Baron George Haas Jr (c 1877 – 1945)
Eccentricity is not a peculiarly English characteristic, notwithstanding what Voltaire may have had to say on the subject, nor is love of animals. Just to prove the point we will relate the curious story of Baron Haas who was the son of a Czech businessman, ennobled in the late 19th century.
Home for the Baron was Hrad Bitov, or Bitov Castle, which nestles on a steep promontory above the river Zeletavka, some 25 kilometres north west of Znojmo in the Czech republic. Built in the 11th century but extensively altered in the 19th century, it is one of the oldest and largest Moravian castles. So Haas had plenty of space and money to engage in his hobbies, the principal of which was collecting animals. Over time he designed a state-of-the-art zoo in the castle grounds, featuring paddocks which he stocked with exotic creatures from around the world, aviaries and terrariums.
Naturally, Haas also had a string of household pets, particularly dogs. If you visit his erstwhile home, Bitov Castle in the Czech Republic, you will come across an astonishing room demonstrating the art of the taxidermist. It is full of stuffed dogs in all sorts of poses as well as badgers, cats and squirrels, the latter bedecked in rather fetching fezzes. There are over fifty dogs in the room which is the castle’s principal tourist attraction and a particular favourite of young children. Haas was so enamoured with his favourites that he always wanted them around. So as soon as one of them kicked the bucket, he would call in the local taxidermist and have it stuffed with sawdust.
Mind you, visiting the castle when Haas was in residence could be an off-putting experience. He had imported a fully grown lioness which he named Mietzi-Mausi and to which he gave free rein of the house. Guests would be terrorised when they encountered the beast, particularly as it had a penchant for nibbling shoes. The only duty the lioness had to perform was to have lunch with the Baron every day. Quite what she ate and whether she had to sit down on a chair is unclear.
Haas got on famously with Homo sapiens as well, ingratiating himself with the locals by standing enormous rounds in the local taverns. Perhaps this was guilt money because he had quite a roving eye. It is said that he had over eighty mistresses and many a local wench would have fallen for his charms. Spending a little money to placate an irate father or boyfriend was perhaps a small price to pay, after all.
Alas, though, Haas went on to pay a far higher price. He was an ethnic German and at the end of the Second World War despite being an ardent anti-fascist he was turfed out of the country by Czech partisans, leaving his collection of stuffed animals behind. It is not certain whether Mietzi-Mausi was still alive at this point. He fled on foot over the Austrian border and a few days later the 68-year-old was found dead from gunshot wounds. It is thought he had taken his own life.
A sad end to the local taxidermist’s dream client.