Landmark "Obecni Dum" to offer new services incl. use of historic billiards room

Prague's Obecni Dum

No one would question the cultural importance of Prague's Obecni Dum - the city's historic Municipal House dating back to the early 20th century. The famous Art Nouveau building was the site of the proclamation of the Czechoslovak Republic in 1918 and was the site for meetings between dissidents including Vaclav Havel and the outgoing communist leadership in November 1989. As a site it is regularly enjoyed by the public for its café, restaurant, exhibition spaces, and famous concert hall. Now, under a new director, Obecni Dum should offer even more.

Prague's Obecni Dum
Ten years ago Prague's Obecni Dum underwent extensive renovation at the cost of 1.8 billion crowns (around 84 million US dollars) and when it was reopened it was to great fanfare. Located beside a famous Gothic tower the Municipal House remains one of the most visited landmarks in the city. Nevertheless, new management of the site would like to introduce a number of new changes: namely, to make Municipal House even more accessible to the general public. Some spaces which enjoyed brief popularity in the '90s, including a historic cards and billiards room, were never later reopened. Now they should be accessible to visitors once more. Tomas Vacek is the director of the Obecni Dum:

"Obecni Dum is one of the most important landmarks in Prague: sure a lot goes on here even now, from concerts to all kinds of events, but we want to improve the quality of the services. The new billiards room - 200 square metres - was only used a mere ten hours last year for a special event. It should be part of the changes. My hope is to offer an affordable but unique place to meet, to play pool and have a coffee."

Tomas Vacek, photo: CTK
According to the new director, that's not all his management team has planned: he would also like to make a number of important historic rooms including "Cukrarna" - a former confectionary with an interior as sweet as it sounds - available to rent for weddings and wedding receptions. Mr Vacek suggests that Obecni Dum's full potential hasn't yet been fully tapped.

"In short, there are more rooms here which until now were only used for storage, their doors locked. We went through the building from the basement to the attic to uncover what could be uncovered, to see how some spaces could be used in the future."

The Municipal House - owned by the city of Prague - brings in annual revenues of more than 100 million crowns. That said, not everyone will be happy with all the planned changes: under the new director roughly half of 75 full-time staff, from cleaning to maintenance, will have to go, their jobs to be outsourced. According to Mr Vacek and others it will be better for the landmark Municipal House to employ some people only when they are needed; after concerts, after hours, not full-time. As for the public face of Obecni Dum with the reopening of its billiards room and other areas, Mr Vacek has said that he hopes to see some of those changes by this summer.