Prague: The perfect antidote to modern urbanism

Now, if you think I’m about to write a lengthy blog post about the beauty of Prague, think again. Doing so would be akin to writing about the roundness of the wheel, the greenness of grass, or perhaps even the wetness of water. I know you’ve already been to Prague, and I know you’ve also witnessed it’s beauty first hand.

As always, I don’t just write about places because they’re beautiful. I write about them because there was something thought provoking. The thing that’s stood out in Prague is the tourist demographic. Specifically, the American tourists. I mean sure, there’s a fair few American tourists in the big hang-outs such as Paris and London but their numbers are eclipsed by those of the Eastern Europeans and others, thus to say they are in the minority.

So what’s up with all these Americans? Well unfortunately I don’t know too many Prague-loving yankee folk, so as usual I’m just going to have to speculate on this one, which is much more fun anyway. To get to the bottom of this we need to go back to the key objective of tourism: To see something you don’t normally see in your home town/country. Let’s suppose you were born and raised in the so-called “Greatest country on earth” and you’re about to load your arse onto a plane and go some-wher’, by golly, it had better be somewhere good. Strictly speaking, by Amercan standards: Prague is good.

So what do I mean by that? I’ll come right out and say it: The urban fabric in most of North America is, well, different. My predominant memories from my 2010 visit were Strip malls, Parking lots, Chuck E. Cheese’s, Wall-marts, K-Marts, Home depots, McDonalds, Taco-bells, Blank concrete walls, Blank grass berms, Asphalt, Vast highways… I could go on and on. Needless to say these aren’t the building blocks of a beautiful city. It hardly needs to be said that Prague (as arguably one of the most beautiful cities in Europe) is extreme opposite of all of that.

You could say I’ve been a little hard on the little ol’ USA there but actually, as someone from New Zealand I’m fairly well qualified to comment on this as we are also a suburb loving, “built post world war 2” car-culture country . We’ve never heard of public transport and we too have (albiet smaller) strip malls to go with our vast state highway network, not to mention many millions of auto-mobiles. Our country was also almost entirely constructed in the golden age of liquid fossil fuels and it really shows. Indeed it is very difficult to find urban beauty in New Zealand. Most of it seems to be either painted over or buried amongst modern developments. In an age where it’s not acceptable for a building to take longer than 2 years to construct, we’re only going to see less and less of this beauty. It also doesn’t help when a fistful of them are levelled by a large earthquake.

Now, is all of this urban trash isolated to New Zealand and the USA? Nope. It’s a global phenomenon and an unstoppable one at that. You only have to venture a short distance outside of Prague to find the same flimsy GIB Board®, MDF and Fibrelite™ constructions seen throughout my own country. The fact of the matter is that although Prague’s urban landscape is almost utopian, building this kind of thing comes at considerable cost.

So it appears that for now, at least, humanity continues its new found endless cycle of constructing buildings which always look fantastic in the Artists concepts, but turn out to be a just a little less than fantastic when completed, finally to end up as “tacky” in 30 years time, when the wrecking ball finally moves in and the new Artists concept is drawn. All the while these hand-built timeless stone and marble buildings will be preserved and continue to be enjoyed throughout the generations.

Anyway. Enough of all of this heavy-hitting, depressing ramble. The other thing I’d really like to mention about Prague is the refrigerators found in small shops. I walked into a shop to buy a bottle of water, I head over to the fridge and start tugging on the door, but it wont open?! stranger still, the handle is half broken off. Seconds later the store keeper is yelling at me. “You have to ask!” he shouts. He then pushes a button under the counter which “buzzes” the fridge door open, much like you would buzz a guest through the front door of your apartment block.

I’m sorry, but what is with this? So I have to go down the the front of the shop and ask the owner to buzz the freakin’ fridge door open? What on earth is the point of this? I thought this might be an isolated case but alas, no. I came across it several times and even found a shop with this same style of electronic lock on the ice-cream freezer. There were no shortage of amusing occasions where other tourists were seen to be tugging and heaving on the doors of these frozen Fort-Knox’s. No wonder the handles were often broken off. I can actually see a sane use-case for this kind of thing in the home, where young children are constantly stealing from the fridge, certainly, one would not have gone a miss to keep my child self out. But in a shop? I was so peeved at being told off for attempting to buy a drink that I almost stormed straight out!