Where to Find Traces of Prague’s Communist Past

Prague’s Communist past is evident everywhere in the city. You may not notice the communist legacy on first sight but once you know what to look for it is easy to find Soviet reminders. After the Velvet Revolution, the city was quick in removing reminders of the Soviet occupation but many are still there. Communist architectural highlights are scattered across Prague. They are an acquired taste and you either like or loathe them, the Zizkov television tower is one of them. As are the ‘panelaky’, the prefabricated apartment blocks on the outskirts of Prague.

Soviet related statues and building that were destroyed and other statues and memorials that are still present in the streets of Prague.

communist past

Prague’s Communist Past Wiped Out

The easiest things to wipe out were the names of metro stations. After the Velvet Revolution, thirteen stations changed names. Andel on line B was known as Moskveska, named after Moscow. Vysehrad on line C was formerly Gottwaldova, named after the leader of the Communist Party. Click here for the full list.

1. Blowing up a complete monument was a more arduous task. Yet, the Stalin Monument was blown up with 800 kilos of explosives in 1962. Read here about the monument that once stood on Letna Hill.

2. Removing a statue is not difficult either. That is exactly what happened to the statue of Soviet Marshal Ivan Konev on namesti Interbrigady, in the Bubenec district. He led the liberation of the Czech capital in 1945 but he also led the 1968 Soviet invasion of what was then Czechoslovakia. The statue was removed in 2020.

3. The statue of Lenin on October Revolution Square, now called Vitezne namesti in the Dejvice district, was taken down in 1990. It was replaced by a monument commemorating the Czechoslovak soldiers who fought in the Second World War.

4. Demolishing a complete hotel was no problem, bulldozers simply did the job. Hotel Praha was a prestige object of the Communist Party. It welcomed illustrious guests like Nicolae Ceaucescu, Erich Honecker and Leonid Brezhnev to name but a few. Read here about Hotel Praha. Demolished in 2013.

communist past

5. Closing a museum and storing the collection is not a problem either. That is exactly what happened with the Klement Gottwald Museum (Gottwald was the first communist president) which opened at 29 Rytirska Street in 1954. This neo-renaissance building is now home to the Precosia Flagship store. The Lenin Museum at Hybersnka Street 7 was also closed dowm. The collections are in the possession of the National Museum and now, after more than thirty years, the time has come to display the exhibits
6. Taking money out of circulation is also easy. Until the end of October 1989, new banknotes were issued with the portrait of Gottwald on the 100 Kr notes. A month later when the regime fell, these banknotes were withdrawn.

7. The sales of Tuzex coupons ceased in June 1992. These coupons were an alternative currency with which to buy hard currency. They were the only means of payment in the Tuzex stores that sold Western products.

communist past

8. The Transgas building at Vinohradska 8 was demolished in 2017 after failed attempts to save the building as it was a prime example of brutalist architecture. The building was the administrative centre of Prague gasworks. A 1,030 km long gas pipeline transported gas from the USSR to countries in Western Europe. To monitor this, a telemetry control panel, equipped with the latest computer technology, was needed. Built in 1974, the transgas building was the control and dispatcher centre. It consisted of a dark grey cubic building of reinforced concrete with steel frames and a heavy insulating façade covered by small cobble stones. All this was needed to isolate a pair of General Electric computers from vibration. This cubic building was surrounded by commercial floors on two levels, connected by stairs with railings made of gas pipes tubes. Office buildings will be built on the site of the Transgas building.

9. The CETIN building is earmarked for demolition. It was built as the Central Telecommunication Building and after the Velvet Revolution, it became headquarters of major telecom operators. With a tower of 96 metres and a roof 85 metres, it was the tallest building in Czechoslovakia, and the tallest telecom building in Europe at that time. It was considered a ‘high tech’ building because of the latest technology that was used. The building consisted of the characteristic tower, halls filled with communications technology, plenty of office space and a cafeteria. Until 2022, it will be the headquarters CETIN telecommunications company.
Address, at the crossing Olsanska and Jana Zelivskeho streets in the Zizkov district

communist past

Memorials to Remind of a Destructive Regime

When walking through the city centre, you will stumble upon statues and reminders of Prague’s communist past. Although many were removed or destroyed, the following are silent mementos.

1. The Memorial to the Victims of Communism stands at the bottom of Petrin Hill in Ujezd Street. Seven bronze men, one behind the other, stand on a flight of steps. Only the first figure is intact, the others decay with each step up. The men symbolize Dark Times, the effect the totalitarian regime had on the lives of the Czech people. The memorial was created in 2002.

2. Liberation Statue, two soldiers kissing each other is located in the park in front of Prague Main Station. It was erected to commemorate the liberation of Czechoslovakia by the Russian Army in 1945. The tall soldier is the Russian and the small, submissive one is the Czechoslovak. The statue in Prague is a copy. The original is in Ceska Trebova (where it still is).

3. Statue of waving cosmonauts, Vladimir Remek and Russian Aleksei Gubarev, located outside metro station Háje, which used to be called Kosmonautu. Remek was the first and only Czechoslovak in space.

communist past

4. John Lennon Wall, Velkoprevorske namesti at Kampa Island, a memorial to Lennon and also a symbol of freedom. The ever-changing graffiti appeared on the wall in 1980 and is still there.

5. Velvet Revolution Memorial, Narodni Street, a small bronze plaque of hands forming a ‘V’ which stands for victory. The memorial commemorates the beginning of the Velvet Revolution in 1989. A large crowd of mainly students went from Vysehrad to Wenceslas Square to mark the 50th anniversary of Nazi occupation. At Narodni, the riot police confronted them. Two hundred students were injured from severe beatings. This sparked a series of protests which lead to the end of the communist regime in Czechoslovakia.

6. The Jan Palach Memorial stands in front of the National Museum on Wenceslas Square. It commemorates Jan Palach, a student who set himself on fire on 16 January 1969 in protest against the communist invasion and to motivate others to resist the occupation. There is another Monument to Jan Palach at the pylon of the New Building of the National Museum; a bronze sculpture called The Flame.

communist past

7. ‘Of one’s Own Volition’ is a monument under Nusle Bridge in Folimanka Park: a lamp post that shines up in memory of all who committed suicide by jumping off the bridge, suicides covered up by the communist regime.

8. Dablice Cemetery on the northern outskirts of Prague where the Communist regime buried their victims in unmarked mass graves. Family was never notified. Today, gravestones mark the burial pits, some with names others blank. The bodies have never been exhumed and were never identified. The youngest victims were the babies born to female prisoners.

9. At Bartolomejska Street 4, the former headquarters of the Secret Police, a row of socialist-realist figures depicting workers and soldiers. Today, it is still a police station.

10. Kofola is a soft drink invented as an alternative to Coca-Cola which was available in Communist days, but expensive. Kofola is still popular today and available on tap from restaurants and on bottle in supermarkets or other retail shops.

11. Three Sculptures by Zdenek Nemecek (1931-1989)
Just behind the Strahov Stadium stands the sculpture Poselstvi, handing over the relay baton. In front of the Tipsort Arena in Vystaviste Holesovice, there is a sculpture of hockey players and in the Folimanka park in front of the sports hall a basketball player who is about to score.

communist past

Almost Invisible Communist Reminders

Scattered all over Prague are subtle reminders of a destructive regime: hammer and sickle, the symbol of the working class, and murals depicting happy peasants and factory workers.

1. The Ball Game Court in the Royal Gardens was reconstructed in the 1950s, the communist left their mark: Among mythological gods is a woman who unfolds a scroll with a hammer and a sickle and the letters ‘ČSR’, which stand for Czechoslovak Republic. She sits on the roof, the tenth from the right.

2. Mural in the hall of Smichov Station depicts at the two far ends two border guards with a knife and rifle keeping a close eye on the happy population harvesting.

3. Mural Andel Metro station commemorating the friendship between Moscow and Prague. The station was originally called Moskevska (Moscow) and a sister-station to Moscow’s metro station named after Prague. The mural is in the vestibule at the northern exit / entrance

4. More hammer and sickle symbols can be found at the Olsany cemetery in section VIII-X, where victims of communism are buried, with tombstones mostly in uniform granite but not in tight uniform rows as in most cemeteries where victims of wars are buried. Their graves are criss-cross and show the failure of communism: we are all equal in life but not in death. This is contrary to the Christian idea: in death we are all equal.

5. Mural reliefs on either side of the entrance to the Police Station at 98 Korunni Street show factory workers consulting a work sheet.

communist past

Communist Prestige Objects

Many buildings that still stand today in Prague, were meant to impress and enhance Soviet superiority. True to say, some of these projects were useful, like the construction of the metro network others were useless as was the Zizkov Television Tower meant to jam Western broadcast but become operational after the Fall of Communism.

1. Zizkov Television Tower soars 97 metres into the air. Meant as a jammer for Western broadcast it was a bit of a failure as the tower became operational after the Velvet Revolution. Ten giant babies sculptures crawl up the sides of the television tower, they are the work of the Czech artist David Cerny.

2. Nusle Bridge Is spans the Nusle valley and is an engineering feat. The bridge is supported by four 42-metre tall pylons. To test the strength, sixty tanks and trucks loaded with sand and gravel drove backwards and forwards: the bridge passed all test with flying colours. The view from the bridge across the valley towards the centre of Prague is breathtaking.

3 Prague Metro is a spitting image of the Moscow metro. Several stations are true show pieces with murals and mosaics, all promoting Soviet ideology. Read here about the Prague metro as a tourist attraction.

communist past

4. Hotel International a prime example of Stalinist architecture crowned by a five-pointed star that used to be red, a revolutionary symbol, then and now a luxury hotel. Read here about the history of the hotel.

5. The Palace of Culture, now named Congress Centre, stands near Nusle Bridge. In Communist days it was used for exhibition, concerts and Communist Party meetings. It was equipped with the latest technology (in the 1980s). It had 2300 rooms spread over six floors. More about the Palace of culture here.

5. The panelaky, prefabricated blocks of flats, were not so much a prestige object as a necessity. These blocks of uniform flats on the outskirts of the city provided housing for the majority of Prague’s population. Read here the story of panelaky

communist past

6. Fall out shelters are invisible but there is a network of shelters under Prague’s pavements. They were built in the 1950s and 1960s and never used. They have their own electricity, water supply and ventilation systems. The most important are the shelters in the metro tunnels where 300,000 people can hold and the Folimanka shelter for 1,260 person and the Parukarka shelter for 2,500 people. Hotel Jalta, on Wenceslas Square had its private shelterwhich is now the Cold War Museum.

7. Communist planners created a monstrosity: a six-lane thoroughfare separating Nove Mesto from the Vinohrady neighbourhood and at the same time cutting of National Museum from Wenceslas Square, as if the museum stands on a no-man island. The original name of this street was Vitezneho unora street, Victorious February Street, named after the 1948 Communist coup. After 1989 it was renamed Wilsenova in honour to US President Woodrow Wilson who, in 1918, backed the proposal for a separate Czechoslovak state.

8. Heavy bronze doors were added in the 1950s to the Vitkov Memorial which was built in the 1930s to honour Czechislovak legionnaires. The reliefs on the left door show scenes from the Hussite wars and on the right scenes of the Soviet liberation of Prague. No reference is made to the Czechoslovak legionnaires. Instead the Communists used it for their own glory. In 1953, it became the Klement Gottwald Mausoleum where Gottwald’s embalmed body was laid out. In 1963, it was cremated ,due to bad embalming the body began to decompose. After the Velvet Revolution the ashes were brought to Olsany Cemetery in the Vinohrady district.

9. Fast-moving escalators in Namesti Miru and in several other metro stations. They are three times faster than ‘ordinary’ escalators. These fast escalators are disappearing because they do not comply with EU regulations.

photos Marianne Crone, Vivit and Dezidor

communist past

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