Museum of communism
A statue of Lenin greets you inside, and the accompanying text doesn’t hide the curator’s bitterness towards the revolutionary leader’s “tactics of extreme ruthlessness.”
There are lots of kitsch artefacts but most interesting is a film showing the riots and demos leading up to independence in 1989, complete with bloodied protesters being terrorised by police and people offering flowers to embarrassed soldiers. See muzeumkomunismu.cz.
The Old Town Square
Now covered by a welter of alfresco cafés and attracting sheep-like tourists to watch wooden saints emerge from the Astronomical Clock on the hour, it’s impossible to imagine this cobbled square (main picture, p65) as the scene of political unrest.
But in January 1968, the Prague Spring, led by then-Czechoslovakian leader Alexander Dubcek, kicked off here, with the aim of restyling “Socialism with a human face”.
By March demos, petitions and street debates were in full swing in the square – then nicknamed ‘Prague’s Hyde Park’. Sadly the party ended abruptly on August 21 when Russian tanks rolled in. Praguers responded with Molotov cocktails and fierce fighting broke out.
You can still see dents in the walls of the National Museum in nearby Wenceslas Square, made by Soviet machine gunfire.
This vast open space near the Letna Gardens was the scene of the biggest demonstration of the 1989 Velvet Revolution, when 750,000 people gathered to protest against the Czech government.
It was a defining moment which led to the anti-communist coalition getting the ruling party to resign.
John Lennon wall
This stretch of wall (Velkoprevorske Namesti) became a focal point for young Czech dissidents and John Lennon fans who scrawled messages of peace and love, and pictures of the singer, following his death in 1980.
The secret police whitewashed over it, but even today Lennon’s bespectacled face prevails.
Student memorial, Narodni Trida
On November 17, 1989, students marching along Narodni Trida in memory of the students who had been persecuted by the Nazis 50 years earlier were bashed by police.
A bronze plaque of hands making peace signs (near number 16) with the date 17.11.89 marks the spot.
More than just a castle, Prague Hrad has always been the seat of Czech rulers.
In 1989 it took on a special significance when Vaclav Havel went from being dissident to president and took up his post here. He recently published To The Castle And Back about life as the first president of post-Velvet Revolution Czech Republic.
» Alison Grinter travelled to Prague with Eastern Trekker (0845 257 8345). The seven-day Bohemian Trek is £323.
Other Prague must-sees
The Jewish Museum
In Prague’s former Jewish ghetto, it provides a fascinating account of the city’s Jewish history. See jewishmuseum.cz.
Karlov Most (Charles Bridge)
Take a stroll along this magnificent bridge. Unfortunately there’s no avoiding the flocks of tourists.
The best time to see it is early in the morning or later in the evening.
Jump on the funicular railway up to peaceful Petrin, a park with spectacular views across the city. At the top of the hill is Petrin Tower, a small-scale copy of Paris’ Eiffel Tower.