The Square That Isn’t Square

Picturesque Passion in Prague

“You never know what’s around the corner.” 

An age-old adage that promotes hope, belief, and perseverance. 

For me, it rings true in my thoughts as I leave my poorly conditioned apartment in central Prague and take the turn onto Wenceslas Square. 

One day, it’s crowded with street performers of varying levels of talent. A juggler on a unicycle, a sweet song on an acoustic guitar, a man painted bronze, displaying his stoic capacity to avoid even the most minute movement despite hours in the same pose on a shoddily constructed plinth. 

The next, an audience swoons as a young man gets down on one knee. The girl covers her face, partly in shock, partly in embarrassment, partly in sheer joy. No need to say yes, their tender embrace conveys her answer. Onlooking girlfriends direct sideways glances at their partners from underneath their Ray-Bans. “When’s it my turn?”, they ponder. 

It’s a particularly sticky day. In early June, searing temperatures in central Europe are to be expected. In Prague, a city tucked away as if by purpose to majestically take its place as the continent’s beguiling epicentre, the lack of even the slightest sea breeze is uncomfortably apparent. 

I turn onto the square, the square that’s actually a boulevard, and I see something truly special. In truth, I hear it before I see it. Thunderous chanting, bouncing off the buildings that epitomise the juxtaposition that is modern day Prague; their lower halves buzzing with enthusiastic tourists visiting cafés and shops, their upper halves engrossingly gothic – a reminder of the city’s historic beauty. 

What I see, as I turn the corner, is power. Not the power that has become rooted in our discourse because of misbehaving and disenfranchising government. I see power to the people. I see the public changing that discourse to action, changing that frustration to demonstration. 

It’s the biggest public protest the city has seen since the fall of communism during the 1989 Velvet Revolution. Bearing flags of both the Czech Republic and the European Union, over 120,000 citizens have flocked to the iconic square to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Andrej Babiš due to accusations of fraudulent EU subsidies. 

Protest in Wenceslas Square, 4th June 2019

Coming from Scotland, from the UK, political unrest has almost become commonplace in recent years. Maybe it’s my position as a blissfully ignorant outsider, but the protest before me in Prague feels different. I don’t sense anger or division. I sense passion and unity. 

As my friends and I try to keep ourselves to the outskirts of this monumental gathering, I can’t help but stare at the plethora of faces that are singing and chanting, displaying the purest form of peaceful protest. 

An older gentleman catches me gawking, a clueless foreigner invading his moment of demonstrated defiance. He smiles and winks. Despite the incessant humidity, it’s the warmest I have felt on my trip. 

Just a five-minute walk from Wenceslas, the warmth continues in Old Town Square, where the name matches up with the geometry. Tourists clutch traditional Czech trdelníks, the coating of the freshly baked doughnut cone allows the unmistakable aroma of cinnamon to accompany a wonderfully bright collection of buildings. 

Old Town Square

The churches and towers are a real melting pot of styles, from Roman to Baroque, and serve as an architectural insight into the political history of the city – a history that is still being shaped by its people on the streets. 

Despite our scepticism, a young lady in the square convinces us to take up a walking tour. The city’s ability to intrigue leaves me wanting to wander off, but the value of having knowledgeable company while visiting the world-renowned Charles Bridge, or Prague Castle, with its enchanting gardens and formidable walls that date back to the year 870, sways my mind in favour. 

Saint Vitus Cathedral, part of the Prague Castle complex

 

Tourism has clearly affected the city, no longer as cheap as my parents proclaimed it to be, no longer as enshrouded in mystery. 

As I stand unsure of whether the man making my burrito on a quaint side street is going to serve me it or bludgeon me with it, I think the same customer service at home would leave a litter of furious Facebook reviews. 

But that won’t serve as my lasting memory of Prague. Nor will the stunning architecture, or the stodgy dumplings. 

As Scott Samson, a Scotsman who has lived in the city for nine years, tells me “the passion and gusto of the people is what is most impressive.” 

On this particular day, as I turn onto Wenceslas Square, that is exactly what’s  around the corner. A tidal wave of humanity that promotes hope, belief, and perseverance. 

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