Old gun emplacements and barbed wire mark the border near Devínska Nová Ves.
Photos by James Thomson
Devínska Nová Ves is notable mainly for its large Volkswagen factory and for being the last Slovak stop on the main train line to Vienna. However, it does have some hidden gems worth exploring. Among other things, it is home to the largest Croatian community in Slovakia, and has a museum to prove it.
The Croatians moved here in the sixteenth century in the wake of the Ottoman conquest of the other parts of what was then Hungary (some also settled in Burgenland, in eastern Austria). They came from across Croatia, but mostly from Slavonia.
Croatian is still spoken here, as well as in Čuňovo and Jarovce, villages on the south bank of the Danube. The wider presence of Croatian settlers is recalled by local place names such as Chorvátsky Grob, north-east of Bratislava (Chorvátsko is the Slovak name for Croatia).
The museum displays a variety of Croatian folk costumes, books, and handicrafts which are labelled in English. Among them are nineteenth-century prayer books which were published in the Croatian language, read in Slovakia, but which used Hungarian orthography – suggesting the curious blend of languages and cultures which existed in this part of the Hungarian kingdom.
The helpful museum guides, who also speak English, point out that this has always been a border town and that, as in Bratislava, people once routinely spoke German and Hungarian as well as their mother tongue, be it Croatian or Slovak. And this didn't just go for the commoners: when Austrian Empress Maria Theresa crossed the wooden bridge which used to span the Morava here, imperial constitutional niceties required that she stop being an empress mid-stream, in order to become queen of Hungary (though no-one can say if she actually swapped crowns en route).
A room adjoining the museum features a small but interesting exhibition of local archaeological finds, labelled in English, including one comically priapic Roman-era figurine.