23 March, 2009

Bricks and mortar, Praha style.

Accepting that there were real limits on my time in Prague, I forced my culinary passion to take a back seat, and allowed my feet to take over. No blisters this time, but my, what a wonderful city in which to have a good wander. Merely keep your attention directed away from the predictable tourist claptrap, and it becomes a dream of a city, with buildings for every taste, a living and breathing Architecture 101.

Here's a bit of a grab-bag of impressions of my stay. I didn't necessarily include the most famous landmarks, but you can easily find those in any decent guidebook online or off. These were just some of what I experienced and enjoyed, and I hope you'll also enjoy browsing through them.

Understatement at the State Opera.

This stairway, between two buildings, was considered so narrow that someone (with both a sense of humor and an awareness of average tourists' waistlines) had pedestrian stoplights installed.
A coffeehouse as Edward Hopper would imagine it, complete with 1950s feel and slightly greenish lighting.

You can see the effort made to restore this building facade to its former glory. The city has gone from its Communist-era soot-black coating to a virtual rainbow of colors.

Such distinct styles for each...

I strongly recommend stopping at the Municipal House (above) for a coffee--they come in triangular shaped cups. As unexciting as its name sounds, it is a real Art Nouveau gem, inside and out, down to the smallest detail. You can go have a peek downstairs also, where there is a gorgeous bar. The tilework in the hallways is jaw-dropping. If you find out ahead of time, you can join the building tour, which is apparently also quite interesting. Avoid the "concerts" however, as they're disappointingly low-grade, featuring just a barebones "orchestra"--meaning four or five instruments--meant to draw in a bit of extra money only, and failing at that. Pity, as the space is quite nice.

In addition to the remarkable Astrological Clock and its many moving parts (above), another uniquely Prague feature is the presence of the so-called Cubist architecture. In the architectural order of things, Cubism came about in the early 20th century, and it preceded Art Nouveau, which in turn was followed by Art Deco, roughly speaking. While there is some argument about what Cubist architecture really consists of, you can just avoid all the fuss and check out some of the buildings for yourself.

A good start is the House of the Black Madonna, originally built as a department store. While looking at the building's exterior, you may be underwhelmed by its Cubism, expecting something a little more garishly Picasso-esque. In fact, the city insisted that the building blend in a bit with its Baroque neighbors. Go to the small Museum Shop for some beautiful examples of Cubist theory in craft (furniture and porcelain), but don't miss the cafe upstairs, which is claimed to be the only remaining Cubist interior in the world.There is also the 1996 Frank Gehry "deconstructivist" structure, nicknamed the Fred and Ginger building (above). It was designed to leave the city view of the existing buildings unimpeded. I love the ingenuity and energy it exudes. What do you think?

So-called modern work can sometimes be a bit of a mixed bag, in Prague as elsewhere. In front of the Kafka museum, which is helpfully indicated by two enormous capital Ks, there are two full-size statues with continuously swiveling body sections (see photo below). Even the penises go up and down--while urinating continuously into a pool the shape of the Czech Republic. Hmm. A wry bit of anti-nationalist comment--or had the sculptor drunk too much Czech beer? Given the time constraints, it was impossible for me to see everything; I entirely missed the Jewish quarter, with its old cemetery, pictured below. There's enough in Prague for a return visit, in the off-season...
Please note that the photos of the Astrological Clock, the Gehry "Fred and Ginger" building, and the old Jewish Cemetery were taken by the talented Paolo Rosa.

There is an interesting New York Times article about the Prague Golem and its resurgence in today's times of worry.

1 comment:

  1. Great photos! I love Prague, but I've not seen the Kafka museum. Must check it out next time, whenever that may be!


Thanks for visiting my blog and joining in the conversation!

Related Posts with Thumbnails