Prague’s main train station receiving much needed facelift

Much of Prague’s main train station Praha Hlavní nádraží currently resembles a building site, albeit one with thousands of commuters streaming through it every day. A much needed and extensive renovation job should be completed next year. Part of the platforms section has already been reopened, and quite impressive it is too. It’s bright. There are elevators.

According to a recent newspaper article we can also look forward to trees on the platforms, new ticket desks and “luxury clean toilets”. Luxury clean toilets in Hlavní nádraží – who would have dreamt it?

Certainly not me when I disembarked from the overnight train from Frankfurt one morning in July 1992, setting foot for the first time in what was then the capital of Czechoslovakia. Hlavák, as I now know the station is nicknamed, struck me as dark, ugly and rather backwards.

Probably my first interaction with a Czech was arguing with the hajzlbába trying to force me to pay for using the toilet facilities. “Lady, I know my rights” was my attitude, until need overcame principle and I handed over my two crowns.

Fanta caféFanta café How much could be achieved with the two squares of toilet paper the attendant doled out ungraciously was also something of a mystery.

Not having a clue where I was going that day, I completely missed the jewel of Hlavní nádraží. Indeed it was possibly a couple of years before I realised there was an airy and spectacular Art Nouveau café a level above the gloomy station floor.

The kavárna was completed a century ago this year as part of a renovation, designed by Josef Fanta, of what was originally the main station hall. In recent times one wing has been home to a big and gaudy second-hand clothes market.

That eyesore is sure to be gone when the Fanta building, which has protected status and requires more sophisticated work, is reopened three years after the rest of the reconstruction project is completed.

Another improvement will be changes to the park in front of the station at that level. Vrchlického sady, today somewhat neglected, will get a major facelift, including the creation of a promenade.

That said, most people will surely get more pleasure from the renovation of the part of Hlavní nádraží they actually use, which is set to look like an airport hall, with new shops, restaurants and flower stalls. And luxury clean toilets, of course.