Golden Lane a gold mine for Castle administrators

06-03-2004

If you have been to Prague you will surely know Zlata ulicka or Golden Lane, a narrow street of tiny, colourfully painted cottages in the Hradcany district. The lane dates back to the late 16th century when the cottages, built into the castle's fortifications, housed Rudolf II's marksmen. Some people would have you believe the name Golden Lane comes from the fact alchemists once lived there; others will tell you that - in the days before plumbing - the only thing that was "golden" was the urine flowing down the lane's gullies. The tiny cottages are now all souvenir shops, but it wasn't so long ago - up to 1951 to be precise - that people still lived there.

Given the fact that the Golden Lane, for all its quaintness, appears to be a street like any other, I was most unpleasantly surprised last summer when - while accompanying some visitors - a guard demanded money to enter. As a journalist I was able to show my press card and get in for free, and my companions didn't mind paying to walk down the pretty lane, but the principle of having to pay to walk down a street - especially one with nothing in it but shops - made me mildly annoyed. Charging just seemed so mean-spirited and contrary to common notions of public space.

As I've mentioned, the last people to live on the Golden Lane were moved out in 1951. However, people do still live at the entrance to the lane, and in buildings on the nearby Kanovnicka and Na Opysi streets. What's more, many of them pay only a few thousand crowns a month, because - like many people in the Czech Republic - their rent is regulated. I personally find such things one of the charming quirks about Prague, and often when I walk around Hradcany it strikes me as wonderful that people, normal people, actually live there.

That situation, unfortunately, may be about to change. In the same spirit as charging money to walk down Golden Lane, President Vaclav Klaus's team, who look after the administration of Prague Castle, want the low-rent paying tenants out. The property is, of course, highly valuable and there's money to be made - even more money to be made - from the millions of tourists who visit the Castle every year.

The people who live in rent-regulated flats at the entrance to Golden Lane and nearby are either employees or former employees of the Castle administration, and in many cases their rent agreements date back to the 1980s. Naturally, they are unhappy about the prospect of being turfed out after almost 30 years in such an amazing location. Given the ways of the world, though, it's probably just a matter of time before the tenants are forced to move and one more of Prague's quirks is ironed out.

06-03-2004