A Culture Buff’s Guide to Prague

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Dec 01, 2017

Planning a trip to the city famed for its medieval beauty, creativity and beer culture? Hazel Flynn has your pre-visit Czech list.

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A decade ago, with only a Soviet-era guidebook to help her, Australian Rachael Weiss went to Prague to explore her family’s roots and to seek adventure and romance. Landing unlikely jobs and making oddball friends, she stayed for a year, later returning in what was intended to be a permanent move. The writer chronicles her time in “Europe’s most eccentric city” in two funny, engaging memoirs: Me, Myself & Prague (2008) and The Thing About Prague (2014).

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◖ The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984): Czech Milan Kundera had found refuge in France when he published this postmodern novel, a bestseller much debated for its attitudes towards women. Its love triangle is set against the brief freedom of the Prague Spring of 1968 and the totalitarian crackdown that followed.

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The 2006 film I Served the King of England is based on acclaimed Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal’s novel of the same name, written in 1971. It follows the rise and fall of a small man with big appetites and even bigger ambitions who goes from hot-dog seller to hotel owner to prisoner as the forces of 20th-century history roll over him. Part Chaplinesque farce, part sharp satire, it perfectly encapsulates a Mitteleuropean sensibility in which irony is prized, power is transient and nudity is unremarkable.

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◖ Czechoslovakia 1918-1968 (1969): Sponsored by a propaganda arm of the US government, this short Oscar-winning montage of archival stills and footage – easily available online – shows an idyllic land and its suffering, first under the Nazis and then the Soviets.

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Composer Antonín Dvořák deeply loved his home country and its Bohemian folk music, which inspired his 19th-century Romantic compositions. In 1993, the Boston Symphony Orchestra with conductor Seiji Ozawa and stellar soloists, including cellist Yo-Yo Ma and violinist Itzhak Perlman, travelled to the Czech capital to honour his memory. The resulting album, Dvořák in Prague: A Celebration, features 11 of his best-known and most-loved pieces.

Also consider…

◖ Good Beer Hunting: Episode 105 of this free podcast, devoted to all aspects of the brewer’s art, features an interview with Czech-born, Australian-raised Robert Lobovsky. The global marketing manager and evangelist for the famed Pilsner Urquell brand delves deep into the history of Czech beer.

◖ Čechomor: To Nejlepší (2005): The band Čechomor gives a rock/pop spin to traditional folk tunes on their “best of” album.

SEE ALSO: Insider Tips to Prague