Thursday, January 29, 2009

Czechs suffer cost of communism

Earlier today (Wednesday afternoon), I arrived in Prague.
Jet 2 from Leeds did a reasonable job and we landed safely amid clear but cold weather- about 0c.
The hotel, Hotel Inos, had been booked following a recommendation from a couple my parents met in a York pub on New Years Day and it was their enthusiasm that gave them the idea that Prague would make a great change from Spain for a winter break.
Anyway, this is my first visit since Inter-railing around Eastern Europe in 1991, just after the liberation from communisn.
Prague now has a flash newish airport, larger than expected and we took a shuttle bus into the city for 500 Crowns, or £17 or $40Nz or thereabouts.
The motorway was pretty good and not too busy. Then we turned off onto a main road that looks like it is being upgraded to dual carriageway.
Arriving closer to the city centre dad noted the grafitti everywhere, adding 'it's not too posh here.' Indeed, there is much graffitti in Prague.
It reminded him of some of the more run down parts of Leeds.
Soon we were in better parts , with fine old houses and then we reached the CBD and made it to the hotel, which is pretty good but not in the best part of the city centre. The old town is four stops away on the trams but its a bit run down outside.
After checking in, we took a tram to the city centre and walked past many fine shops. Familiar names were there too like KFC, McDonalds, as well as Debenhams and eventually more upmarket designer places as you reached the Old Town.
Certainly we are all impressed by the stunning architecture and character of the place.
But Prague is not the cheap haven it was just after the downfall of communism.
Then, a friend and I payed 20 Deutchmarks $15NZ to stay in a private house in Bethlemske, in the Old Town. But 30 Euros per person a night in the hotel here aint bad.
But to eat in the city is dear with steak mains around £20 a head at some of the finer, touristy places.
We found a decent restaurant in the old town opposite a glass crystal shop and had four beers, two sausage starters, three Czech main courses (one chicken, one goulash, one pork with cabbage and dumplings), which came to 1000 crowns, about $50NZ. Which seems fine.
After a walk back through the Old Town, we caught the tram back to the hotel and since there was no-one at the hotel bar, Dad sent me to the bottle store for some gin and I came back with a local concoction called Becherovka, which is interesting to say the least.
Since I have wireless in my room, expect a few more posts over the next few days.
But back to my point about the Czechs paying the price for decades of communism.
That is why some parts of Prague still look rough. Decades of poverty cannot be replaced overnight and yes, i guess there is still some catching up to do in the living standards department.
Imagine, without communism, the Czech Republic would probably be one of the richer countries of Western Europe. Well, Germany is just up the motorway, at the other side of some snow clad hills. There is no snow in the city alas, just some remains from last week. So why wouldn't Prague not have enjoyed German prosperity? Had it remained capitalist throughout all the post-WW2 period, Prague would probably be another Paris, super rich and lovely as well.
Or would it? Certainly, in the pre-Communist times, it looks like many fine old buildings were built that were very pretty and these are being lovingly restored.
The few decades of communism seems to have thrown up some bland monstrosities but at least in the city centre they are few and far between.
Noticeably there are few modern , post-communist buildings, though I saw some lovely new subdivisions springing up on the edge of the city, with houses as large and fine as any in Britain or New Zealand.
Thus, the city centre is largely a medieval masterpiece, making Prague one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.
Perhaps there is one thing we can be tankful for communism for.
It never developed the wealth that might have led to the demolition of the many fine buildings.
And by the time communism had gone, the world had learnt to value its culture and history.
Indeed, it is the culture and history that is attracting the tourists today and helping so much of the city make a living.
And the enterprising Czechs, far from charging little like they did nearly 20 years ago, have learnt to charge Western prices.
So indeed, while they will have undoubtedly suffered greatly from Communism, its tanks, its lack of freedoms, its poverty, the Czechs are learning to profit from what is only that failed system's only positive legacy- the fine old buildings.


Anonymous said...

So why wouldn't Prague not have enjoyed German prosperity?

The same reason NZ did not enjoy Australian prosperity over the last 10 years. socialism

Psycho Milt said...

The same reason NZ did not enjoy Australian prosperity over the last 10 years. socialism

Of note here, the fact that Germany is more socialist than either Australia or NZ.

So why wouldn't Prague not have enjoyed German prosperity?

Same reason most countries don't - they're not Jerries. There aren't many Volk that could go from scrounging for leftover turnips to being one of the planet's richest countries purely off the sweat of their own backs within 20 years - twice!

Psycho Milt said...

Actually, that reminds me - when I was living in Germany, some friends from Berlin took us for a drive down to Dresden and the Saechsiche Schweiz, much of which driving was on the autobahn heading southeast towards Prague and Budapest. We tried to stay in the fast lane of the autobahn because the slow lane was corrugated to fuck. I asked what the fuck happened to the slow lane? 50 years of heavy-laden trucks heading east, came the reply.

"But don't worry, things will be a lot smoother on the way back - the trucks all returned empty."

Heine said...

My wife is Czech and I visit Prague and her city 3 or 4 times a year, so I know the place quite well. You got ripped off as soon as you left the airport :>

You could have paid 30/40kr by airport bus to the Devicka Metro station and gone by Metro anywhere as they have a time limit ticket, so the bus and a few stops you would have got to your hotel easily.

Get out of the main square when you want to eat. Or go to one of their wicked beerhalls. I paid 130kr for a Czech dish called svickova and it is huge and delicious. Washed down with a 30kr pivo and then let the good times roll.

I own about 6 bottles of that filthy but strong Becherovka. Try the Lemon Fernet, it's easier to drink. :)

I am jealous you got to see all this when it was just being liberated. I think you made the right choice choosing this over Spain.