Opening a Door to a Secret Prague – Smart Media Magazine

Opening a Door to a Secret Prague

Don’t be put off by the looming doorway, with its spray-painted graffiti tags and crumbling posters, just off hectic Namesti Republiky, one of the busiest squares in Prague. Beyond it, a quieter world unfolds, with courtyards, galleries, a cozy cafe and bar.

Campus Hybernska, as this sprawling complex is known, is one of several new cultural venues that are springing up in Prague’s many long-abandoned buildings.

“The front building was built between the 18th and the 19th centuries, and the whole thing was once some sort of downtown seat of a Czech noble family,” said Jan Bicovsky, a professor at Prague’s Charles University and a director of Campus Hybernska. “A ‘palace’ is probably the right expression.”

Abandoned factories and palatial structures, former military barracks and old electrical substations: Unlike Berlin’s art collectives and Budapest’s party-friendly “ruin bars,” the city’s post-1989 cultural life rarely included the use of these kinds of buildings, which have mostly remained empty, often for decades, because of local ownership laws and usage regulations.

But in recent years, they have become home to grass-roots arts and entertainment spaces, whether they are in the city center or up-and-coming neighborhoods. You won’t find them in mainstream travel guides; they are decidedly off-the-radar venues, providing insider access to alternative cultural activities and a chance to see interesting, historic spaces.

And for those who have an aversion to Prague’s famous tourist crowds, you won’t find them in these places. Instead, you’ll find a quieter, more local side of Prague’s vibrant cultural life.

Furnished with a hand-me-down stage for its bar and performance venue, and 90 seats purchased for a single Czech koruna (about four cents) for its lecture hall, Campus Hybernska is just getting started. “We’re trying to build something, a space for things to happen,” Mr. Bicovsky said, noting that at one point, the place “became the property of the Ministry of Interior, so actually the secret police and other organizations were here.”

Most of the complex still appears as it did when it was under state control. A furnace and central heating were installed earlier this year. Yet, despite its newness, Campus Hybernska maintains a busy event schedule including, recently, a kimchi festival, a multi-media exhibition called “Other People Think,” which features 34 international artists, as well as concerts of funk, blues, Greek rebetiko and other musical styles, which will be held throughout the winter.

It would be difficult to find quite so much room in the crowded maze of Old Town. But even there, a new creative development is shaping up inside the building known as the House at the Golden Horn, just off Old Town Square. On the same block as the recently restored astronomical clock, a formerly vacant five-story building, mostly dating from the Renaissance era, now houses nonprofits and start-ups.

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