Vaclav Havel is the only sitting president of a country who is a published playwright, I believe. His one-act plays give a humorous and chilling view of his experience during Communism. Letters to Olga is a collection of letters to his wife from prison during the 1980s, that reveal his life at its most mundane and extraordinary.
For chronicles of everyday life under Communism, Milan Kundera's novels are illuminating. The Joke, The Unbearable Lightness of Being and The Book of Laughter and Forgetting are among the best.
Jaroslav Hasek's The Good Soldier Svejk is a WWI portrait of rebellion through lunacy. The best defense against oppression is humor; thus the bumbling Svejk became the country's literary mascot.
The list goes on. If you've got the time, other books worth reading are Cowards,by Josef Skvorecky, Closely Watched Trains,by Bohumil Hrabel, and The Ship Named Hope by Ivan Klima.
A Report on the Party and the Guests, 1966. Best known for being "banned forever" by the communist government after it was finished. A group of picnickers go to a fancy banquet on an elegant estate. The "guests" turn on each other. A biting analysis of Czech society under Communism, and the struggle of the individual within society. The New York Times voted it as one of the best films of the year, declaring the film "an extraordinary allegory... evocative of Kafka or Dostoevsky."
Closely Watched Trains,1966. Based on the fabulous book by Bohumil Hrabil. Follows a young man on his first job in a small town railroad station. An endearing, quirky look at his subsequent frustrations, erotic episodes, and adventures. Won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Picture.
The Firemen's Ball,1967. A standout of the Czech New Wave. Directed by Milos Forman, the film is a black comedy of craziness and anarchy. A village celebrates both the retirement of its fire chief and a surreal beauty pageant. A caustic parable about life under Stalinist rule. This was Forman's last Czech film before emigrating to make "Cuckoo's Nest."
Kolya,1996. A simply wonderful film and a love letter to Prague-- "gem of a film" (New York Times). Oscar- and Golden Globe-winner for Best Foreign Film. A gruff, old and confirmed bachelor encounters a six-year old Russian boy stranded in Prague by his mother. Shaded with political overtones, the bachelor is a talented musician who can only play funerals due to his frank criticism of the government, and his brother has emigrated.
Music, literature and beer. Mozart, Kafka and Budweiser. At one time each wended its way through the narrow streets of Prague.
Wolflgang Amadeus Mozart's Don Giovanni premiered in Prague in 1787, with Mozart at the piano conducting the orchestra. The opera is performed every year in the hall where it first played. Franz Kafka, the influential author of The Trial and The Castle,spent most of his short life in Prague.
A Kafka museum and walking tour recently opened in the city, recounting the dark, strange life of the author. Budweis, the original Budweiser beer born in 1840, is still a favorite in Prague pubs. The Budweis brewery sold Anheuser-Busch North American rights to the name a hundred years ago. The American behemoth has fought with mixed success to stop the Czech brewery from using the Budvar name in Europe and elsewhere. Once you taste the original, you'll never want to drink the imitation again.
A wide variety of extraordinary beer is just one of the many delights awaiting the visitor to Prague. A city once cloaked in Communism, Prague, capital of the Czech Republic, has now been "discovered" by the rest of the world.
Prague is now a city on a new threshold. Jazz, an improvisational musical style that was secretly embraced during the dark years of Communist domination, is lovingly played in small clubs all over the city. The arts scene in Prague is exploding; theater, sculpture, painting, music: the city holds all these treasures, waiting to be discovered. History is simply repeating itself.
Prague's geographic position as the crossroads of Europe has made it a magnet for foreign trade since before recorded history. By the Middle Ages, Prague was a thriving city, larger than Paris or London. Under the reign of the wise and cultured Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV, Prague experienced a golden age. Charles University, the first European university, was founded. Religious upheaval was no stranger to Prague, a city filled with critical thinkers. Jan Hus, the first rector of the new university, was a reforming preacher who was ultimately executed for alleged heresy in 1415. A statue of this martyred figure stands in the center of Old Town Square (Staromestke Namesti). Doomed revolts against established powers would occur throughout the history of the Czech people.
In the 16th Century the Austrian Hapsburgs took over the Czech lands, beginning a rule that would last for 400 years. One of the more enlightened rulers was Rudolph II, who brought the soul of the Renaissance to Prague with his love of science and art. Within the castle grounds, a small row of houses still line Golden Lane (Zlaty Ulice). It was here that Emperor Rudolph employed dozens of alchemists, puffing at bellows, trying to change lead into gold. Soon after his death in 1618, a Protestant revolt led to the 30 Year's War. Bullet holes from the street skirmishes can still be seen today on the entrance towers of the Charles Bridge. The fortunes of the city declined after the loss of the war.
The 18th and 19th century saw a time of renewal in national and civic pride. Gothic buildings, grand museums and theaters were built. But the Czechs were still not masters of their destiny. Not until the end of the Great War in 1918, did Czechoslovakia finally give birth to its first independent Republic. But it was short-lived. World War II brought German occupation, followed by four decades of Communist rule. A brief liberal stirring within the Czechoslovak Communist party in 1968 known as the "Prague Spring," was crushed by the invasion of Soviet tanks. In 1989, the Velvet Revolution (so named because it was essentially a bloodless battle) finally ousted the communist government.
The Czechs recently led yet another successful revolt against their former oppressors. At the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, the Czech hockey team defeated the favored Russians 1-0. You can bet the narrow, winding streets of Prague were filled with a proud, raucous people.
An award-winning documentary film, My Prague Spring by David Mrazek, is an intimate, wry portrait of a country, and one family, grappling with radical change in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
The fillmaker, David Mrazek,
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