Peace & Quiet
The Stuff of Novels
In February 1997 the greatest Czech writer of his generation, and one of Prague's most endearing characters, Bohumil Hrabal, fell to his death from a hospital window after climbing out to feed the pigeons. He was 83. For many years Hrabal's second home was the pub U Zlatého Tygra, where he claimed to meet the 'real people' who inspired his novels. His best known work, Closely Observed Trains, was made into an Oscar-winning film in 1967.
Praguers know their minds and have always been willing - though not always able - to express them. Standing in Old Town Square, one is reminded of the great Czech religious reformer, Jan Hus, who took on the might of the Catholic Church in order to stand up for what he believed. As so often in the nation's history it was an unequal, albeit heroic, struggle. Over 500 years later, in January 1969, a university student, Jan Palach, suffered a horrific death by self-immolation rather than acquiesce in the Soviet invasion.
Politicians, of course, prefer to leave permanent monuments in brick and stone - the Klementinum, the Charles Bridge, the Valdtejn Palace, Obecní Dům. Everywhere you walk in Prague, its buildings are reminders of the city's history; but they are also aesthetic statements by the architects, artists and sculptors who contributed so much to this most beautiful city. Prague is much more than a glorified museum, however; it is a dynamic place, where individuals are allowed, even encouraged, to stand out from the crowd. To take the city's pulse, spend time in the pubs and cafés that poke out of every nook and cranny. For the traditional view, head for U Zlatého Tygra, a spit and sawdust, no-nonsense establishment where the customers set the world to rights. But just as representative of today's Prague is Radost FX, a meeting place for young people from all corners of the world. The growing café culture is symptomatic of the direction the city is taking. Increasingly cosmopolitan and receptive to new ideas, Prague is now more irresistible than ever.