Prague was quick to get rid of reminders of the Soviet occupation, but some reminders remain
Tourists seeking communist history of the Czech Republic may have a hard time finding remnants outside of museums and bunker tours. This is because Czechs just about got rid of anything that reminded them of the occupation by the Soviet Union.
Statues and symbols were quickly removed, and street and metro stop names were changed.
Even before the end of 1989, the Stalin Monument, which used to be the largest statue of Stalin in Europe and stood in Letná Park, was blown up in 1962 after Stalin fell out of favor. It was eventually replaced by a giant metronome in 1991.
But not all communist structures and Soviet reminders were removed. Some have been remodeled, and some stand as a memory of the hard times. New plaques and monuments have been added since 1989 as well to mark where significant events happened.
While some cities have rounded up their communist-era statues into theme parks, the Czechs were reluctant to do even that. Many were melted down to create a new memorial at Lidice, a village that was destroyed in World War II.
1. In 1968, the Soviet Union moved troops into Czechoslovakia to prevent the liberalization in the country known as the Prague Spring. On Jan. 16, 1969, Jan Palach set himself on fire in protest against the communist invasion and to motivate others to resist the occupation. Today, the Jan Palach Memorial stands in front of the National Museum on Wenceslas Square to commemorate the young man for his bravery. There is also a plaque with Palach’s death mask at Charles University.
2. Nov. 17, 1989 marks the day of the beginning of the Velvet Revolution. Students gathered to remember the student Jan Opletal who died in an anti-Nazi movement in 1939. A memorial walk gathered at Opletal’s grave in Vyšehrad and was to end in Wenceslas Square, but police stopped the students before they got there. Police blocked the exits and reportedly 200 students were injured from beatings. This sparked many protests that lead to the end of the communist regime in the Czech Republic. The Velvet Revolution Memorial stands on Národní near the National Theatre. The hands projecting from the plaque are showing a “V,” which stands for victory and was a symbol of the movement.
3. The Czech Radio Building, on Vinohradská Street, has come under fire twice in its history. The first time was during the Prague Uprising, when Nazis tried to gain control of the building in 1945. Later, in 1968, Soviet forces took over the building after the Prague Spring. In both events, Czech citizens stood outside to defend the building. Two plaques hang outside of the building, and more are in the doorway.
4. The sci-fi-like TV tower is a communist era structure that is a prominent part of the Czech skyline. Like many of the communist-era building, locals hated the structure when it was first built. You can see the Žižkov Television Tower, now part of Tower Park Praha, from just about any part of Prague. The tower, standing at 216 meters, was built between 1985 and 1992. The observation deck at the top of the tower boasts a panoramic view of Prague. One of the unique characteristics of the tower are the giant babies crawling up and down the pillars. These were added in 2001 by famous Czech artist David Černý.
5. Hotel International, which has had many names over the years, is a great example of Stalinist architecture in Prague. The building was built between 1952 and 1956 and resembles many buildings built during the same time in Moscow. Its defining factor is the Stalinist tower, complete with a communist five-point star on top.
6. The beautiful Ball-Game Court was built in 1568 with an embellishment of delicate, white sgraffiti. The building, located in the Royal Garden, is not itself an example of communist remains, but communists did leave their mark when the building was reconstructed in 1952. After the reconstruction, some noticed that in one corner of the sgraffiti, there is a woman holding a symbol of a hammer and sickle, the communist symbol for the working class. Not many of these symbols remain, and one was even removed in 2010 in Brno. Other hammers and sickles can be seen in the World War II section of Olšany Cemetery (Olšanské hřbitovy) and at the Česká spořitelna bank entrance across from the Florenc metro stop.
7. Many of the communist era statues were removed or destroyed, but there are two popular ones that remain standing. The first is a statue of two cosmonauts waving. This is located outside of the metro station Háje, which used to be called Kosmonautů. The other statue, known as the Liberation Statue, sits in front of the main train station. It shows a Czech soldier embracing a Soviet Soldier showing how the Red Army came to Czechoslovakia’s rescue at the end of World War II. There are also examples of other strange statues built in the same era.
8. Hidden deep in the side streets of the neighborhood of Kampa is this peaceful tribute to John Lennon. The Lennon Wall was not only a memorial for Lennon after he was murdered, but a symbol for freedom and peace during the oppressive era of communism. Graffiti started appearing on the wall in the 1980s as a way for Czechs to express themselves.
9. There are many unique-looking buildings in Prague, but these three are good examples of communist era architecture. The Kotva Shopping Center, located in náměstí Republiky (Republic Square), was built between 1970 and 1975. It used to be the largest department store in Czechoslovakia but now stands as a regular, awkwardly shaped, shopping center. The other two buildings were designed by Czech architect, Karel Prager. He built the Old Parliament Building, which stands next to the National Museum, and he built the Komerční Banka, located near Arbesovo náměstí. Both buildings have the geometrical style that was so popular in the 1980s.
10. By now you probably understand that communists really didn’t know what they were doing architecture-wise. On the outskirts of many post-communist cities stand enormous concrete buildings. In Czech, these are called paneláks. Communists built these to house large amounts of people affordably, but they were usually built to substandard conditions and are just so very ugly.
11. The Memorial to the Victims of Communism stands right in front of the entrance to Petřín Park on Újezd Street. The seven statues show a man disintegrating and is supposed to symbolize the decaying of a person as they live under a totalitarian regime. The memorial was created in 2002 by Olbram Zoubek, and architects Jan Kerel and Zdeněk Hölzel.