Prague Blog

The Invasion of 1968 in Pictures

Aug 27, 15:50 Filed under history

On the 21st of August 1968, Czechoslovakia was invaded by the troops of Warsaw-Pact. It was a shock for the whole world. No one could believe that Czechoslovakia, which was an ally of the USSR, was actually attacked by the Soviets. Doesn’t it sound strange even nowadays?

Czechoslovak “friends” and “allies” – GDR, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria and the USSR – broke into the sovereign country. They were neither invited nor welcome. Would you welcome a friend with a loaded gun ready to shoot?

Those “brothers” came to put an end to the Prague Spring which was a very short period of political and economical liberalization in Czechoslovakia in 1968. Czechoslovak leaders, though communists, saw the immense need for reforms. They tried to create “Socialism with Human Face”. However, it is to say that they never wanted to change the system into a real democracy.

Nevertheless, despite the fact that Czechoslovak leaders were communists with every cell in their bodies, the Soviets were very nervous. They could see that the people in Czechoslovakia wanted more than few reforms, and so they had to act quickly in order not to let Czechoslovakia go out of their sphere of influence. And so they sent hundreds of thousands of troops and thousands of tanks to one of their allied country and called it a “brotherly help”.

Czechoslovak people were shocked and confused at first. “Russians are invading us? What??? That must be a terrible misunderstanding”, they thought. And so they tried to explain to the Russians that there is no contra-revolution in Czechoslovakia. But it didn’t help. People were in agony. Many people, however, were ready to fight for the right of a sovereign state.

During this “brotherly help”, many Czechs and Slovaks got killed and hundreds were seriously wounded. It was a horrific scene – people with bare hands standing against Russian tanks with ball-cartridge. Friends turned out to be the worst enemies. Illusions were gone. The hopes for at least slight democratization were lost. People were crying. It was a truly sad and emotional moment.

However, it is impossible to describe it all. Pictures can tell much more than words. You will understand the situation much better after visiting the exhibition of authentic black-and-white pictures by Josef Koudelka at Prague’s Old Town Hall. It is right next to the Astronomical Clock at the Old Town Square. The exhibition takes place till September 10th. The closest metro station is Staromestska (green line A).

Matej Kren – the author of the sculpture in the Municipal Library

Aug 21, 16:25 Filed under sightseeing

This is how it looks from the outside Have you ever been to the Prague Municipal Library at Marianske Square? If you have not been there yet, you should consider visiting this place. Marianske Square is located in the city centre, very close to the Old Town Square and Staromestska metro station, so you could visit the library on your way to the city centre. If not for reading books, then it is definelly worth of visit because of seeing an amazing sculpture made of numerous books by Matej Kren, a young Czechoslovak artist.

This is how it looks from the inside. A perfect illusion! Matej Kren is quite well-known artist. He was born in Trencin, then Czechoslovakia, today Slovakia. He studied at Art Academies in Bratislava and in Prague. As being very talented, he participated in many exhibitions, was awarded some importatnt awards and after the Velvet Revolution he was even teaching for a while. Since the beginning of the 1990s he has been having many exhibition of his works not only in imporant museums and galleries in Europe, but also overseas. And finally, in 1998, his wonderful sculpture was placed in the Prague Municipal Library, consisted of books, it perfectly fits into this place, and by using mirrors, he created an unusual effect of infinity… but it is hard to be described… should be seen. So when you go by the library, you should take a look inside to see this great piece of Art.

But this is not the only sculpture by Matej Kren made by books and mirrors. He did, for example, another such master piece for the Gallery of Bratislava City. Here, his work called the Passage offers special experience allowing you walking between something which looks like never ending rows and columns of books. But again, it is hard to be described and must be seen.

And as it was already mentioned, Matej Kren is a Czechoslovak artist. He feels to be so, because as he said, he was born in Czechoslovakia. So now he represent both the Czech Republic and Slovakia in various world exhibitions and competitions. But at the moment, he lives and works mostly in the capital of the Czech Republic – in a beautiful town of Prague.

And as we were speaking about the Municipal Library in the beginning of this article, it might be noted, that this place is really worth of visit for also for another things. There are really many interesting books and magazines to be borrowed, and some of them are also in other languages then Czech. You can either borrow them at home or just read them in the library, if you do not want to register yourself here and pay the fee for it. But if you register, you will also get a password for using free wifi internet connection here. And the library is also a good meeting place with intelectual atmosphere, as all smart Prague people come here from time to time. And if you are tired of books, you can have a rest in a not great, but still o.k. coffeteria located here. Opening days are from Tuesday to Saturday, on Sundays and Mondays they are closed.

21st of August 1968

Aug 19, 16:10 Filed under history

Now, the 40th annual of August 21st 1968 is coming. It is an important date in Czechoslovak history. What happened in August forty years ago?

Czechoslovak history during 20th century was not really happy, the great period of Czechoslovak democratic Republic (1918-1938) was ended by coming of Nazis and then World War II, when Bohemia and Moravia were occupied. There was only brief period of freedom after the war, because already in February 1948 communists came to rule. Czechoslovakia thus became one of Soviet satelites. The late forties and the early fifties were extremely hard for some people, especially for those who were against the regime. Later, when in USSR died comrade Stalin in 1953, the public life was slowly starting to be more liberal. But the really big turn about was to come in 1968. It was called the Prague Spring. In January 1968 reformist Alexandr Dubcek came to the power. He started to work on many reforms, which were to make living in Czechoslovakia better. The economy was to be partialy decentralized, the free speech was to be granded, people could travel more. Now, the living in socialism should be finally good. Dubcek and his followers were calling for “Socialismus s lidskou tvari“ (which could be translated as the Socialism with people’s face), means they still wanted comunism, but without the restrictions (as censorship, poor economy etc.), which were so annoying for the people. So the people liked Dubcek’s reforms. But communist officers in Moscow did not like so. Those in Moscow were afraid of what was happening in Czechoslovakia so they have sent Warsaw Pact (Soviet Union, Poland, East Germany, Hungary and Bulgaria) troops and tanks to occupy the country. And the troops arrived on 21st of August, people were shocked by tanks in streets, for many of them was really hard to belive it. To belive, that Russians finished the period of liberalization. And some of the Russian soldiers were also confused, they were told they are going to free the country, but instead being welcomed, people were telling them to go home.

After August 21st, many people were really disapointed, and left the county – decided to emigrate. Those who stayed, had to live in an occupied country, Czechoslovakia remained until the Velvet Revolution. And after Agust came the period of normalization, Dubcek was replaced by Gustav Husak, who also became the president of Czechoslovakia, most of Dubcek’s reforms were canceled. 20 gray years of normalization period came.

There were many protests against the occupation of the country, the most famous one was when on 19th of January in 1969 a student Jan Palach burnt himself on Wenceslas Square and died subsequently. His burial then became a kind of national manifestation. But the Czechslovak people had to live in bad communism for another 20 years.

August 21st 1968 is a sad date in Czechoslovak history, but should be remembered and people should be thus also more aprreciate democracy they have. But for the popularization of this date was luckily also done a lot in films, literature, drama… for example by pretty popular Jan Hrebejk’s film Pelisky, which takes place in Prauge in 1968 and its heroes are affected by the run of history.


Aug 13, 15:37 Filed under history

Have you already visited the Austrian capital? It is a place which is definitelly worth of visit. And it should be noticed that there used to be extremly strong connections betveen Vienna and Czech country. As Bohemia and Morivia vere both parts of Austro-hungarian empire with its capital in Vienna. There were the seat of emperor, who was thus also Czech ruler. Only exception was Rudolf the second, who moved the throne to mystical Prague, and thus made it the centre of empire, but only for a short time. After his death, the next emperor moved the administrative cenre of the monarchy again to Vienna. And as the seat of the ruler, it was also the centre of the official culture and education in the monarchy.

And Vienna was magnifugue! For the emporor was built beautiful palaces, gardens… but there were also beautiful houses for people close to emperor and beautiful churches for christians of the city, the finest European artists worked here…
And Vienna was extremely inspiring at the turn of 19th and 20th century. With its artists, philosophers… Members of Weiner Secession made excelent works of Art, Sigmund Freud wrote his extremely infuencial books… and there were many others, Vienna was the extremely important centre of the European culture that time.

In 1918, with the end of World War I, where was the emperor defeated, the Austro-Hungarian empire was over. Czechoslovakia was created and Prague become its capital, so Vienna was not for Czech people that important anymore. Later came World War II, then long times of communism, which was not good time for travelling. Only after the Velvet Revolution, the borders were opened again and travelling from Prague to Vienna became easy again. The only problem is distance, from Prague you would go to Vienna through Brno, it is possible to go by bus and it is not that close, so it is better to stay there overnight.

Vienna is worth to visit because of its history, architecture and its amazing museums. If you like Art, you will love Vienna. The Art galleries here are really good, very often helding the exhbition of best world artists. To be honest, must be said, that there are in general much better and ambitious Art exhibitions then in Prague. And also shopping in Vienna is really good. But to compare it with Prague, it can not be easily said which one is better. Well, personally, I prefer Prague. Vienna is monumental, nice, as all Austria extremely clean. But Prague has its special magic, and you can find there really interesting old streets, many more churges and buidings with middle-ages look. Prague has its famous ocultist history, cool clubs… yes, Praugue is not that clean as Vienna, not that nice. But I find in that uncleaness of Prague its specific magic. Well, what do you think? If you were to compare Prague and Vienna, what would you say? But both those towns definitelly are interesting and worth of visit and spending some time there.

New building fot the Czech National Library – The Never Ending Story

Aug 12, 15:17 Filed under culture

The institution of the Czech National Library needs a new building. Now the library is placed in the old historical building of Klementinum, but this space is not suitable anymore. There is not enough room for all the books. To solve this problem, they held a competition, searching for the best design of the new library building, which should be placed in Letna area, in Prague 7. As the winner was announced an architect Jan Kaplicky with his Future Systems studio. Kaplicky, a Czech, who lives and works in London, won with his extravagant and for someones quite shocking project – a building of organic shape, in combination of green and purple colours, which became known as “Blob“. Some people really liked it, other ones did not, some ones liked the idea of the extravagant building but did not want it to be placed on such beautiful and important place in Letna, which may partly destroy a beautiful panorama of old Prague… so the never ending story about the National Library building started. If you are long in Prague, maybe you have already heard about it. There were also already published some notes on this topic here, on this website.

The problem with the library was not only the extravagant look of the building, but also some issues concerning the run of the exhibition. Was it fair? The union of the Czech architect said it was not. Yes, it may seem that they were just disappointed, because they did not win themselves, but if they were right. They said that the winning project of Jan Kaplicky did not follow all the conditions of the exhibition – the stock space is under the ground in his design, which according to original rules of the exhibition should not be. There were and still are other problems, but it would be boring just to repeat them all the time around, if you want to get to know more about it, you can read it in older article. Everybody got already quite annoyed, after many passionate discus ions and argues, by this library thing. But the problem is still unsolved.

Although, there are some fresh news now. The Czech anti-monopoly office asked European commission for their opinion about the competition. And the office said, that the competition was not o.k. So what is going to happen now? To National Library can be advised to cancel the competition. But if they will be advised this, they are not, according to words of its director Jezek, likely to it. So is the library thing going to end in the court? And who is going to pay all the money that were spent on the expensive exhibition and are still to be spent – all Czech people who pay taxes. The story about new building is already too long, complicated and people got too tired of it. And, if the not only extravagant, but also very expensive building should not be in Prague, other towns already showed interest to have it, not only Czech Brno, but also British Edinburgh, but the architect Jan Kaplicky does not want it to be anywhere else. How this story will end? And how more long will it take?

Czechs at Olympic Games 2008

Aug 12, 14:27 Filed under news

What do you think? How high are chances of Czech sportsmen and sportswomen at this year controversial Olympic Games in chinesse Peging? Well, they already got two gold medals. First one won Katerina Emmos, the shoterl. And shortly after her, another Czech – David Kostelecky won gold medal at shotting. It is pretty good score for the Czech Republic so far. But will the country be so succesful also in another Olympic competitions which will take place next days?

What about Roman Sebrle, the athlet, who won the gold medal at last Olympic Games in 2004 in Greek Athens? He flew to the Peging not in the best condition. But he might get better. In Athens, he was the only Czech, who got the gold medal. So this time, Czech Republic already has better score then four years ago. And the games just started. So maybe the country is going to be lucky this year.

But this year, taking place in communist China, where human rights are not really respected, Olympic games are not only about sports, but also about politics. Are some of Czechs going to protest agains the politics of China?

Praha Stovezatá (The Hundred- Spired Prague)

Aug 11, 15:16 Filed under sightseeing

There’s quite an intriguing net project going on; it consists of panoramatic photographs of the city, taken from 100 Prague spires, especially church towers, using special widescreen lenses and computer editing to manage a 180 degree scope. The city chose the Panoramas company, which does similar deals around the Republic (see, to provide the stills.
The page is available in English.

The English version, the Hundred- Spired Prague, welcomes you with a distorted still from a randomly chosen tower, one of the hundred contained of course. You may then click on the choice currently on display in the “Random location” bar, for example Troja Chateau, Prague 1 – Old town. If you do, you will be redirected to the picture, which I recommend to switch to full screen mode. The camera moves slowly from left to right unless you take control, either with help of the toolbar on the bottom of the display, or simply with your mouse, holding the left click button. Using simple controls, it allows you to observe the city underneath, able to turn left/right and up down and also to zoom in on any of the parts of the still. You always see the nearest tower(s), which you could switch to by clicking on an arrow symbol. In case you have a particular spot in mind, click on the “list” button.

The photographs are in high resolution, made in favorable weather and generally very watchable. It’s also an advantage that it is possible to have a look at the spires and towers themselves, since many of them are not accessible to public. It also loads quite easily. You only need a proper Flash software, which is available for free on the Internet.

The project cost around a million CZK and it seems to be money well spent. It works as a powerful ad for a tourist as well as pleasant entertainment for the residents. No matter how well you know the displayed spots, you probably haven’t seen them from this point of view.

By the way, as the authors of the project remind us on the title page, there are more than 100 towers in Prague. A few thousand, actually.


Aug 8, 13:58 Filed under culture

Bratislava is the capital of Slovakia. As you know, until 1993 there were no Czech or Slovak Republics, but one country – Czechoslovakia, with Prague being its capital and Bratislava the second biggest city. After the separation, it became the capital of new country. Maybe, you will have a chance to visit it. And it is definitelly worth of visit. Not as amazing as Prague, but more fancy then Brno for example. It is in distance of about 4 and half hours bus ride from Prague, so it is not a place for one day trip, but it is worth to visit it for a weekend for example.

Now Bratislava became a bit infamous for someones because of the stupid movie hostel, but the town is pretty nice. Don’t be afraid of visit, you will like it here. And what to see there?

There are some old monuments, so it is good to take a walk in old town, to see gothic Saint Martin’s church, Michael’s Gate, Main Square and just stroll a bit in beautiful streets. Maybe you can also hike a bit to see the castle. The old town is small compared to Prague, but there are other touristic attractions beside it. Bratislava has interesting modern architecture. Highlight is definitelly one of the bridges across Danube river, which is called UFO, because of characteristic form on one of its ends, which looks like a space ship. It is possible to take a lift into “space ship“, and enjoy the amazing veiw all over the city from it. There is also a restaurant located inside, it must be great to enjoying the view while eating, but the prices here are pretty high.

The best place where to eat in Bratislava is Slovak pub on Obchodna Street, popular among students as well as expatriats and tourists. It offers traditional Slovak foods as halusky with brynza cheese or potatoes with onion and cheese, or sweet dumplings, garlic soup in bread and many others, those I tried were very tasty. And they also have their own beer, called “Dobre pifko“, which is also pretty good one.

Another place I like in Bratislava is a chocolaterie on Michalska Street, where they offer many delicious hot chocolates. So many that it is really hard to choose one. And some of them are really attractive, either with fruits, liquors, rum or spices. Beside this, they also have desserts…

Bratislava is on Danube River, so onother option what to do is to take a boat trip. Either just for Bratislava sightseeing from the river or to old Devin Castle close to Bratislava or even to Hainburg, small Austrian town, well or even to Wienna, which is not far from Bratislava. Well, Austria’s capital… also a place wchich should be visited, from Bratislava easily accesible also by train and bus, but it is another story.

So if you want to get to know another city, why not to visit Bratislava and also get to know a little bit more about Czechoslovak history this way, but mostly enjoy the atmosphere which this lovely town has.

Stromovka – a piece of nature in a bustling city

Aug 8, 13:50 Filed under prague-walks

Stromovka is a wonderful park not far from the city centre. It offers a piece of nature in a beautiful, but sometimes too crowded and busy city of Prague. A place where both Prague inhabitants and visitors can relax for a while, enjoying nature. This could be appreciated especially in those hot summer months, when staying in the city for a long time sometimes becomes too much annoying.

The park has quite significant name – Stromovka is a word, which is derived from “strom”, which means a tree in Czech language. There are plenty of trees, but there is also a lot of grass, and some pretty flowers are cultivated here as well. The park is pretty popular among Prague people, especially during weekends lots of people come here to do sports and relax. You can see here many in-line skaters and bikers; there are even special pathways for them. Also many runners and walkers come to enjoy the park, and obviously – dog walkers, as it’s the ideal place, where their pets can run a bit. And, on the list of visitors cannot be omitted families with kids, from those walking around with small babies in prams to those who has bigger kids, who are enjoying one of children’s playgrounds or bit of biking or inline-skating.

As Stromovka park is pretty big, it is obvious, that it is accessible from different places. And on both “main ends”, there are refreshments places, where you can get some beer, but also non-alcoholic drinks or some food. In one end, in Bubenec, it is quite a famous pub/restaurant Na Slamniku. On the other end, which is by Vystaviste-exhibiting area, there is also a place where can be bought drinks and some “fast-food”, it is only outdoors, but it should not matter that much during summer months and you also works as a “take-away”, so you can ask for beer or other drink in a plastic cap and enjoy it deeper in the park. But be aware, now there is a new law about drinking alcoholic beverages in public places in the Czech Republic, so if you want to take your drink away, better buy something non-alcoholic or be careful.

Current Tensions on Czech Political Scene

Aug 6, 15:58 Filed under culture

The Czech political scene has been quite dirty since the 1989 revolution. Not to an extent extraordinary in today’s Europe, but definitely dirtier than what Havel and his fellow political idealists (meant in the positive sense) had hoped for. And, for the past several years, it’s still less clear which party is in the lead and how long a government will last. The current one seems to be balancing on the edge of a cliff, the previous one was only an inch more stable.

The Czech electoral system does not have any means of adjusting the results. Which means that the two major parties, together with their smaller allies, can form a 100: 100 parliament. That is exactly what happened in 2006. Both the left wing and the right- wing parties found themselves unable to form a coalition. For some time it seemed there simply will be no government and we would have to wait for a new election. Which, of course, would be very awkward for all the parties involved: the citizens did their part and it’s actually politicians’ job to deal with the result, not to say “please, let’s try again.”

There is an end to the story. The right- wing coalition of Civic Democrats, Christian Democrats and, interestingly the Green Party (a right- wing party in the CR) persuaded two Social Democrats to change sides. A solution, but not a very elegant one.

During the presidential vote there was another departure and last month, fourth Social Democrat MP left for the centre- right ground. One may speculate what their motivations are, but it really is not the point. The point is that in Czech electoral system we vote for parties and we expect their nominees to implement party policy, not the policy of a party that contradicts our vote.

But there’s little to be done about it, unless we are to accept a system that supports strict party discipline. In the otherwise liberal First Czechoslovakian Republic (1918- 38), for example, all MPs signed a resignation paper at the start of their term, and their party was free to use it any time he would upset it. That certainly is not an example to follow in 2008.

And what about the electoral system? Shouldn’t there be some fixed minimum majority, some points added to the winning party so that it could form a coalition, no matter how closely it won? Such a system works in Italy. But Italy changes its government nearly every year since the WWII, so it may not be terribly effective.

We could also introduce majority electoral system. That would result in a two- party system. the Civic Democrats and the Social Democrats, like the US Democrats and Republicans. Promblems? Yes, at least two. The Czech parties are far more centralized and rigid, less of open platforms, which the US parties more or less are. Secondly, it would be impossible for smaller parties to influence the political process. Simply, a country’s system has to be ready for such a change and I’m not sure the Czech one is.

The tensions are high. The Social Democrats are enraged. The government coalition seems to be winning, but they too have some major problems. They can’t change the fact that the whole government project is a mess: the three parties have actually little to share when it comes down to single questions.

The Christian Democrats are conservative, socially oriented, pro- Church and they have a leader, Jirí Cunek, with questionable views on ethnic minorities. The same man has been cleared of corruption charges under very strange circumstances, which happened to be condemned by a court several weeks ago. The Greens are pro- European, multicultural and, of course, eco- friendly. The Civic Democrats are not really put off by the EU or ecology. The three leaders don’t really like each other. And two of them have a couple of rebel MPs in their parties.

No wonder they keep arguing about nearly every major issue. So, seen in this light, there is no winner, the fight is a constant draw. Only the Communist Party has an ongoing holiday: without any danger of having a responsibility, without the ambition to win the next election (they know they can’t), they can oppose just about everything.

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