The Prague district of Podskali is now an upmarket residential area. But until around a hundred years ago, Podskali, on the right bank of the Vltava River, was more of a village, inhabited by rafters, timber merchants and people connected with life on the river. Only a few buildings survived the sweeping wave of urban renewal of Prague at the turn of the 19th century - and with them an interesting club, founded exactly 135 years ago, which to this day maintains the traditions of the river people.
The club, called Vltavan after the Vltava River, was founded in 1871 as a co-operative society of raftsmen, ice-cutters and all people who worked on the river. Jaroslav Cerveny is the current chairman of the Vltavan.
"The club was defined as a mutually-supportive society that helps its members in cases of poverty, illness and death. It collected money in order to help individual members and provided for the widows and orphans if a member died."
The club has a hundred members who address each other as brothers and sisters. To become a member, one does not have to be a native of Podskali anymore or work on the river. One condition must be met, though - members need to have a special Vltavan uniform, consisting of a red-and-white striped shirt, blue jacket and black hard hats with a blue ribbon for the men.
The Vltavan survived the rebuilding of Podskali and also the years of communist rule. These days it organises trips around the Czech Republic and tries to preserve the historic traditions connected with life on the rivers. The club is also planning to publish a book on its history which includes some famous names:
"One of the founding members was Prague Mayor Frantisek Dittrich. Since his day every Prague mayor has been an honorary member of the Vltavan club."
Vltavan chairman Jaroslav Cerveny. Celebrations of the 135th anniversary this weekend will include a mass in the church of the Holy Trinity, a march through the district of Podskali and a gathering on Slovansky (or Zofin) Island.