Friends of Wenceslas Square aim to revitalise Prague's most famous street

12-08-2003

Wenceslas Square has been one of the most important places in Prague since the Middle Ages, when it was known as the Horse Market. It was renamed Wenceslas Square during the Czech national revival and has - over the years - been the scene of many significant moments in the country's history. It has seen many changes in recent years, not always for the better. We asked some pedestrians on the square what they thought about it.

Young man: "The night life of Wenceslas Square...I don't like it."

Middle-aged woman: "It used to be quite grey like the whole of Prague, but now, even though the trams don't run here any more, I like it."

Thirty-something man: "I don't like it in the evening, there are a lot of strange people there. This used to be one of the most important squares in Prague, now it's just like any American plaza."

Tomas Mikeska is the head of an organisation called the Friends of Wenceslas Square. Before explaining how they hope to revitalise what the Czechs call "Vaclavak," he told Radio Prague what the square looked like before 1989.

"Fifteen years ago the square was pretty much abandoned. Even though it was the centre of a socialist metropolis, you'd mostly find here only money changers and other dubious types. The square didn't look the best. That said, maybe it wasn't so pretty but it was more Czech in those days."

Though Wenceslas Square is a lot more colourful now than it used to be, Mr Mikeska believes the changes have perhaps gone too far.

"It's really globalised now and there are downmarket casinos and shops which don't belong here. The worst thing is the fast food stands, which are magnets for elements like prostitutes and the likes. And the fast food stands stink as well. But in general I'd say Czechs like it, they could be put off by the crowds but deep down they like this square."

The organisation Friends of Wenceslas Square was founded after a meeting in 1996 which was attended by concerned Czechs and representatives of the Prince of Wales's Projects Office. The group would like to see major changes, but first one important decision has to be taken.

"Wenceslas Square won't change until a decision is taken on whether to build underground garages. The cars which are here have to be put somewhere. That decision will be taken in three or four years, and then there should be a tender for plans as to how Wenceslas Square should look."

The chairman of the Friends of Wenceslas Square, Tomas Mikeska, knows what future form he would like to see it take.

"The architects have to change it into something between a park and a square. I think the square will look completely different in five to eight years time. I personally like how the square looked in the 19th century, when there weren't - as there are now - two lines of trees which are really bad, but four lines of trees and Wenceslas Square was more pedestrian-friendly."

12-08-2003