The main motto of the whole project goes like this: "In a cafe there are people who wish to be alone but need company for that." But cafes also used to be important meeting places, where all kinds of problems were discussed, and they always created and influenced the cultural and political style of a particular city in a particular time. I spoke with the president of the Czech Association of hotels, restaurants and cafes, Sylvio Spohr, who explained to me that setting up a cafe was not an easy task:
"During the communist regime, many cafes were closed down and only a few survived. But with the introduction of capitalism the situation was not any better, because the dominant idea was that a guest must spend as much money as possible. Rents were going up and only establishments which were financially strong were making any money. That's why many cafes changed completely and were turned into banks, for instance. Others turned into restaurants - and a restaurant is no meeting place, it's a place of consumption, where guests are expected to spend a lot of money."
The new project, initiated by the HOREKA association and the Prague Townhall, is aimed at the renovation of the tradition of cafes in Prague. Cafe culture flourished between the two world wars, and as we hear from councilor Igor Nemec, the town hall is planning to devote much more publicity to new cafes:
"I think that the history of coffee houses in Prague is enormously known all over the world. In the 'first republic' it was a centre of social life, well-known people used to meet here, for example Franz Kafka. There are many coffee houses, but people don't know where they are, and there is this project - we want to show the places to everybody - to foreigners and locals where those coffee houses are. We will prepare several books and maps, where the new coffee houses will be mentioned."
Each new cafe which wants to join the new cafe network, will have to meet several set criteria, such as to open early in the morning, offer Czech and foreign dailies, have a counter with maps and postcards, provide a billiard or chess table and offer at least one specialty of Czech cuisine, to mention just a few. Despite the number of special criteria, Mr. Spohr told us that cafe owners were very keen to be part of the new network.
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