Thursday, 26 August 2010

Old Grocery on Charkovská

Here's an unusual bit of local social history.  Going down Charkovská the other day I noticed for the first time these old inscriptions on the wall of one of the beautiful facades that line that street. The ground floor now comprises residential apartments, but this was once a general store, selling all manner of foodstuffs. The clue is given by the only complete word here: sůl (salt). We can also make out okurky (gherkins), mák (poppy seeds) and vinný ocet (wine vinegar). The short word ending in 'r' could have been 'sýr' (cheese).

The buildings in this fine street date from the first decade of the 20th century. Only a few months ago it was invaded by a film crew making a movie about Adolf Hitler's young adulthood in Munich, the 'real German city' to which he moved in 1913 and where after the First World War he was to launch himself into Nazi politics.

Parts of Prague like this are popular for location shoots for two reasons - one is that the architecture is often more historically coherent and the other is that it is still comparatively cheap to film here, especially if (as in this movie) there are large numbers of extras to feed. I doubt whether the actors would have been lunching on okurky, mind you.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Southern Prague from the Žižkov Tower

This photo is taken from a height of 300 feet, just under halfway up the TV tower, and shows the southern aspect of Prague, looking out as far as the city limits. The dramatic foreshortening means that nearly every row of houses is in a separate district.

We start in the bottom right foreground with Prague 3 (Žižkov), and the Church of the Sacred Heart with its distinctive tower. The two adjacent orange-roofed buildings just below the middle of the picture are on Korunní Street in Vinohrady, after which the land falls away suddenly and you will spot another green cupola, this time the roof of the Civic Bank building in Vršovice - the district which occupies the middle strip of the photo.

Beyond this, the railway separates Vršovice from Prague 4 (Nusle and Michle) apart from the wooded high ground to the right - Bohdalec hill - which forms Vršovice's southern extremity. The near background is filled with the sprawling suburbs of Kačerov and the delightfully vowel-less Krč, home to the famous hospital.
The dominant building dead centre is Michle's shiny new BB Centrum (2010), one of many new residential and shopping areas being built in the area, while the distant background is occupied by the far suburbs of Prague 11 and a range of hills stretching southwards towards central Bohemia and Tabor.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Corner of Koperníkova Street

Nikolaus Copernicus, after whom this street is named, never visited Prague, though his revolutionary books did. Rudolf II's court was filled with astronomers and alchemists, one of whom, the Danish scientist Tycho Brahe, possessed a copy of Copernicus's controversial work which placed the sun, rather than the earth, at the centre of the universe.

Not wishing to offend the Catholic Church, Tycho developed his own system which attempted to reconcile the geocentric and new heliocentric models, by suggesting that while the other planets did indeed circle the sun, the sun itself still orbited the earth. Hmm.

More successful were Brahe's numerous accurate measurements of stars, including the supernova of 1572. He made more observations than anyone up to that date - bequeathing his knowledge in turn to his assistant in Prague, Johannes Kepler. But Brahe (who was also responsible for the observatory at Benátky nad Jizerou, northeast of the city)  was, like his orbits, rather eccentric. He kept a pet moose and a dwarf, lost his nose in a duel, replacing it with a copper one, and was possibly murdered on the orders of the Danish king.  He is buried in the church of Our Lady before Týn in the centre of Prague.

For a long time I assumed the plaque to be a depiction of the infant Copernicus measuring the universe. Later I thought this might be the infant Christ at the carpenter's bench. But of course these symbols (including the three small shields or escutcheons) are the ancient signs of the mediaeval trades of masons, craftsmen and architects, and are probably simply a record of the construction of the building. L.P, which I had mistakenly assumed to be the initials of the builder, stands for Léta Páně, the Czech equivalent of Anno Domini.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Bright Colours, Vinohrady

I don't know how long they've been painting Prague apartment blocks in these pastel shades. When I first came to the city in 1991 such gaiety was reserved for the Old Town Square and one or two other 'showpieces'; everything else was pretty grey and broken down as far as I recall.  But now it's difficult to find a building, old or new, that hasn't been given a lick of Neapolitan ice cream. And that extends to the panelaky too, which, let's face it, could do with it.

This is a good example from the posh residential suburb of Vinohrady, just a couple of tram-stops from Vršovice. Traditionally, owners and landlords contribute to a fund run by a management company; when the fund reaches its target, the whole façade will be refreshed - presumably according to an agreed colour scheme. Imagine the arguments...

In recent years a new kind of painting - crude spraycan graffiti - has made its way on to the lower floors of these decorative buildings. Generally it's the territorial marking of a 'gang', or perhaps the sprayers are disaffected with disneyfication. Or maybe they do it just because they can - under the Communists, after all, graffiti was a no-no. 'Cle's Crew' is my local lot, and I must say that although their efforts appeal to my view of Prague as a lived-in city rather than toy-town, there is a limit. Come on, lads.

Shades of Tony Harrison's 'V' in my last paragraph, I fear. Anyway, today is 'Theme Day' for City Daily Photographers. To see how others have interpreted 'Bright Colours', Click here to view thumbnails for all participants