Prague Underground



Description:

This guide’s title refers to an underground culture that developed in Prague in the late sixties and seventies during Czechoslovak normalization. Non-conformity and anti-consumerism characterized the movement, so, as expected, it made communist leaders nervous and was therefore labeled “dangerous.” The underground’s subversive ideas of freedom from cultural and political controls most commonly came forward in the arts. Perhaps the most important players in this dangerous game were The Plastic People of the Universe. These avant-garde musicians, heavily influenced by the Velvet Underground and Frank Zappa, didn’t allow themselves to be intimidated by the Communist regime, even when they, along with many of their fans were put on trial for “organized disturbance of the peace” and had to face jail-time. Although the band isn’t exactly as it was then, you can still catch the occasional “Plastics” performance in the Czech Republic. If you can swing it, don’t miss the chance to see this game-changing band live. In addition to music, literature secretly published and distributed despite government bans, called “samizdat,” was a hugely effective way to get the message of the Prague underground out in the open. This guide honors the defiant Prague underground in two ways. By day, it’ll take you to sites of some important examples of cultural subversion connected with the movement’s beliefs. By night, it’ll lead you into some of the most unruly bars and clubs Prague has to offer. The places you’ll visit on this trip all reveal some facet of the philosophies put forth by the Prague underground. They aren’t about judgments or greed, but about breaking down barriers. These are places where you can try new things without feeling out of place and have experiences unlike any you can get away with in the States.

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Author: whitney78


Day 1 - Prague


When traveling, where you stay has a huge effect on what you experience. It’s important to get not only the bed right but also the neighborhood it’s in. The Clown and Bard hostel puts you in the perfect position to get a taste of real Prague subculture: Zizkov. Known for its ex-pat, young Czech, and gypsy demographics, Zizkov is a historically working-class neighborhood that has even been called “red Zizkov” because of its tendency to support left-wing politics. The people of Zizkov have shown quite a bit of pride in their “rough” reputation, referring to the district as the “Zizkov republic.” This neighborhood is arguably the most essentially “Bohemian” part of Prague. It is a land of poets, painters, and pianists. The famous writer Jaroslav Seifert spent most of his life here. Franz Kafka is buried here. You’ll be staying here. In addition to its political and artistic value, Zizkov has an astounding number of clubs and bars packed into its appealingly rough edges. As a matter of fact, it boasts the most pubs per square meter anywhere in the world. A bed at the Clown and Bard means a clean, safe, and accessible bed to stumble into after a long night. On your first day, explore your neighborhood. Stop off in a café, tearoom (cajovna), or pub that appeals to you. Be sure to make it to the New Jewish Cemetery, on the far side of Zizkov, where you’ll find Franz Kafka’s final resting place. Born in Prague in 1883, the writer’s life was undeniably affected by his haunting hometown. Descriptions of the looming castle in The Castle are suspiciously reminiscent of Prague Castle. The adjective “Kafkaesque,” commonly used to describe Prague, refers to the absurd, nightmarish versions of society Kafka describes in his stories. You’ll find this social commentator and literary genius’ grave on the first row running along the wall that’s immediately to your right when you enter the massive cemetery. Another site to see lies quite close to your hostel, the TV Tower. It’s said that locals really resented this garish imposition on the Prague skyline when it first came up in 1992. It’s a striking example of communist-era architecture in Central and Eastern Europe – all about function with no regard for aesthetics or scale. No official criticism was safe during its construction but it was quietly condemned for its egotism. In 2001, sculptures by controversial and talented Czech artist David Černý of crawling “computer babies” were permanently attached, after a temporary exhibition garnered huge support. The people of Prague took a jarring communist structure and made it their own. Art allowed them to make their mark on this reminder of a painful past. Now the sky is darkening and it’s time to make your mark on Prague’s nightlife. After all the talk of pubs, choosing where to spend your first night in Zizkov might seem daunting. Start with this safe bet for a good night, modeled from a classic ex-pat’s night out in Zizkov. Just around the corner from the hostel, experience the best music venue Prague has to offer: Palac Akropolis (you can check out what’s going on when you’re in town on their website: palacakropolis.cz). Live music and a great crowd means you’ll have been here for hours before you know what’s hit you. Suddenly, it’s 4am, you’re on your way down, and you want to move to a slightly less stimulating atmosphere. Chill out down the street on a tattered couch in a speakeasy gone legit and local favorite, Blind Eye. Their slogan says it all: “The home of questionable entertainment.” You might be shocked to hear Pink Floyd sandwiched between Depeche Mode and Bloc Party tracks, but that’s just another demonstration of Blind Eye’s utter disregard for the rules. Lights are low, service is friendly, and late into the night plastic cups are probably all that’s left for your beer. No matter, Czech beer is good drunk from just about any vessel (this particular bar has Budvar on tap). With no definite closing time, you never know how much time you’ll spend in the dark recesses of this eclectic, non-judgmental, and just plain cool bar.


1

Clown and Bard Hostel

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Location:

Borivojova 102
Prague 3, Zizkov
130 00 Prague, Czech Republic

Contact:

tel: +420 222 716 453


2

TV Tower

Location:

Mahlerovy Sady 1
130 00 Prague, Czech Republic

Contact:

tel: +420 242 418 778
fax: +420 222 724 014


3

New Jewish Cemetery

Location:

Izraelská 1
130 00 Prague, Czech Republic

Contact:

tel: 420272241893


4

Palác Akropolis

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Location:

Kubelíkova 1548/27
130 00 Prague, Czech Republic

Contact:

tel: 420 2 9633 0911
fax: 420 2 9633 0912


5

Blind Eye

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Location:

Vlkova 26
Prague, Czech Republic


Day 2 - Prague


Start your second day in a place named after the patron saint of Bohemia, Wenceslas Square. It’s not exactly an Epcot-worthy fairy tale like Old Town Square, what with its fast-food joints, neon cabarets, and tactless souvenir shops, but this is a time-honored setting for demonstrations and celebrations in Prague. On October 28, 1918, Alois Jirásek stood just in front of the Saint Wenceslas statue as he read the Proclamation of Independence of Czechoslovakia. At the top of the square there remains a memorial to something that happened here on January 16, 1969. A student named Jan Palach set himself on fire as a protest against the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia that had occurred the year before. His funeral reflected dissent against the occupation and only a month later, another student, Jan Zajic, followed in Palach’s footsteps in exactly the same spot here in Wenceslas Square. Palach’s influence was so great that he was given by Milan Kundera, in his novel “Life is Elsewhere,” as an example of dying by fire really getting a sinning society’s attention. As for Wenceslas Square, it continued to be a prime location for the public to cry for freedom. When the Czechoslovakian national ice hockey team defeated the USSR team in the Ice Hockey World Championships for the second time in 1969, over 100,000 revelers gathered on the square. Still under Soviet occupation, the police were a definite threat. That night, there was an attack on Aeroflot’s Prague office, which eventually served as pretext for the very period of Czech normalization that triggered the Prague underground. When the sun begins to set, head to a different corner of Zizkov, to StyX. The café upstairs is a chilled-out spot to have a cheap cocktail before the party begins. When you’re ready, head into the colorful cave like club. Bright lights and loud music will get your blood flowing. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can order “smart drugs” at the bar along with your drink. StyX offers an environment that has been carefully cultivated for people to feel good doing whatever, as long as they keep it together. But you’re not in Prague forever so you can’t stay in one club all night. When you’re ready for a scenery-change, head to XT3, which lies just across the Zizkov/Karlin border. It’s rare to come across a bad DJ here so odds are that the dance floor isn’t empty. For a seat head to one of the tables upstairs and get a bird’s eye view of the action. Although XT3’s intimate, smoky atmosphere can be a bit intoxicating, don’t worry: if you stick to beer, you won’t accidentally blow your budget at this gem of a music club but you will have a great night out.


1

Wenceslas Square

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Location:

Václavské námestí 68
11000 Prague, Czech Republic

Contact:

tel: +420 (0)2 2171 4444 (Tourist Information Centre)


2

Jan Palach Memorial

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Location:

Václavské námestí 68
11000 Prague, Czech Republic

Contact:

tel: +420 2171 4444


3

Styx

Location:

Sokolovska 133
Prague, Czech Republic

Contact:

tel: +420 266 312 133
fax: +420 266 312 140


4

XT3

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Location:

Rokycanova 29
Prague, Czech Republic

Contact:

tel: 420222783463


Day 3 - Prague


Begin a peaceful last day in the Bohemian capital at the John Lennon Peace Wall. Although the ex-Beatle never actually visited Prague, the Prague underground and its predecessors venerated him as an emblem of pacifism during the totalitarian era. It all started just after his death in 1980, when some brave young Czechs managed to set up a mock tombstone for Lennon just in front of what was already an outlet for frustrated young people. Just grieving was a big risk, as the Communist secret police lurked nearby ready to take mourners to jail for their “subversion.” No matter, Lennon’s supporters successfully inhibited the police from keeping the wall sterile and freshly whitewashed. Over time, the Lennon wall became more than a memorial to the man but a statement for free speech and non-violent rebellion. While today’s version has been painted over too many times to see any of the original graffiti, the spirit of the wall remains, albeit a sanitized version with a few too many hippie clichés. After checking out the wall, take the small footbridge to Kampa Island. Here you’ll find circles of young Czechs and foreigners playing music, talking, lounging confidently in their freedom, things that would have been nearly impossible to imagine just 20 years ago. Join them for the afternoon. Before you know it, it’s your last night in Prague. It’s got to be big. Give most of your night to Cross Club, truly a space like no other. Cross Club can be aptly described as the hard-partying love child of a free-spirited painter and a rough-around-the-edges mechanic. The light fixtures, ceiling fans, and bars are mesmerizing feats of both engineering and imagination. The whole place is a bit of a maze with about a dozen rooms, each with a slightly different style and a few playing different types of live music simultaneously. You may have climb over a passed out partier to get to your table and bend in half so you don’t hit your head on the catwalks but it’s well worth the trouble to experience this one-of-a-kind club. A word of caution: the hygiene-standards at the small food stand near the door are dubious so you may want to forego that particular temptation. Then again, if you’re in a certain state, this just may be the best meal of your life. As you reluctantly step out of the door, thinking that it’s finally time to go, you’ll probably be surprised to find out that the sun’s come up. As you stand there, squinting, waiting for your cab, you’ll realize that you just aren’t ready to go home. It’s time for what is arguably Prague’s best after-hours club: Le Clan. Le Clan’s winding, cavernous interior, decorated with mismatched red couches and religious artwork, has a sort of secretive air. Prague’s hardcore partiers come down here at the end of a crazy night and you should definitely not miss out on the chance to join them. At Le Clan, you never know who or what you’ll find and that’s just how it should be.


1

John Lennon Peace Wall

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Location:

Velkopřevorské náměstí
118 00 Prague, Czech Republic


2

Kampa Island

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Location:

Next to Charles Bridge
110 00 Prague, Czech Republic

Contact:

tel: +420 2 2171 4444


3

Cross Club

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Location:

Plynarni 23
170 00 Prague, Czech Republic

Contact:

tel: 420736535053


4

Le Clan

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Location:

Balbínova 23
12000 Prague, Czech Republic

Contact:

tel: 420222251226


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