The hidden life of Czech hospitals

The maternity hospital in Podolí

Unfortunate circumstance have forced me to spend more time in hospitals in recent weeks than I would like to, although I was lucky to be only a visitor, not a patient. Still, going to hospitals is usually not a cheerful experience, unless you are visiting a friend who has just had a baby. The dimly lit corridors and smell of germicide make me feel uneasy as soon as I open the door. However, in spite of this grim atmosphere there is something rather nice about old hospital buildings in Prague.

The maternity hospital in Podolí | Photo: Štěpánka Budková,  Radio Prague International
There are two vast hospitals in the centre of Prague - the Vinohrady hospital and the University hospital near Karlovo náměstí. Both of them are surrounded by walls but the premises are usually open to pedestrians. If you know your way around, you can take a nice shortcut between the Vinohrady and Vršovice districts right through the Vinohrady hospital. There is also a lovely garden commonly knows “Bláznovská zahrada” or the fools’ garden, adjacent to the psychiatric ward of the University Hospital. Its doors remain open on weekdays and you can avoid walking along the busy Ječná Street.

The University hospital close to Karlovo náměstí offers some unusual and lovely views of Prague. Most of the windows are overlooking Prague’s botanical garden and they offer impressive views of Vyšehrad in the sunset. Below Vyšehrad hill, right by the river, is one of Prague’s most beautiful hospital buildings, the maternity hospital in Podolí. With its towers and wings it looks more like a castle. There is also a rather solemn but impressive-looking neo-gothic building designed by the Czech architect and philanthropist Josef Hlávka.

There have been attempts in the past to turn some of the old hospital buildings into hotels. For myself, I hope it will never happen. Hospital premises in the city centre are one of the last islands of greenery in Prague, with squirrels and birds and stray cats wondering around. One day I was passing through the hospital in Prague’s Krč district, when I suddenly spotted a herd of about thirty goats, lying on the patch of grass in front of one of the wards. For a while I though they were statues but as I got closer, I noticed they were all watching me, silently chomping on grass…

If I ever have to spend a time in hospital as a patient with nothing better to do than stare out of the window for the whole day – this is what I hope to see. I believe a sight like this can always make you feel a little better.