I know this is a big claim, but I have to say it: Prague is the most beautiful city in the world. Every corner opens up to some new architectural wonder and the detail of statuary that adorn the buildings is constantly exciting the senses. There are few places on earth where one can sit drinking coffee in a square, surveying the architecture for hours without seeing the same detail.
The city of Prague was spared during the massive bombings during World War 2, and now in modern times, Prague is becoming one of the most artistic and cosmopolitan cities in Europe. It’s truly an international city and though some find international influence a sign of cultural dilution, I can see nothing but benefit (yes, I’m biased towards loving international cities). To see this city celebrate the world is something very new and incredible – the Czech Republic has had a long history of being subjugated by other states. Finally, after centuries, it’s coming into its own and what’s emerging is something truly divine. Never mind the Starbucks and the MacDonald’s – they’re barely visible as the aesthetics of the city’s architecture are so defining that they dwarf most any Western imperialism. Sure, multinational corporations have moved in to capitalize, but when one surveys the street, it’s not like looking at Times Square. No, Prague is herself.
Yes, there are museums, symphonies, arts centers – but just walking the streets with a bit of a beer buzz is pure joy. Just be careful because it’s really easy to get lost. Even my friends who have lived there for ages rely on their iPhone’s GPS at times because every street bends and opens to weird squares with tangential corridors shooting off in all directions. But the vertigo adds to the effect. The buildings are tall, too, which makes navigating by the sun difficult – it’s no wonder that so many movies feature ‘getaway’ scenes from here. If you can outrun your chaser, you can lose him in a heartbeat in this city.
And sex. There is a lot of it for sale. Walking the red light districts means being bombarded by ‘Cabaret’ barkers on the street promising pleasure for your pennies. Even when walking arm and arm with a woman the barkers persist. My favorite bark, “Come, come to here…for inspiration.” What the hell does that mean anyway? One thing to note – sex barkers here don’t necessarily speak English or Czech, so the euphemistic phrases they concoct are hilarious. I talked with a guy named Neil, whose job is essentially a facilitator. He hangs out in the square by the train station and helps people find what they’re looking for – whether its sex, a hostel, or an opera. I asked him about sex (not for me, I will note.) as I was curious about the sex tourism. I asked how it goes down, wondering if he has to suggest options to the would be prostitute seeker. “No mate, they tell you what they’re looking for, in precise detail.” Neil gives them what amounts to a business card that is presented to the place he guides them to. This is how he gets paid.
Czech Republic is one of the least religious places on the planet and thus, moral absolutism doesn’t so much factor into culture. The iconography here too is largely amoral, which is actually a bit startling to the senses. We are used to iconography being religious. The Czechs, by nature, are exceptionally tolerant people and after the iron curtain was lifted in the late 80s, a new era of freedom and expression reigns. You can feel it here. Not all Czechs would approve of the seediness, but they certainly will tolerate it; the days of mindless oppression are over, and Czechs are experiencing a serious cultural renaissance. No one is going to look at you funny for smoking pot on the streets.
And drinking. Czechs drink a lot. More than any other country in Europe. I was lucky enough to be there during the Burcak season, a short window in fall where Czechs drink a young wine from the Moravian Region. Burcak is a sweet, unfiltered young wine that tastes like a cross between sweet apple cider and Kombucha. It’s amazing, and also, dangerous. But I was a most thankful victim. Prague, I’ll be back someday to live with you.