Bartender Ondra – the king of cocktails

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Written by Ryan Keating-Lambert.

Ondra was recommended to me by a friend after I fell in love with the cocktail scene in Prague, it’s really something impressive and kind of measures the fast growth of Prague as a city for me. Every year there are new bars experimenting with new ambiance, drinks, and styles of service. We’ve already spoken to AnonymouS Bar as well as Hemingway, two of my favourites on the scene right now. But with Ondra being an award winning bartender, it was impossible to resist some tasty advice on where and what to drink in Prague. Ondra gives a special personal touch to all of the questions I threw at him. A very cool interview, check it out.

Where are you originally from?

I come from Prague, the wonderful city full of history.

What did you want to be when you were a kid?

Well, a garbageman at first as they have a huge car. Later it was a professional football player and a car mechanic. But in the end I have a job that fulfills me and I enjoy it. To communicate with people and come up with new creative cocktails? That’s definitely my cup of tea.

What was the first drink you ever had?

It’s been a very long ago but I remember it quite right, it was vodka and juice. And after that maybe a Cuba Libre…?

What was the last drink you had?

Hopefully I will have some more but the last so far was a Whiskey Sour. 🙂

What competitions have you competed in/won?

I’m not the kind of a bartender who would enter each and every competition up for grabs. The appeal of further possibilities and experience, that’s what draws me in. The first big competition for me was undoubtedly the ‘Jameson Bartenders Ball’. I managed to win the national finals twice. And then, at the world finals in Dublin, I came third. Some other wins include:

The Havana Club Grand Prix 2014 – Czech winner

The Ron de Jeremy Competition – winner (with Michal Durinik)

The Chivas Masters 2015 – Czech winner, 2nd at the world finals in New York

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That’s an impressive list of wins! How would you describe Prague’s bar and cocktail scene? Where should we go for a cocktail?

Prague is a historical city and always will be (hopefully). There are many wonderful places that make your heart beating faster and make you come back again. The bar scene has grown in the past few years, not only in Prague but in the whole of the Czech Republic; there are new businesses open with huge potential to become some of the TOP places in the world. There’s also a wide range of bars, old as well as total newbies; everyone can find something they like, there’s such a variety. When it comes to bars – you can do the best in one evening. Hemingway bar, Bugsy´s, Cash Only, Black Angel´s, L´fleur, AnonymouS and La Casa de la Havana Vieja are only a fragment of what the city of Prague has to offer.

But it’s not only Prague that offers great bars. If you happen to be in Brno, don’t forget to visit Bar, který neexistuje (the bar that does not exist, in English) a Super Panda Circus, it would be a shame to miss it!

Do you have any advice for young bartenders or bar owners?

To be diligent, responsible and enthusiastic, that’s how you can be successful in this job.

How would you describe Prague in only a few words?

Beautiful – historical – irresistible

If you could go back in time and see anything, what would you choose to see?

I would definitely like to be a bartender in a bar during the prohibition in the US. The atmosphere and the
adrenalin that any minute a cop could come in and we would all be in a big mess.. this attracts me. And if I had another chance to go back in time, I would love to visit the beginning of the 90s when electronic music started to get popular. I would like to experience the atmosphere in the clubs and big parties of that time.

Who would play you in a movie about your life?

Well, Tom Cruise tried in Cocktail and failed 😀 Matthew McConaughey would be the right one. He may be a bit older and not as handsome as me but he’s the best choice. And if he’s too busy, then Adam Sandler, Ben Affleck or Jon Snow could be good candidates.

What’s your favourite word in English?

Together, massive or huge?

What’s your favourite word in Czech?

Thank you (děkuji) – I use this word each and every day. And I am always happy when I find that other people can use it, too.

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Photos from Ondřej Hnilička.

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More protests in Prague: Anti-racism and xenophobia rally photo report

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By Ryan Keating-Lambert

More protests on Wenceslas Square today in response to the ‘refugee crisis’ that is currently all over the media. The anti-Islam and anti-immigration protesters under the National Museum expressed their concerns through loud chants guided by chosen speakers on the museum balcony, while under the statue of St Wenceslas the pro-refugee crowd preferred to make an impact through motivational speeches and dance.

Both groups appeared to draw bigger crowds this time. The protesters then marched to Náměstí Míru where the event concluded. Check out some of the photos from Wenceslas Square below.

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5 people in Prague that you should know

Horek

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How would you describe Prague in only a few words?

Although I was born in Washington D.C., I have spent 14 years of my life living in Prague. It’s the longest I have lived anywhere on the planet. I would have to describe Prague as being my compass of growth as a person.

Where would you like to hang out in Prague?

I would like to hang out on the other side of the river but it is too hard to cross the bridge. So basically since I live, work and breath in Žižkov, you can just find me in Žižkovšiška in the day, Palác Akroplolis at night to be truthful.

If you could go back in time and see anything, what would you choose to see?

I’m kind of a simple person in a lot of ways. I would like to just go back to when music was good because of creativity, rather than because it sounds like what everyone else is recreating.

What’s your favorite word in English and in Czech?

I am not sure I have only one word in English but favorite phrase is “Ya know What Om Sayin?” but my favorite word in Czech is “určitě”… So I guess they kind of go hand in hand.

Who would play you in a movie about your life?

So I think it would have to be Marlon or Shawn Wayans but I wouldn’t mind if Vince Vaughn, Matthew McConaughey or Andy Samberg could pull it off and handle the role.

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How would you describe Prague in only a few words?

Small but big city, where you can do everything you want.

Where do you like to hang out in Prague?

Any place that has good beer and where you can meet people… also I love the Komiks party!

If you could go back in time and see anything, what would you choose to see?

I am fascinated by the buildings of Modernism. Maybe I would travel back in time at the time of their construction. in the nineteenth century.

What is your favourite word in English and in Czech?

‘Ano’ is for me very very funny, because if I translate it into Spanish it seems that people are saying ass all the time. And in English, ‘AMBITCHOUS’ (striving to be more of a bitch than the average bitch).

Who would play you in a movie about your life?

I’m an actor, very difficult casting! Maybe James Franco.

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How would you describe Prague in only a few words?

Pleasant – I’ve never heard anyone, who has visited Prague, saying that (s)he didn’t like it.

Where do you like to hang out in Prague?

Žižkov and Vinohrady – you can find all you need for a great night out, be it culture, romantic dinner or godless drinking.

If you could go back in time and see anything, what would you choose to see?

I would love to see the invention of the printing press and the facial expressions of people holding a book for the first time.

What is your favourite word in English and in Czech?

EN – “breathtaking” CZ – “ba” (archaic conjunction or dialectical yes in some parts of Moravia)

Who would play you in a movie about your life?

Steve Carell.

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How would you describe Prague in only a few words?

Mesmerizing. Breathtaking. Home.

Where do you like to hang out in Prague?

I really like to go to Naplavka and sit near the river. Something about having the backdrop of the city around you as the sun sets is one of the most beautiful sights you can see. It just makes your heart feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

If you could go back in time and see anything, what would you choose to see?

I would most definitely go back to the High Renaissance period to Italy and sneak into the Apostolic Palace to watch Michelangelo paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

What’s your favorite word in English and in Czech?

My favorite word in English is “onomatopoeia” because it’s hilarious, and my favorite word in Czech is probably “šiška,” because my favorite letter in the Czech language is the “š,” because it sounds so cute and sweet! You can’t help but feel happy when you say “šiška.”

Who would play you in a movie about your life?

Yolandi Visser from Die Antwoord, but not because we look so much alike (we DON’T at all.) When she raps, we have the same high-pitched squeaky voice like mine when I get overly excited, so its nice to know someone with that same trait about them. Plus, she’s probably the only person I can think of who’s as weird as I am and doesn’t mind it.

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How would you describe Prague in only a few words?

The place that will kick you square in the ass if you are not looking but in the end will gently bring you up to a place where you want to be.

Where would you like to hang out in Prague?

Any park with a view and a beer garden! The Letna park view is the one that provoked me to move here!

If you could go back in time and see anything, what would you choose to see?

Woodstock.

What’s your favorite word in English and in Czech?

English: “Yes” Czech: “No”.

Who would play you in a movie about your life?

Kelli Garner.

Interviewed by Ryan Keating-Lambert.

Iva on Cafedu – Prague’s popular study café

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As someone who both works and studies, I find it extremely hard at the end of the day to actually open up a textbook, let alone even think about studying at all. A friend of mine who was a med student kept talking about this café next to Muzeum metro station that I had to try out. So one day I finally bit the bullet and checked out Cafedu, as well as the studyroom upstairs. Low and behold, I actually got some work done. The coffee is good, the decor nice, and there are so many windows to let in natural light and keep you sane while you’re furiously cramming before an exam. But I think the best thing for me is the diversity. So many different languages, and so many different students – but we all have one thing in common, we’re all freaking out about that work we’ve left until the last minute.. It sounds bad, but it makes me more comfortable when other people are stressing about this stuff rather than just myself 😉 The studyroom is open 24 hours and is extremely affordable, as is the café downstairs. Cafedu recently celebrated their first birthday with an awesome party hosted by owner and founder Iva Pejsarová. Check out our interview with Iva on her inspiration and journey of opening the café.

Are you from Prague originally?

Yes, I am. Born and bred.

Tell us a bit about your childhood..

I grew up with my mom and twin brother in the southern suburbs of Prague. I think I had a great childhood, I had many cool friends, there was no Facebook yet so I think growing up was a bit easier. I spent a lot of time outside and also did quite well at school. Just a normal happy childhood.

What did you want to be when you were young?

As far as I remember I wanted to be a psychologist. When I grew up a bit and was choosing my major at university, I really wanted to work for the United Nations.

Very nice, and you have a twin brother, I’ve always wanted a twin. Tell us about it..

It’s just a “normal thing” for me to have a twin… I’ve never not had a twin brother, so it’s hard to say how different it is. We were very close until we turned 11 – until then we spent 99% of our time together. We went to the same kindergarden, the same school, the same class… So being twins allowed us to spend A LOT of time together which definitely makes people close (but of course we fought like crazy a lot too!). I went to a different school at the age of 11 and that seperated us a little bit. But all in all, I think we are quite close – and Cafedu has actually forced us back together a little bit and I am really quite grateful for that :).

How did you get the idea to open this cafe? Tell us a bit about the process.

When I studied abroad, I was really inspired by my classmates. I thought how important it is to have such interesting and inspiring people around oneself, people who represent good values. We spent quite a lot of time at the university library that was open nonstop, and since I’m not a morning person, I spent a lot of nights there. I missed this motivating environment when I returned to Prague and felt that Czech students were starting to change their approach to studying and were becoming more active. So the main idea was to open a nonstop studyroom that would be alive with students; the coffee bar was just a necessary thing to cover the expenses. On the other hand, a coffee place can provide another cozy place to study/work in that it is more lively and “louder”, so it took up its own role and became an indispensable part of the whole project. Having had absolutely zero experience with business or coffee, you can imagine that the whole process was quite overwhelming.

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Well, you certainly did a good job. What different kinds of students are in there?

Mostly human. A couple of puppies visit us as well from time to time 🙂 There are lots of medical students, law students, economics and natural science students. Mostly studying at university – we don’t have that many high school students showing up. There are people who come in groups, but there are also “loners”. I think about half of them are foreign and half are Czech.

Why is it better than or different to other study places?

The studyroom is open nonstop. You can bring coffee, drinks or food up there (but we really prefer if people buy those things downstairs at the coffee bar, as that’s a way to support us – the rent and all the service around the studyroom are quite expensive). You can meet a bunch of really cool people there and make new friends. There are power points at every table and the tables are large enough for all your notebooks/laptops etc. (even in the coffee room). It’s a just a youthful, lively and inspirational place.

What did you study?

I studied economics. In fact, I’m still a student.

Do you think certain students have a certain look? For example do you ever laugh and think “he’s definitely a med student, or she’s definitely studying law”?

Of course! But you cannot always tell and I misjudge people a lot. But yes, mathematicians, computer-scientists and lawyers may give themselves away ;).

Will you open another cafe?

Seeing how nicely Cafedu was accepted and how people are really using it, I think it may be a good idea to expand.

Where do you like to hang out in Prague?

That’s a good question! In fact, I don’t hang out that much anywhere. I do meet with my girlfriends in one of the places in the southern suburbs where we all come from. Nonetheless, we keep telling ourselves we need to explore much more! When the weather is nice, I like to stay out, so I’m usually looking for outside seating in Prague’s parks.

How would you describe Prague?

A beautiful, historical, cozy and open-minded home.

If you could go back in time and see anything, what would you choose to see?

Wow, that’s a very difficult question! Maybe one of these “unfortunately-we-will-never-find-outs”. Maybe the Big Bang… if there was any…from a safe “distance”.

What’s your favourite word in Czech and in English?

Never thought about it… but the first things that come to mind are: koblížek (donut) and fun.

For more info on Cafedu check out their Facebook

Written and photographed by Ryan Keating-Lambert.

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Protests in Prague: Anti-racism and xenophobia rally photo report

Things are certainly heating up with the current refugee or migrant “crisis”, depending on how you look at the situation in the Czech Republic… Chances are you have seen something in the news because it is quite difficult to avoid at the moment. Here is a photo report of the rally today in Václavské náměstí today. Both sides of the spectrum are represented. What is your opinion on the situation? The anti-Islam protesters definitely outnumbered everyone else. Please comment and share your thoughts and ideas.

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Photos and text by Ryan Keating-Lambert.

Václav Havelka of Please the Trees

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Written by Ryan Keating – Lambert

I recently caught up with Please the Trees frontman and singer-songwriter Václav Havelka at the exclusive listening premiere of the band’s new album ‘( /\ r |>’ (Carp) and chatted about life, Prague, music, and of course trees. Stalin Skate Plaza  was the perfect venue for such an event. With the beating melodic melancholia from beginning to end, the trees surrounding Stalin in Letná Park were certainly pleased, not to mention the sea of onlookers and myself.

Having heard some of the band’s previous music I was sure the album would be good, but it blew me away. The thumping beat of the track ‘Suite F’ reminded me somewhat of a darker and moodier Queens of the Stone Age, while the music video for it reminded me somewhat of Scandinavian group Fever Ray – a gorgeous assault on the senses. This entire interview was done while Havelka was spinning tracks on a turntable, so in some way I think the music itself shapes this interview a lot too.

So, obvious question first.. I’m sure you’re asked this a lot. How many people talk about your name being similar to Vaclav Havel’s.

There is no connection but I’m happy I had a chance to meet him in person. Years ago on one of Lou Reed’s last visits here, I was told he was coming and that they’re looking for his personal driver and asked if I was available. I ended up doing it. One of the meetings was with Vaclav Havel. When they came out of the restaurant where the meeting took place Vaclav was cheering to everybody around, shaking hands. When he came to me he introduced himself saying “Hi, I’m Vaclav Havel,” and I said “Hi, I’m Vaclav Havelka” and he burst out laughing. This was my only chance to meet him before he died, and it was amazing. Love the man. Am proud that I experienced an artist leading this country.

You’re originally from East Bohemia, tell us a bit about your childhood..

I was born in Pardubice and when I was 7 we moved to the Krkonoše mountains where my parents started to work as hotel caretakers. From then up until I was twenty years old we were living a nomad life, moving around, changing schools. This gave me strength to grow as an individual and define my personality, love of travelling and love of meeting different people.

What did you want to be when you were a kid?

I think I wanted to be a pirate or a villain or something. I still feel the same. Then I discovered rock and roll, found out that in art basically anything is possible when you work hard and know what you want.. and that was it for me.

I’ve heard your name means that you literally play music to “please the trees”. Have you always been in touch with nature and the environment?

For me, everything I do is kind of unconsciously done with nature, I don’t even think about it. It’s in my roots. My family from my mother’s side were farmers, guess that’s where my love for folk music came from. It used to be for the music of ordinary people back then – workers, farmers. Then it changed to the music of intellectuals. When I was starting this band with guitar player Zdeněk Kadlec we were joking that since we don’t have fans we will play to please the trees…

Tell us a little bit about the Please the Trees project..

We started that in 2010, a friend of ours, John Reynolds – a gardener in Manhattan, secretly plants trees in different gardens he takes care of, and he suggested that we should do the same.. And we thought, wow that’s an interesting idea. So when I’m booking a show now I ask the promoter if we can plant a tree somewhere, with someone who’s gonna take care of it. We have a map of them on our Facebook profile. At the moment it’s 267 trees. We wrote a tribute song to John called ‘Paint This City Green’ and released it on the A Forest Affair record.

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Photo: Julie Hrnčířová

You’ve toured Europe, the United States and the UK, and also Israel. How does the audience differ abroad to here?

Being able to travel with the music and communicate across the world through different cultures is the main goal for me. It’s also very spiritual. Playing a show is a ritual for me. Seems like in our music there’s something that people from anywhere can identify with. We love playing small rooms, feeling the crowd. I like to challenge myself and the band. I’d rather play for crowds of strangers than people who love us. The best experience in this sense lately was opening for Robert Plant in July in Brno. We had a great time but some of the people couldn’t stand us. We were chosen by the man himself but were not announced, nor did we bother to introduce ourselves. I received e-mails after the show from people saying that we should simply stop performing, they couldn’t stand it.

I read recently that your band was described as being part Grizzly Bear and part Arcade Fire, would you agree?

Everyone has their own associations depending on what they like. I’ve heard a lot of them, sometimes strange, funny but interesting. We are influenced by many things, many bands, various musical styles. We do not think about what we play. It’s very intuitive. We haven’t even rehearsed in the past two years at all. The new record was written and rehearsed on the road. I’m happy that I have a rhythm section I can depend on (Míra Syrný on bass and Jan Svačina on drums), and that is able to serve the song.

Tell us about Carp, why “carp”?

Every record of ours has a story. This one started a few years ago when I bought this drawing of carps from the young artist Hubert Suchý. This drawing of his really appealed to me. I knew when I saw it that I was gonna use it for sure in the future. Using it for the cover art of the record and calling it Carp felt very natural then. Carp is some sort of a symbol for South Czech where the city of Tabor is, and also where the band has its roots. This record is about going back to the roots as well as a new chapter in our history.

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Album art: Hubert Suchý

Then came the idea for the first video for the song Suite F. Since calling the record Carp we had to use footage of carp fishing from a pond but we wanted to give it an even darker edge with the demon and create sort of our own mythology.

That’s very interesting. I understand you have some other music projects, what else are you working on at the moment?

I get so much inspiration from different places, but I can’t do everything with one band. Each project has it’s own concept and identity, they’re parallel lives. At the moment it’s Were Mute with multi instrumentalist Carl Warwick, noise experimental project Vac da Hawk or with the rapper Martin Tvrdy aka Bonus project Tvrdy/Havelka with which we reworked old Czech underground hits with electronic arrangements.

Busy guy. You’ve also written music for some theatre productions, are you a theatre goer?

My relationship with theatre started when I married an actress. I love working on music for plays. It’s a different kind of work when I’m in the service of the director. It’s very organic and you never know where it’s gonna take you until the opening. I did a couple things at the Prague Estates Theatre, Dejvicke Divadlo, Alfred ve dvore and Divadlo na zabradli. Last year I did screen music for the film Mista with David Boulter from Tindersticks.

What do you listen to when you’re chilling out at home?

I listen to music all the time. I feel like a music fan more than musician. There’s so much new music but at the same time I’m always filling in the gaps in my knowledge. I’ve been a MOJO magazine subscriber for a year and have read lots of musical blogs and other magazines like Wire, Uncut, Full Moon, loved Plan B when it came out, also Arthur magazine, Under The Radar etc.

What are your music guilty pleasures? Any mainstream pop in your record collection?

I always thought when growing up that values reside in underground stuff so that’s where I want to belong. Then when I got there I discovered that most of the people there were narrow-minded lazy posers. People say pop is evil but I don’t think so. Madonna grew up on the streets, she used to be a punk. She does what she loves and is super professional. The same for Justin Timberlake and others. I don’t judge anybody. I think it’s very important to do something, anything. Not just sit, drink and curse. That’s quite typical for the Czech underground music scene especially.

What’s your favorite kind of tree?

Probably the birch tree.

Nice choice. How would you describe Prague?

Hard to say. I’m not a city type but I don’t mind living here. It’s a village.

If you could go back in time and see anything, what would you see?

Musically? Hank Williams, Miles Davis or John Coltrane playing live. Hendrix, The Doors too or early Bob Dylan.

What’s your favorite word in English and in Czech?

Humility.. pokora in Czech.

http://www.pleasethetrees.com
http://www.facebook.com/pleasethetrees
soundcloud.com/please-the-trees
bandcamp.pleasethetrees.com

Written by Ryan Keating-Lambert. Photography by Julie Hrnčířová.

Prague local Jan and his Arcade Game Museum

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Whether you’re a hardcore ‘World of Warcraft’ gamer that stays up all night battling it out with friends online, or a 20 something guy like myself that misses the days of playing multiplayer ‘MarioKart 64’ on Nintendo, chances are you’ve been touched by video games in one way or another. Jan in particular was touched by the retro arcade games that he played as a kid – so much that he began collecting them and opened his own arcade game museum in Prague. From ‘Space Invaders’ to ‘Pac Man’, you can play it all here. The space actually has the largest retro-arcade gamehall and museum in Europe! The look and atmosphere of the museum is unbelievably cool, reminds me a bit of the movieTron, all that was missing was the Daft Punk soundtrack. It was also pretty cool to hear a bit about Czech gaming history, especially about the addictive communist classic ‘Nu Pogodi!’, based on an old Russian cartoon.

Where are you originally from?

I’m a native, born in Prague and living near Kladno.

How did you open this museum? What gave you the idea?

I simply love the colourful world of video games and dreamt about having my own arcade collection when I was a kid. I used to collect old consoles and game cartridges, but then it all changed when I bought my first arcade machine – ‘Klax’ by Atari. I actually still have this today. After that I thought that if no one would take care of these old machines, then it was up to me. So then I started to collect machines, parts, and of course amazing team members who have helped make this arcade circus happen. I’m very grateful.

Was it difficult to import some of these games?

The majority have been imported from other countries in Europe, so not that difficult. It’s harder to ship them from the US. To ship a single machine would cost more than 20K Czech crowns + purchase and transport in the States.

What did you want to be when you were a kid?

I dreamt of being an astronaut, racecar driver and a fireman!

What are your favourite games?

Well, to be honest I’m a collector, not a gamer. I focus on 2D games from the golden age of the 80s. These games will be legends forever.

How have games and the people that play them changed over the years?

Our gamers are a little bit older than what we remember from when we were kids 😉 These games provide you with love for life.

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Any visitors that don’t want to leave at the end of the day? I don’t think I would.

Yes! Sometimes we have to turn off the electricity to force them out.

What else do you do in your free time?

First of all I need to say that this is my second job. I spend about 5-8 hours in the museum every day after work, which doesn’t leave me with much free time. But the free time I do have, I spend with my family – we’ve got two kids. I’ve recently started playing squash again too. It’s good to be doing that again.

Do your children like spending time in the museum too?

Yes, they love it! I’m trying to give them a similar game experience to what I had growing up. At home we play the Sega Master System, Sega Mega Drive, Nintendo and Super Nintendo.

And what about popular games during communism? I recently got ‘Nu Pogodi’, I understand that was one that every kid at that time was into.

Yes, a few of my friends had it and I used to play it. It was the communist version of Game and Watch by Nintendo. But I’ve never been a huge fan of these LCD games.

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Photo: linkbuilding-blog.blogspot.com

The stuff of my childhood! How would you describe Prague in only a few words?

It’s a great historic city, but is engulfed with tourist shops run by people that are anything but natives.. I also need to mention the Czech pubs.. You’re doomed when you enter. The heart of every Czech beats in the pubs, so cheers!

If you could go back in time and see anything, what would you see?

I would go back to the Second World War and show the Nazis that Czechs can’t be pushed around and we know how to fight for freedom! This was really a time of heros. I think it’s one of the most inspirational times in history.

What is your favourite word in Czech and in English?

I simply love the word ‘arcade’ in English. And in Czech it would have to be ‘laska’ – the meaning of this you can only discover from the hearts of Czech women.

Who would play you in a movie about your life?

Can’t think of anyone in particular, but they would have to be a bad-ass workaholic who never surrenders 😉

Check out more info on the ArcadeHry website.

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Written by Ryan Keating-Lambert. Photos from ArcadeHry Museum.

Film artist Kurt on Sense8 and other work

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Concept and storyboard film artist Kurt van der Basch is surely a name that many in the Prague art and film scene would recognise. Originally from Canada, he moved to Prague to pursue a career in art which inevitably led him to film. Like many of us expats, he began teaching English. Kurt’s journey and career has been incredibly diverse and I’ve personally been looking forward to this interview for some time. On top of that, I’m also a major movie nerd so editing and listening back to this interview took a while – there were moments that I had to say to myself ‘Ryan, just shut up…” From working on recent Prague based films like Child 44 to sketching 100s of storyboard frames for the new Netflix series Sense8, there are some interesting insights into the film industry in Prague, and Central Europe… Not to mention some of Kurt’s early obsessions that got him into drawing in the first place. Enjoy!

Where are you from originally?

The east coast of Canada, Nova Scotia.. Halifax. Well, not really from Halifax, but from a suburban little town near there…. But we moved around a lot.

And what are your greatest memories of growing up in that part of Canada?

The landscape and the weather. The long winters, meter-high snow.

Do you miss the snow?

Sure, because I’m not into driving so it’s never really affected my day. I just love it. And there’s something cozy about the snow reflecting off the ceiling too – it kind of lights up a whole room.

What did you want to be when you were a kid?

I really wanted to be an Egyptologist. I had that worked out for years. I took it so seriously. I even had a newspaper cut-out of me somewhere saying “I want to be an Egyptologist” when I was about 12. 1986 I think it was. There are actually a lot of Czech egyptologists. It’s a specialty here, it’s always been a dream to go there but it would be really hard now.

When did you get into drawing?

I was always into it, as far as I can remember. I was always into drawing black and white, in pencil. My Mum would just sit me down and I would draw.

And what would you draw? 

Well, I would obsess and draw one thing over and over again. I had a mermaid obsession, and the egyptology was a part of a lot of the stuff that I would draw too – I think that had a big impact on my drawing because it was so graphic and standardised. You know, a hand always looks exactly the same, so does a foot. So I’d really try and nail it. But then I got into music which became a huge diversion in my life. So then I would draw pictures of Beethoven over and over and over.

That’s really nice. To be so young and drawing Beethoven? That’s quite unheard of.

When I was 12 I broke my arm doing gymnastics in rubber boots on the grass… the wet grass (laughs). And it hurt so badly – it was coming out at a 90 degree angle.

Ouch!

Yes.. anyhow, I was in the cast for about a year and when I got it off I met a girl who played the piano and she was really good and she taught me some Beethoven so then I became obsessed. So my parents got me a used piano and a teacher. And as an obsessive gay boy with no friends, I would go home and practice and practice and all of a sudden I went from a total beginner to quite advanced in just a few years. Then I went to university and studied music. Everything was music. But the whole time I was drawing and drawing and drawing. You know, we have sort of a romantic idea of artists – that they should suffer and it should be really hard, and practise 7 hours a day. A lot of people, including me, find that very attractive. So I was a good artist, but because it came easily to me and there was no romantic suffering involved, I didn’t feel like it was a very special skill. The whole time my Mum was saying “why don’t you go to art school?” and I thought “please, I’m a pianist” (laughs). So then in my third year of studies I realised that I wasn’t mean to be a pianist, but an artist.

How did you get to Prague?

I was finishing music at university, and I sort of wished that I wasn’t because I wanted to be an artist. Originally I thought I wanted to be a painter, so I thought I had to go to Europe. I had a friend, Moira, who had moved to Prague to teach English, so I just copied her and came here to teach for three months and then all these fateful things happened… and that’s why I’m still here 16 years later.

Wow, a long time.

Yeah, I arrived the summer of 99.

That almost sounds like that Bryan Adams song.

Yes! Canadians roll their eyes at Bryan Adams, because he’s Canadian. We often give people from our own country a hard time.

How did you make this transition from teaching into art?

It’s so weird, you know when you think, oh god if I hadn’t met that person at that time.

Sure.

I had a friend who was a teacher and he had a friend who was working for Barrandov studios here. And she said that she knew some guys doing a movie who needed an art department assistant… Which means tea and photocopies but you have to sort of know something about art. So we got in touch and I brought them my sketchbook and they gave me the job, and yeah I did a lot of tea and a lot of coffee. But it was a fantasy movie and one time some things needed to be designed and drawn up earlier so they gave me a chance at it. So I just kept drawing and making photocopies. I could draw and also speak Czech which was good for them. Eventually I became a set painter and did that for three jobs and it was so great, I could have almost done that as a career actually. You’re filthy all the time and building scaffolding and stuff.

It’s nice to be able to use your hands like that.

Yeah, it was really great and we would go for lunch together and some people wouldn’t let us in because we were so dirty and black. 90% of what you paint is black. When we did Blade 2 we had to paint a big tunnel that was just hundreds of metres of white plaster bricks that we needed to paint to look like real bricks. Brick, brick, brick, brick (laughs).

(Laughs) Could get a little monotonous?

Monotonous but fun and the guys we worked with were really great. At the end of the day I just wanted to draw, so I left the set painting and got into the illustration side of film making.

How long did it take you to learn Czech?

Well I met my boyfriend after working here for two months and he didn’t speak any English – we’re still together after 16 years. I was gung ho because I’d just arrived and wanted to learn Czech. But you learn Czech mainly from arguments, so you know I would write words on my hand to arm myself for the next argument, like “irresponsible” (laughs). Hmmm I have to remember to say that to him. And I worked in bars too where my Czech improved a lot.

At what point did you think “I’ve made it, I’m living out a dream job”

The first time I saw my name in the credits, that was pretty cool. But cooler than that was the first time my parents and my sister saw my name in a credited movie that they went to the cinema to see. That was really cool.

Would you have any advice for other expats that come here and want to pursue their dreams?

Well, for me it was really useful to learn the language. I mean in Holland or Germany it’s hard to learn because everyone speaks English, but here it’s possible to learn it and really integrate with it. So that’s a big one. Learn the language. And also to get friends who are Czech.

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What are some of your fondest memories on film sets?

Me and my friend Chris who also works in the movies, we worked on this movie Doom and we were doing this bio lab filled with hearts and lungs, and a veiny dildo that we snuck into the background 🙂 Anyway, we rigged them up with LEDs, it looked really cool. And during the filming we had to lie under the tables aqueezing air pumps to make them beat and move which was great. So that was a funny one.

(Laughs) That sounds brilliant. Now from what I understand, you’ve worked with some directors and filmmakers more than once. Tell us about some of them.

Well I have worked with Tom Tykwer on several things now and through him Wachowskis. Tykwer always uses the same team who I met on Season of the Witch. That was an amazing gig in Budapest but I also just fell in love with this art department and we’re really close now. And it was around this time that Tykwer’s designer Uli Hanisch said I had to buy this book called ‘Cloud Atlas’. This was in 2008 and he said a movie might happen, and then a couple of years later it did so I went over to Berlin to do a week long illustration workshop and then they used this as a pitch for the studios while the Wachowskis were doing the same thing with their art department in Chicago. Then a couple of years later it happened. I also had a job working with a Dutch designer on a children’s film. We really hit it off together so I’ve worked with him a bit. And there are also some commercial directors I always go back to, particularly those who specialise in hair. So for a long time the only commercials I did were hair commercials. Have I told you about this hair world?

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Cloud Atlas

No, please do.

Well with these hair commercials, the directors really guard their tricks. There is this one trick where they use a phantom slowmotion camera and there is this big rig that the hair model sits in like a guillotine with all these holes in it and they’ll bring the hair up in strands and spend about an hour setting this up. Then when they drop it, the weights fall down and it flies into the air and you think her head’s going to come off but instead the hair falls in these beautiful individual locks that they catch with a phantom camera. Then you get this slow beautiful Lars Von Trier look (laughs). They always want to use the same people, it’s very close. Commercials are great.

Now, you worked on Child 44 that was released recently, and it was actually filmed in Prague. For people that see the movie, can they recognise Prague there?

Constantly. Any exterior, even if you can’t see exactly where it’s done, you can still tell the sidewalk or a doorway and know that it’s Prague.

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Child 44

I really look forward to seeing it. So, tell us about Sense8. Everyone is talking about this on the internet at the moment.

Wow, Sense8 is crazy. The crew said it was the hardest job they have ever done. It was filmed in Nairobi, Berlin, Chicago, Deli, Iceland.. everywhere. But I only worked on the Tykwer parts in Berlin, there was a director for each section. I think it looks really good, the trailers look great. Also Darryl Hannah seems so interesting and weird. All the crew on Sense8 pulled really long hours – I did too. For scheduling and budget reasons, Tom Tykwer could only bring me over to Berlin for a few days with the plan to storyboad only the trickiest action sequences but as we were considering them there was always one more and one more that would be great to have boarded out. SO in the end we were hammering them out in rough form at an incredible speed. I did more frames per day on this job than I ever have on any other one. I counted 280 drawings in 3 days. Though it shows! They’re awful but they do the job. It’s great to see how positive the reaction to the show is after the divided reception of Jupiter Ascending (another Wachowski film) and Cloud Atlas.

SENSE8 Page

I think your hard work paid off. What work are you most proud of so far?
Cloud Atlas definitely. I think it’s a masterpiece. And as far as drawing work goes I really liked what I did on Child 44. I was quite impatient for that to come out. And also Jupiter Ascending. There were over 30 concept artists on that film.

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Cloud Atlas Mural

It was stunning, and I also remember seeing the Prague dancing house in that movie!

Yeah! I noticed that too! That was funny. It really worked in that scene and in that environment, it doesn’t work here in Prague.

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Jupiter Ascending

You don’t like it?

No, I don’t. It sticks out like a sore thumb. I think it’s arrogant to take such a beautiful vista and do something so attention-grabbing.  I also did a comic book prologue for Dead Snow 2 which they passed out at Norwegian cinemas – that was nice.

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I also saw on IMDB that you worked on the new Star Wars.. What can you tell me about that?

Nothing at all. The NDA on that job is major.

And what are you working on at the moment?

I’ve been in London for nearly six months on a big studio movie with another crazy strict NDA so you’ll have to wait for it to come out 🙂 Something else I’ve worked on that is due to come out soon is a Tom Tykwer and Tom Hanks film called A Hologram for the King. That was a really enjoyable Berlin job and I think it will be a good movie.

For the first time this July I’m also teaching a one week course at the university of West Bohemia about storyboard illustration and I’m very nervous about it.

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Sounds great! I’m sure you’ll be fine. How would you describe Prague in a few brief words?

Prague is trashy and chic all at once – a great combination.

If you could go back in time and see anything, what would you see?

I would love to go back to ancient Egypt or late 18th century Vienna with Beethoven and Mozart around. That’d be really cool.

What is your favorite word in English and in Czech?

Does Polari count as English? Because I do like ‘Zhoosh’. In Czech I think Jejda is funny.

Who would play you in a movie about your life?

Some friends used to say I looked like Jonathan Rhys Myers, which I didn’t see. But then recently there were some pictures of him looking puffy and sad drinking straight out of a bottle of vodka on the street and I thought ok now I can sort of see it (laughs).

Where do you like hanging out in Prague?

Well actually I’m not a big hanger-outerer. Once in a while I go crazy but I spend a lot of time on my own. I really need it. So I hang out in our kitchen with our three cats a lot (laughs) and I also like going to the movies a lot. I’m also learning to play the accordion.

Keep updated with Kurt’s work on his Facebook page.

Check out the Sense8 trailer below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E9c_KSZ6zM

Written by Ryan Keating-Lambert. Photos by Ryan Keating-Lambert and Kurt van der Basch.


René on martial arts and the sexy saxophone

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Photo by Martin Něrgeš

René’s interview was full of interesting wisdom. Rarely do you meet an individual so dedicated to sport and fitness that also happens to play the saxophone very very well – a hell of a combination. He gives us a rundown on Wing Tsun martial arts and the odd connection it has to the saxophone as well as telling us about a real fight he was in on a Prague tram. A fine edition to the People in Prague hall of fame. Enjoy!

Are you originally from Prague?

Actually, I’m not. I’m from a small town called Hořovice. It is about 50km from Prague on the way to Plzen. But I’ve been living in Prague for more than 10years.

Tell us a little bit about how you began playing the saxophone?

The reason why I picked the saxophone was because nobody wanted a clarinet 🙂 Sounds funny but it was the sad truth. I had been playing clarinet for 10 years before I had my first band experience. I didn’t find any bands that wanted me. I always heard “Rene you play well but you should buy a saxophone!”, so I did and I got 3 offers from different bands and I still didn’t even know how to play it!

What kind of work do you do with it now?

I’m still focusing on performing and doing shows.

What has been the greatest moment that you’ve had playing so far? Any special performances that you’ll never forget?

Ohh…yeah….I’ve had lots of great experiences, like playing for a packed Sasazu or traveling abroad. But I will never forget one wedding at Žofín in Prague. It was a Czech-Australian wedding and right before me there was a philharmonic couple playing a beautiful Dvořák symphony and I was up next with house music on the saxophone! So different! I was a bit scared because I didn’t want to spoil the romantic atmosphere, but I was told by the wedding coordinator to stick to the plan. To my surprise the people loved the music I played and in one minute the wedding turned into a crazy disco party!

Where is a good place for jazz and blues in Prague?

I think Jazz Dock is interesting to see. It’s a place on the river with great food and great sound.

Are you influenced by any great saxophonists or other musicians?

I’m influenced by many great saxophonists and also other musicians. But it would be a really long list if I name them all. Some though include, Dake Koz, Everette Harp, Michael Lington, Candy Dulfer, Boney James, Steve Cole… Brian Culbertson (piano), Peter White (guitar).

Many say that the saxophone is one of the sexiest instruments around, would you agree?

Yes, it is one of the sexiest instruments in the world…I can confirm it. When I walk into a club nobody pays attention to me but when I blow some tunes I’m immediately the sexiest guy there. 🙂

Any girls ever thrown their underwear at you on stage?

Heh…Not yet…still waiting for that.

Do you play any other music?

I play various styles of music from smooth jazz, latino, R&B or pop to modern electronic house music. I also do live improvisations with DJs.

Tell us about your other hobbies.

My second love is sport, especially martial arts. I’ve been doing it for 12years and believe it or not, it influenced my saxophone playing the most.

And how it influence that?

That is a very good and hard question to answer. Music and martial arts have a lot in common, although lots of people would put it differently. I started to play the saxophone when I had almost a 1st Technician grade in Wing Tsun (which is something like a black belt) and I had my own martial arts school. Wing Tsun is a great system (Bruce Lee did it before he went to the USA) and I met the right people who understood it. It completely changed the quality of my life. Wing Tsun teaches you fighting principle abilities like Timing, Sensitivity, Discipline, Attention, Balance, etc…which are necessary skills not only for music but for life in general. I can say that I would never have started playing the saxophone if I hadn’t done martial arts.

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Photo by Jiří Schwertner for EWTO

Have you ever been in a real fight?

Yes I have. I was approached by a random guy in a tram. He’d had some alcohol and a bad day I guess. He probably thought beating somebody would make him feel better. In the end his mood was worse and so was his nose.

How would you describe Prague?

Small but beautiful.

If you could go back in time and see anything, what would you see?

The dinosaurs.

Who would play you in a movie about your life?

I have never thought about it before…but definitely Robert Downey Jr.

Nice choice! What is your favourite word?

Pyjamas in both Czech and English.

René is available for weddings and private parties and can be contacted via email: info@renejunior.cz

Also check him out at these performances coming up…

23.5 Občanská plovárna (Praha) – XS Retro Párty

29.5 Cafe Bar Top (Kladno) – saxophone show

30.5 M1 Lounge (Praha, Masná ul) – club show

16.6 Fashion club Prague – Charitativní vystoupení pro pomoc pacientům s onkologickým onemocněním

27.6 Jazz Dock (Praha) – Brazilian latino night with Kleberson Oliveira band

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Prague yo-yo champion Honza and his shop

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Honza’s YOYO STORE seems like it would be a childhood dream for many kids all over the world. Since he was 12, Honza has been an eager yo-yoer with several competitions under his belt, and has since become a pillar of the Czech yo-yoing community as well as an organiser and respected judge. Prague is a city full of hidden gems which is why I’m not surprised that this underground community exists. Stepping into the YOYO STORE in Nové Město was a breath of fresh air. An entire wall covered in yo-yos of different shapes and sizes brought out the child within, and out the back – a large chillout area filled with locals, students and walk-ins showing impressive tricks or just relaxing on couches. All around, a really chilled atmosphere. Honza gave me a low-down on the growing yo-yo community in Prague as well as let me in on some of the unwritten rules of living in Prague.

Are you originally from Prague, Honza?

Yes, I am.

And how long have you been yo-yoing? I’m not even sure if that’s the right verb to use.

Sure it is. Do you know how to use one?

Well, I had one when I was younger that I played with quite a lot. A free one from a supermarket.

Was it a coca-cola one? Look for it because you can sell them on eBay for like $2000!

Woah, that’s nice.

Well, to answer your question I started with yo-yos when I was about 12 when I was bored. I googled it, but actually “jojo.cz” was a gay bar website.

(Laughs), ok so not quite what you were expecting.

After I adjusted the search a bit and found out some stuff about it, I started to play with it and got involved in the (then) very small community in Prague (from yoyo.cz). I then met up in a park with some random strangers who were all over 30. Yeah, and then it just snowballed and we organised contests, local and European. Aside from that, in 2009 we started this company which imported Duncan yo-yos – which are the most popular. And then eventually it turned into a store with everything.

Very nice. So you started online?

Yes, we started with wholesale distribution then we needed a warehouse. I found a really really small storage place near where I lived. We opened it up and discovered that kids actually took time to go there. So then we started to do yo-yo lessons for free. They would come and we would teach them whatever. Then there were too many of them and we were selling enough yo-yos to rent something larger, so we moved here.

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Ok and how is business so far?

Ups and downs, it depends on the season. It depends on whatever school has a yo-yo hype at the time.

Yes, I remember my school had two or three yo-yo crazes. How often does it happen?

Well, once every 5 years there is global boom which usually starts in Japan. There is a company called Bandai, a massive toy manufacter, and every 5 years they do a huge yo-yo promotion that kids go crazy for, so that spike continues to the USA then slowly to Europe. Then it dies down and happens again. In the Czech Republic you can see a similar pattern.

So it’s getting more popular here?

We have definitely seen growth in the community. More active kids, more contests. More and more people are doing something rather than just picking it up for ten days then throwing it away.

That’s good, and what do contests involve? Is it based on whoever can do the best tricks?

It depends on the size. If we have the Czech nationals, which is the biggest national contest in Europe, there are several divisions with girls, beginners and advanced. Then you have the pros and the 5 styles of yo-yoing. One with the yo-yo attached to your finger, one style with a yoyo in each hand and a counterweight, or you have a yo-yo which isn’t attached to a string. People have their own music, and they show the best tricks that they can do and 5 judges have a complicated way of evaluating them.

Recent European Yoyo champion Jakub Dekan from the Czech Republic

Is it like gymnastics when they hold up a sign with a score?

The best one the community could come up with after 20 years of competitive yo-yoing was.. You know those clickers that you use to count people? So you have two of them, one for positive points and one for negative. There is evaluation of technique which is 60%, then 40% for performance divisions which involves stage movement, interaction – this part is similar to maybe figure-skating. Then you put it into a really complicated Japanese YoYo association approved excel spreadsheet.

Sounds quite complex. And do you judge sometimes?

Yes, I organise stuff and judge too.

Cool, and how many competitions do you have roughly?

Right now, this year there will be more than 10 which are involved in the Czech Yoyo Cup where you adopt the points to have an ultimate winner at the end. We even have different competition levels; A+, A, B and C. As well as different skills and different divisions – depending on the size of the contest.

Which competitions have you competed in?

Well I don’t compete much anymore, but I won the Czech nationals in 2006.

Honza showing his skills

So congratulations for your win in 2006!

Well, there were only four of us (laughs)

Still impressive!

After that I started organising contests and going to European and worldwide ones.

And which is the biggest or best to go to?

Well definitely you have the World YoYo Contest which is the biggest thing there is. In 2014 we did it in Prague. It used to be in one place in Florida, in a horrible hotel convention centre. But after 15 years we managed to negotiate with the organiser and take it. And now we have managed to move it around the world. This year it will be in Tokyo, which will be exciting because ALL the major players are there.

And you’re going to that one?

I hope so. If I sell enough yo-yos!

Do you have a favourite yo-yo?

Well whatever one I have with me. There are so many of them so you’re always trying new ones. It’s like trying new cars. It’s weird, but good.

Are there any really special ones with crazy decorations or functions?

Well, the Japanese have some. They have a yo-yo made from space age materials that is $600… and people actually buy it. It spins forever and is very precise, but I think it kind of takes the fun out of it. It’s like a surgical instrument, it’s no longer a toy.

What’s a good yo-yo to start with?

There are three or four that you can buy, but right now the best one would be a YoYo Jam Classic, which is an American made yo-yo for 275 Kc.

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YoYo Jams

Nice that is very reasonable, and I see that you have a little chillout space here in the shop. A good idea.

Yeah, during the mornings it is usually busy with college students and later on kids from schools come in and throw their backpacks somewhere and just chill out, exchange tricks or have little contests like whose yo-yo can spin for the longest or who can get it back to their hand in the most exciting way. They also help entertain the dog we have here.

So you have a social space and a store.

Yes, but we don’t try to be weird about it like those other offical hangout places. We let them do whatever they want in here.

Where do you like to hang out in Prague?

Well, most of the time I spend here. But sometimes I like to go home and just be alone, there are always people here. This area (Nové Město) is very good. It’s bang in the centre but there are no tourists. And the new coffee thing happening in Prague is good too, there are lots of good cafes now. New places to eat too, Vietnamese, fish and chips…

How would you describe Prague?

Affordable, once you understand the unwritten rules it is friendly.

What are some of these rules?

Well, you don’t have to communicate with everyone. You have to know where you’re going. If you wander around and look for something special, you’re not going to find it. You have to know the good places. It can be great to get away from people too. It can be both quiet and busy.

If you could go back in time and see anything, what would you see?

Ummm. The 50s, 60s and 70s in the USA. That’d be interesting and after that I’d have to really think about it. Probably something in Asia.

If there was a movie about your life, which actor would you choose to play you?

Well, it’s not like in the USA or English speaking countries, we don’t know actors very well here. So I don’t know, Steve McQueen or something.

Free yo-yo lessons also happen in-store on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Yo-yos are available to borrow if you don’t have one already. Check out their range of yo-yos and also their new range of frisbees. Definitely a cool place to visit before summer hits the parks. Find them on their website and Facebook for more info.

The YOYO STORE

V Jirchářích 1285/12,

110 00 Prague 1

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Written by Ryan Keating-Lambert. Photos from the YOYO STORE.