In search of old Holesovice


There have been gloomy reports recently about the inability of the Czech tourism industry to attract visitors to Prague and elsewhere in the country for a second, third or any further visit. Despite this, and despite the fact that, as CNN's travel expert Richard Quest once put it, "getting a smile in Prague is a day's work", the city is busy with tourists all the same and the major sights of the city, like Charles Bridge and Mala Strana, are best to visit at four in the morning, in February.

There are still plenty of places in Prague, though, where meeting tourists wandering about is as rare as getting a service with a smile. Holesovice, my new neighbourhood, is definitely one of them.

Being a Moravian, my interest in Prague had been somewhat limited due to the reputation the Prague dwellers enjoy in the rest of the country, especially in my home city of Brno. But I first heard of Holesovice when I was still a kid. A series of books by Vojtech Steklac about the adventures of a group of kids took me right there and I immersed into the adventures of Borik, Mirek, Cenda and Ales as well as their principal enemy, the swotty Bohousek. The books never failed to stress that Holesovice was an ancient and venerable neighbourhood, and the boys spent most of their time after school rambling about its quiet corners.

Holesovice, photo: CTKHolesovice, photo: CTK Now, with quiet corners being developed and upscaled, the old Holesovice is rather difficult to find. I set out on a discovery journey the other day in search of the old Holesovice river port. Walking in the streets surrounding the port, I did come across some feeble traces of times long gone, namely a pub called U pristavu, or The Port, and another one by the name of The Captain. To my great disappointment, inside there was nothing to even remotely resemble a port pub the way I imagined. Instead, they look like too many other similar establishments with strange rustical pretensions. The only place I found that is really worth mentioning is an old inn where Klement Gottwald became the head of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia in 1929, turning into a party of Bolshevik hardliners. It seems that the glory of Holesovice as a port town has gone for good.

Holesovice is divided into two parts by a large railway yard. The port is to East, whereas I live in the western part, below Letna, and this part of Holesovice has changed dramatically too. The boys from my favourite schooldays' read were ardent enemies of another group of kids who were based in Zatory. This part of Prague 7 has almost vanished as well, with the only reminder of its existence I found being the street my dentists is in, called Na Zatorech.

Holesovice, photo: CTKHolesovice, photo: CTK There are projects to make Holesovice a new hip and trendy area of Prague, just like Smichov. The old slaughterhouse, now a giant marketplace, should become the River Town, and much of the area around the old port is planned to turn into an area of modern high-rise office buildings and shopping malls. Some locals, including the writer Ludvik Vaculik, fear that this will be the end of old Holesovice and it will become just another indistinct part of the new Prague. Others believe that the renovation projects will bring new life into Holesovice's rugged streets. Whatever happens, I will keep you posted.