journalism

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

Bělá-Jezová: Inside a Czech refugee camp

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Illustration by Delarock

By Ryan Keating-Lambert

I wanted to pay the Bělá-Jezová detention camp a visit after reading some rather negative articles late last year on the subject. In a recent DW article, human rights official Anna Šabatová said the camp in many respects, offered worse conditions than a Czech prison. Upon first glance, it seemed that the camp had improved, however after speaking to a refugee there about her own personal experience within the camp, I started to doubt some of these improvements. On top of that, the staff were unable to divulge any information whatsoever. As you read on, keep in mind that the names and details of some people have been changed in order to protect their identities. This is also the only ‘People in Prague’ interview I have done where I have not been able to put a photo of the person. Due to not being able to capture details on camera, Czech artist and illustrator ‘Delarock’ was kind enough to interpret my description of the grounds.

I arrived at the camp with Jonatan and his wife Eliška – 2 local volunteers who were bringing some supplies such as food, literature and other materials. The camp, which was formerly a military training facility is reasonably well concealed and had I been driving I would’ve gone straight past it without blinking an eye. We were greeted by security who closely examined our ID, but surprisingly didn’t ask that many questions about a native English speaker carrying no supplies for the detainees. Lucky for me.

After receiving our entrance key cards, we were escorted to the main building where we were instructed to lock up all of our possessions including phones, keys, lighters, wallets – anything that could be stolen, used as a weapon or as a recording device.

We then started to walk to the main building through a narrow path carved through the thick snow that had fallen the night before. During the walk I took in everything around me, the high 4 metre fence with barbed wire sitting coldly behind a snow-covered children’s playground that reminded me a bit of the opening credits of Terminator 2, but the apocalyptic fire had been replaced by a thick blanket of monotonous snow – later I realised that this image painted a depressing portrait of the monotony and loneliness felt throughout the whole camp. The playground was there, but the high barbed-wire fence made it almost invisible. Eliška informed me that the playgrounds and children’s art on some of the walls had obviously been put up after Šabatová’s visit to the camp in an attempt to make it more comforting and friendly for children. While we passed through yet another security gate, Eliška and Jonatan also spoke about the conversations that the workers had about the refugees and other migrants, that they referred to them as objects or things rather than people.

Finally, we entered the main accommodation building and our ID was taken before entering the recreational rooms through a prison-like gate. We were then told that the Macedonian migrants, whom the volunteers had ordered books for, had since been released. According to Eliška and Jonatan, the staff never make known how many migrants or refugees are present in the camp, so we were unsure of what numbers to expect when we entered the ‘tea room’.

Upon entry, we removed our shoes and entered a living room with a small TV, a few armchairs, a bookshelf and a table and chair set where four women were sitting, two Ukrainian and two Serbian. A volunteer told me that most of the people now in the camps were not refugees anymore, but rather regular economic migrants and that maybe some of them had simply forgotten to submit paperwork or made another mistake in the visa applying process. According to them, it wasn’t like that before the refugee crisis. Apparently there was even an American in another camp in Drahonice that actually used to be a prison. While listening to this, I started to think about my own visa status and they warned me to keep a close eye on the process or maybe I could end up in the same place.

We were soon greeted by a woman with a purple head scarf that had entered from the other room who spoke to us in English. I soon learnt, that she was the only person who spoke English in the camp, not even the staff did. After serving some tea and biscuits, we sat down together at the table and had a lengthy two-hour conversation about how Naciimo, from East Africa, ended up in the camp.

Surprisingly, she was not there alone but had her teenage children upstairs that refused to leave their room because they were angry. Angry at the staff and angry that they had to be there at all. It was then that I learnt that despite several meetings with lawyers, their situation hadn’t improved. It had almost been six months since they arrived to the camp. She seemed to believe that the staff were simply exercising their power by keeping her there. Her release date should be some time during February, but the look on her face told me that she wasn’t too optimistic. I found this interesting because the whole camp is run by SECURITAS – a private security company, and I wondered who these people in power were. Since November, the Czech government have also stationed prison guards there.

Naciimo used to be a teacher before they began to be executed by rebels in her town, so she fled. “10 countries in 4 months,” she repeated over and over again. She spent most of her time travelling in a large group with mainly Iraqi refugees and walked a lot of the way, aside from the occasional boat, and a car ride through Syria.

When I asked her about her trip through Syria, she replied that “it was dangerous, but here is worse.” She wanted freedom, and felt that it was a waste to be stuck in the Czech Republic after travelling so far for so long. I could see that she was incredibly lonely. I thought back again to the picture of the snowy playground. Her daughter was in another camp in Belgium and she wanted to meet her. Since her phone was taken away from her upon arrival, she didn’t have many opportunities to speak to her. There was a landline phone in the camp but with limited access.

Naciimo’s dream was to eventually move to Ireland. As we sat there drinking our tea she was holding a book about Ireland that she said she’d been reading. She also made it clear that she didn’t want to go to a country where there were a lot of refugees. It sounded as if she wanted to be immersed in something completely different, and from her journey so far I don’t blame her.

Something that had the most impact on me was that during her time in the camp so far, she had seen many families come and go and couldn’t understand why families from Afghanistan or Syria could leave before her. She was convinced that it was because she was black. Her frustration escalated until she organised a one-week-long hunger strike with other detainees in an attempt to get some answers, which she didn’t get. This caused her to become sick and she was eventually sent to a nearby hospital which started her on a course of medication to clear any infections as well as medication to help her sleep. Naciimo averaged about 3-4 hours of sleep a night.

However bad things had been, I kept thinking about how much was still to go for her and her children. Thankfully, the volunteers had managed to keep her optimistic about leaving and helped in every possible way that they could.

Our two hours were soon up and I was quite upset to have to leave her there. We said our goodbyes and it did seem that the detainees were in higher spirits than when we arrived. The two Ukrainian women were getting out the following day, the Serbian women probably not much later. As we crunched our way through the snow and gravel in the playground one last time I kept thinking that Naciimo’s story is just one out of millions.

I continued to think about that on the train ride back to Prague looking at the man sitting across from me with a ‘BLOK PROTI ISLÁMU’ (Block against Islam) button badge on his sweater – quite a difference to my arrival to the camp with the cheerful and caring volunteers.

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

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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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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.