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As Prague comes out of lockdown, locals held a feast to reclaim the city

Two thousand Praguers partied on the medieval Charles Bridge this week to celebrate the end of restrictions

Huw Oliver
Written by
Huw Oliver

As symbolic farewells go, lockdown got quite the send-off in Prague this week. More than two thousand Praguers lined the city’s medieval Charles Bridge, sharing food and drink and jigging to live folk music. They sat around a 515-metre-long table and toasted, say organisers, ‘the end of a period of crisis’.

There was little social distancing on show at the feast on Tuesday night, although disinfectant was provided. Guests ate, drank and danced into the night. And on a near-perfect summer evening, the event was hailed as the centrepiece of the Czech capital’s already well-advanced ‘unlockdown’.

Daily reported cases have slumped across the Czech Republic in recent weeks, and deaths have dwindled to zero. Restaurants and bars have been allowed to open for more than a month now, while indoor gatherings of up to 1,000 people are also permitted.

Organised via Facebook and free to attend, the dinner party was Prague saying: don’t be scared, life is gradually returning to normal. And above all, it shouted: this city is for you, the locals.

Feast on the Charles BridgePhotograph: Jan Hamaďák

The feast was organised by urban activist and nightlife entrepreneur Ondřej Kobza, in collaboration with the council of the Prague 1 district. Kobza runs rooftop events space Střecha Lucerny, as well as food and music hubs Café V Lese and Café Neustadt. He also set up the much-mimicked ‘Pianos on the Streets’ project. His Poetry Jukeboxes have been exported around the world. And he once even put on an opera for spectators in rooftop bathtubs.

As his home city came out of lockdown, and with tourists still pretty much absent, Kobza realised there would never be a better time to reclaim major public space for locals. Now was his opportunity to show that the city centre was somewhere Praguers could enjoy spending their time – rather than simply an over-touristed part of town they have to rush through to get elsewhere.

The idea for a dinner came to him as lockdown began easing. ‘I’d wanted to do it in a really special space, and a few weeks ago I saw pictures from Charles Bridge,’ said Kobza. ‘Usually there are crowds of people, tourists. Then I thought: well, we have to do it there. You’d struggle to find a more symbolic place: a bridge between people, and different kinds of people.

Feast on the Charles BridgePhotograph: Jan Hamaďák

‘There’s also the statue of Saint John of Nepomuk. He’s the patron saint of bridges, and you’ll find statues of him all over Asia and South America. So it’s an iconic place where we could gather and create something of a symbol.

‘Many people in the Czech Republic are afraid to go outside, but we need to ramp up the economy. It was not only a celebration of, hopefully, the end of a crisis, but it was also a chance to give the Charles Bridge back to locals.’

It wasn’t easy convincing the authorities to go ahead with the event, but eventually they relented. ‘It’s just like if someone were to try to organise something in front of the White House,’ he said. ‘It’s impossible. It was only because of coronavirus that the politicians allowed me to do it. And they told me, “this is the first time, and the last time.”’

The experience offered many attendees a new perspective on their famously charming city, said Kobza. ‘Most of the people there had been to Charles Bridge hundreds and hundreds of times,’ he added. ‘But two days ago it was the first time that they could sit there and see the city from a different point of view.’

Feast on the Charles BridgePhotograph: Jan Hamaďák

The mayor of Prague 1, Petr Hejma, also saw the feast as part of the capital’s strategy to rebrand as a true destination for culture and gastronomy – and draw visitors who don’t just want to get bladdered in the centre for two days. He told Prague Morning that the city ‘wants to show the world that the city is open again and it can offer more than cheap beer’.

Kobza, meanwhile, thinks the ‘energy was so great’ that the event could well actually take place again, perhaps on an annual basis. And his ambition is to invite other towns and cities with similarly ‘emblematic’ bridges to put on simultaneous events.

‘This idea for Charles Bridge only came about two weeks ago,’ said Kobza. ‘Two weeks. But I think for many people in Prague, it will change how we think about the city. It will have a big impact.’

We can definitely see the idea catching on in cultural capitals around the world. Dinner on the Pont Neuf or Ponte Vecchio? It’s a big yes from us.

Feast on the Charles BridgePhotograph: Jan Hamaďák

Here’s the latest on all the countries that are reopening for travel.

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