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Czeching out Prague
by Mad Dog
The public transportation is efficient,
the pay phones have a mind of their own, and the language is unusual in that it requires
you to use at least one "sh" sound in every word.
It took 43 years and four major theme parks but finally Disney
got it right. After the battle they had in Paris ("These waiters are friendly,
Im never coming back here") and the cultural differences they had to overcome
in Tokyo ("What do you mean I cant get Little Mermaid sushi?"), they
finally built a cobblestoned theme park filled with fairy tale Gothic spires, grandly
baroque exteriors, and walled-in castles butget thisthey played it smart and
didnt tell anyone they were behind it!
Yes, its called Prague, and its pure marketing genius. But go now before they
blow it by opening Wenceslas Mountain, the Rudy II Toot Beer Hall, and Mozartland. Hey,
nothing good lasts forever.
Prague is a fascinating city. Its
filled with the type of beautiful buildings the Germans tried to exterminate in World War
II under Hitlers policy of Architectural Cleansing but didnt get to because
they got sidetracked by the cheap pivo (beer) and plentiful klobása, then
ran out of time before the buzzer rang and they had to take "National Reconstruction
for $12 billion, Alex."
In Prague, or Praha has they call it
because they want you to think theyve laughed at least once in the last 50 years,
the public transportation is efficient, the pay phones have a mind of their own, and the
language is unusual in that it requires you to use at least one "sh" sound in
every word, with extra points if you can fit in three.
Contrary to what youve been told,
English is not widely spoken in Prague. German is. Except for the signs on stores, pubs,
and casinos that say "Nonstop", meaning theyre open 24 hours a day. And,
of course, at the McDonalds and KFCs which dot the city, proving once again that we
export nothing but our very best.
I actually heard four different rocked-up versions of "Hes Got The Whole World
In His Hands" sung in Czech. Really. Is it any surprise Mozart concerts are so
|| Prague is filled
with tourists, bathrooms that cost you 4 koruna (an extra 10 if you want toilet paper),
and more people dressed like Mozart than a masquerade ball in Salzburg. These Mozart
wanabees can be seen all over Old Town Square wearing waistcoats, embroidered knickers,
and white wigs which they buy cheap from the estates of deceased London judges, cutting
off the split ends so they get that "just finished composing" look. This leaves
the poor children real confused. Its as bad as having Santa on every corner at
Christmas"Which is the real Mozart, Mommy?"
These guys (and girls) arent out there making a fashion statement, theyre
promoting classical music performances. Prague is to classical music what Amsterdam is to
sex. In most cities you walk down the street and are handed flyers offering 99-cent shrimp
cocktails or live sex acts, usually unnatural but always highly entertaining. The sex
acts, that is. In Prague they shove flyers in your hand trumpeting the "Best Mozart
in Town" or "Delightfully Dazzling Dvorak". Equally unnatural, but not
quite as entertaining.
You have to understand that the music in
Prague is, well, unusual. The first song I heard was in the cab that whisked me away from
the train station and it was Flashdance. Considering how easily I let the cabbie rip me
off youd think hed have played something more to my liking. The woman I rented
a room from was at least 75 years old and I heard her radio playing the Beatles.
Theres a death metal band in Prague that plays all acoustic instruments. And I
actually heard four different rocked-up versions of "Hes Got The Whole World In
His Hands" sung in Czech. Really. Is it any surprise Mozart concerts are so popular?
No one looks up in Prague, which is odd
since the architecture is incredible. Theres Romanesque, baroque, Gothic, Art
Nouveau, even cubist buildings throughout the city. The cornices and rooftops are
invariably ornate, yet no one looks at them. The young people are busy checking out each
other. The tourists are checking out the crystal, marionettes, and painted eggs for sale.
And the older Czechs are staring straight ahead in the belief that if they smile the
communists will show up and take the country back. Of course they might actually be
rooting for that so the tourists wont be allowed in anymore.
The real reason they call Prague the Eastern Paris is because of the Eiffel Tower.
Thats right, theres one sitting on Petrín Hill overlooking Castle Prague.
|| It was Easter
weekend when I was there, the biggest tourist time of the year in Prague. Well, along with
every other weekend. Why? Its beautiful, its unique, its cheap, and
its not the yucky old Cote dAzur again. Besides, what other city has a huge
metronome on a hill overlooking the Vltava River? Where else can you find great chlebícky
(open-faced sandwiches that are practically free), good beer thats cheaper than a
pack of gum in the U.S., and the worst coffee this side of your washing machine effluence?
Prague, the Eastern Paris.
thats what they call the city. Im not sure who "They" are, but it
says so right there in the guide books. Face it, every city loves to compare itself to
another. San Francisco is Baghdad by the Bay, probably because of all the camels running
around. In Havana they swore that Ave. 5ta is patterned after Fifth Avenue in New
York, but the only similarity I could see was that theyre both paved. And my Prague
guidebook proudly says that "jugglers and musicians brighten the citys
evenings, again offering a typical Parisian image."
Jugglers in Paris? The only juggler I saw
there was the waiter bringing me my crepe, wine, and water after waiting until I was about
to pass out so hed had plenty of time to spit in them. And the only musicians there
were gypsy accordion players in the Metro whod just taken up their instruments the
week before. The truth is, the real reason they call Prague the Eastern Paris is because
of the Eiffel Tower.
Thats right, theres one sitting
on Petrín Hill overlooking Castle Prague. Its a small-scale version built for the
Prague Industrial Exhibition in 1891 which has 299 stairs you can climb for 20 koruna, or
about 60 cents. I didnt hike up the real Eiffel Tower, but I did climb this one. And
why not? It has way fewer steps, there was no line to get in, it has more TV and microwave
antennas on it, and it has a much better view of Prague. Hey, if Im nothing Im
a smart tourist.
Smart enough not to buy into their marionette
craze. Prague is into marionettes. Its a long tradition that I suspect goes back to
the days when Moscow pulled their strings. While in Prague you can take in a classic Czech
marionette show, see marionettes performing Yellow Submarine, and even catch them doing
Don Giovanni, which is the height of Prague-dom since it combines puppets with Mozart,
something you dont see nearly often enough. Now if theyd only put some mouse
ears on those things theyd have a sure fire hit on their hands.
©1998 Mad Dog Productions, Inc. All
These columns appear in better newspapers across the country. So far
the Prague Post isn't one of them.