Prague is unique. However, it is being destroyed by private investors through inappropriate interventions, says the author of the Prague-Unknown blog
Petr Ryska fell under the spell of Prague as a child. He first explored Prague 6, where he was born, and gradually went through all 112 cadastral parts. During his patrols, he discovered places that are missing from ordinary guides. He began to share his knowledge first on a blog called Unknown Prague, and later on Facebook, where over 75,000 people follow him today. The book Unknown in Prague was also published last week. “People today want to modernize their housing at all costs, replacing the original windows with modern huge euro windows, which of course destroys the character of the house. As a result, much more than huge developers ravage old Prague private investors,” he adds.
Aktuálně.cz: You failed in Prague as a child. About three years ago, you started a blog, then a Facebook profile, and then you started organizing tours. During that time, you have the city going through the cross. Is there anything else that can surprise you?
Petr Ryska: Of course. New and interesting things are constantly appearing. The last time it was a beautiful Art Nouveau villa in U Nikolajky Street. I had no idea he was standing there. The people I do often lead me to something. In my opinion, it is actually not possible for human beings to walk through Prague and its 112 cadastral districts in a lifetime and know absolutely everything about it.
A.cz: Why was the Prague Unknown initiative created?
further to show that Prague is not just a center, such as Prague Castle or Charles Bridge. They are beautiful and respectable monuments, but we have seen them a thousand times and there is nothing to discover. On the contrary, I try to introduce people to other places, such as Klánovice. Prague needs to be seen as a set of different city districts, villages and nature in between.
A.cz: What do you think makes Prague special?
If I compare it with other cities I’ve traveled, whether it’s Vienna or Paris, then it’s really unique. For example, there is a big difference between Vienna and Prague. Vienna originated on the plain, there are no terrain in it. The city is uniform, different names are not even used for individual parts, but are numbered. Due to the fact that Prague was not the capital in the 19th century, it remained closed in the historic carapace and the individual suburbs developed separately, it is enough to compare, for example, Žižkov and Vinohrady. They lie side by side, but there are big differences between them.
A.cz: And do Prague’s districts still retain their specifics to this day?
I definitely keep. To this day, we feel the differences between Vinohrady, villa Bráník or Malvazinky. In fact, Smíchov is still full of extremes. On the one hand you have representative parts like Malvazinky and on the other hand a haunted area around Plzeňská Street, full of pawnshops and barred windows, where you are afraid to walk at night. It reminds me a bit of the atmosphere of the New York Bronx.
A.cz: You’re talking about the Bronx. Will a lover of Paris find his place in Prague, for example?
Sure. Just drive to Kodaňská Street in Vršovice. I think the decoration there would be us Paris she could envy. This is also perfectly documented by period photographs. For example, if we take the whole of Vinohrady, then we can talk about them as a small Budapest, which is similarly designed, full of long and wide streets. And you will find more similar similarities with European cities in Prague. Just walk and look around. Karel Čapek has already said that many Praguers know the Tatras as their shoes, but few of them know Butovice, for example.
A.cz: Do you think the people of Prague still have it today?
To some extent yes. A certain descent and transport accessibility play a role here.
A.cz: How do you perceive the current development of Prague?
Unfortunately, I observe a lot of negative phenomena. One of them is the trend of displacement of cultural monuments, which they deliberately let fall and instead something new is built. People also have no relation to the place. For example, they buy a beautiful First Republic villa and instead, even though they have enough funds, they build something else or insensitively interfere with its character. It is quite common to put plastic windows in Art Nouveau villas, beat the ornaments and be brilliant instead.
A.cz: Isn’t this trend more a remnant of normalization?
What was happening in the days of normalization is still “golden” against what is happening now. Take a look at the Hostivař monument zone, where only one house has been preserved. Today, people want to modernize their housing at all costs, replacing the original windows with modern huge euro windows, which of course destroys the character of the house. As a result, so much more than huge developers ravages old Prague by private investors.
I will say it hard, but I’m afraid that people in the Czech lands don’t have enough refined taste. It follows, as I said, from the fact that they are usually unrelated to the place. And in addition to windows, which should only be used in new buildings, the Czechs suffer from another scandal, and that is the colors. The biggest mistake made here after 1990 is that we were given coloring books. There was even a technical concept for it – aesthetic pollution.
A.cz: If we look at history. What period can be considered the best in connection with the development of Prague?
Each time had its pros and cons. For example, during the First Republic, the city had a quality regulatory plan. In addition, during the land reforms, the city bought all the land and could build it quickly, so the town hall could afford to dictate the conditions. At that time, no one violated the regulatory plan. The clerk was sitting in the office under the definitive one and was afraid to give an exception to someone. On the other hand, at that time they intended to demolish half of the Lesser Town. They liquidated the entire Petrská district and built functionalist apartment buildings there. Paradoxically, post-war socialist realism, which was able to complete the city’s cores, instead of the intended functionalist buildings in Mostecká Street, he built historic buildings, such as the U hradeb cinema.
A.cz: Failure to respect historic buildings is not just a mess of the present.
In fact, they even did worse in the past than we do now. As I said, there are positives and negatives in every mode. The Communists, for example, were dangerous in that they wanted to tear down entire 19th-century working-class neighborhoods. Such a fate awaited, for example, Žižkov and Libeň. Unfortunately, they managed to do this in Beroun or Louny, where the apartment buildings had to give way to large areas of development from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They simply managed to eliminate everything that reminded them of hated capitalism.
A.cz: And does socialist construction planning also have positive effects?
You will be surprised, but thanks to the communists we managed to preserve the unique historical center of Prague. They subscribed to folk traditions. For this reason, some sites were protected and did not release anything new there. If it weren’t for them, the Old Town, Lesser Town and Hradčany would most likely look like London today, where skyscrapers were built abundantly and without ice and storage in the 1960s and 1970s. The uniqueness of the largest historical monument with an area of eight square kilometers is therefore due to the Communists.
At the same time, thanks to the fact that the Velvet Revolution did not come until 1989, it was possible to preserve industrial monuments that were liquidated in Britain, for example, in the 1950s and 1970s. They didn’t like them until the 1980s, and it was too late. Thanks to 1989, however, it was possible to save Žižkov and Libeň, for example. The destruction of these neighborhoods would have far-reaching consequences. The revolution came not in five minutes twelve, but fifteen minutes after.
It is our cultural heritage, from the West this architecture is perceived very positively, it is necessary to keep the imprint of the time, says Vladimir 518 about the “ugliest buildings” of Prague, such as the Zizkov Tower. | Video: Daniela Drtinová