New Prague museum transports visitors back to 1970s and ‘80s Czechoslovakia

A new museum opened this week in Prague’s Kotva department store, depicting the way of life in 1970s and ‘80s Czechoslovakia. Called Retro Museum Prague, it takes the visitors through a typical communist-style apartment but also explores the designs and trends of the era.

The creators of the new Retro Museum Prague could hardly find a more suitable venue than the Kotva department store, built in the first half of the 1970s. The Brutalist building, designed by the architects Věra and Vladimír Machonin, has since been declared a national cultural monument.

Now its entire fourth floor, covering an area of over 2,000 square meters, has been transformed into a museum, which literally transports the visitors back in time, to the last two decades of Communist Czechoslovakia.

Photo: Retro Museum Prague

The museum takes the visitors through a typical communist-style apartment to show them how the vast majority of people lived and the objects of daily use they were surrounded by, from glassware and porcelain sets to hygiene products, toys, and household appliances.

There is also a typical school classroom with a portrait of the then president Gustav Husák or a shop sporting goods with authentic packaging. Emma Sommerová, the exhibition’s curator, explains how they put together the entire collection, featuring around 12,000 items:

“Most of the items in the Retro Museum are donations. A few years ago, we organised a Retro exhibition at Prague’s Dancing House, which was a great success, and since then we started collecting the items with the idea of starting a museum.

“Most of them were amassed over the past four years. What is also important to say is that what you see here is about half of the overall amount we have collected.”

Photo: Retro Museum Prague

While the Retro Museum definitely draws on the feeling of nostalgia felt by the older generation of Czechs who grew up in the era, its director Robert Vůjtek says young people and foreign visitors should also get something out of it.

Apart from showcasing the objects of daily life, the museum also presents how people in the era of the so-called normalization dressed, what they ate and how they spent their free time.

It also includes a section dedicated to the role of the dissent and communist propaganda. One of the items on display is a bugging device used by the communist-era secret police:

Photo: Retro Museum Prague

“The bugging device looked like a lighter so that the foreign guests wouldn’t notice anything. The lighter was functional and was connected with a short cable with the underground of the Jalta Hotel, where there was a switchboard. Almost every room in the Jalta Hotel was bugged at the time.”

Retro Museum Prague has also launched a public crowdfunding campaign where people can contribute towards its completion. They can buy a ticket or purchase one of the many rewards, which include, among other things, the original Kotva saleswomen’s aprons worn in the 1970s and ‘80s.