Tuesday, 9 March 2010


Though I've been curious about this station since I first saw it many years ago, I never succumbed enough to check it out over the years. The name has been the main reason. The names of most other stations are self-evident. This one is more impenetrable.

When I leave the station, I feel the icy wind on my face. A few days ago I was fooled into thinking spring would soon be here. The air was warm and fuzzy. A few buds had sprouted on the trees. I was feeling energetic. Now the air is steely.

The Czechs call this type of cold "kosa", which means scythe. Today, it's obvious to see why. The wind is slicing me to the bone. It's also going to trim today's post. I'm not sure how long I can stand to be outside.

On the first block I follow a street called Pod Turnovskou tratí. It's one of the features of Prague toponyms that they reflect some of the geographical or historical features of the area. Of course, the city is not short of streets named in honour of historical figures and famous places - or streets renamed when certain historical figures were no longer in vogue. In other instances, the street names simply describe the street. In this instance the street is under Turnovský's tracks.

Across from me is a basketball court with two large gates, one at each goal end. The gates resemble bared teeth for a post-apocalyptic play set. Moreover, they are completely useless, as the surrounding fence is quite low and would be easily crossed by your typical basketball player.

Through the second exit of the station I find the local branch of the municipal library. It seems a good way to avoid the scythe so I mount the caged stairwell. The library is in a seventies style cement shopping center with an optometrist and a supermarket. Kids' drawing are stuck to the window. Books are displayed invitingly. It's shut. The scythe's got me.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Muzeum Part 2

Now that the National Museum comprises of two buildings I thought it would be better to devote a second post and day to the new section which is housed in the former Federal Assembly. I also relished the chance to explore this building, which sits grim and remote at the top of Wenceslas Square.

When I first arrived in the Czech Republic the building was surrounded by concrete barriers and guarded by police because it was the headquarter of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Now, the headquarters have moved and the building has been acquired by the National Museum. There is a perverse symmetry because during the 1968 invasion, the Warsaw Pact troops allegedly thought the older National Museum was a radio station and fired on it. The bullet marks are still visible in the columns. Fittingly, the current exhibition, Za Svobodu, is on the struggle against the communist regime.

The exhibition is a survey of both repression and resistance from 1948 to 1989. The exhibition attempts to show life at different levels with examples of propaganda, dissident literature and even a replica of a typical living room in a panelák flat. This is one of those situations where I could reel off all the information I've gleaned form books, articles and conversations, yet it doesn't change the fact that I don't feel this exhibition as Czech people do. For me, these things are examples. For them, they are memories.

However, the disconnection perhaps invites other 'readings' about the place. The main one is how unreal some of this feels. I'm referring especially to the riot cop gear, which appears more like a the accessory to some ill-conceived live-sized action figure still in its blister pack of a display case. Compounding this feeling is the replica of the Berlin Wall toward the end of this exhibition, complete with a copy of the original graffiti. I wonder how many other examples of graffiti have been copied as though they were the work of an old master? Actually, given that it's been a few decades since Basquiat decorated New York with his work, there have probably been a few. There's probably also a forged Banksy around - probably done by Banksy himself.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the exhibition were the connections made with the the charter movement in the Baltic states and those here. I was surprised to read that one Latvian student Eliyahu Rips, attempted to set himself alight in protest against the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. This was only one example of other forms of protest to come from this region. It's a history I've heard little about since living here. Again, a visit to a museum resulted in me learning something.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Muzeum Part 1

Even if you've never been to Prague, you can probably guess that there is a museum located at this train station, the National Museum in fact, so I thought I would slip out of my tourist role and into that of a my tour guide.

The National Museum tends to get a bad rap as nothing more than a stuffy old building filled with bones and moth eaten stuffed animals. This description is partly true but it's also part of its appeal. Whereas many other museums try to go for interactivity, this museum recalls a time when knowledge was treated with some solemnity and a dash of amateurism. I realise there is little we can learn from an animal by skinning, mounting and placing it by another creature who's suffered the same fate, and I know that many collections are really glorified booty, but I enjoy the quiet, and these simple exhibitions can allow the mind to wander.

This was not exactly what I experienced at The Story of Planet Earth. (I've taken the liberty of removing the redundant article.) This current exhibition takes its cues from those more modern exhibitions with films and exhibits to make you better imagine an earthquake. As the name suggests, the exhibition tells the story of Earth from formation then splits into various sub-plots - geological, evolutionary and environmental. The perpetual ten year old in me, who was being glowered at by the perpetual fifty six year old in me (the perpetual eight nine year old had dozed off in the lobby) loved the dinosaur display best of all. Actually the regular thirty four year old enjoyed the dinosaurs and fossils too. One of my dream jobs would be a curator. I guess I can add it to the list.

Actually, I enjoyed the exhibition a lot more than I've led you to believe. I guess that fifty six year old has taken over. Even the hordes of kids didn't bother me. It was heartening to see them interested in something other than computer games. One little girl thought the dinosaur skeleton on display was for a dragon. Another kid was imploring his father to look at everything around him - I guess appealing to families isn't always so bad.

A lot of the fossils were from what is today the Czech Republic, thus creating a telescopic view of the regions history, at least in my imagination. Some surprising fossils included the head of an early species of shark.

Perhaps the most shocking display was of three photos of the Trift Glacier in Switzerland, showing its retreat. No less disturbing was this series of images showing the rate of deforestation in Borneo.

I forget that trips to the museum are also meant to be educational.