In October of 2018, I traveled with one other friend (my former classmate and fellow future architect) to Germany with the primary goal of experiencing Oktoberfest. We spent a total of 10 days in Europe, with most of that time spent in Munich for the various festivities of Oktoberfest. While Munich is a beautiful city with interesting architecture in its own right, we decided we had to take a purely architectural diversion to the Czech capital city of Prague. Having spent nearly all of our money on German beer and authentic lederhosen in Munich, we were incredibly fortunate to find out that you can experience a large amount of Prague for extremely cheap.
We stayed on the outskirts of the city center, in a neighborhood by the Vltava River called Karlín. The locals were keen to tell us how the neighborhood had been devastated by a 100-year flood in 2002, we even had dinner and drinks in a pub where the high-water line had been marked on the wall (about 14 feet above our heads. Yikes!) Though many historic buildings in the neighborhood had been restored (including the tiny old house we stayed on the second floor of, along with the giant Catholic cathedral across the street) in recent years, the neighborhood had reinvented itself as a hub for international business, sporting many new and interesting office buildings on just the opposite side of our little house from the centuries-old cathedral.
We probably logged over 20 miles on foot during our two full days in Prague, which was exhausting of course, but I will stand by it as the best way to experience the city. Nearly every street, especially the closer we got to the Old Town, had interesting and unique buildings, many of which were hundreds of years old, and all of which had a story to tell. Beautiful, sweeping views of the entire city were in high supply as well and we often found ourselves on top of the hills and bluffs that surround the Vltava as we explored some of the many parks that surround the city.
Eventually, we wandered our way over to Prague Castle, the “largest medieval castle in the world” which looks over the entire Old Town and the Malá Strana (meaning Lesser Town, quite literally the smaller portion of the old city which lies on the same side of the river as the castle). The castle is so massive that it encompasses many different palaces, houses, and churches just within its walls, and entrance to most of it is free. From here it was only a short walk across the Charles Bridge to the Old Town Square, which boasts the highest concentration of beautiful old buildings in the entire city, but also unfortunately the highest concentration of tourists.
Though Prague’s history and culture fared well through both World War II and Soviet occupation, some relics of these periods remain. One such relic towered over us, just by the house that we stayed in; the National Monument on Vítkov Hill; featuring a huge, stark brutalist building and a giant equestrian statue of historic Czech figure Jan Žižka. From here on top of Vítkov Hill, you can easily see the city’s other major brutalist monument, the Žižkov Television Tower, which is considered by many to be one of the ugliest buildings in the world. Setting our own opinions aside, we made our way over to and eventually up to the top of Žižkov, where we found some of our best views of the city yet.
Of course, we couldn’t leave Prague without visiting one of its modern architectural landmarks, Frank Gehry’s ‘Dancing House’. Though neither me or my travel companion were converted to Gehry-believers, we did both agree that the house was at the very least intriguing and impactful. It seeks (and succeeds) to defy the architectural norms and conventions of the surrounding city. Like it or hate it, much like the rest of Prague, it is whimsical, unique, and unparalleled in its storytelling.