Cleaning up the image of Prague's Wenceslas square

09-08-2003

Wenceslas Square in Prague has changed a great deal since Czechs gathered there during the Velvet Revolution of 1989. It's now home to lots of shops and hordes of tourists, and a lot of so-called 'Praguers' prefer to avoid it. A new exhibition of modern sculptures however is trying to entice Czechs back to the capital's main street. Radio Prague's Ian Willoughby visited Wenceslas Square and asked people what they really thought of the place.

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."

While Prague's Wenceslas Square has been the scene of several important moments in Czech history, it's fair to say that many Czechs don't like it; they say it's too crowded, expensive and tacky. One man who has a lot to say about Wenceslas Square, which in Czech is called Vaclavske namesti, is Tomas Mikeska, the head of a group called Friends of Wenceslas Square.

"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."

Zora Carrier: "I don't think people are happy with Vaclavske namesti, how it looks like, what the traffic, the culture, the architecture - the modern architecture - do there."

Zora Carrier doesn't like Wenceslas Square and she's done something about it. She's organised a popular exhibition of around 25, mostly large, sculptures on the square. People seem especially fond of the futuristic car in front of me here, and the huge Buddha down the street. One of my favourite pieces is a huge motorbike-like structure made from old rusty metal, which looks like something out of a Mad Max film. I asked Zora Carrier if it was a new experience for Czechs to walk down the street and see pieces of art.

"Yes, yes, definitely it is. I think that Vaclavske namesti just needed something, an event like this. I think that people who are not completely involved might be confused but if that will be a reason for them to think about something, that's what we want to say."

Young man in street: "Some are very fine, the car is very good."

Other young man in street: "It is a way how to show a lot of people art. Many people don't have time for museums or galleries, so this is good."

The organisers of the exhibition, which has been doing its bit to improve Wenceslas Square, say it's been such a success they're going to do it again next year.

09-08-2003