With the Globe Bookstore and Coffeehouse turning 20 years old this week, it got my mind thinking about all the hype in the 1990s about Prague serving as some kind of literary crucible from which future classics of English literature would emerge. The text here is from an article I wrote a couple of years back on that subject. My angle was that the author community was much maligned at the time but that more than a fair number of good and very good expat writers lived and worked here at some point in their lives and that their Prague experiences affected their output.
I still feel that way now, and the titles that have come out in print since I originally wrote the article only strengthen my case: Matt Welch’s “Myth of a Maverick” (nonfiction), Leslie Chang’s “Factory Girls” (also nonfiction) and Brendan McNally’s “Germania,” among others. My apologies to anyone I have overlooked in this article. Please help me fill in the blanks by leaving a comment below. A big thanks to Ken Nash, the author of the cartoon in the upper left. He drew it in 1993, showing that Prague was “over” practically from the moment it began. Read More →
“Not Over Yet.” The headline of the last print edition of The Prague Post after 22 years reeks of unintended irony or maybe it’s a bit of an inside gag (it wouldn’t be the first time). At any rate, it’s a sad day for English readers in the Czech capital as well as for former staffers, including the author of this website. I was the paper’s first Business Editor, working from 1991 to 1993 at the Post’s tiny offices at Dlouha trida 2 in the center and then for a time at the paper’s second location on Politickych veznu 9, near Wenceslas Square.
At least on one level, the headline is completely accurate. According to a letter circulated this week by owner Monroe Luther, the paper will continue on as a digital-only publication, so in that sense at least the Post really is “not over yet.” It only feels that way. Read More →
This photo shows the scene 20 years ago this week, when the Globe Bookstore and Coffeehouse first opened its doors in Prague’s Holesovice district. I was one of the five original partners and I can remember the details of that long and agonizing summer as we anticipated the opening as if it were yesterday.
The Prague Post published a story this week on the anniversary and plans in early August (August 2 and 3) to hold parties marking the milestone. Here is a link to another story with more details published in 2006. This week’s Post story is comprehensive and I won’t repeat bits here, other than to say it’s hard to believe so much time has gone by and that I feel very fortunate for having been part of the Globe from the very start. Read More →
(The following text was adapted from an article I wrote originally for the UK’s Olive magazine. It appeared in print in 2009).
Four decades of communist rule nearly finished off fine dining in Prague. That’s no exaggeration. Restaurant recipes were standardized to the last gram of flour; innovation in the kitchen was stifled. It’s taken time for the dining scene to recover, but the good news is it’s alive and kicking again. Foreign imports like Italian, Mexican and Thai were the first to arrive, and chefs are now rediscovering classic Czech recipes and giving them a modern twist.
Czechs love pork and it forms the basis of many of their best dishes. Dumplings, usually made from flour but occasionally potatoes, make for a reliable side. Add cabbage and you’ve got the national dish: vepřo-knedlo-zelo – roast pork, dumplings and sauerkraut. But look out too for more exotic entrees like duck, rabbit and venison. These can be delicious. Read More →
I love Instagram. It’s awesome for quickly taking photos on my trips and building mini-communities on the road. I’ve met more people from IG (and had better interactions with them) than with any other chat or social-media application (including Yahoo Messenger, FB and Foursquare). Photographers love to share images and comments, and are usually keen to grab a coffee or a beer if you happen to be visiting their town. IG interactions are intense … and that’s what I love most about this app.
What I don’t like much (or rather use much) are Instagram’s built-in filters. There are a few that I use now and then (such as Earlybird or Sierra), but I find most of the effects to be too strong (like Nashville or Kelvin) or to give the photos too much of an “Instagram” stamp. Instead, I prefer to use separate photo-editing apps that I’ve downloaded from the IOS apps store. Often I use more than one app to edit a photo.
Here’s a quick list of my favorites and a few words about why I like them: Read More →
The following is from an article on Prague’s legacy of Communist architecture that I originally wrote for the publication ‘Hidden Europe’. The editors wanted me to focus on a couple of landmark buildings in the center of the city. The ‘carbuncle’ reference comes from Britain’s Prince Charles, who famously referred to that country’s stock of 1970s-era Brutalist architecture as, well, a bunch of carbuncles.
Prague’s Kotva department store (pictured left in a stock photo from the 1970s) just may be the ugliest building ever built in the Czech Republic.
It dates from the mid-1970s and was hailed at the time as a Czech example of “Brutalism” – then the reigning international architectural style – while meeting the special ideological demands of Communism.
In fact, by nearly any measure, it’s a classic Prince Charles’ carbuncle. Start with the exterior: It’s a hulking, dark-brown box, windowless on several sides. The façade, on close inspection, looks to be made of some type of corrugated sheet metal. Read More →
The following is an article I originally wrote for the ‘Wall Street Journal Europe’ in 2008, though they changed their minds after commissioning the piece and never ran it. I included parts of the text in a guide I wrote for Frommer’s, ‘Best of Prague and the Czech Republic’. Anyone who has a thing for public transportation (especially trams), as I do, will be able to relate.
I think you can learn a lot about a city from how its residents move from place to place. New York’s aging subways, for example, say that New Yorkers are a resilient bunch who are willing to tolerate nearly any indignity to live there. London’s tubes tell much the same story about Londoners. LA’s freeways are about personal freedom and the individual. By contrast, Tokyo’s overcrowded trains can be depersonalizing, in keeping with the notion that it’s the society, not the individual, that matters.
While Prague has a fine metro and an extensive bus network, it’s the tram – or tramvaj in Czech – here that sets the transportation tone. Any visitor to the city will be familiar with the sight of these (mostly) red- and cream-colored “whales on rails,” gliding smoothly over the cobblestones and pushing their girth through impossibly narrow streets – originally built to accommodate horses, but now packed with cars, trucks, buses, and an endless stream of streetcars. Read More →
The following is an article I wrote on modern architecture in Brno for the Wall Street Journal in 2007. Much of it still holds up as a discussion of Functionalist architecture and Brno’s role as the most modern and forward-looking Czech city in the years between World War I and II. The Vila Tugendhat, mentioned below, has now been thoroughly renovated and is open to the public in all of its original splendor.
It’s not easy being Brno, the Czech Republic’s second-biggest city. Paired uncomfortably with a world-class beauty like Prague, it’s a dowdy Birmingham to Prague’s imperial London. Then there’s the matter of the difficult-to-pronounce name (it’s “BURR-no”).
But for a brief 20-year period following World War I, the capital of provincial Moravia took center stage when it came to modern architecture, outshining its more famous Bohemian rival and establishing itself — fleetingly — as one of the Continent’s most exciting places to build and design.
A surge in what would become known as Functionalism produced several important buildings in Brno — from private residences to office buildings and even a crematorium. Read More →
In April the Czech interior design magazine ‘Bydleni‘ (‘House’) sent a photographer and editor to my apartment in Prague to take some photos. The plan was to make a photo spread for their June edition, which hit the stands in early May.
One of things of I love most about living in Central Europe is the architecture. Over the years, I’ve developed something of an eye for historical styles like Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque, but the styles I enjoy most are the early-modern and modern looks like Functionalism, Mid-Century and even ‘Communist’ (not sure too many Czechs would share my enthusiasm for the latter period).
While I can’t put my own apartment in the category of great architecture, I will say I was strongly influenced by modern styles when choosing a place to buy a few years ago, and then on how to design it.
Later, I intend to write a post about buying and remodeling an apartment in Prague (or Central Europe) for anyone wanting to (or foolish enough to) take the plunge, but for now I’ll just post a few words about what I was thinking and some photos from the Bydleni spread. Read More →