ZSMV Cake Shop
“Home is from where you can see the television tower”
Paulo Coelho, Prague 2017
It’s a summer in nineties. Wild capitalism rages in Poland and everybody is maker of his own destiny and therefore my father (a trained bricklayer) discovers the appeal of requalification and starts to trade with textiles. It is said that cheap and quality textiles can be found on the Czech-German border, and so the whole family goes on a trip. You are for the first time in the Czech Republic (and maybe even for the first time in a foreign country!), but you skip Prague. You have not enjoyed Charles Bridge but you have brand new luxurious jeans on the other hand. For the time being, this country is for you terra incognita, but you already know subconsciously, on the ride back in a pub at the borders, you will be eating traditional dumplings.
It’s summer again. You are for the second time in your life at a summer camp, more precisely in the south of Poland, at the geographical Polish-Czech-Slovak triangle. You are in early puberty, you discover Linkin Park and you think of yourself as the biggest metalhead. The next day, you have on the schedule a trip to Prague. You are not going, because of the rain and floods (the fateful year of 2002). As consolation, you are going to Český Těšín. The only memory, you remember from the town, is eating a hot dog with mustard. However, you are from Poland and therefore you gladly complain about the cruel destiny and immediately you found funny the collocation of words “párek v rohlíku” (sausage in a bun). This you can pronounce (of course without the proper length of vowels), while the word “hořčice” (mustard) is for you totally unpronounceable. And it will be for circa the next ten years.
Finally there is the summer, when you are going directly to the mother of cities! You have modest student budget and that’s why you find an accommodation in the hall of residence Sázava near Kunratice Forest. Classic: the Charles bridge, “Hradčany”, “Vyšehrad”, “Václavák” (at the time still Václavské náměstí). You know, what is said about the local waiting staff, and therefore you try to order in pubs with your lame Czech, they are pleased - they think it’s lame Slovak. Then you go to Libeň to contemplate in “Na Hráz Věčnosti" (The street “On the Dam of Eternity” from the work of Bohumil Hrabal) and during a climb the hill “Letná” you imagine how big was Stalin’s Monument. You already know that the monument was called “queue for meat”, but you wouldn’t think that in couple of years you will be attending a showing of the film about Pomník lásky a přátelství (The Monument of Love and Friendship) in this underground area so long closed to the public (and also you experience a classical music concert, site specific theatre and street hairdresser). In the meantime, you are enthralled by the view of the sea of red roofs and you think, this is the Prague genius loci.
It’s autumn. The first autumn when you come to Prague and you never leave it again. You know a few people here, but they have their own lives. You speak a little Czech so you find some regular meetings, where Czechs and foreigners meet to talk to each other. Every Monday in café “Zapomenutý čas” at náměstí Míru, an establishment with some second republic feel (you recognize it without knowing who are Oldřich Nový, Nataša Gollová or Adina Mandlová, whose portraits are on the walls). You realize that you know Czech culture only form books and you want to get to know it better. You make yourself comfortable in a small room in Nusle for 3.500 crown (sic!), in a building form where palm trees left alone in the corridor disappear under mysterious circumstances. It doesn’t matter at all, because your heart leaps with joy at a sight of a visually simple, even cute sweet shop, when you come from metro station Pražského povstání. Pink writing on white background makes honestly clear that it doesn’t suck up to hipsters and it neither intends to pretend to be a sumptuous sweet shop that lures tourist in the centre of the city. It is here especially for locals. But also for policemen or firefighters because it is only sweet shop in the Czech Republic owned by the state (!). At this memorable place, with state-owned dessert in the hand with overflowing cream like Vltava in spring, starts your immense fondness for profiteroles (“větrníky”). It reaches its highest peak in House of the Black Madonna, where you can get the most revolutionary and novel profiterole – a cubistic one. And when profiteroles, then also open sandwiches (“chlebíčky”). It is proven that open sandwiches are the embodiment of folksiness, egalitarianism whose highest form are university canteens and cafeterias. That’s why you like to go in this kind of establishments. You even are thrilled with the idea to map (literally) all Prague gastro-folklore. You find out that you can enjoy Czech cuisine also in the centre of the city and you can pay for it with luncheon vouchers, another local phenomenon and “immoral second currency in the state”. What use are bitcoins? You observe and record random bizarreries with undisguised fascination (series of tea taps in the university canteen in Albertov, perpetuum mobile for returning of dishes in Spálená and a sign proudly announcing that tea is sweetened with an artificial sweetener).
Lidé mají různé koníčky. Někteří sbírají známky, ale tvojí idée fixe je vytvořit antologii podniků, kde podávají pořádné langoše a točí pivo do tupláku. Proto, když ti bude nabízeno publikovat text o Praze, využiješ této možnosti a oslovíš potenciální čtenáře, aby se podělili o své tipy na mail
email@example.com (Předem díky).
Moreover, you find an authentic multiculti delicatessen (or nourishment for your soul) near your building. You cure regular melancholy with pelmeni from a “mahazyn” of a nice lady from Ukraine and Balkan impishness with burek from a stand of a couple from former Yugoslavia. There is a real pizza from a real Italian just a few metres further and also a collage-like offer of all possible meals of Asian origin (there is also fried cheese just for 60 crown for Czech cuisine enthusiasts).
However, you don’t spend your time just by eating open sandwiches and cakes. Prague is not only “the bridge and the castle”. Prague is also bureaucratic machinery. You quickly get your bearing in administrative jargon: “cizina”, “vnitro”, OAMP, “berňák”. During a visit of “berňák” (revenue service), you disrupt functioning not only of one branch but also you jeopardize the till now foreseeable system of the civil service, just because you don’t have Czech citizenship or Czech personal number! This incident makes you think about the relationship of (public) space and identity or how space influences self-perception. In short: “where is my home?”. When and where you feel “at yourself”? You feel like local in comparison with hordes of tourists on Charles Bridge, the golden Prague with hundred towers is also yours but a contact with state institutions wakes a feeling of alienation in you.
You perceive the city as a living organism that is created and shared by people, and from that reason you adore peculiar and bold interventions in public space. These are often just ephemeral so when you are lucky you can catch a sight of a semi-circular portal above an entrance into a pompous apartment building in Francouzská 3 from a window of a tramway no. 22 that slows down before náměstí Míru. On the portal, there is a statue of a nonchalant mythological bearded hero who, as a result of a mysterious performance, transforms into a marble hipster. In summer he is sunbathing with sunglasses on, in autumn he is wearing an extravagant scarf to protect himself against cold and spleen. For every time of year proper artefacts. You miss street art in the streets, presence of engagé art in public space, something provocative, something starting a dialogue with passers-by. Prague is still waiting for its Banksy. One of the most famous examples of street graffiti is Hrabal’s world in Libeň, or the painting Choose to be happy on a building in Dejvice near Vítězné náměstí. If you google “street art Prague”, you will also get Lennon wall, which is more likely an attraction for tourists.That is why one of your favourite places in Prague is an outdoor gallery at nabř. Kpt. Jaroše and its projects reflecting important social topics. In addition, you passionately observe and photograph stickers, bizarre slogans, wordplays on poles, walls, pavements, in metro… You like the hyde-park-like character of Palackého náměstí and it is no coincidence that you attend some demonstrations there.
Football has never been a big thrill for you (with exception of World Championship 1998 when you supported Brazil dressed in a yellow shirt with Ronaldo written on the back. Just for the sake of balance because your cousins supported France). Despite all that, one Sunday morning you get up with resolution to attend your first live match. It is for you another encounter with the Czech culture. For the sake of authenticity you avoid the most esteemed and popular football clubs. You decide for a random match between Viktoria Žižkov and FC Třinec. You buy tickets just before the start of the match on the spot without problems. In addition, same as other attenders, you get a “párek v rohlíku s hořčicí” (sausage in a bun with mustard – this time, you can pronounce the sound “ř”, the key sound for the czechness) and beer in a plastic cup. You are fascinated by the variety of spectators, local character, absence of aggressively and cuteness of some swearwords (“you kicked my grandson, you villain!”).
And when Prague is lit by neon lights at night... the big city bacchanalia are starting. The best and the most bizarre place for vocal letting off steam is by far the Vietnamese market SAPA. The karaoke in the former poultry house has an inimitable atmosphere. You observe an extraordinary fondness and diligence of Vietnamese participants when they are singing and you feel somewhat inappropriately.
You experience all mentioned above and you remember the moment, when Prague was for you mainly “a sea of red roofs” and you are amazed, how significantly the local genius loci has changed.
Text vznikl v rámci projektu „Podívat se pod pokličku“ financovaném Magistrátem hlavního města Prahy.
Author: Justyna Janowska