Prague : The Musical City – Na Příkopě
Part 3. Exploring Na Příkopě. Prague at its most modern, its most commercial, even most ‘western’.
And so I came to a crossroads, a central paved hub, a focal point for the masses. Behind me, the beauty of Wenceslas Square, curving majestically up to the landmarks in the distance. To my left, a concentration of al-fresco cafes and restaurants to cater for the growing crowds, and leading onto Národní; defiant old-school Prague, un-blemished and defiant against the winds of change. Up ahead lead to the Old Town Square, a winding, narrow labyrinth of tourist chintz, funnelling the ants towards one of Prague’s best known attractions, the Astronomical Clock. For now, my focus was to the right, Na Příkopě, Prague at its most modern, its most commercial, even most ‘western’.
In stark contrast to the altogether more communist-flavoured Národní, here, the glassy structures and huge HD displays distracted me from my nagging thoughts on Prague’s complex past, its subtleties and fascinations replaced with in your face marketing. As I continued on, its initial pizzaz gradually faded the further I strayed until I was numbed by it, eager to get back to discovering Prague’s soul.
Na Příkopě lacks substance, neither having the cosy history of the old town, the regal majesty of Wesceslas square, or the bare, conflicting, uneasy authenticity of Národní. Na Příkopě feels like window dressing. Shallow fan-service for the brain dead after a quick fix of retail therapy. Worst of all, there’s nothing memorable about it, and therefore nothing else to report. I was at an impasse and just about to head back to the crossroads, when an unassuming building off the main street caught my attention. ‘Beer Museum’. A convenient time to take the weight off too.
The Beer Museum, as it turned out, was more of a restaurant, with the only item on the menu being a bewildering selection of pilsners, dark beers and everything in between. I took up a bar stool and perused my options, which included a ‘taster’ menu of 5 or 10 tipples of your choice. Slowly, carefully and deliberately, I made my decisions….
At this point a familiar atmosphere took hold, as though the sands of time were slowing down my heart rate and my anxieties. The last time I felt it was in Goa some five years before. The barman took my order almost without gesture, and, unlike in just about every other situation in my normal day-to-day life, I was happy just to wait, savouring the moment, and looking forward to the next. What was eventually presented to me was a rustic wooden board, with five holes carved out to hold my taster glasses. Every single one was delicious, from the cool, crisp pilsners through to fruity ales and ending with the deep, rich dark beers. Similar to India’s food, the ales in Prague were a revelation to me, having more in common with the wine industry back home. Here you could be a connoisseur rather than going through the motions to get drunk. Here you didn’t have the chemical aftertaste or the hangovers. Here you could spend an hour or so tasting and enjoying, and then draw the line, which is exactly what I did.
As if to answer my earlier wishes, Prague made its boldest statement so far, as the ugly iron-clad machinery of this great city’s rail-network stood before me. From the mountainous, snow-covered backdrop, tunnels were hewn out of the rock, as if not even mother nature could withstand the march of Prague’s industrial revolution. From the tunnels, the gleaming, solidly built engines roared towards their destinations, tightly orchestrated and effortless. Was this Prague’s own doing? Or was this imposed on them by communism? , by occupation? The scene before me conjured up imagery of Soviet strength and scale, the red star, the hammer and sickle, and of German ruthlessness and efficiency. More war-machine than train terminus. But behind this, what of Prague? What of its people? Just like in the taxi on the first day, I was in no position to ask.