Každý den v týdnu mohou naši hosté na svém polštáři najít nejen sladkou pozornost, ale také krátký Příběh na dobrou noc.
Sedm příběhů Vám přiblíží historii nejen našeho hotelu, ale i samotné Prahy a dalších míst, které byste při své návštěvě neměli minout.
Břevnov Monastery is an often ignored treasure among Prague’s sights. However, it is one of the oldest institutions in the area of Prague because its existence dates back to 14 January 993. The only older ones are Prague Castle and (probably) Vyšehrad.
The founders of this first Czech male monastery were the second Prague Bishop, Saint Adalbert, and Duke Boleslav II, a nephew of St. Wenceslas. Legend has it that in a dream they were both told by God about a place close to Prague where they should build a new monastery. On the next day they were surprised to meet each other in a forest, where a fallen tree obstructed a spring. Suddenly, a deer came to the spring but couldn’t drink from it because of the tree. Bishop Vojtěch and Duke Boleslav joined forces to roll the tree aside. In memory of this event they called the new monastery Břevnov (“břevno” means “beam” or “log”) and a tree log and a forest spring later became parts of the monastery’s coat of arms.
In 1420 the Břevnov Abbey was plundered by the Hussites and it wasn’t until the end of the 17th century that the monastery was restored. However, it never became as important as before.
The monastery had a troubled history in the 20th century as well. Its last but one abbot, Anastáz Opasek, was sent to a labour camp by the Communists at the beginning of the 1950s. After that the monastery passed to the Ministry of the Interior, which used most of the buildings as archives, and there was also a counter-intelligence training centre. In spite of that the parish office continued to work to a limited degree although most of the parsons were secret police agents. In 1977 philosopher Jan Patočka, one of the first spokesmen of Charter 77, was buried there, having succumbed to exhaustion after an endless interrogation by the Communist secret police. His funeral was disrupted by a noisy military helicopter circling intentionally above the cemetery.
Nowadays, Břevnov Monastery is, fortunately, owned by the Benedictines again and it has become an important cultural centre of Prague 6. Organ music concerts take place in the Baroque St. Margaret’s Church and the monastery’s garden offers a quiet place to relax in. There is a gallery in the Baroque orangery. Apart from that, in the area of the monastery there is also a traditional Czech restaurant, where you can taste the beer from the local brewery, which continues the tradition of the oldest brewery in Bohemia. So, Břevnov Monastery offers peace and quiet outside the overcrowded centre of Prague, a stone’s throw from Prague Castle, without you getting bored.
The Grandhotel Bohemia is situated in Králodvorská (King’s Court Street), which is now the only reminder of the former royal residence that stood there for more than four centuries. It was a royal palace for only a hundred years and then it became private property. In the 17th century the King’s Court burnt down and even though it was rebuilt, it gradually became dilapidated and in 1903 it was torn down. The beautiful Municipal House (finished in 1912) in the Art Nouveau style stands in its place now.
The story of the King’s Court is typical and resembles the life story of its founder, king Wenceslas IV, one of the sons of Emperor Charles IV. Unlike his father, he was not a very competent ruler and he was dethroned as the King of the Romans due to his inactivity. While Charles IV left us the famous bridge, St. Vitus Cathedral, the New Town and other sights, Wenceslas’ Court was demolished and forgotten. All that Wenceslas left us is a few stories, such as the one about Zuzana the barber.
During his long reign (with his 42 years on the Czech throne he belongs among the longest ruling Czech kings) he was often confronted with defiant nobility and with his brothers. As a result he was imprisoned several times. For the last time it happened at the King’s Court. Legend explains how he managed to escape. Although he was a captive, his captors still respected him as their king and let him have all the comfort.
So, while visiting an Old Town spa, he planned his escape. There was a narrow ledge leading from the bath, where the guards didn’t follow him (assuming that he couldn’t escape from there), leading above the Vltava River. Standing on that ledge he made an agreement with a barber who was standing at the river washing pieces of linen used by the spa visitors to cover themselves. She promptly ripped one of them and threw it to Wenceslas, who used it as a rope and climbed down onto the river bank. After that they both crossed the river in a small boat, which they then overturned so as to make it look like an accident, and managed to walk upstream to Wenceslas’ castle.
The king repaid Zuzana the barber generously and she became the owner of the spa, which now, however, bears the name of Charles IV. So, again, what Wenceslas left us is only the story.
Letná Plain (Letenská pláň) is a continuation of the hill on which Prague Castle is situated. However, unlike the hill it is almost not built-up and serves the public as a park. Walking along its southern edge you will have wonderful views of the city, but it has not always been like that.
In the 19th century the tunneling of Letná was considered in order to connect the northern (left) bank of the Vltava with internal Prague. The project came to a standstill in the planning stage and it wasn’t until 1953 that the Letná Tunnel was made. As a result, the integrity of Letná was preserved while Prague 7 and Prague 1 were connected.
The vast area of the plain makes it suitable for large gatherings. While in the interwar period it saw the Sokol festivals, during which tens of thousands of gymnasts showed their sets of exercises, during Communism there were May Day parades. But Letná also witnessed the largest anti-Communist demonstrations at the end of 1989. Since then it has been used for concerts. Performances have been given there, for example, by the Rolling Stones or in 1997 by Michael Jackson.
At one of the viewpoints, a statue of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, the first president and the founder of Czechoslovakia, was supposed to be built but it never happened. Instead, a monument of Joseph Stalin was built there. Ironically, it was created by the same sculptors who had planned to make the Masaryk statue. It was the biggest monument of its kind in Europe. Fortunately, it was finished only a year before the personality cult was revealed, so for most of the time of its existence, its removal, which happened in 1962, was discussed. It was a real technical challenge and in the end the blasting of the 15-metre sculptural group, nicknamed “Queue at the Butcher’s” by the people, took several weeks. Later on, a monument commemorating the liberation of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Army was supposed to be built in its place but thanks to the fall of the Communist regime it was never created.
Since 1991 there has been a pendulum, called Time Machine by its author, on the abandoned pedestal. It was installed there as part of the General Czechoslovak Exhibition, which took place a hundred years after the Centennial Exhibition celebrating the first European industrial exhibition of 1791. Time will tell whether the pendulum remains in Letná until the next exhibition in 2091.
Plans for building the underground in Prague go back to the 19th century. Due to the fact that at that time horse-drawn trams were only being replaced by a network of electric tram lines, it was a premature idea. The first serious plans, made by engineers Bohumil Belada and Vladimír List, come from the second half of the 20th century. It is remarkable that their plan of the lines is almost the same as the current arrangement of Prague’s underground although the construction only happened many years after WWII, which stopped the original project.
The situation of the public transport in the 1960s was hopeless, so the underground (the metro) quickly began to be built. It was originally planned as underground trams but it was soon changed into a separate kind of transport. A remainder of the original idea is the appearance of the current Central Railway Station (Hlavní nádraží). Initially, trains made in Czechoslovakia were supposed to be used. However, the change of the political situation after the occupation of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union in 1968 affected even these purely technical matters. An accident during a test ride of a Czechoslovak underground train was taken advantage of so that the Soviet Union became the exclusive supplier of new trains. That was not trouble free because Nusle Bridge (Nuselský most), which was built in the same period) had been designed for the lighter Czechoslovak trains, so the heavier Soviet trains had a negative effect on its stability. Therefore, the C line, which runs through the bridge, was the first on which the Soviet trains were replaced by more modern ones.
The biggest tragedy in the history of the Prague underground was the disastrous flood in August 2002. Nineteen stations in the centre were flooded and only certain sections in the suburbs remain serviceable. There were replacement trams and buses until the spring of the following year. Prague’s inhabitants and visitors could see how essential the role of the underground is in the public transport system.
In connection to the flooding of the underground, it is worth mentioning that during the cold war the Communist leadership relied on the system of underground tunnels as a nuclear bunker. However, the flood showed that the underground would have become a lethal trap in such a case. At the same time the pervading water of the Vltava revealed places that the Public Transport employees had not known of.
At present, the Prague underground has three lines measuring 65 kilometres in total, with 61 stations. The long-planned D line should start to be built soon.
The Grandhotel Bohemia 1948‒1989
In 1948, when the communists definitively seized power in Czechoslovakia, all Czechoslovakians’ lives were turned upside down. Because in a few years the communists banned all forms of private business, it became impossible to run the Grandhotel Steiner / Bohemia as before. It was nationalised without compensation and renamed the Hotel Praha. It was inaccessible to the public because for a long 40 years it became the main provider of catering services for the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia.
Because the Central Committee of the Communist Party was a supreme state authority, besides providing catering services during different official visits, the hotel had to run the holiday resorts of the new state aristocracy, which were situated outside Prague, including the presidential summer residence in Lány. However, the most important events took place at Prague Castle and the Hotel Praha provided complete catering services for them. These events included Czechoslovak presidents’ inaugural lunches as well as the visits of the leading representatives of foreign countries, especially of those belonging to the socialist bloc.
However, in terms of professional skills it was a blessing in disguise. Top-class experts with experience from pre-war hotels and restaurants were concentrated at the hotel. As a result, the training of apprentices, who began to come in the 1960s to get more experience, was at a very high level. In fact, many of those trainees are now respected professionals in the hotel and restaurant business.
The Neo-Baroque Boccaccio Hall in the hotel’s basement has repeatedly been used by film-makers. In the popular film, Angel in a Devil’s Body (1983), it even briefly returned to the time of its greatest glory, i.e. the pre-war era, when the cream of society would meet in its cabaret.
A certain change happened at the beginning of the 1980s, when a new Hotel Praha was opened in Prague 6. It was also inaccessible to the public and was used solely for the accommodation of the government’s guests and for different government events. Some of the employees were transferred to the new hotel. The old Hotel Praha started to be used as a facility for the suites of government delegations, while VIP guests would be accommodated at the new hotel. Ironically, the new Hotel Praha doesn’t exist any more as it was demolished by its owner in 2015. Thus, the Steiner / Praha / Bohemia Hotel not only survived the communist era but it also outlasted its successor.
Because the territory of today’s Czech Republic was outside the Roman Empire, the country’s towns are significantly younger than those situated further south or west. Vienna, Budapest and cities in southern Germany were often founded in places of former Roman military camps (which had been located in the places of former Celtic settlements). In spite of that, historians date the foundation of Prague into at least the 9th century and Prague Castle’s founder is considered to be the Přemyslid Duke Bořivoj (grandfather of Wenceslas, the patron saint of the Czech lands).
The legend about the foundation of Prague is connected with the mythic princess Libuše, the founder of the Přemyslid dynasty, which ruled Bohemia from the end of the 9th to the beginning of the 14th century (it is one of the longest ruling dynasties of the Middle Ages). Libuše was endowed with prophetic abilities. According to legend she sent messengers from her seat in Vyšehrad to establish a new settlement on Hradčany hillock, where they would meet a man chiselling a doorsill (“práh” in Czech). Accordingly, they were to name the new castle Praha (Prague). She prophesied Prague’s glory reaching the stars.
Even though it is only a legend, the connection of the name of Praha with the word práh cannot be excluded. A theory says that the name refers to a place with rapids (also called “práh”) in the Vltava, whose important ford was guarded by Prague Castle. Another widespread theory says that the word Praha was derived from pražit (beat down) because the Hradčany hillock was beaten down by the sun or burnt as a result of human activities.
Because the etymology of the word Praha can’t be proved reliably, some researchers tend to think that it is a pre-Slavic word that came from the Celts although their central oppidum was situated on the southern edge of today’s Prague. That would mean that we have the Celts to thank not only for the Latin name of the Czech territory (Bohemia; according to the Boii) but also for the name of our capital.
The fact that the origin of the name of Praha remains unclear is not important. Prague will still be the beautiful golden city of a hundred spires. And we can discuss its name over a glass of beer, which is another Celtic invention that took root in Bohemia.
Not far from the Grandhotel Bohemia there is a quarter called Žižkov, which is full of life at any time of the day or night. Like Montmartre in Paris, Žižkov is also situated on a hill overlooking the city. A hundred years ago, the vineyards that began to be founded at Charles IV’s command in the middle of the 14th century, were replaced by a spontaneously developed network of steep streets, which impart a unique character to this part of Prague.
Shortly after its foundation at the end of the 19th century, Žižkov became one of the largest Czech towns due to its building density. It became part of Prague in the 1920s. At that time mostly the poorer classes of people lived there. However, that has changed over the years and these days Žižkov is one of the sought-after locations, especially among the young. The reason is that it is situated close to the centre and it has a relaxed atmosphere as well as many restaurants, pubs and nightclubs. There is something for everyone: hipsters’ cafés, nightclubs, family-owned bakeries, beer bars, garden restaurants as well as traditional (once smoke-filled) pubs. Those who might get a splitting headache caused by excessive bustle can find peace and quiet in the shady Riegr Park.
Žižkov is named after the famous Hussite commander, Jan Žižka of Trocnov, who – in spite of his visual handicap (he gradually lost both of his eyes) – remained undefeated. Legend has it that in the area of Žižkov he told his soldiers to walk around the foot of the hill with the flag bearers changing their flags after each turning. As a result they made the impression of a huge army and the terrified Crusaders, who knew how brave the Hussite warriors were, withdrew although they had superiority. And as military theory says, the most valued victories are those achieved without fighting. Nowadays, his statue, which is one of the largest equestrian bronze statues, stands above Žižkov.
It is one of the landmarks that won’t let you get lost on your way to Žižkov because the neighbourhood is located between the statue and the unsightly transmission tower, which is highly visible. While the tower was being built there were rumours in Prague that it was in fact a missile with a nuclear warhead. Of course, that is not true but what we can confirm is that from the local outlook restaurant you will get an excellent view of the city.
The Boccaccio dancing hall is the only part of the Grandhotel Bohemia that has been preserved in its original form. A newspaper story written shortly after the Grand-Hotel Steiner was opened in 1927 describes Boccaccio as an intimate and aristocratic hall, which irresistibly tempts you to dance. Yes, that’s what it was really like in the golden era of the Boccaccio Bar, as it was also called at that time. In the 1930s and 40s the Prague’s cream of society would meet there to indulge in worldly pleasures in the best style.
Although the Boccaccio Hall was built in a neo-Rococo style and is adorned with stucco decoration, gilt elements and traditional Czech crystal, in its own time it was a very modern place, deliberately separated from the main hotel building so that the hotel guests were not disturbed.
However, the exuberant parties were put to an end by the social changes connected with the Communists seizing power in 1948. Moreover, the hotel was confiscated by the Czechoslovak Communist Party and became inaccessible to the public.
The Boccaccio Hall’s fame was briefly revived in the early 1980s thanks to film-makers. They used the then somewhat shabby boxes, chipped stucco and smoke-stained chandelier as a perfect set for a film called Angel in a Devil’s Body. Since then film-makers have returned a few times.
After the 1989 Velvet Revolution the hotel became private property again and the Boccaccio Hall acquired its old-time glamour after thorough reconstruction. Some original features of the hall, including the unique crystal chandelier consisting of 4,000 pieces ground by hand, were successfully preserved.
However, its underground location became fateful during the disastrous flood that struck the whole Bohemia in the late summer of 2002. The Vltava River is quite far away from the hotel, but the hall was flooded by sewage system water, which reached about a meter in depth, and the famous dance floor was turned into a muddy pool bottom.
Fortunately, the Boccacio Hall overcame that disaster as well and these days guests can enjoy themselves there like in the good old times. Apart from private parties there is a regular music programme, the Mozart Dinner, which is suitable for all age groups. So, you are invited!