travel, writing and motherhood at As the Bird flies blog.