Prague House in Brussels
A Tuesday night in Brussels and a crowd of well-dressed concertgoers await a recital of Dvořák and Martinů. The concert, staged in the city’s splendid Theatre du Vaudeville, is a joint English and Czech venture. One of the people behind the event is Lucie Čadilová, from the Brussels Prague House:
“This is an evening organized by the Prague House together with the Greater Manchester Brussels Office. We were in fact thrilled with the idea, because it meant that we could bring one of our best string quartets – the Škampa Quartet – to Brussels. The programme is a mixture of Bohuslav Martinů and Antonín Dvořák, and I hope people will like it.”
The Pražský dům, or Prague House, in Brussels organizes such events throughout the year to raise awareness of the Czech capital and its cultural offerings. Many of the screenings, exhibitions and concerts are held in the Prague House itself – which we’ll visit in a minute, but for this large-scale concert on Tuesday evening, a bigger space was needed. Radim Sedmidubský from the Škampa quartet is thrilled with the venue:
“We are playing in this wonderful theatre, which I would imagine is used for cabaret usually, but it is a wonderful setting for a classical music concert.”
And why are you here in Brussels to play a concert of Czech music?
“We were kindly invited for this special event in which Manchester and Prague come together. It is Manchester week here in Brussels, which falls, as it happens, during the Czech presidency of the European Union. So we are very glad to be here, for a very short time, unfortunately, only three days.”
And how does a Brussels audience compare to a Prague audience?
“Oh, they are very civilized. And very kind. And educated.”
The Prague House doesn’t just promote Czech culture in Brussels, it also lobbies at various European institutions on behalf of Prague. Right now, its head Lucie Čadilová has a packed schedule:
“We are busier than normal, but of course, during the half-year of our EU presidency we wanted to bring all the best things here. So, usually we maybe do have fewer things on, but this half-year we are really enjoying because we can bring much more here than normal.”
But now across town to the Prague House itself, in all its bricks and mortar. Pavel Dobeš gave me a tour:
“Right now we are standing in the gallery of Prague House, where we are showing people in Brussels – people from the Parliament and people from the Commission – pieces of culture from the Czech Republic, and more precisely, from Prague.”
And what is the current exhibition that you have on?
“The current exhibition is about Franz Kafka and his era in Prague.”
It looks like this once was a very beautiful merchant’s house or something like that, can you tell me a bit about the history of the building?
“Yes, so basically Prague House was bought by Prague in 2002 from a family called Van Stratum – they were dentists to the Belgian royal family. And we are actually standing in a type of building called a ‘maison de maitre’ in French, which is an old merchant’s building – this sort of house is quite common in Brussels, it comes from the end of the 19th century.”
The first floor of this Art Nouveau house has, for the length of the Czech Republic’s EU presidency, been rammed full of electronic equipment and converted into a Czech Radio Studio. Radiožurnál’s Pavel Novák showed me around:
“Now we are in Czech Radio’s studio in Prague House, we can record interviews here with members of the European Parliament, for example, and we have had people like the Czech Ambassador to Belgium and the Czech Ambassador to the EU here in this studio. And also we have had some people from NATO here. There is a very nice view from the windows, but just sometimes when the children from the nearby kindergarten are playing outside you can notice the smallest bit of noise. But the windows are good so the studio is sound-proofed against the majority of sounds which could get in here from outside.”
Perhaps the most striking room in the Prague House is the salon downstairs, which during my visit, was where employees of the Pražský dům were learning French. At other times, however, the drawing room is used for social gatherings, which can even spill over into outside. Pavel Dobeš again:
“When we have nice weather, usually during the spring or summer, we organize open-air concerts in this nice garden. It is a little bit bigger than indoors and so we can have more people here than inside the building. Secondly, we can see here a tree which was planted here by Cardinal Granville in 1515, it is this tree over here – and it will be more than 500 years old soon. So it is a nice piece of nature on Square Ambiorix and it is actually one of the 12 trees planted by this cardinal, and the only one left nowadays.”
The Prague House also has some rooms in which it can accommodate visiting Czechs. It can be found on Avenue Palmerston 16, Brussels.