Prague Buildings with Exciting Histories (Part 1)
Well known places in Prague with history
One of the best things about Prague is the vast history behind every cobblestone, monument and building in the city. Prague's two occupations, three independence days and constant social development have resulted in some exciting stories. Do you know the backstory of your favorite hang out spots?
New National Museum Building
Once parliament, then radio studio and now a museum
On June 1st 2009, the National Museum acquired the new building right next to their original site located at the top of Wenceslas Square. The uniquely designed structure was taken over from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Radio Free Europe and its sister station Radio Liberty were the two radio stations set up by the CIA in 1951 to provide propaganda-free news to countries under Soviet rule.
The buildings' history begins in 1938 when it served as the Prague Stock Exchange until it was shut down by occupational forces. In 1946 it was re-purposed and served as the headquarters for the Czechoslovak communist parliament.
It acted as the parliamentary headquarters until Czechoslovakia’s peaceful split in 1992. It wasn’t until 1995 that the building became a radio studio that broadcast across Soviet Europe. Finally, it was bought by the National Museum in 2006, just three years before RFE/RL moved to a new location and the museum reconstruction began. You can find out more about the exhibitions held in the redecorated space here.
The spot that Stalin, Michael Jackson and former president Václav Klaus all wanted
The giant 23-meter metronome in Letná Park is more than just a place where hipsters and skateboarders chill. Recently, the Stalin pop-up bar has drawn crowds to drink beer and enjoy the view, but few know the colorful history behind the bar’s name. Before the metronome’s slow ticks became a symbol of growing democracy in the Czech Republic, there was an ugly Stalin monument.
Otakar Švec was forced into sculpting the 22-meter-long and 15.5-meter-tall statue of Stalin in 1955. He killed himself out of shame just one day before the unveiling on May 1st. He wasn’t the only one who didn’t like the world’s largest representation of Stalin which was destroyed during de-Stalinization using 800 kilos of explosives in 1962.
There is a bomb shelter underneath the base of the metronome which used to be the headquarters of Radio Stalin, a pirate radio station operating in the 1990s - the shelter also became Prague’s first rock club around the same time. The popular spot overlooking Prague was briefly used as the base of an 11-meter statue of Michael Jackson during the start of his History European tour.
In 1998 there was also a billboard promoting Civic Democratic Party leader Václav Klaus. There have been many considerations to redevelop the site, including building an aquarium – most people, however, are content with the metronome as is and can’t imagine Letná without it.
The hotspot favored by 1900s feminists, Albert Einstein and Franz Kafka
The popular café is named after the most famous gallery in the world, Paris’s Louvre. Unlike the new National Museum building, this café was never repurposed but has always been the place to get great coffee. Today, the café has a diverse assortment of guests including students, families and celebrities.
Back in the day, the café welcomed famous visitors including Albert Einstein, Franz Kafka and Karel Capek. The café was popular among Czech actors, German writers and various professors who held regular meetings/teachings from their favorite tables. The café was even popular amongst upper class ladies who made it their stronghold to uphold female emancipation!
The café faced difficult times in 1948 during the communist coup when officers stormed in and threw café fixtures out the windows and onto the street. In 1992 the café was revived after undergoing a complete reconstruction. You can find out more about the café’s rich history here.
A place to party, enjoy David Černý’s art and commemorate Václav Havel
Lucerna Music Bar is a party hotspot for expats, tourists and locals alike. Believe it or not, the 80s and 90s nights are not nearly as exciting as the building’s history. The bar is only a small part of the Lucerna Palace, the building designed and partially owned by the Havel family. It was designed by former president Václav Havel’s grandfather and built in 1921.
Lucerna Palace was one of the many properties that Václav Havel signed over to his wife merely two months before he died in 2011. The complex includes theaters, a cinema, shops, the rock club and various cafes and restaurants. It is also home to David Černý’s dead upside down horse statue ridden by St. Wenceslas. It is widely assumed that this statue represents Václav Klaus, the unpopular former president (2003 – 2013).
Considered to be one of the most important private cultural centers in the city, Lucerna Palace has hosted several significant events in the country’s history. It is also the home of the Prague International Jazz Festival and hosted the Václav Havel Tribute Concert. Next time you’re in the area, think about Václav Havel and his role in shaping the Czech Republic as a writer, philosopher, political dissident and president.
Prague Buildings with Exciting Histories (Part 2) Prague.TV, Living Like a Local! 31.10.2016
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