When it comes to the famous building sets popular all over the world, businessman Miloš Křeček successfully hoards them like a hamster (which happens to be his last name!). Throughout his life he has collected so many Lego sets that he had to open a museum, in order not to be driven out of his home by the millions of bricks. Today he is the owner of the largest personal collection in the world that brings joy to not just him, but the public as well. The museums, of which there are five in the Czech Republic already, even have regular visitors. Not only can people admire the models here, but also build some of their own. They'd definitely confirm Miloš Křeček's life motto - Play and you won't have time to get in trouble!
Miloš, I have this image in my mind that if I were to enter your home, there'd be Lego everywhere. Am I far from the truth or not really?
It's true that I've got Lego all over the place - from the bedroom to the kids' room. And it will probably stay that way forever. And there really was a time when we barely had room to walk around it, which led to a lot of domestic fights regarding space. That's what sparked the idea to found a museum.
So Lego disappeared from your home partially, then; but do you have any interior pieces constructed out of it?
I don't, but we'd love that. I'd love a whole house made out of Lego.
How old were you when you discovered this passion for collecting?
The story as it is began when I was about five, when I got my first Lego set from my parents and really fell in love with it. From then on I got a set per year on the regular for Christmas. I have to say, this was during the communist era, when you could only get these building sets at Tuzex around here. My grandpa was the boss at a building supply store at the time, so he had contacts. It was only thanks to him that my parents could give me such presents. And when I started earning money for the first time at the age of 15 as an apprentice, I spent all of it on Lego again, while most of my friends enjoyed spending it in pubs or disco clubs.
How did girls view your hobby?
At that age of 15 or so they didn't really have much to say about it, but even though you'd think this kind of hobby would be a hindrance in the relationship, my wife actually says that it's awesome, because thanks to it "I don't have time to get in trouble".
Is she not jealous of the Lego sets? You spend a lot of time building, after all.
She's not, quite the opposite, she helps me.
Do you still have that very first set that you got from your parents? Does it have a special place?
Of course, it's at the Prague museum. I have this little showcase of sorts there, where I exhibit stuff that is close to my heart.
Is it also your oldest model, or do you have older ones?
I have some that are much older. My collection is a bit of a trip back in time. After the war the company was only making wooden toys, you can see a few of those at the museum as well. The Lego brick first saw the light of day in 1958, I hadn't been born yet at the time, and since then they've made about fifteen thousand models.
How many do you presently own?
I don't know exactly, it's about nine thousand models. The number increases every day. I haven't counted the bricks themselves, but I think it'll be over a million. Naturally, it is my goal to get close to owning all sets that exist. It's really about finances, even though I get many sets for free these days as gifts from people all over the world that are my fans.
Which set do you value the most?
Definitely the Statue of Liberty one, that's connected to a nice experience. We bought it in the US from a dude on a ship that sails from New York to the Statue of Liberty. It was symbolic, but for an official set, it was pretty expensive too (laugh).
How much did you pay for it?
For an official set it's a ridiculous price, but I simply wanted it. I paid 1,500 USD (about 34,000 CZK - Ed.).
I assume you built it yourself. How long did it take?
I build almost all of my sets myself. The Statue of Liberty is only 70 cm tall and it took about 20 hours of my life. I have one more Statue of Liberty, which, in fact, used this particular set as a reference. Paradoxically it isn't that valuable to me, even though it was much more expensive and it's much bigger. It contains 30,000 blocks, weighs 200 kg, it's 2.5 m tall and took about 400 hours to build.
And the price?
Half a million crowns.
Do you know how much your collection's worth?
You cannot determine that exactly, because the number of sets keeps going up, but also down. My estimate is 15 million.
The value of the collection is one thing, the investment is another. Can you estimate how much your bricks cost you?
Those really are two vastly different numbers. As I already said, I get many sets as gifts. My investment is about a million crowns.
What is your opinion on Legoland theme parks that feature miniature versions of famous buildings or whole towns? Would you like to build something like that one day?
I would, but I don't have the means for it. Be it life or finances. The Legoland in Dubai took several years to build, for example. One person can't do that. I just admire it with my wife and kids. We visit Legolands all over the world all the time.
Do you have a dream set?
There are a few, but considering their price, so far common sense prevails.
Is there a set that you desire that is unattainable?
Yes, it's a limited edition that employees of the Lego company receive. It's this little house, about fifteen years old, that costs about a hundred and fifty thousand crowns. For a regular person it's hard to understand. I am aware that I'll never buy it, it's ridiculously overpriced.
Do you collect figures as well?
I do collect figures too, I have almost all that were ever released.
Would you ever have something made to order? A model of your wife, for example?
No, there's no other like my wife. One made out of bricks would not compare.
Does it ever happen to you that even when you're visiting somebody, you wonder whether they have Lego somewhere in their closet?
Absolutely. It's not just acquaintances' places, but anywhere my wife and I go in the world. We love flea markets and discover something there every time.
Do you buy Lego from people who have it still sitting around after their children have grown up?
Yes, I buy it by weight.
Has anybody ever offered to buy one of your sets from you for an interesting price?
Of course, and many models I've sold and made money off them. Then I built them again though (laugh).
Do you have a model that you'd never sell no matter what?
The previously mentioned Statue of Liberty. The one I bought in America.
Do you live off your hobby? Or do you make a living elsewhere?
It's amazing that the museums can make enough money to cover their operating expenses. Most of that is thanks to my wife, who oversees them. Any profit is added value that we appreciate. I really wouldn't have the money to fund the museums. I wasn't born rich.
My business is in a completely different field. I'm a producer of smoked meat and supply meat products to many restaurants. However, I'm reaching a point in my life where I'm gradually passing the company down to my children so that I can focus on what I enjoy doing. Aside from sports, that's Lego of course.
Are there any other "freaks" like you in the world?
There are many, when it comes to Lego, but I'm remarkable in that I only collect official sets. Simply whatever the Lego company released. I don't build statues, I don't build castles. And when I do build something, it's special.
As the biggest collector in the world, you could be listed in the Guinness Book of World Records...
We're trying, but it's very complicated and expensive. From a marketing standpoint it might be worth it, though.
How much does it cost to be listed?
About 400,000 crowns.
Prague is not the only city where your collection is being exhibited. What are all the places where people can see it?
There are five places in total - Praha, Špindlerům Mlýn, Kutná Hora, Priessnitz Spa in Jeseník and Poděbrady. The collection is growing though, and I think about halfway into next year we'll be looking for a new place.
How do you choose the places?
They are not chosen randomly, they are places I have a personal connection to.
Do you have time for any other hobbies?
I love sports, especially skiing, ice hockey, cycling, and my wife and kids.
Do you have the fate of your collection secured in any way? So that it doesn't end up in the trash, once you aren't here anymore...
I don't really have it secured, it's not like one can secure that. But I have four children who definitely enjoy Lego and so far it looks like they will continue what I have started.
Just now, a rather morbid question has come up on my mind; would you like to take Lego to your grave, or have your coffin built out of it? Have you ever thought about that?
You bet, I've thought about that too, that I'd build myself a coffin, but only when the time comes. I plan to keep on living for a very long time!