Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Pozor! Padá led ze střech!

Since at least 1838, it has been a legal requirement of homeowners in Prague to keep the pavement in front of their houses accessible, and until very recently that meant clearing snow and ice as well. But last year a change in the law shifted that particular responsibility to the council, and although some homeowners still muck in with their own shovelling and gritting, most are only too happy to see council employees fulfilling their new role.

When it comes to the roof, however, it's a different matter: that really is up to the householder. It works like this. If you can clear more than 50 kilogrammes of snow from one square metre of roof, it's too much: you need to call in the experts, or have a go yourself at sweeping the roof. This can be a very tricky business, involving ropes and harnesses normally employed for tackling mountain faces.

It's common at this time of year to see signs dotting the pavements saying 'Pozor! Padá led ze střech!' - 'Look Out - Ice Falling from Roof!' Personally, I'd be more worried about people falling from roofs. To see what the gods have in store for Vršovice in the coming days, click on the weather tab at the top of the page.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Homage to Schikaneder

The painter Jakub Schikaneder (1855-1924), who lived for a time on Vinohradská Avenue, was the great-great-nephew of Emanuel Schikaneder, librettist of The Magic Flute; and the great-grandson of Urban Schikaneder, who sang in that opera's premiere.

With such a theatrical background, it's hardly surprising to find the work of this artist imbued with a real sense of drama. He made his name with an emotionally-charged tableau, Murder in the House, exhibited to critical acclaim in Berlin in 1890. But it was his crepuscular winter scenes of Prague which were to become his trademark. If you like the moonlit landscapes of Atkinson Grimshaw, you'll love Schikaneder.

Always lit by a single light source - a tablelamp, a streetlamp or the setting sun - his canvases depict lone figures slowly making their way home through the snow, leaning sadly on windowsills or gazing melancholically across the rooftops. Ten years ago I went to a superb exhiibition of his work in the Waldstein Riding School, in which each painting was spotlit using the painted light source as a focus, eerily enhancing the effect.

Visitors to Prague should have no problem tracking down Schikaneder's greatest paintings, though a recent re-hang means that they are now split between the modern art gallery in the Veletržni Palace, and the Convent of St George in Prague Castle.

Sadly, his most extraordinary piece, a huge canvas entitled 'Contemplation' (pictured here) is no longer on public display. It was sold just last week to a private telephone bidder for 8 million Czech crowns (£275,000), a record for a work by this artist.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Villa Gröbe (Grébovka)

I've written a good deal about the Villa Gröbe, or Grébovka, as it's known, without ever having really shown a picture of it in all its splendour. Today is the perfect opportunity to do so, with the added advantage of the westering sunlight to enhance the view (yes, that really is the setting sun reflected in the Narnia-style lamp-post). Although the villa was not the first building to have stood on this site overlooking the Royal Vineyards, it was by far the most splendid. And its story began with the coming of the railways.

140 years ago Prague's main train station was built at the top of the old Horse Market, today's Wenceslas Square. Connecting the lines to major hubs such as Vienna was going to be complex, however, since they would have to run directly through the historic Vinohrady district.

The solution was to construct a kilometre-long tunnel directly under the high ground of Vinohrady as far as the Nusle valley, and Moritz Gröbe was the railway magnate whose company was responsible for digging it. The debris from the excavation was then hauled up the hill to become the foundations of his magnificent summer residence.

Shortly after his death, the family sold the villa and surrounding parkland to the local municipality. The building was used as school, and during Communist times became the Palace of Young Pioneers. Today, beautifully restored to its original state, it is the headquarters of the Central European and Eurasian Law Institute.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Church of the Sacred Heart, Vinohrady

Getting off the metro at Jiřiho z Poděbrad, you never need to stop and ask anyone the time, because the entire square is overlooked by this vast dial, measuring some six metres in diameter. The clocktower is the dominant feature of the Church of the Sacred Heart. At 42 metres high, and - unusually - stretching the entire width of the nave, it gives the church the appearance more of a grand railway station than a place of worship.

Designed in 1928 by Slovenian architect Jože Plečnik and built between 1929 and 1932, this art deco masterpiece integrates design elements of classical architecture such as pediments, friezes and obelisks, with industrial materials: huge bronze doors, blue glazed bricks and, of course, the enormous, functional clock, the largest of its kind in Central Europe.

Inside, the effect is similarly shocking: bare brick walls, pierced at regular intervals with gold Greek crosses, and spherical copper lamps suspended from the unsupported ceiling. You might be inside a conference hall, were it not for Damian Pešana's ten-foot gilded statue of Christ above the altar.

Today is the first of the month, and thus theme day for the City Daily Photo community. Today's theme, it will come as no surprise, is Time. Click here to view thumbnails for all participants