Prague City Hall fines itself for Charles Bridge reconstruction debacle

Charles Bridge

After months of criticism, Prague City Hall has admitted mistakes were made in the reconstruction of Charles Bridge, one of the capital’s most significant landmarks. City Hall has fined itself some 54,000 crowns (just under 3,000 USD) for the shortcomings – a fine which has been branded by some as ‘meaningless’ and ‘ridiculous’.

It’s not that summery here in central Prague, but the fairly grey weather hasn’t really seemed to put off the hundreds of tourists here on the Charles Bridge. But as well as all of these tourists and the people selling pictures and playing music, I’m joined by one man who is altogether a regular on Charles Bridge – that’s Richard Biegel. Mr Biegel is on a committee chaired by the National Heritage Institute for Charles Bridge and overseeing the reconstruction work. So, first question Richard, is can you tell me how the reconstruction has been going in your opinion?

“Yes, it really will be my opinion because I can’t speak in the name of the institute, but just for this independent committee. In fact, I think there have been many problems. The committee was appointed because of all the criticism of the first phase of reconstruction, which has been affecting the balustrades and the surface of the bridge. And we have to say that the quality of the work, the quality of the project’s documentation and the rapidity of the reconstruction have been really questionable. And so this first stage cannot be really understood as a success.”

Photo: Kristýna Maková
So you said there were some problems with the workmanship, what were the problems with the workmanship?

“It is the quality of the stone-cutting and I think that the problem is that the firm who were chosen for the first phase were not really able to do the work in the necessary quality for a monument of this importance.”

Do you think that Prague City Hall is right to have fined itself for the way this first phase of reconstruction has played out?

Charles Bridge
“I think it is a little ridiculous. Fifty thousand crowns is nothing and it is just the City Hall paying the City Hall. So, it is ridiculous. I think the majority, if not all, of the problems were caused by the City Hall. This is the choice of the firm, the rapidity of the work, the arrogant way of treating the public. I think that it is really the City Hall which has to change its behaviour and 54,000 crowns, it’s ridiculous.”

In its inspection of the first phase of reconstruction last winter, the Czech Culture Ministry said the bridge had been ‘irreparably damaged’ by the shoddy repair efforts. The ministry considered, and then dropped, the idea of suing the firm behind the reconstruction – Mott MacDonald. With work still going on on the Charles Bridge, and a second phase of repairs to come, it is still not clear who, if anyone, will take the blame for the mistakes made so far. For now, it is the bridge’s owner, Prague City Hall, fining itself to the tune of 54,000 crowns for what is widely considered to be a catalogue of errors that have altered the bridge’s appearance.