Prague night mayor Jan Štern: Tourists often don’t realise “party zones” are residential areas

Jan Štern, photo: Ian Willoughby

Prague’s first “night mayor” Jan Štern is tasked with finding ways to alleviate problems caused by noise and rowdy behaviour. But what are the most effective means of keeping the city centre liveable for residents? And what needs to happen for Prague to shake off its international reputation as stag weekend central? I discussed those questions and more with Štern (35), beginning with which parts of the city have the worst problems with noise in the nocturnal hours.

Jan Štern,  photo: Ian Willoughby

Náplavka,  photo: Barbora Němcová
“The two, let’s say, epicentres of night life and also of the noise problems issue are Dlouhá St. and the surroundings and Náplavka.

“Those are the two places where we try to focus our attention and are trying to do something about.”

Do you have any interaction with bar owners or club owners in those places? It would seem to me that it’s maybe not in their interest to curb the behaviour of their clientele.

“I do, actually, and surprisingly they are very reasonable in this way.

“Especially on Dlouhá St. and this area. From the very beginning I’m in close contact with the owners there.

Dlouhá St.,  photo: Øyvind Holmstad,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY-SA 3.0
“They’ve even formed an association, it’s called Soho Prague, that represents them, which I think is really useful, because now we as a city have a partner to talk to and to try to find solutions with.

“Regarding the second part of your question, they know obviously that there are problems, there are problems with the people outside on the streets, there are problems with the fact quite a lot of neighbours are still living in this area and that it’s really difficult for them to live there.

“They know that if they don’t cooperate with us in solving those issues, and even applying some measures, it could lead to some strict regulations – and this is something they want to avoid.

“For them this is the worst case scenario – some regulation that will tell them they need to, I don’t know, close at 12 o’clock or something like that.”

Source: Prague City Tourism
There’s a Czech term noční klid, or night-time quiet. Is that hard to get across to visitors to Prague, that you have something called night-time quiet, when people are meant to keep it down?

“Definitely. That is one of the issues that we are now focusing on.

“Two or three weeks ago we came up with an information campaign that is aimed at tourists who are coming to Prague for the night life.

“The aim of the campaign is to inform tourists or visitors exactly about those rules that are natural for us, but maybe not for everyone who is coming to Prague.

“One of them is definitely is the quiet hour, let’s say, which is 10 pm.

“This is one of the pieces of information we are trying to get across to those visitors.

“The other is that it is prohibited to drink alcohol in several parts of Prague, especially in the city centre.

“And the third message is that even in, for example, Dlouhá St., they are still in a residential area.

Source: Prague City Tourism
“Because if you come there and you don’t know anything about it, it might appear to you that this is some designated party area.”

Also they may be coming from countries or cities where people don’t live so much in the centre of town, as in Prague.

“Exactly. So those are the three important messages that we are trying to get across through this campaign.

“And what is interesting also regarding this campaign is that, for example, the bars and the pubs in the Soho association are cooperating with us by displaying the visuals of this campaign.

“They have the print data and they print out the posters and leaflets for themselves and they put them in their windows and other places.

“This is exactly the kind of cooperation that I’m looking for.”

Is it the case that if people make excessive noise after 10 o’clock, or if they drink in public, they can be fined?

“Yes, definitely.

Prague,  photo: Barbora Němcová
“But the amount of people that are in Prague is so huge.

“It’s really one of the fourth or fifth most visited cities in Europe, so there are too many people and we cannot just throw this problem onto the police and tell them, Look, this is your problem and you’re not able to control the situation and to fine people.

“Because there is no capacity for the police to manage a situation like that.

“So we need to come up with other ideas, like for example this information campaign.”

Is the basic problem here that Prague, over the decades, has allowed itself to become known as a destination for stag groups, hen groups and above all cheap booze?

“We don’t want to only be a party city for the whole of Europe anymore.”

“Definitely – that’s the core of the problem. As you said, that was building for decades.

“And now it’s really difficult for the city to shift this image is something that will take us years...

“We need to focus on culture and other things that Prague can offer to tourists.

Photo: Lenka Žižková
“As well as campaigns like this, it’s a way to say to the world: We don’t want this kind of behaviour and we don’t want to only be a party city for the whole of Europe anymore.”

But do you think that any change is likely as long as booze remains so relatively cheap here?

“Obviously this is one important point, but I don’t think Prague is cheap for tourists any more.

“It was maybe in the ‘90s or the 2000s, but I don’t think it’s true that much anymore.

“Of course beer is still cheap. I don’t think that will change and I hope it won’t.

“Of course beer is still cheap. But I don’t think Prague is cheap for tourists any more.”

“But accommodation and other services are not that cheap anymore.

“I think it’s more about the image of a place where you are allowed to do more.

“You have access to drugs, you can party in a much more excessive way than in your hometown or your home place.

Beer party in Prague,  photo: Sebastian,  Flickr,  CC BY-NC 2.0
“This is more important than prices, because prices now are not that different, I don’t think.”

I’ve heard about stag group organisers who put different groups in different hotels, so they don’t fight each other, these groups are so rowdy. Travel agencies who are handling incoming tourism have, it seems to me, quite a bit of responsibility when it comes to noise and rowdy behaviour. Have you been able to work with these travel agencies?

“Well, we are trying to focus on the most excessive problems.

“For example, pub crawls – organised pub tours through the Prague centre during the night.”

Big groups?

“Big groups. They now have like 100 members, there is only one guide, and they go from one pub to another, so they spend most of the time outside on the streets, making noise.

“And this is exactly what we don’t want.

“For example, one of the measures that we agreed with the bars associated in Soho Prague was that they will all stop cooperating with those pub crawl organisers.

“So we are always trying to focus on the most extreme things and trying to come up with measures that are specifically directed at some issue that we are dealing with.”

“I don’t think it’s fair to let only the city centre to bear all the costs of mass tourism.”

What do you say to the idea that the city should encourage tourists to get out of the centre and go to places like Vršovice, Letná, Karlín?

“Yes, I think this is one of the things we need to do.

“Because obviously the centre is totally overwhelmed and it’s really difficult now for people to live here.

Vyšehrad,  photo: Stanislav Jelen CC BY-SA 3.0
“On one hand, I understand that people who like to go to places like Vyšehrad, for example, appreciate those places because there are not so many tourists.

“They might be like, Why spill the secret [laughs]? Why not keep it for us?

“On the other hand, I don’t think it’s fair to let only the city centre to bear all the costs of mass tourism.

“So I think this is definitely a good way to spread the people and to make the situation, especially for the city centre, more acceptable.”

Do you have the sense that a lot of Czech people wouldn’t like to come into the city centre because of the noise and crowds and tourists?

“Yes, definitely. Before I became night mayor I didn’t go to the city centre.

“Before I became night mayor I didn’t go to the city centre. Why would I go there?”

“For me, when I was younger it was never an option – why would I go there?

“I had other places – Vinohrady, Žižkov, Újezd – where I liked to go out.

“But on the other hand, I think it’s very dangerous to give up on the city centre.

Újezd,  photo: ŠJů,  CC BY-SA 3.0
“It goes for every city in the world – the city centre is the core, the heart, of the city and if you say, OK, let’s give it up and no-one will live here and it will be only for tourists, for their parties, then this will damage the city as a whole.

“And even though I don’t live in the city centre and I don’t usually go there, it’s an idea that I don’t like – that we will just give up.

“I really like the idea that we are trying to reclaim the city centre a little bit for the people that are still living there, to allow them to stay there.”

We’ve been talking about the situation on the streets. But increasingly I’ve been hearing about problems with noise in buildings. Because of Airbnb-type accommodation services people are complaining that people are partying in their buildings. Is there anything you can do about that?

Photo: OuiShare,  Flickr,  CC BY-SA 2.0
“This Airbnb situation is definitely a problem, but it’s not part of my agenda.

“But what the city is trying to do is we are trying to come to some kind of agreement with the Airbnb organisation, because I think it has to start there.

“There needs to be agreement about some rules that need to be applied.

“All the people who are renting through Airbnb, which is fine, I have no problem with it… there needs to be some rules, there needs to be some responsibility for the noise and for the nuisance and for the problems it might be causing.

“So that’s where we are now. We are trying to come to an agreement as a city with Airbnb.

“I really like the idea that we are trying to reclaim the city centre a little bit for the people that are still living there, to allow them to stay there.”

“And this is one of the points that definitely need to be part of the agreement – how to avoid those kinds of situations where you have many flats in one building that are rented through Airbnb for huge groups, where there are like 20 people staying in a small apartment and all the neighbours are suffering the consequences of that.”

You have been the night mayor of Prague since the beginning of the year. How have you been finding the position?

“I’m really glad that Prague decided to come up with this concept, because I think it’s something that suits Prague.

Jan Štern,  photo: Archive of the City of Prague Museum
“And for me personally the work has been really interesting and I like the idea that it’s something new, that we’re building the agenda at the moment.

“That’s what’s really interesting and exciting for me.”

Has anything surprised you in your time in the job?

“It’s surprised me that it’s sometimes quite difficult for the city to make some changes.

“If you want to do something and change something and come up with some measure, it’s really difficult for the city to conclude it.

“I’m not used to that. I came from the outside and in my world, where I used to live until the beginning of this year [in venue management], everything was much faster and much more direct.

“So maybe this [laughs].”