Remembering Prague, 1980 (Part III) – The Escape

Remembering Prague, 1980 (Part III) – The Escape

The third (and last) episode of my journey to Prague, back in 1980, tells the story of the long waited occasion to discover a bit of Prague every day’s life. Escaping from the guide

Prague-Castle-Hill

Prague, Castle Hill

[…]

The continuous presence of the guide was really annoying, so I started to think at a way to go on my own without him noticing. The chance came soon. When we got to know that our guide had organized a night at the theatre, together with a school mate we made a plan to escape. Eventually the opportunity we were waiting for had come!

Astronomical-Clock-tower-Prague

Astronomical Clock tower, Prague

After a little while we discreetly left and rushed to explore the old city, the bars, the everyday life of the young people in Prague. We strolled in the Malà Strana, the Old Town, then stopped in a bar for a beer.

We sat at a long wooden table with three young fellows, observing the place and trying to get a little taste of the local culture. We would have liked to talk with our table companions but didn’t know how to break the ice. Suddenly, my mate had a fantastic idea. He remembered having in his backpack some Swiss chocolate, took it out and offered it to the three young people.

That was it!

They accepted with pleasure and we started talking a bit. They were curious about us and we were about them. It was a long time ago and my memories are a little blurry. However, I can clearly remember a few things we had been talking about and which impressed me so much.

♦  Limited freedom: they could not travel outside the Communist European states (and even that was difficult) and they were not allowed to expatriate. The only possibility was trying to escape, an event requiring lots of money in foreign currency (that was one of the reasons, they explained, why illegal exchange was so widespread) and implying huge risks.

Control: police was at every corner, ready to intervene – possibly also with violence – at the slightest suspect (no matter if totally arbitrary). People knew they were spied all the time and they had learned to live with fear.

Censorship: the regime had fixed severe prohibitions to widely restrict the freedom of speech. Similarly, information and culture were submitted to a hard and fast censorship. The French writer Marcel Proust was one of the many banned authors…

Prague-Kafka

Kafka’s childhood. Staromestské Námestí, Prague

Overall, most people living in Czechoslovakia felt trapped and often hopeless. That’s why there was always a shade of sadness in their eyes and what gave Prague a sense of melancholy.

Everything has changed and it’s hard to believe  that there was a time, not so long ago, when the countries belonging to the ‘Eastern bloc‘ were a totally different world. That’s why I wanted to share my memories.

We shall not forget the oppressions of the past.

14 Comments
  • Lukas
    Posted at 16:50h, 05 December Reply

    Hello fans of Prague 😉 Im from this nice city. I am pleased that you was be charmed by Prague. I lived in Czechoslovakia at this time. And know that it was not so black as describing. Food was plentiful, only to have supply problems – outdated logistics.In modern built-up areas farther from the center was intense network of large stores. selection was not as in the West, but the basic foods were standard. Scarce goods was mainly electronics, quality clothing, western cars, various seasonings, etc. fear among the people was not. people are just resigned. if you had not openly against the regime, not have to worry. The Communists consistently combat only with dissent and differing individual. who did not protest, got an apartment, stay at a spa, a voucher for a car etc. I understand that it was a different world for you, and therefore the “romantic” rebuilding. But believe me, that people was everyday worries and joys. Looked forward to friends over a beer. How to take a girlfriend to the movies. Or it will go for a nice trip to the castle. Nevertheless, we are pleased that the Communists are gone. Disappeared the vile communist gray. We can speak freely, associate freely. We have a much better standard of living, a healthy economy. Things that we was envied the West, today we take for granted. Even Swiss chocolate. 😉 I am sending greetings from Prague, my friends.

  • Jenna
    Posted at 22:24h, 10 April Reply

    I’m so glad I found these posts about your trip to Prague in 1980! So interesting! I lived in the Czech Republic 1996-1997, so I have a great love for the country and its beautiful capital city. I enjoyed reading about how it was to travel there during Communism. Of course, the Czech people always hated being oppressed, so I can imagine the city felt a bit melancholy, as you mentioned.
    I was last there in 2007, and even though a lot more people now speak English, I didn’t find the real essence of the city changed at all. It is still as beautiful as ever.

  • Jeff Titelius
    Posted at 20:33h, 13 March Reply

    What in interesting perspective on the people of Prague today and yesterday! And, your photos are quite stunning! Great article and post my friend!!

    • waitinginthedark
      Posted at 23:42h, 21 March Reply

      How kind of you, Jeff. I’m glad you liked the story. I was willing to let people know how things looked at that time, helping them to see Prague also in a different perspective.
      The photos are beautiful indeed. They’re not mine, however… 🙂

  • Monica
    Posted at 22:24h, 01 December Reply

    Wow! What a great series and what an awesome opportunity you had to be able to experience a country before it had the chance to experience cultural freedoms. The pictures you chose fit your commentary perfectly.

    Have you been back to Prague since then? It’s high on my list of places to visit.

    Thanks for sharing your unique experience.

    • waitinginthedark
      Posted at 20:01h, 04 December Reply

      I’m so glad you liked my Prague series. Although it makes me feel a bit old, it’s a piece of history. I went back to Prague a few years later, not long after the Berlin Wall was destroyed. Back then, people were starting to enjoy freedom again and what struck me was how thirsty they were about culture.
      So much has changed since then, and in the latest years Prague has become much similar to other European capitals. I’m sure you would love it! As for myself, not sure if I’ll ever go back. Too many memories…

  • Zablon Mukuba
    Posted at 08:02h, 23 October Reply

    the photos you have taken are great, the description you have given on prague is also wonderful

    • waitinginthedark
      Posted at 10:57h, 23 October Reply

      Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting! Indeed, I did not take the photos featured on the post (back in 1980 I didn’t have a camera…) but chose them because I thought they’re gorgeous!

  • Gray
    Posted at 20:24h, 21 October Reply

    I have really enjoyed this series, Simon. It’s a fascinating glimpse into Czechoslovakia during another time. I’m glad life has improved for them since then.

    • waitinginthedark
      Posted at 11:05h, 23 October Reply

      I’m so glad you enjoyed my Prague story. I have lots of travel memories and too little time to write about them…

  • Catia
    Posted at 19:40h, 21 October Reply

    The photos from all three parts of Remembering Prague are hauntingly beautiful, as is the writing.

    I never had the chance to visit any areas while they were part of the Eastern Block so hearing a first hand account is an important glimpse into the (not so distant) past that many of us would never know. Thank you so much for sharing your memories!

    • waitinginthedark
      Posted at 11:08h, 23 October Reply

      Thank you Catia for you lovely comment. It’s good to read that you enjoyed both the photos (I’m amazed by how many awesome photographers I discovered on the internet) and the story.
      I hope you’ll come back and visit my blog to read more travel tales!

  • marco
    Posted at 12:23h, 21 October Reply

    Well done Simon, it’s good to keep alive the memory of the past time, the world is spinning very fast nevertheless we need to know were we all came from. Always nice to read your post

    • waitinginthedark
      Posted at 11:09h, 23 October Reply

      Thank you, Marco. You’re always so kind. I’m so glad you enjoyed the Prague series!

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