My Prague – Nora Fridrichová

Nora Fridrichová and her daughter at Stromovka, photo: Ian Willoughby

TV journalist Nora Fridrichová presents the irreverent political programme 168 hodin (168 Hours), which famously unearthed the video of Václav Klaus pocketing a pen that became an international hit. From Pardubice in East Bohemia, Fridrichová came to the capital to study and today lives in the leafy Troja district. But our tour of “her Prague” begins in Karlín, which like several other districts near the city centre has become increasingly hip in recent years.

Karlín,  photo: ŠJů,  CC BY-SA 3.0

“Despite the fact that I don’t live here, Karlín is among my favourite parts of Prague.

“I don’t know if that’s because as a reporter I saw Karlín flooded 13 years ago, or if it’s because there’s a genius loci here which I haven’t found in almost any other part of Prague.

“Karlín is simply one of my favourite places in Prague and I’d love to live here someday.”

In 2002 the flood waters were, what, two metres high?

“We would definitely be under the water at the moment. I remember stand-ups by colleagues of mine who were sitting on a boat next to a traffic sign and the sign was the same height as them.

“There was a huge lake all around. We are at Karlínské náměstí at the moment and I remember there used to be a petrol station here. But it disappeared with the water.”

Maybe that’s one reason Karlín now looks so good, because of the floods – it created a kind of year zero.

Karlín,  photo: Oleg Fetisov

“That’s true. A few of the worst buildings collapsed after the floods… But also in the past Karlín used to be a poorer area, with people living in not very nice conditions socially. And this has changed.

“At the moment Karlín is among the most expensive places in Prague to live. Apartments are very expensive.

“Maybe it’s also thanks to the fact that almost all of the streets have trees. All the streets are very wide and some of them look like boulevards.

“And people who live here describe it as a small village. You know people in the neighbourhood, you all meet in the same pubs and cafés. It’s a sort of town within a town.”

This is one of the first places I stayed in Prague and now it’s largely unrecognisable, partly because now there are all these cafés and great places to go in Karlín.

“People living here say that every night you can go to a different place for dinner or for a drink.

“There’s something about the streets too – there’s not such heavy traffic. The local council did a great thing by almost closing it to cars and you won’t meet heavy traffic in Karlín. And you can dance on the street, in the evening!”

One thing that would put me off living here is the fact that it feels quite low. We’re under Vítkov hill.

“It’s like a valley. And when the floods came in 2002 it behaved like a valley. The water came in from one side and basically had no alternative but to flood over everything.

Karlín after the floods in 2002,  photo: archive of Radio Prague

“But it’s changing. Flood defences were built straight afterwards and floods shouldn’t come again.

“On the other hand, you never know. You always know that the ground floor can be quite risky. And you always know that you shouldn’t put really important things in the basement.

“But I don’t believe floods will come. And if they do, a new era will come again.”

Counter at Kavárna Kočičí,  photo: Ian Willoughby

Just off the square Karlínské náměstí, on Křižíkova St., is where you will find the friendly Kavárna Kočičí. That translates as Cat Café and it does exactly what it says on the tin. Cats roam all over the place, there is cat-themed décor – and you can even make a donation to cat welfare at the counter. Fridrichová is a regular.

“This is the first time I’ve heard of a place like this. I’ve never, ever before heard about a café where cats walk among people. That’s the first thing [I like about this place].

“Secondly, I have deep emotions for people and animals that are orphaned and homeless. And this café basically accommodates homeless cats. You can cuddle them, you can feed them and you can also donate to them. I think it’s a beautiful idea.”

It seems to me that in Prague it’s very unusual to see stray cats.

“Do you think so? I’m not sure about the number, but a couple of years ago I heard that there was something like 60,000 homeless cats on the streets of Prague.

“I also heard that their average life span on the streets of Prague is something like two years. Because of the traffic, because of diseases and because of bad people.

“So I would say that we might not see them but Prague is full of cats – tiny, cute inhabitants that want to be happy with us, but very often they are not. And thank God that a place like this makes them feel a bit happier with us.”

A special gate helps keep the cats in at Kavárna Kočičí,  photo: Ian Willoughby

I’ve seen a few people coming in who seem to be tourists that know about the place. But I’m curious about how it must be for somebody who comes in here who doesn’t know it’s a cat café and then finds seven cats all over the place.

“[Laugh] It depends whether you are allergic to cats or not. If you are, then you know that this place is forbidden to you. But if you are not then you might be very happy with them.

“I love cats. I also love dogs. I have a dog at home. If this was a place without cats my dog would probably come with me.

“But she is a Jack Russell terrier and she would hunt the cats, so she’s not allowed to come here.

“I know this place is very new. It’s been open for a couple of months, I think. And the first time I heard about it I thought, Wow, what a great idea.

“The reason I like these places is that I now have two children and the older one is gobsmacked by cats.

“So this is a perfect place for mums with kids. Of course being aware that these are animals – the children must be very careful not to torture the cats as we all did when we were small children.”

Kavárna Kočičí in Karlín,  photo: Ian Willoughby

Maybe I’m overly fussy but isn’t there an issue with hygiene when there are cats all over the bar?

“I’m curious about the Czech hygiene officials, because they are very famous for being critical and giving fines for everything.

“I don’t know how they do it here, because the cats obviously walk everywhere and jump on the tables.

“But you can go into a restaurant with a dog and this is basically the same idea.”

But the dogs won’t go on the bar.

“It depends where [laughs]. Very often dogs eat with their owners, sitting by the table.

“I don’t know how they do it [manage to have a café with cats behind the counter], but obviously I don’t care – and I hope you don’t either.”

Apart from this café what cafés or bars do you like in Prague?

The seven cats at Kavárna Kočičí have total freedom,  photo: Ian Willoughby

“If it was a couple of years ago before I had kids I would probably very happily say The Blue Light, which is a bar in Malá Strana where you can meet the whole of Prague’s night life.”

Including politicians.

“Including politicians, their advisers, interesting people, economist, artist – whoever.

“But because I have two children I prefer places where I can take them, where there is for instance a small playing area or where they have animals. This is the only place with animals, so that’s why I come here.”

Nora Fridrichová and her daughter at Stromovka,  photo: Ian Willoughby

Nora Fridrichová and I conclude our tour of “her Prague” at the city’s wonderful Stromovka Park. As she tells me while she looks after her three-month-old second daughter in the sweltering heat, Stromovka has become an important part of her life in recent years.

“I live near Stromovka and this is a place where you can basically do whatever you want. You can relax, you can do sport, you can have a party or you can play with your children.

“If you enter you wouldn’t believe for a second that you are basically in the centre of a city.

“This is the largest park in Prague. I would call it the lungs of Prague. I live on the hill to our left and I look at it from my balcony and it’s just a huge wood with the rest of Prague all around.

“If New York has Central Park or London has Hyde Park, we have Stromovka.”

I know you like running. Do you run here in Stromovka?

“Sometimes I do. Sometimes I go rollerblading. I also do it with my dog, which is very comfortable because there are a number of lakes and my dog can swim in the lake after sport with me. The only disadvantage is that I can’t swim.

“But also there’s a restriction since last year that dogs are not as much allowed to swim in the lakes as before. Because of the ducks that also swim in the lakes.

“And sometimes because of some dogs the ducks don’t feel so comfortable [laughs]. So the ducks and the dogs must somehow both fit into the lakes in a way that is appropriate and doesn’t harm either.”

Stromovka,  photo: Štěpánka Budková

I’ve been here sometimes when there have been a lot of people running and especially rollerblading. Does it ever get too crowded?

“Sometimes if you rollerblade down the hill you feel a bit anxious as to whether the people at the bottom will disappear in the next few seconds – otherwise you’ll hit them.

“But it’s probably not [too crowded], or maybe I have just been lucky. Sometimes I have even been running here in the morning and the funny thing was that there were always people. I’ve never been here alone.

“What I also like, which I have very often seen in the Middle East and I’m very happy that people are doing it in Prague, is that you can also do your own private grill party on the grass.

“You bring the food, the grill, and you prepare everything by yourself.”

Grilling is allowed? The public can legally grill here themselves?

“I’ve seen a number of groups of people doing it. So obviously they can, I think. Because the police walk around here the whole time. I’ve seen it.”

We’re here today with one of your two small daughters. Has your view of Stromovka, or even of Prague, changed since you had children?

Stromovka,  photo: Štěpánka Budková

“Definitely. I must admit I had never had a party in Stromovka before.

“After giving birth to my first daughter I was here almost daily, losing my pregnancy kilogrammes.

“Sometimes places come into your life because you have changed your life. And I was very happy to find this place.”