Prague Dog Eat Blog

Oriental visitors to Prague

Sep 8, 22:06 (Filed under: Foreign influence in Prague )

Contacts with Persia (now Iran) were strengthened during the reign of Rudolf II (1575- 1611 king of Bohemia). He saw, just as other European rulers did at the time, great danger in the Ottoman Empire (now Turkey) and any anti- Ottoman coalition was useful. The first Persian envoys arrived to Prague in 1597, so that they’d make preparations for the arrival of their shah, which took place three years later. They were welcomed in the “Star mansion” (Letohradek hvezda, the Na Vypichu district), a quite special building with symbolic features referring to astronomy, and accommodated in the Lesser Town. One of the leaders of the small delegation was Anthony Sherley, a British catholic in Persian diplomatic services. While present in Prague, he paid a visit to the Jesuits in Klementinum. The Jesuits were, by the way the order, which sent priests to the Orient (to China, for example), taking over much of the agenda the Franciscans were taking care of previously.

Czech- Turkish contacts were mainly supplied by Ottoman captives, but there were also cases of Europeans in Ottoman service and otherwise. After Rudolf’s unsuccessful attempt to win a war with the Turks, the international relations sort of normalized. In 1620 Prague hosted a Turkish delegate. The European strategy towards the expansive giant was based on economy rather than force from then on.

First coffee

Less internationally grave a matter, but significant for the Czech lifestyle was the emergence of the coffee drinking habit. Brought to Europe, it is said, in 1683, as part of the Turkish armies’ resources left behind after attempted conquest of Vienna, the substance was brought to Prague in 1705 by Georgios Deodatus el Damascus. At first he sold to pedestrians on the streets, later establishing the first Prague café in 1708. He was forced to change its site of residence a couple of times, operating in the Celetna street, in Lesser Town and ending up in the Charles’s street in the Old Town. He was increasingly popular with the citizens and very friendly towards the court, holding a pompous celebration after the birth of Charles VI son Leopold.


Tight were the links with India, at least according to Panikkar, an Indian politician and historian. In the 1950s he was a guest in Prague and when examining the Crown of Saint Wenceslas, he discovered similarities with the oriental art in the placement of the precious stones. He claimed that many other medieval works show a connection between the two countries.

Other guests

Nehrú, the first Indian president, visited Prague on several occasions. During his first visit in 1938, he expressed strong depiction of the Munchen agreement and the western powers’ role in it. There were more visits in the following years and a close relationship was established.

The last mention goes to the Japanese historian R. H. Takahashi, who spent time in Prague in the 1950s. Comparing it to other European capitals, he emphasised the uniqueness of its character. Especially in comparison with US cities, which in his eyes lacked character, he stressed the importance of protecting the Old Town, the Lesser Town and Hradshin (Hradcany- the castle district) from intrusion of contemporary architectonic trends.

Spot-on comments

* * *

A mention of the German influence in Prague

Aug 24, 11:32 (Filed under: Foreign influence in Prague )

The impact that German culture had in Prague and the whole country was enormous, in many areas. Let me mention only several cases.

There used to be a German market place on Porici street, established at the end of the 11th Century. This was important mainly for its status: it was granted three basic rights, which later applied to the Prague Germans in general- the right to vote their own magistrate, its own friar and the right to trade.

Germans at Charles University

The first major period of (not only) German influence was the reign of Charles IV. The king invited German artists to the capital and, more importantly, there was a migration of students to the newly founded Charles University. The University was the only one in the area east of the Rhine river, though this position was soon lost as Universities were founded in Heidelberg, in Krakow, in Vienna… needed to say, with Czech scholars’ support.

In 1363 Konrad Waldhauser, the famous German reformist priest moved to Prague. He continued his work in the Old town churches. Though there were attempts for his imprisonment he was supported by Czech academics and finally won tolerance at the court. His ideas, mainly his rejection of simony (possibility to have your sins pardoned after paying sort of a fine) inspired the Czech priest Jan Hus at the end of the century.

There is an interesting record on the relations by a 19th century German historian, Karl Ludwig von Woltmann. A personal friend of J. W. Goethe, their correspondence being also tied to the Czech capital, he was particularly interested in Czech history. He recognized Czech tradition of struggle for emancipation from stronger neighbouring states (including his own) and promoted the Hussite movement as the highlight in Czech history. He pointed out, that the German element is destined not to take roots in the Czech lands, at least not in the position of those in command.

In 1813 Prague was to host a meeting between Napoleon’s delegates, Russia and Britain. At the last minute, the French warlord turned down the opportunity for peace talks. Still, Prague became an important place of gatherings in salons. German salons hosted contemporary celebrities like Fichte, C. Brentano or Metternich.

German writers

Towards the end of the century and in the first decades of the subsequent, there was an ever stronger link between the two cultures, culminating in the period of the Prague German writers- Franz Kafka, Franz Werfel, Oskar Weiner, Paul Leppin, Max Brod and others. These authors absorbed the influence of Prague atmosphere very strongly, though their national sentiment was rather towards Germany. Until 1935, Prague remained the centre of German artists, who’ve left their homeland because of the rise of the Nazi party.

I should also mention Golo Mann, one of the sons of the world- famous novelist Thomas Mann. Golo developed great interest in Czech history. He visited Prague and other Czech cities on numerous occasions, gathering historical material about the Thirty Years War. In 1971 he released Wallenstein, a monumental biography of an important, yet controversial 16th century Czech politician and general.

Spot-on comments [1]

* * *

From the New World to Prague

Aug 19, 15:22 (Filed under: Foreign influence in Prague )

The more common way was, of course, from Prague to the New world. This was the case of the Czech travellers and settlers since the 17th century. It is good to note that, at least as far as Czech literature of the time suggests, the New world was not a very big issue in Prague or the Czech Republic as a whole. The main concerns of the 18th and the 19th century were the European situation, the Czech position in it and the ways to regain Czech independence (at least cultural), including questions concerning relations with other Slavic nations.

When in 1854 a then-popular Czech playwright published his America- set adventure/tragedy featuring Native American tribes, he met with a lack of Czech equivalents for the terms describing American reality (including a term for the Native Americans themselves).

Czech – American cultural exchange

That is to say the Czech- American cultural exchange was sporadic. Hard to find in Prague architecture, the capital’s background was mainly created by the neighbouring powers’ influence. In the American case, we may only speak of interesting minorities.

There’s an example from the end of the 18th Century, when two highly situated soldiers from Latin America visited Prague, their attention being drawn mainly to the Klementinum library, the scientific laboratories in Karolinum and the hospital on the Charles Square, famous at the time.

What seems to be more substantial was the Czechs’ movement westwards. One Czech- born scientist fought for Bolivian independence in the first decades of the 19th century and before he was killed, he tried to found manufactures of the central European style in the New world.

The musician Filip Heinrich moved to America in 1811, absorbing influence from Native American music. Two generations later, we have the most famous case in front of us: Antonin Dvorak moved to the United States and expressed his fondness for the place in his New World Symphony, possibly one of the most famous classical compositions and certainly the most well- known Czech composition in the world.

After the monarchy suppressed the 1848 riots, one of those forced to flee was Albert Fingerhut, known as Vojta Náprstek, who studied the American tribes and his collection of artefacts was the bases of his Prague- situated Náprstkovo (Náprstek’s) museum”. Though renowned, he also faced disapproval, as his US- influenced modern views on the role of women and tolerance towards ethnic minorities were in contrast to the dominating opinions of the 19th Century Austrian society (Czechs notwithstanding).

In diplomatic circles, the most famous personality of Czech- American origin was Charles Jonas, who served as a US consul in Prague and later became vice- governor of Wisconsin. It’s also worth a notice that the wife of the first Czechoslovak president Masaryk, the Brooklyn- born Charlotte Garrigue, came from an old German- American family.

It is well known that Prague was a cultural centre during the first four decades of the 20th century (excluding the protectorate years of course). There American influence was minor, since the Prague German authors, the Prague linguistic circle etc. were European. What’s of interest is the case of the poet Pablo Neruda. His name is inspired by the 19th century Czech novelist and journalist, closely tied to the Lesser Town.

Spot-on comments

* * *

Some points about the French influence in Prague

Aug 15, 22:03 (Filed under: Foreign influence in Prague )

In the city centre, there is a relatively low number of obvious imports from other capitals’ architecture. The centre is dominated either by small squares or by large (former) market places. These are sites useful for practical reasons or carrying a symbolic meaning, less of those merely fitting the late 19th century fashion of grandness and decoration. There are exceptions: the Parizská street between the Old town Square and the Vltava river, for example. Na Prikopech, between the Republic and the Wenceslas square, was re- built into a luxurious boulevard and there are numerous passages with shops and restaurants. Not to forget the most visible example of all: the Petrin tower, a replica of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

It is often said that Prague’s character was, to great extent, saved by its lesser importance during the years of the Austro- Hungarian Empire (Austrian Empire since 1804, Austrian- Hungarian since 1867; collapsed in 1918). Prague not being a capital of the monarchy helped the city in a sense. It was not to present the face of the empire, this job was of Vienna. Prague architects were not under such a strong pressure to follow the current trends. Vienna felt the full impact, Prague remained more or less unchanged.

French influence

Still, this is only a segment of France’s cultural dominance in the last decades of the monarchy. The French influence was strong particularly during the first three decades of the twentieth century. Before Czech Republic emerged in 1918, the German rulers attempted to compete with the adversary. After the mentioned date, the ties became official: institutions were founded and there was great public demand for French art and literature.

The process was going on for quite some time. French nobles have been moving in larger numbers to central Europe since the 17th Century. Often as lecturers, like Joachim Barrande, present in Prague in the in the first half of the 19th century, working in the court of the exiled French king Charles the 10th. Barrande achieved international acclaim for his geological work in the Czech lands and his name remained well remembered in the capital, thanks to the Barrandov hill of the same name.

Famous French visitors

Of the authors, who spent time in and were impressed by Prague I should mention Francois Rene de Chateaubriand, Paul Claudel or Guillame Apollinaire. There were many more, mainly towards the 1920’s and the 1930s, with the pro- French and pro- British government. The relations cooled down after the agreement between Germany, France and Great Britain in Munchen in 1938, which gave Nazis a free hand in taking over large parts of the republic. All the connections, naturally, cooled further down after 1948.

The foreign influences have to be taken into account, both those seen in architecture and those, that contributed to the city’s cultural environment in other ways. But while the German and the Jewish usually are, being large minorities in the past, the other Europen countries tend to stay in the shadow. Sometimes there is a tendency to over- emphasise the architectonic changes and under- estimate the importance of cultural exchange.

Spot-on comments

* * *

The British in Prague

Aug 13, 09:33 (Filed under: Foreign influence in Prague )

Medieval times

The movement of English lords into the Czech kingdom dates back to the 13th Century. On a higher level, it was mostly marriages what made the relations substantial: back in 1228, Henry III made attempts to marry Czech princess Agnes, for instance (she refused).

It was more than 150 years later that such a tie was made: Anne, daughter of Charles IV, married Richard II and known as Anne of Bohemia since, she was popular a queen. While this event helped Czech image abroad, what mattered as we speak of culture was the cultural exchange. This started after the Charles University was founded (1348). The following years witnessed English scholars coming to Prague. The then- popular teachings of the English reformer John Wycliff strongly inspired the Hussite movement and had at least one substantial voice from the British Isles: Peter Payne, a scholar from Oxford, often called “Mistr Engliš” (“the English master”), who became an outright defender of the movement.

Modern age

In the 1570s, Prague was visited by the poet Philip Sydney on his travels around Europe. His quest was one of a negotiator, though he spent much of the time consulting European intellectuals on themes including religion. In Klementinum in the Old Town, he disputed an influential Jesuit priest and Christian martyr Edmund Campion, executed in England in 1581 for rejecting the Anglican Church.

In 1585, the court of Rudolf II was visited by John Dee, a Cambridge scholar and alchemist. He was accompanied by Edward Kelley, who became a somewhat legendary figure. During the years of his imprisonment, his sister Elizabeth Weston gained sympathies of European artists as she struggled to move the king to forgiveness through poetry. Dee, back in England, also attempted to have the English alchemist extradited to his homeland.

Among other visitors there was John Taylor, the often satirical “Water poet”, as he called himself after spending many years as a waterman on Thames. This was in 1620, at the time a new queen was installed in the Czech Kingdom, a princess of the Stuart dynasty, Elizabeth Stuart, also called “the winter Queen”. She had to leave Bohemia soon, at the end of the year, as Habsburg armies defeated the Czechs at the battle of the White Mountain near Prague (now a part of the city).

Recent history

Throughout the following years it was more difficult to establish closer relationships as the German influence was clearly dominant. There was certain number of British students coming to Prague to the University. The Irish were coming, for instance, some as part of the infamous Butler’s regiment, serving the Habsburg side, later Irish students and scholars. Smith of Balore, Silvester O’ Heir or William MacNeven reached high posts on the university.

At the end of the 19th century, German- English historian Frantisek Lutzow expressed great interest in the city (The Story of Prague) and the whole country (he supported the Czech nationalists). Herbert George Wells was impressed by T. G. Masaryk’s liberal views and, after visiting the president in the capital, he wrote an enthusiastic article about the statesman. Less known than Masaryk’s role is that of R. W. Seton- Watson, a historian, who contributed strongly to the recognition of Czechoslovakia and the eastern European studies. We could name Reginald Robert Betts as his follower, a specialist on the Husite movement and later a BBC correspondent in Czechoslovakia.

There are, of course, many more interesting points on offer, the mentioned may work as an illustration.

Spot-on comments

* * *