My Prague – Piotrek Gawlinski
Piotrek Gawlinski is a young Polish tour guide who has been happily based in the Czech capital for several years. Indeed, his love of the city inspired him to start Lost and Found in Prague, an excellent photoblog showcasing rare images from the pre-1989 period. We begin our tour of “Piotrek Gawlinski’s Prague” a short distance from his Vršovice home on the terrace of Vinohrady’s Gröbe Villa, known locally as Grebovka.
“I spend a lot of time here. I like many Prague views or panoramas. I recommend to my clients the views from Petřín hill, from Strahov monastery, from Letná. From Riegrovy sady, because there’s a beautiful view of town, from the right bank to the left side.
“But this terrace under the Moritz Gröbe Villa, which is named after the industrial magnate who founded it at the end of the 19th century… the view from here of Nusle, of Michle and the south of the city is, I can say, my private panorama.
“That’s why I like it. Also right now we are standing above a great vineyard here.”
And this vineyard is still producing wine?
“Yes. It’s a special place. People believe, and I believe, that it was founded by the great emperor Charles IV on those slopes. Right now it’s a normal vineyard that produces wine.
“We’ve got a wine festival here, a burčák festival before the wine festival.
“If it comes to sights and places here you can there. There’s a great wooden bower. Also there’s a great pavilion…”
There are actually two places here where you can go for a coffee or a glass of wine.
“Yes. The second is transformed from a pavilion that used to be a shooting range and a bowling club.”
Now it’s very popular for weddings. Every time I come by here I seem to see a wedding.
“Yes, it’s very popular for weddings, gatherings, corporate events. But sometimes it’s a very cosy, calm place where you can relax. And if something is happening there, you can take a beer or wine to the terrace here and relax.”
Whose shooting gallery was it? What kind of club was it?
“We need to bear in mind that this was a public park from 1906 – the Gröbe family sold it to Vinohrady. Then I guess it was a place for the people, for the bourgeois from the district – it was simply a leisure centre for the locals.”
I guess today property around here is quite expensive – this is one of the more desirable areas to live in Prague.
“I guess so. I think on the right bank we can still observe the process of gentrification. Žižkov is changing right now. Vinohrady was always a place of good accommodation and it’s plus-minus still the same.
“But when it comes to Vršovice there are many places that we can easily call hipsters’ places, especially on Krymská street – people have started calling it the Prague Kreuzberg, like in Berlin.”
Staying in what Gawlinski refers to as Prague’s right bank, our next stop is in the rough and ready but always lively Žižkov district. Run by the young Pole’s Slovak pal Rado Turko, Nano Antik is a small antiquarian store jam-packed with everything from African sculptures to funky lamps to old vinyl.
“This place is special when it comes to artefacts. This is a great meeting place of many interesting and inspiring people.”
What kind of people come here?
“Artists, actors, celebrities even. But most importantly regular, normal people like you and me come here to just talk or sell or buy something.
“With every item, with everything they bring and take, there’s a story.”
There’s an amazing array of stuff here, from lampshades to old records. What particular stuff interests you in this shop?
“It used to be the Pragensia section here. That was my favourite, because of the great photographic books about Prague…”
Which you used for Lost and Found.
“Which I used for the Lost and Found blog site… I’m not a collector but I like the part of Nano Antik which is a section of porcelain figurines, especially in the Expo ‘58 style, the Brussels style.
“You know the story – Czechoslovakia won the biggest prize at the 1958 Expo in Brussels. I especially like the figurines of animals in that style.”
“I also like the paintings here. I like that Švankmajer stuff…”
What do you mean, Švankmajer stuff?
“I mean the collages with the human bodies [points to one on wall].”
This was done by Jan Švankmajer?
“Yes, it was done by Švankmajer. That’s an original. And actually Švankmajer, the great director, visits the shop.
“I like the chandeliers, especially from the communist era. For example, this one [points to chandelier hanging from ceiling], with the glass balls. The owner, Rado Turko, hates it because it reminds him of his teenage years. But I like it – it’s very inspiring stuff.”
This place is by Akropolis in Žižkov. Are you a Žižkov fan?
“Sort of. I don’t live in Žižkov but I’m very often here in this area, at Nano Antik, Akropolis, Riegrovy sady.
“For me the most important feature of this district is the pride of the inhabitants – the pride that they are Žižkovians.”
What is a Žižkovian – somebody who drinks a lot? How would you characterise a Žižkov resident?
“It’s still changing. The image of Žižkov was very, very bad in the past. It was the same with Karlín or Libeň.
“There is still a certain atmosphere, let’s say an underground atmosphere, connected to those areas of Prague, but they are completely safe.”
As a professional tour guide, Piotrek Gawlinski probably knows far more bars and cafés than most Prague residents. Of the hundreds upon hundreds of choices, he suggests we go for a drink at Café Montmartre on Řetězová in the Old Town. Dark and cosy and with a great curved ceiling, it first opened its doors in 1911 and was frequented by several of the city’s greatest writers.
“It was one of the first places in Prague that I liked, from the very beginning.
“There’s an interesting story behind the place. It was established by Josef Waltner in the year 1911. It was an interesting period of Prague history, shortly before WWI and shortly after the big time for Cubism. It was actually a Cubist sanctuary, here at Montmartre.
“There was a pulpit in the middle for the leaders, for the artists. They organised not only lectures or debates but also ritual masses.
“The interior now is completely different. That’s another part of the story – the Prague that is lost.
“But imagine in the middle a big Cubist sculpture of a naked Eve and the young poets could cry on the breast of the Eve after breaking up with girls or whatever. So crazy times and beautiful people.”
Like who? Who used to come here?
“Franz Kafka, Franz Werfel, Max Brod, Meyrink, Bass, the famous actor Vlasta Burian.
“And obviously Jaroslav Hašek. He used to sleep here after the owners kicked him out of different bars, pubs, whorehouses even. The owner Waltner always allowed him to stay.”
It’s interesting you say that this place isn’t in its original form – I always thought that it was, because it looks extremely old.
“It looks extremely old and I like it, but it’s different, completely different. I kind of like the fact they didn’t renew it, because it would be a museum of Czech Cubist artists, for example. That’s the main advantage of the place.”
If you go to Cubist café at the House of the Black Madonna, which I believe is the only one in the world, it looks nice but it’s kind of sterile.
“Yes, it’s a nice place, but with a completely different atmosphere.”
Apart from here, what cafés or bars do you like in Prague?
“This list is very, very long. Of cafés, the old ones, there are a lot of interesting places on Národní třída – from Louvre, to Slavia to Adria.
“We have many different new fresh modern cafés. Of the newest, I like Bistro 8 in Holešovice. I like cafés and bistros where I live in Vršovice. It depends on the day, on the mood.
“I like typically beer places. From the oldest pubs, like U zlatého tygra…”
Which is around the corner from here.
“Yes. And a few steps from here is At the Three Roses, U Tří růží, one of the freshest and newest microbreweries in Prague. In my opinion it’s a great place to taste beer in a completely new way.
“That’s why I like the multi-tap pubs, with a variety of beers, and beer shops like Beergeek and Galerie piva in Vršovice. A lot of places.”