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Activist Sergii on Ukraine’s revolution

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By Ryan Keating-Lambert

Regular Prague visitor Sergii Shchelkunov is a Ukrainian civil activist based in Kyiv and has been at the core of the changes that the country has undergone in recent years. Sergii entered politics at a young age and has been striving for change in Kyiv and the whole of Ukraine. However, one of the most interesting parts of Sergii’s story involves his participation in the Euromaidan revolution protests in and around Independence Square against the Yanukovych government that unfolded this time two years ago. This interview gives us a first person insight into the extremes that Sergii and others went to, including making napalm.

So you’re originally from Kyiv? What was it like growing up there?

Yes, not from the historical centre, but one of the outer districts. I grew up around an aircraft plant there, where my father worked and still does. I went to a school for oriental languages and I studied Chinese. You were never allowed to leave the school without your parents. I always had to wait for them to take me home so there wasn’t really any time to play with kids in your neighbourhood. I’ve never learnt how to ride a bicycle, and these are things that kids usually learn quite early.

Well, it’s overrated anyway. What did you want to be as a kid?

I think when you learn foreign languages like I did, you are supposed to grow up to be some sort of diplomat and deal with international affairs, and it was kind of what I wanted. But then I changed my mind and wanted to become a politician. It was just the idea of wanting to change something that got to me. I was hoping to get a national university scholarship, but despite all efforts I had to pay. That’s why I went looking for a job, and then got into social engineering and politics.

And what are you doing at the moment?

In October I finished two big projects – the renovation of the Zhovten cinema in Kyiv and a media project, which was a combination of internet and TV channel stories focusing on urbanism. So now I’m looking for what to do next, meanwhile I keep updating my activist’s blog: shchelkunov.kiev.ua

So onto the Euromaidan revolution. Where were you when this was happening?

I was there. I have a ball bearing (pictured below) that hit my shoulder from some debris. I wasn’t participating every day but I was there when people were first getting together. I was also there the night before the riot police had their last crowd ambush attempt and that’s when they burnt down The Trade Unions Building.

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After that happened, I went back home and tried to process what was going on and I was receiving a lot of text messages that people were organising medical help points and needed all sorts of equipment – scissors, knives, needles etc. When the riot police first started to ambush they shut down the subway, there were also issues with mobile internet. Basically, they were trying to limit communication between protestors. So we had a girl who was sitting down and monitoring requests from these medical points and relaying what they needed to us. We then created a group of people to try and fill the requests and go to pharmacies and shops etc. That’s how we spent our nights during the revolution.

And the last thing that we did was actually prepare napalm.

Napalm? The explosive?

Yes, we got all of the components together and brought them to the city centre, but during the revolution people were using tyres to stop the riot police, and there was a man who had two tyres in his car, got arrested for it and went to prison for two years. And we were carrying NAPALM components (laughs). As we were passing through the checkpoint on the way to the city centre it was quite scary, but we got through

And was it ever used?

No, nobody ever used it but there were a lot of Molotov cocktails around. It was more of a precaution to protect ourselves from the riot police who were using a lot of different weapons. They would throw gas grenades with screws and nails taped to them. They would throw these at protestors.

What was the atmosphere like there? How did it change over that time?

Well in the beginning it was quite good, people were singing and playing music on the stage. Everyone was in a good mood. Everything smelt like a campfire, people were cooking food, musicians were playing the piano that was there. There were kids there as well.

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Source: euromaidan-researchforum.ca

But when the protests had to become violent, everything changed. There was a smell of gas everywhere, you could always hear people screaming or gas grenades exploding. We were building barricades (pictured above) with bags filled with water and snow. It was -20 degrees so they would quickly turn into ice. But they soon learnt how to break through them, so then we used garbage, snow, wood and other things. The barricades never really lasted long, but sometimes a few minutes was all we needed.

How old were the people protesting and working with you? Who was the youngest?

It was a bit different every day but I do remember asking for metal bulletproof vests and a 16-year-old protestor there had some.

Unbelievable, Now for something a little more light-hearted.. What is Ukraine’s idea of Czech people and the Czech Republic?

Probably the first things they think of are beer and also Krtek (laughs). I think that cartoon was on TV in Ukraine as well.

What do you like about Prague? Why do you keep coming back?

I have some friends here involved with human rights who ask me to participate in some things sometimes. And to be honest, it’s also good because It’s not as expensive as other European countries and the Czech and Ukrainian languages have a lot in common, so you can understand a lot here. I also really like DOX, the contemporary art gallery. Prague is really like a labyrinth with Kafka’s scent. Even with the GPS on, I never know which direction I have to go in. Other cities are ok, but here it’s just impossible.

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

I’d have to say Ancient Greece.

What’s your favourite word in Czech?

“Pozor” (caution). We don’t have it in Ukrainian, but in Russian the same word means shame. So whenever I hear it I think of that.

If there was a movie about your life, who would play you?

Well, I’m not really into celebrities but I guess some kind of bearded guy with a tattoo. But… if Keanu Reeves played me, that’d be quite funny.

Finally, if you had to give a message to the rest of the world about Ukraine right now, what would it be?

That Ukraine is the outpost between western civilisation and Russia, and if Ukraine fails then Europe will fail too.

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Photos from Sergii Shchelkunov

Maya on casting, fashion and film

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By Ryan Keating-Lambert

There are some incredible expats living in this city. Each and every one as inspiring as the next, especially for an expat like myself who is constantly searching for the next step; the next challenge. Maya is probably one of the original expats in Prague. Arriving shortly after the Velvet Revolution, she has seen it all and has played a huge role in this insanely addictive city. Her influence can be felt all over the art and fashion scene and speaking to her in her hidden Ujezd studio of Myrnyx Tyrnyx was not just an interview, but invaluable advice about creative life in Prague from one generation of expat to another. Hopefully in the future I can pass down the same wisdom. And also.. her first great love was superman! Read more. Now!

Where are you originally from?

I’m from California, from Santa Monica.

What was it like growing up there?

I grew up during the 80s. Performance art was just emerging and the punk scene was happening. It was so thrilling and new for me! The scene was the beginning of a rebellious voice that I could relate to. That doesn’t exist now. It’s hard when everything has been done.

Why did you come to Prague?

Well, I knew that I didn’t belong in the United States. I wanted something much more challenging. My idea was to set up some kind of business that would be successful but also would be beneficial to the city. Originally it was a little squat in Betlemske namesti where we made a performance centre for about 4-5 months. But after talking to local artists, I eventually decided on a vintage clothing store. But I chose the Czech Republic out of absolute serendipity.

I read that your casting agency Myrnyx Tyrnyx has been pushing racial and cultural boundaries since the beginning. Tell me a little bit about it.

There was a very homogeneous commercial industry here at the time – everybody was white, and not just white but very straight and classically attractive. To me, this was very boring. I tried to shake up the scene a bit with some fashion shows so that people could understand how to wear the clothes I was selling in the store. It was 1995 and at that time people here had just come out of communism. They weren’t individuated. They were very careful not to stand out. And I’d come from this internal and external universe of people shining and being themselves in L.A. So I invited talented interesting people, pierced, dreadlocked, African, South American and Asian, all different body types. And this was the first time the Czech Republic had seen multicultural elements, and I added other elements such as a man wearing a dress, and looking gorgeous! I was also not pro models being thin and classic, I was pro models being healthy and alive.

So you’ve recently started casting for films as well. Tell me about The Zookeeper’s Wife which was recently filmed in Prague Zoo with Jessica Chastain, I’m a huge fan of hers.

She is incredible, isn’t she? It was a unique project. Very deep. A wonderful director from New Zealand, Niki Caro. Something that was very unique about this project and something that I’d never seen before, was that she pretty much didn’t leave the set. She stayed within the mood of the scene that she was shooting. You never saw her floating around and gabbing with people nor did you see her in a classic director’s chair. It’d been said that the film would get some attention for the Academy Awards, so there was a lot of pressure around it but it was actually very calm on set and everyone was in good spirits. I cast 54 roles from people that live in the Czech Republic, and other Eastern European countries.

What are some of your favourite films?

Well, I love The Great Beauty, You, Me and Everyone We Know, and also What About Bob!

Who would play you in a movie about your life?

I’ve been thinking about that and they’re all dead (laughs). Maybe Gilda Radner, she’s from ‘Saturday Night Live’. She was my first idol, or maybe it was superman?.. No, actually superman was my first great love. He was also the only person that I had a poster of on my wall. I went to see one of the old superman films one night and my mum and I were seated behind Christopher Reeves… I saw him kissing a girl and was absolutely flabbergasted!

That’s such a good story.

My heart was crushed! He was MY superman.

How would you describe Prague?

Sparkly and unknowable. In these streets there are possibilities for things to happen that don’t happen anywhere else. You are thinking of someone and they run into you or other coincidental things. There is a lot of that going on here. If your eyes are open and you’re here, a lot of amazing things can happen. It can be very heavy though, especially in the winter.

What is your favourite word in English and in Czech?

I love the word embark. In Czech.. maybe my favourite is one of the first difficult Czech words that I was able to say. So mine is trychtýř, which is a funnel! Whyyyyyyy? (Laughs).

Mine is ‘zmrzlina’.. for the exact same reason.

What advice to you have for creative people that want to establish something in this community?

Have tolerance and compassion. It’s the same advice I’d give to someone who wants to stay in a relationship. Be prepared to stand your ground and persevere, but be diplomatic. Always look for the next challenge and the next adventure.

Photo: www.marielletepper.com

Kateřina on women’s rugby in the Czech Republic

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By Ryan Keating-Lambert

Prague born Kateřina’s lust for life and appetite for experience is inspiring and addictive. She gives off a kind of infectious energy and is an essential drug for the dark winter months of Prague.. AND, she’s also the captain of a women’s rugby team. Check out the interview below to delve into her travels and the growing rugby scene in the Czech Republic. Take a moment to watch their kick-ass promo video too…

 

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

A journalist or some kind of traveling job. I spent hours on my special little pink chair pretending I was on a train or plane.

What sports did you do back then? How did you discover rugby?

I played tennis for my entire childhood, my mum is a tennis trainer. I wanted to start playing some team sports and being a teenager I also wanted to play a sport that my parents didn’t choose for me. And then I read an article about the first rugby club in Prague. It was very random when I think about it..

You recently went to Switzerland for the European trophy, tell me about that.

We went to the Swiss tournament not to win but to try our best against much better and older teams and get the experience of high level 15s rugby. But we found out that it’s actually possible for us to win after intensive preparation! We trained together just a couple of times before going to Switzerland and that was our biggest problem, especially in the technical parts of the game like in line-outs or scrums where you need to spend a lot of time and training. However, the tournament was great motivation for us and a kick off for (hopefully) a brighter future for Czech women’s 15s rugby.

How do Czechs generally respond to rugby? Is it becoming more popular?

Recently rugby is gaining popularity due to the Rugby World Cup that is broadcasted by CT. Rugby is a very attractive sport to watch and even people that don’t know the rules can watch and learn something. People are usually either curious or totally freaked out when I tell them that I actually play rugby. I usually try to postpone that info until later in a conversation, just because people never look at me the same way after they find out I’m a women’s rugby player.

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I heard you also studied in the US for some time?

Yes, I studied film production in Santa Monica College and spent two years on the west coast. I had my dream beach life, but it is good to be back in Prague 🙂

Film production sounds cool, do you have a favourite movie?

Hard to say, I don’t really have a favourite, but my favourite book is ‘Tracey’s Tiger’ by William Saroyan.

What else are you currently doing in Prague? Any other hobbies or interests?

I work for an amazing crew of artists at DRAWetc. I don’t usually have time for anything else besides work and training but these things keep me pretty happy. I like skateboarding and spending time with my friends though.

How would you describe Prague in only a few words?

Friends, family and freedom.

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

Either The Velvet Revolution in Prague in 1989 or the days I spent laughing with my friends.

Who would play you in a movie about your life?

Drew Barrymore.

Nice choice! What is your favourite word in English?

Asparagus, it feels so good when I pronounce it right. It’s hard to make people have a casual conversation about asparagus though.

What is your favourite word in Czech?

It is hard to choose just one, but one of my absolute favourites is to call someone ‘jantar’ – amber.

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Written by Ryan Keating-Lambert. Photos from Kateřina Pokorná

5 more people in Prague that you should know

By Ryan Keating-Lambert

1. Mirek

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How would you describe Prague in only a few words?

Sometimes beautiful, crowded and very historic.

Where do you like to hang out in Prague?

Anywhere near the train station.

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

Having this chance, I would like to meet my grandpa in his twenties.

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

’Pusillanimous’ in English – I like the way it is pronounced; and ’jídlo’ in Czech – as I’m always hungry and love eating.

Who would play you in a movie about your life?

Brad Pitt. He also has chicken legs.

2. Javier

Javier

How would you describe Prague in only a few words?

An open air museum. A world of contradictions.

Where do you like to hang out in Prague?

Due to my work, I always hang out in the historical center, you can find not so touristy places if you look for them hard enough. Other than that, you can find me in Vinohrady and sometimes in Letná.

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

The time of Rudolph II, the Renaissance era in Prague must have been wonderful.

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

Maybe ’fashionable’ in English, I like the sound of it. ’Ahoj’ is one of the few words in Czech that I find optimistic, too bad they don’t use it that often, at least with me.

Who would play you in a movie about your life?

Leo DiCaprio or Daniel Craig.

3. Tish

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How would you describe Prague?

Prague is a haggard old woman who’s got her claws in your heart. Prague is magic.

Where do you like to hang out in Prague?

Prague 1,2,3,7,10. Everywhere.

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

I would like to go back around 80 years and see Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong play in a Harlem blues joint.

What is your favourite word in English and in Czech?

My favorite Czech word is ’sbohem’ (godspeed). It is so wonderfully finite and loving and tragic. My favorite word in English is ’grace’.

Who would play you in a movie about your life?

Russell Peters.

4. Jan

Jan Kopecky

How would you describe Prague?

A magnificent historical city where even low-income students can live a rich life.

Where do you usually hang out in Prague?

Náplavka, Riegrovy sady and Havlíčkovy sady.

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

Ancient Egypt, Greece or Rome to see some of the great wonders being created.

What is your favourite word in English and in Czech?

’Air’ because it brings about the lightness. ’Život’ (life) because the sound of it is in soothing harmony with the meaning.

Who would play you in a movie about your life?

Michael Fassbender, Bradley Cooper or Alexander Skarsgård.

5. Martina

Martina

How would you describe Prague in a few words?

Still running, endlessly stunning.

Where do you usually hang out in Prague?

Well, when I’m with my friends I don’t care that much where we hang out. Company is more important for me. But usually I prefer underground pubs or bars, restaurants or café anywhere in Prague 3 – Žižkov.

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

I wish I could go back to the 60s and see Elvis Presley in concert!

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

In English, ’fluffy’ – sounds so funny. In Czech, ’hovnožrout’ which means ’shit-glutton’ – so funny.

Who would play you in a movie about your life?

I can’t decide between Renée Zellweger (before that awful plastic surgery) and Tom Hanks – they both fit perfectly to my role and actually sometimes I’m on ’The Edge of Reason’ like Bridget Jones and sometimes I feel like I’m a ’Cast away’.

Written by Ryan Keating-Lambert.

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.

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

horek

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.

Miquel

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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.

Tom

Tom

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.

April

April

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.

Megan

Megan

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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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.

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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