Setting up an interview with Prague's cultural activist wasn't the easiest of tasks, but once I met him I understood why.
He's the one responsible for the scattered pianos, chess tables and poem jukeboxes around the city. He's also the owner of Cafe Neustadt, Cafe v Lese and many happenings in Prague.
Cafe v Lese - more of an underground club downstairs with regular concerts during the weekend (concerts also in the backyard garden during summer) & the upstairs is kind of a retro cafe. Cafe Neustadt is focused more on the day, even though it stays open till midnight and there are regular DJ’s playing at the weekends.
He arrives on his bike and immediately makes me feel like I've known him for a while. Before we settle down & begin with the interview, he scans the entire square and sees a couple struggling with the poem jukebox. He runs towards them & apologises for the box not working today...
To quickly sum it up...he's that kind of a guy whose attention will be hard to get, but once you'll get it - you'll sure be talking for hours. Just bring a bottle of wine...
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Family / Background / Where did it all start
I come from Usti nad Orlici. A town surrounded by nature. My family lives at the edge of the town - close to the forest. At the age of 19 I decided to go to Prague and study Political Science. Ended up adding Theology to my major too.
When I was 17, there was really nowhere to go in Usti nad Orlici, so I decided to rent out a meeting space and play music which wasn't played anywhere else. That was my first attempt of a club and that desire to create such spaces stuck with me until today.
So I always say - don’t moan about what’s missing in your life, try to create what you need instead.
There was no internet back then. So I’d hand-write these leaflets and hand them to people on the streets who'd fit the alternative vibe which we were creating. I liked it and I never really experienced anything like that again. It was always full. We’d play music from our mixed cassettes and cover the walls with all kinds of pictures and posters. This went on for 3 years and when I left to Prague, I started concentrating more on what I’d be doing in my new environment.
I’ve always had the need to put people together inside an unconventional space, where music played a major role and where people got to experience something new.
What makes you passionate
It would have to be the creation of something special for people. Or (without this sounding manipulative) presenting the things I believe are great to others, so people get to enjoy & appreciate them too. For example when I rented that first club space when I was 17, I'd play the DOORS all the time, because I loved them. I wanted others to enjoy what's good out there.
For example...when I'm seeing people play chess which I've put out there, or seeing that homeless guy play the piano…That's when passion kicks in.
The satisfaction of seeing people enjoy what we've created.
But a more intense sense of passion happens when there’s a bigger scale event. When we for example organised a Piano on a Float (on the Vltava river) and lots of people attended. Or when I organised a Tango event at the main train station in Prague - that’s when true passion comes out.
It's great to be able to fall asleep with the thought of a successful get-together. Putting people together feels almost like a ritual event.
We were dealing with a project today, which will take place on top of the roof of Lucerna
The space is 1000 squared meters and we're planning a communal garden and a bar up there. It’s a beautiful space. We’re even thinking about glasshouses which will function round the year - which is a bit mad - but the space is brilliant for planting vegetables.
That's exactly the second part of my passion. Planning something you're incredibly excited about. Planning your vision. That's what was happening today.
I’m working with an amazing architect on this. He told me that his friend is one of the top architects in NASA , where they actually make these year-round glasshouses and that we’ll be going there to check them out, so I'm thrilled about it.
How did it all start for you in Prague
In 2003/2004 I organised my first event, which was against Václav Klaus (President of the Czech Republic from 2003 to 2013). I was dressed up as a clown and went to the inauguration. From then on I started putting together more events - especially for non-profit.
I started with the Cafes when I was 30, which I very quickly connected with the public spaces - for example organising events like ‘Zažít město jinak’ - ‘Experience the City Differently’ or Bajkazyl on Naplavka - where nobody really used to go before. The coffee places once resembled a kind of political get together space, but when mixed with the public spaces it became more of a creative playground.
Was opening a Cafe & a Bar up to your expectations
Yes. What I love the most is the organisation of events within those 2 spaces or in relation to the 2 venues. Being responsible for creating the right atmosphere for people looking for entertainment is exactly what I love doing. I'd say I'm quite social and I understand that you’ve got to have that in you to run a business like this. I’m not quite sure if it’s actually possible for a venue to work if the owner doesn't take part. People love to see who is behind certain events and places, so it's definitely a plus.
How would you describe yourself
I’d say that my attention is a bit scattered, but I guess it’s the way I work. I tend to observe a lot of things at the same time and once I find something I like I put my focus on that.
I have a lot of friends who live outside the city - in remote areas , in old chalets, some even without electricity - who are very interesting philosophers. I feel comfortable there. Long discussions by the fire place and with a bottle of wine - that’s my kind of an evening. I’m not much of a party guy.
I like to observe what people are doing around me. For example the homeless guy over there. He just woke up and he’s going to play the piano in a minute, you’ll see. Yeah, they can make a mess sometimes, but I like them.
I’m Catholic and even though I don’t go to the church much, I still have the need to turn those everyday challenges into something beneficial to all of us.
Who inspires you
People who inspire me the most are my friends who are living in those remote areas. Those who spend their life in a peaceful environment, learning about things they are passionate about and creating. Those people who spend time analysing art or any good work and taking the moment to reflect.
What’s your most memorable experience
I sometimes organise these 'pilgrimages' to deserted mountain areas and once - probably around 15 years ago - I got a bunch of people together to go on a 40 km tour. Not exactly the easiest tour & not exactly what people can be bothered to do. However...
The image which will forever stay stuck in my head and holds a lot of power is a moment when we were out there and it was already dark out. It was quite windy, rime ice formed on the trees, and the only thing you'd see is an abandoned church in the distance. It was magical.
What does freedom mean to you
For me, freedom is when you've gathered enough experiences and knowledge in your life and you're ready to make your idea a reality. Having the ability and possibility to do that. Your inner-self is ready and persuasive enough to get things done.
Freedom is not having barriers in front of the things which you'd like to reach, and having the ability to create your own path to walk on.
Do you have any animals
No, but I'd like a goat. Actually 2 goats, instead of dogs.