My Prague – Mikoláš Růžička

Mikoláš Růžička, photo: Ian Willoughby

As one half of the award-winning duo Republic of Two and with his solo project Piano, Mikoláš Růžička is a well-known figure on the Prague music scene. A native of Bechyně in South Bohemia, the musician also has a day job teaching at the city’s Academy of Fine Arts. Our tour of “Mikoláš Růžička’s Prague” begins on Jiřího z Poděbrad square in front of Jože Plečnik’s modernist Church of the Most Sacred Heart of Our Lord.

Mikoláš Růžička,  photo: Ian Willoughby

“I used to live in Letná, which is also a beautiful part of Prague. But one year ago I moved here to Vinohrady.

“I took us here [to the square] because I very often visit this place. There is a market here with organic food and we come very often to buy something: cakes, deli stuff, everything.

“The second reason is that I love this place – there are a lot people chilling, eating, drinking wine.

“And there’s the church here – for me one of the most beautiful churches I’ve ever seen.

“It was built by the very famous Slovenian architect Jože Plečnik in the 1920s or ‘30s.

“It’s such an amazing place. Quite often my wife and I visit the church and I love it here.”

Do you attend ceremonies at the church?

“Yes, I do. Not every Sunday, which I should – I’m sorry! But yes, quite often.”

As somebody who isn’t religious I don’t much go into churches. What’s it like inside?

Church of the Most Sacred Heart of Our Lord,  photo: © City of Prague

“It’s very special. It has very special interiors, with statues. It looks pretty empty. It’s beautiful inside – you need to see it.

“It’s very pure. It looks like from old times. It was inspired by very old churches, before Gothic and maybe even earlier. So it’s worth seeing.”

You mentioned that before you moved here you lived at Letná, which is also full of hipsters and cafés and is another one of those areas of Prague that has been improving a lot. How would you compare the two districts?

“It’s very personal. I loved Letná, because I studied at the Academy of Fine Arts, which is there.

“I lived around the corner on Kamenická Street for eight years. It was my first real home, if I don’t count my home in Bechyně, the town where I grew up.

“But then I met Andrea [Kerestešová, a well-known Slovak actress], my wife. I wanted to move to where she lived and she had just bought a flat near here.

“First I didn’t want to leave Letná, because I used to run in Stromovka park and it was five minutes to my work, because I work as an assistant at the Academy of Fine Arts.

Church of the Most Sacred Heart of Our Lord,  photo: Kristýna Maková

“I was used to living there. I knew a lot of bars there.

“But when I moved, after like one or two weeks I forgot Letná almost completely.

“For me [Vinohrady] is cleaner. It’s closer to the centre. It’s full of green. There are a lot of trees there, a lot of parks: Riegrovy Sady; Grébovka [Havlíčkovy sady] is beautiful.”

This is completely off the point of this square, but I think you’re the first guest on My Prague who rides a moped. How do you find riding a moped in Prague?

“It’s part of my life. I cannot imagine not having a moped right now – I became addicted.

“It’s very easy to get everywhere. It’s very cheap. It’s just freedom for me.”

Mikoláš Růžička's moped,  photo: Ian Willoughby

Is it dangerous? Are drivers generally patient? How do you find actually being on the road on a moped here?

“Everything is dangerous, in a way. But I try to be careful.

“Of course some drivers get angry if you overtake them at crossroads or at street signs.

“I fell once, so I have experience of how to drive carefully and I drive in a safe way.

“And it’s not fast. The Vespa goes like 40 or 50 kilometres an hour – it’s like a faster bicycle, I would say.”

Kafe v kufru on Moravská St.,  photo: Ian Willoughby

From Jiřího z Poděbrad square, Mikoláš Růžička and I take a short stroll to the leafy Moravská St., where not for from the musician’s apartment building is the cosy and welcoming Kafe v Kufru. We take a table in the café’s peaceful garden.

“Kafe v Kufru is one of my favourite cafés. It’s five minutes from my flat so I come here very often.

“It started one year ago and we kind of helped the guys to open the café and to let people know that there was a cool and beautiful new place on Moravská St.

“We are friends with the owners, who are very friendly. They bake their own cakes. It’s just like you’re sitting in your own café.”

How would you describe the style here? I didn’t get much of a chance to see the interior as we came through to the courtyard, but it seems at least a little bit retro looking.

“Yes, exactly. It’s kind of retro. It’s called Kafe v Kufru and kufr means suitcase in English.

Outdoor seating at the back of  Kafe v kufru,  photo: Ian Willoughby

“The thing that I really love about the interior is that it’s full of old things that have soul: old suitcases, photographic stuff, jars, lamps, old chairs.

“It looks like in your grandmother’s living room.”

Is it also open in the evenings?

“Yes, they’re open from 2 or 3 o’clock in the afternoon until when the last guests leave.”

Apart from Kafe v Kufru, what cafés or bars do you like in Prague?

“Very close to here is a café called Monolok, which is a pretty cool place as well.

“When I lived at Letná I went quite often to [the cinema] Bio Oko – they’ve got a beautiful bar or café there as well. And also the café Alchymista, which is a cool place with great cheesecake.

“And for example in Smíchov there is Kavárna co hledá jméno, which means Café Searching for a Name, or something like that. It’s in an old former factory or something.

Back room at Kafe v kufru,  photo: Ian Willoughby

“It’s a beautiful place and it’s worth seeing because they’ve got a bar made from the very old, huge trunk of a tree – in one piece. It’s incredible. You need to see that.”

Also I’ve got to ask you as a musician, what are the best music venues in Prague, do you think?

“Roxy is great. Palác Akropolis is great. Archa theatre, definitely.”

And which for you is the best venue to play, as a musician?

“Archa, I would say. They’ve got great sound there, great equipment. They can build the elevation.

“It’s a theatre but for me it’s the best music venue.”

Our tour of “Mikoláš Růžička’s Prague” concludes with a short (and for me bracing) ride on his Vespa down to the Vršovice district of the city. Specifically to the local branch of the Sokol sports organisation, where in the back there are well-tended tennis courts that look like they haven’t changed in many years.

“The connection is simple – I started to play tennis and it’s like a drug for me. And I love this place because of its atmosphere.

“I come to play here very often, like three, four times a week, and I love the smell of the clay as well as the sound of the leaves in the trees. And the sunshine, because as you can see the courts are in the sun.

Tennis courts at Sokol Vršovice,  photo: Ian Willoughby

“It’s a simply beautiful place to sweat and train my body.”

This place is quite old-school looking. For example, beside us here there’s an old shed that’s almost falling down.

“Yes, it is. I think it is pretty old.

“And the head of the courts, his name is Jarda Pilát, is a beautiful guy. I wouldn’t say he’s old, but he’s like an old-time gentleman.

“All the people who come here to play are very interesting. A lot of artists and musicians and interesting people come here – Jarda has created a kind of community of interesting people who really love tennis.”

These courts are part of the Sokol in Vršovice. Do you have to be a member to play here?

“You don’t have to be a member of Sokol to play here, but I am because it’s cheaper when you’ve got the card.”

Is it hard to get in? Do you have to book a long time in advance? How does that work?

“It depends if it’s the season or not. During the summer it’s quite a lot harder.

“But a very special thing here is that they leave the courts open almost until it starts freezing.

Sokol Vršovice,  photo: Ian Willoughby

“So when all of the other outdoor courts in Prague are closed you can still play here.

“Last year we played on December 22, that was the last day it was open, so almost till Christmas time. And it starts very early here as well.”

Sokol is of course a very old Czech sports organisation. Does that mean anything to you, that this is a Sokol place?

“Not much, honestly. But when I meet people here and they are Sokols, I can feel something special.

“They are kind of proud that they are Sokols and you can feel the history, what it means for them.”

Do you come here at a particular time of day?

“Mostly in the morning, because it’s free. I try to wake up early and call my friend, so we meet here at 7:30 or 8.

“I’ve got the key so we open the place and there’s nobody here – just the smell of the clay and the morning breeze.

“It has a specific atmosphere. We play alone here and then Jarda comes and makes a coffee for us. It’s extraordinary, I would say.”