It’s Friday night, and the sun is setting over the rusty red roofs of Prague. Despite the looming darkness and the chill of January air, the Old Town Square is thick with the noise of restless chatter, the smell of cigarette smoke, and the anticipation of a night of revelry.
I find myself in a cavernous underground bar, under the steely glare of a pop-art poster of Margaret Thatcher. I’ve made my way to this alcove, in which a post-punk band plays to a wild crowd, through a maze of Communist paraphernalia collected from the Czech Republic’s turbulent political past. In many other countries these artefacts would now be sleeping in a darkened museum, closed to the public after hours. But in Prague, busts of Stalin, letters from Lenin, and old street signs bearing Communist names hang over beer taps and rowdy students.
I take a sip of beer. The taste is clean and untarnished, with a subtle bitterness from the foamy head. Its unchanged, 200-year-old recipe is sublime in its simplicity: barley, water, hops. Over the noise of punk music and the ironic gaze of Thatcher, the pure taste of the pilsner rings clear. But for all its minimalism, there is another, almost intangible flavour in my velké pivo: the taste of the spirit of the Czech Republic – of history.
The same taste has touched the revolutionary tongues of those who peacefully spoke out against Communist regimes. They placed flowers in gun barrels, performed poetry, and in the throes of desperation, even lit themselves on fire. They fought their Velvet Revolution without violence and they have prevailed. They may not be a large country, or a loud one, but they are happy in their freedom, in their rustic pubs with a smooth pint of lager.
The Praguians around me have enjoyed democracy for just over two decades, and the wounds left by Communism are still raw. And yet, tonight they laugh, drink, and celebrate among its grim memories. Like the pilsner, their resilience is beautifully simple, but powerful.
(you can read more about our beer tour of Prauge here)
(featured image from here)