If you have nostalgia for the 1980s – or you just appreciate quirky stuff – you definitely need to spend time in eastern Europe. Many people think the 1980s were all about doing coke in the bathroom at Studio 54 or Limelight and providing free advertising for brands by wearing logo goods like a walking billboard. Certainly that WAS part of the decade but that was not MY 1980s. The 1980s were also a decade of great protest, recession and budget creativity. People shopped in thrift stores (it wasn’t vintage back then, just cheap :)), they hung out in cheap neighborhoods that had not yet been gentrified and drank terrible draft beer that cost a dollar, they went to see movies for almost nothing in repertory cinemas.
For a lot of people it was a time when you did a lot with very little. I met an artist on a trip to Vancouver because he liked the cheap white Keds that I had decorated with coloured markers when they started to get dirty so I wouldn’t need to buy a new pair. I still remember the thrill sitting on the floor in a rundown building on Queen Street watching a Laurie Anderson video. I met someone who had organized a poetry slam so I started going regularly to hear people read their work in a bare bones club. It was astonishing how much fun you could have while having almost no money.
It’s hard to find that experience these days in North America or western Europe. Almost everything is slick now and anything trendy gets copied across major cities much like the malls are now full of the same global brands. So, if you want to find something quirky and original, you need to head to places that are not so gentrified. One of the best times I’ve had this decade was when I revisited Berlin for the 20th anniversary of the wall coming down and discovered Mitte, which felt like I was back in 1980s North America with cheap beer and simple pop-up nightclubs that never seemed to close.
I would certainly highly encourage a visit to Berlin but Prague is probably quirkier these days. We saw the tourist highlights I’ve already mentioned but we also spent a day doing stuff off the beaten path. Our first stop was Vyšehvad. There is a cathedral as well as a cemetery. The cemetery is the resting place of many famous Czechs. Normally I don’t see the appeal of cemeteries but this one is really worth checking out. We didn’t know most of the luminaries but the architecture involved in some of the tributes was spectacular.
Our second stop was totally different in almost every aspect. It was one of the highlights of the visit for me. One thing you
will find in eastern Europe is TV towers. Most are worth visiting because they provide a spectacular viewpoint from which to observe the city. The TV tower in Prague is a little extra special though. It boasts a restaurant, a very fancy bar and even a hotel room if you want the full experience. The other notable aspect is the David Cerny sculptures attached to it. They were meant to be temporary but proved so popular they are now part of the tower. Just what are those babies doing??? Looking for David Cerny sculptures is a Prague adventure I would highly encourage you to indulge in.
After checking out the view from the top of the TV Tower and trying absinthe in the bar, we headed for our final quirky destination – the Cross Club. The Cross Club is a multicultural centre that took me back to the 1980s in a big way. Everything seems built out of necessity with a limited budget. The creative use of rebar is worth the visit alone. There is also a restaurant, several bars and even a nightclub. We did a little of everything. It’s definitely more a destination if you’re in your 20s but it’s worth getting out of your comfort zone even if you are little more ancient and it definitely felt like we were in “real” Prague.
Prague is more real than Paris but parts of it are now firmly established on the global tourist circuit so, if you are the kind of person who wants to understand a place rather than just ticking off the sites on some pedestrian bucket list, do get off the beaten path… Prague is so great at the non-beaten path you will get all kinds of suggestions just googling Prague off the beaten path… Being quirky is synonymous with being Czech it seems 🙂
p.s. my apologies – it’s never happened before but somehow I seem to have lost most of the photos from this trip so the visual factor is not what I would like it to be. On the plus side, there are lots of images of Bratislava, Prague and Vienna on the internet 🙂