The More Unusual Side of Prague
As a tourist destination Prague is just a baby, but the Czechs have successfully managed to cash in on the recent influx of world travellers who want to see what Central Europe, Bohemia and the old Czech Republic is all about. In the past thirty years, Prague has grown to become one of the busiest and most popular European destinations.
Prague is a city that has something for everyone. The history is ancient and recent, enthralling and horrifying and the architecture is stunning whichever way you look. For some, Prague is a city rich with history from our lifetime, for some it’s an opportunity to delve into culture with the city’s buzzing art and music scene. For others, the bars and clubs are pumping, the girls are beautiful and the beer is cheap. What more could a tourist (or a hen/stag) want?
Well, how about something a little bit different? I like to dig a little deeper when I visit a place and Prague has quite a lot hidden under the surface. It is a city of stories and secrets, truth and fantasy, and of myths and legends! Prague is simply and wonderfully, one of the wackiest places I have ever been to. Of course, you could follow the herd and stick to the many tourist traps that Prague has to offer, or you could follow in my footsteps and explore the city for the many hidden and unusual gems that lie beneath the surface.
Some of these more unusual sights are easy enough to find; you may even come across them by accident if you like to spend an afternoon walking around a city. Some, however, are hidden away, so much so that I almost didn’t find a few even though I was looking for them!
So, here is my guide to some of the more unusual things to discover in Prague. Be a little different, experience the wacky side of Prague!
The Metronome of Letna Park
I have to begin with the Metronome as it is the one you are most likely to see if you happen to be anywhere near the Vltava river and decide to look up. Easily visible from the bridges and river at the bottom of Letna Hill, a very large working metronome, with a hand that extends to 75 feet, swings from side to side at the very site where Stalin once stood.
Prague's Metronome, Letna Park
Ok, it wasn’t the real Stalin, but a huge granite statue of him and a few of his workers, measuring 15.5 metres in height, 22 metres in length and 17,000 tons in weight. At the time it was the largest group statue in Europe and the world’s largest representation of the Russian Communist dictator. The statue was unveiled on the 1st of may 1955 and took 5 and a half years to create, but de-Stalinisation of the Soviet Union by Nikita Kruschev, began shortly after the unveiling and was eventually destroyed in 1962 with 800 kg of explosives. The statue was a huge embarrassment to the city. The Communist Party of Czechoslovakia hated it, the people despised it and even the sculptor who created it, Otakar Svec, killed himself the day before it was unveiled.
Prague's Metronome and Shoe Monument
For seven years, even after his death, Stalin loomed over Prague, watching the move of every citizen and quietly kept control of the Soviet satellite state of Czechoslovakia. Its destruction led to rejoicing in the streets of Prague before another 30 years of communism. Now, when the people of Prague look up at where Stalin once stood, they see the ever ticking metronome, a reminder that time never stands still, connecting Prague’s past, present and future.
The Skaters of Letna Park
Today, the Metronome, which was erected in 1991, sits among the trendy youth of Prague, with a beer garden and skaters use the area behind it to demonstrate their skills. Interestingly, beneath the granite plinth is a bomb shelter, once used by pirate station ‘Radio Stalin’ in 1990, and later was home to Prague’s first rock club. The doors to the bomb shelter are now locked.
The Hanging Shoes of the Metronome
Tumbling down from the top of the Metronome is a long telephone wire, which now displays an incredible number of shoes, supposedly thrown up there by the local skaters though the symbolism behind it is unknown and the meaning really depends on who you ask. Whatever the reason the shoes continue to hang there, you can be sure that it is a message against resistance.
The Hanging Shoes of Prague
* Get a tram to Cechuv Most at the end of the Svatopluk Cech Bridge and climb the steps!
The Museum of Communism
The Metronome monument of Prague links seamlessly to the story of the Museum of Communism, both feeding off the city’s recent history. In a city of hundreds of museums, it is strange that this one often gets overlooked. It isn’t the easiest place to find, hidden inside the 18th century palace of a Czech aristocrat which now has a McDonalds and a casino in its midst, quite an ironic symbol of how the Czech Republic has grown from the oppressed communist satellite state of the Soviet Union, to a country of modernity and capitalism. Walk through the McDonalds on Na Prikope, which sits between Hugo Boss, Mango, G-Star and Hamleys, and take the stairs up to the first floor and you will find yourself amongst one of the most bizarre collections of communist memorabilia.
A Statue of Stalin at the Museum of Communism
The museum was founded by American political science major and bagel mogul, Glenn Spicker. He set himself on a mission to collect relics and every day artefacts from the Czech Republic’s communist past, searching flea markets and junk shops across Prague. The displays of statues, posters and every day objects exhibit the period from the end of World War II, to the Velvet Revolution of 1989, during which time Czechoslovakia was governed by the communist Soviet Union. The artefacts are surrounded by story-telling texts and multimedia presentations which remind the visitor about the horrors of “Communism - the Dream, the Reality, and the Nightmare”.
*Find the Museum of Communism on the junction of Havirska and Na Prikope
The Lennon Wall
The Remain Camp Express Their Feelings About Brexit
I have already written about the Lennon Wall in my article ‘The Art of Prague’, but it is certainly worthy of a mention here too. It is not only unusual in many ways, but it also lends some light relief and the perfect antithesis to the communism related sights mentioned above. The Lennon Wall was once a normal brick wall, but in the 1980s, it was covered in Lennon and the Beatles inspired graffiti by young Czechs who were desperate for change and ultimately, peace.
An Ironic Message Left Before the US Elections
Since the Velvet Revolution of 1989, the wall has been used as an outlet for any grievances, and while initially this led to a clash between students and security police on Charles Bridge, the wall has continued to play host to the words of the world’s people, symbolising ideologies such as peace and love.
Leave Your Own Message on the Lennon Wall
The wall changes every day; you can even buy some paint and leave your own message to the world if you wish.
*Cross Charles Bridge from old Town, turn left onto Lazenska and keep following the road round
David Cerny and the Man Hanging Out
Moving on from the people’s art to modern art, David Cerny, Prague born artist and sculptor, always has a number of weird and wacky pieces on display around the city, some temporarily, some more permanent. Cerny came to prominence in 1991 by painting a Soviet tank pink, to serve as a war memorial in central Prague. The tank was a national cultural monument at the time and he was arrested for his actions. In defiance, his fans took themselves to the tank and painted it pink once again. Since then, David Cerny has left his controversial art work all over the city.
'Man Hanging Out' by David Cerny
One of the more difficult to find is the ‘Man Hanging Out’, created in 1996 as a statement about intellectualism in the 20th century. Walk under it by accident and you may well think that somebody is in real trouble up there! In fact, it is a statue of Sigmund Freud, meant to make people look up and consider whether intellect can truly have any great affect on our future.
* From Karlova, walk south along Husova, you will find Freud at the junction with Betlemske nam
The Tunnel of Books
David Cerny may well think that intellectualism is at a loss, but the Prague Municipal Library thinks otherwise. The Tunnel of Books is a sculpture by Slovak artist, Matej Kren, which he actually named ‘Idiom”. Kren created a cylindrical tower built from hundreds and hundreds of books and then used mirrors inside to create the illusion of infinity. The artist wanted viewers to connect knowledge with infinity, suggesting that you can always learn and that knowledge should be passed on.
Unfortunately, at the time I was in Prague, the Municipal Library was closed for refurbishment and I was unable to see the sculpture for myself.
* The library is located at the back of the Klementium on Platnerska