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Adventures in Writing, Reading & Book Culture

Revisiting Zizkov

When I was first in Prague back in 1994, I stayed in a sort-of hostel-cum-dormatory connected to the Goerge Soros foundation school housed in a couple floors of the Olsanska Hotel in Zizkov. I passed by the hotel this morning while riding the #5 tram on my way to class, a new route for the new dom. Things — memories — began to fire. I new I was close to the school (if not looking at it), and close to the dorms, and to that little namesti with the statue and stone walkway through the grass, and the little bar whose sign simply showed a frothy beer mug, and also the little German restaurant run by the young couple whose son, Otto, would come running naked from the back room, screaming that he didn’t want to go to bed yet. This was that old neighborhood that held so many memories from 19 years ago.

After I came home from class, while the light was still fresh in a bluish sky, and dinner settling nicely in my stomach, I decided to take a walk. I packed a book and a journal. I made my way over to the TV tower (called “the giant spark plug” so many years ago). I wanted to find a cozy spot with a park bench so I could read and take some notes. But then the tower intrigued me, so I took a couple photos and got closer and then was right below it, and then walking past its fat silver cylindrical legs.

At the top of the next street, the avenue sloped downward toward a busy street below, and then further down to a far street. I felt close to that Zizkov area I used to walk around. The Tower was one of the neighborhood landmarks, but I hadn’t come up here often as most of my journeys want toward the Vltava and Prazky Hrad. But I walked down to this street and then turned right, up a subtle incline into Zizkov. This is a (or at least was) working class neighborhood with lots of block flats and narrow streets and pubs and small food & butcher shops.

I came to a very familiar street: a steel-tube fence protected a stairway and sharp downhill street. Okay, I thought, I remember this. I walked down the stairs and along the cobblestone street until I came upon that park I had caught a glimpse of while on the tram. And then an epiphany wrapped my brain memory: a flagstone path cut across the lower quadrant of grass, and it was on this path I had tread every day back in July-August 1994 from the hotel just around the corner. The hotel is still there — the Hotel Koprokova.

Back up the hill I went and followed the street over and up and around to the Hotel Olsanska. It was just the same as I’d remembered. I saw in through the window at the restaurant cafeteria where we were invited for daily breakfast of cold ham and salami, sliced red peppers and cucumbers and tomatoes, dark bread and seedless rye, yogurt and muslie. I remember that on the top floor, the sixth, was a small pub that let out onto a brick balcony overlooking parts of Prague.

One other landmark that I had to know if still existed was the little German restaurant I’d found back then, down two streets from the dormer hotel. I forget the name now — it was not the typical Czech restaurant name “U something or other” — the space was small, good for five or seven tables, no more, simple but clean and nice. The chef served an excellent pork schnitzel with potato pancakes and saurkrat. The beer was good. I recall paying the equivalent of $4 USD for a meal and a beer.

The young German couple who ran the joint had a young son named Otto, who often came from behind the kitchen door, running away from a spanking, deserved or not I don’t know. One night Otto came out of the kitchen door naked and screaming and his mother in hot slap-happy pursuit. I finished up my beer and left, never returning. I sort of draw the line in a restaurant with cats on the table and naked children in the kitchen.

Alas, the restaurant has changed hands. There is now a pizzeria, but in that same corner sits the table I used to sit at. The inside looks just fine, with warm browns and burgundy drapes and cloth table sheets, wine bottles in a rack, mirrors and artwork on the walls, a lighted Gambrinus beer sign over the door. I think I’ll visit this new joint for a pizza and some beer, and revisit more of that old, familiar neighborhood.

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