Yesterday I learned about Alternative Prague during a four-hour walking tour through several neighborhoods in the city! It was a small friendly group of 7 – three Americans, two Israelis, and two Australians. Our excellent guide Eliska, from Prague Alternative Tours, enlightened us on many aspects of Czech Alternative Culture and life in Prague.
Eliska discussed the art, music, and theater scenes, Prague gentrification, and the vast impact of the 1968 Soviet Invasion on the Czech people and almost every aspect of their lives. She encouraged us to learn some Czech words – a difficult language, but I’m resolved to try harder and learn a few key phrases.
1968 Soviet Invasion
“The Soviet invasion successfully stopped Alexander Dubček and the Prague Spring liberalisation reforms and strengthened the authoritarian wing within the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSČ). During this era, the foreign policy of the Soviet Union was known as the Brezhnev Doctrine.”
Even today, the painful effects of the brutal Soviet invasion are still reflected in Czech culture. Some aspects of which (including religion) many Czechs do not discuss openly.
Having lived in San Francisco for many years, I’ve seen quality street art, but parts of Prague have interesting graffiti, and the city is beginning to accept and appreciate this developing form of urban art. The Lennon Wall has “John Lennon-inspired graffiti and fragments of lyrics from Beatles songs”.
Anyone can paint a message or drawing on the Lennon Wall which is near Charles Bridge in an area where the government allows graffiti, even though it’s not officially “legal”. Graffiti is prohibited on historical buildings, businesses, and private residences. The punishment for graffiti writing on these structures is a fine the first time and prison for subsequent offenses.
Galleries, Markets, Cafés, and Theaters
We toured alternative galleries, pubs, flea markets, and cafés that are part of the youth scene in Prague and learned about alternative festivals, theaters, and live music venues – more than I will ever have time to visit during this trip! I took mental notes and am planning to visit a few theaters and galleries where “older people” might blend ;o) with the crowd… What motivates today’s youth is interesting.
Another place of interest is Dox Gallery. “The gallery’s mission is creating a space for research, presentation, and debate on important social issues, where visual arts, literature, performing arts, and other disciplines encourage a critical view of the so-called reality of today’s world.”
I plan to visit MeetFactory, “a non-profit international center for contemporary art founded by controversial Czech artist David Černý”. Floods in 2002 forced MeetFactory to move from the Holešovice district to an industrial building in Prague’s Smíchov quarters. MeetFactory is described as a “unique space squeezed between a motorway and an active railroad”.
Ztohoven Activist Collective
Eliska told us about Ztohoven, an active resistance group described as a “Czech guerrilla artist collective known for its artistically motivated pranks”. To protest controversial Czech President Miloš Zeman, labeled a populist, “Ztohoven breached security at Prague Castle in 2014 and replaced a flag containing the Presidential Seal with a pair of men’s red underwear”.
The Ztohoven activists “chose red boxers because it’s the color of the Chinese flag, referring to Zeman’s visit to China and his praise of Chinese leaders”. Ztohoven is well-known for its social commentary and crypto anarchy, most famously for hacking a Czech state broadcaster in 2007 to show a fake nuclear explosion. The purpose of the hacking was to illustrate how it’s unwise to place blind trust in media information.
We ended our tour at the Cross Club, named for “housing a crossroads of cultures and styles and genres in the centre of Holešovice”. Respected Cross Club has been a part of the Prague cultural scene for years. “Its fascinating futuristic design, with many unusual artefacts, has given the club a unique identity.”
Photos from the tour are attached. Více později…