A Tree Dies in Zizkov


"A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" is timeless American coming-of-age novel and a richly-plotted narrative of three generations in a poor but proud family, offering a detailed, unsentimental portrait of urban life at the beginning of the 20th century. Brooklyn, of course, is one of the five boroughs that together make up New York City.

I lived in New York for many years, but now call Prague home. I live in Zizkov, which, before the Velvet Revolution, was a working-class neighbourhood in what was meant to be a classless society, and known colloquially as "The Bronx" - after the New York borough long considered an urban war zone.

Fifteen years on from the Velvet Revolution, "The Bronx" has been elevated to the status of Brooklyn. Zizkov has become a trendy place to live, if not exactly gentrified: It is only a matter of time before real estate agents try to market Zizkov as "Lower Vinohrady" to evoke the grandeur of the historically posh neighbourhood just up the hill.

Two years ago, I moved house, but within my same building on Borivojova Street, which is the longest street in Zizkov, and, I'm told, home to more pubs per square metre than any other. This is good for drinking but very bad for sleeping, especially if your bedroom faces the street, as mine did.

So I was pleased to move up a floor, to a bigger place with a bedroom not looking onto the street but with a view of the courtyard - and a magnificent tree, easily four storeys high. It was winter when I moved in, and the leaves were gone, but its mighty, naked skeleton dusted with snow was a sight to behold. In the spring, first, and very slowly, came the green of the leaves, then the delicate white flowers and reddish fruit that was inedible but looked like cherries.

This last winter has been an especially long and cold one, and like everyone else, I was desperate for the arrival of spring. I was also looking forward to witnessing the tree's transformation. It was not to be: two months ago, the Ukrainian construction workers who've been waking me up at six off and on for months, even on weekends, chopped it down, on orders from the Italian developers who bought the building next door to me, and who intend to make luxury flats, for new tenants who will want a place to park their cars.

The population of the Czech capital has grown steadily since the Velvet Revolution and, with no where to go but up, over the last 15 years, and not just in Zizkov but throughout all of Prague, people have been converting attics into apartments - "mezonety," in a Czech borrowing from the French - and parking spaces have become a precious commodity.

And so, "A Tree Dies in Zizkov".