Eastern_Europe   Czecho-Slovakia   Czech Republic

The Paris of the `20s
by Colleen E. Feehan


Since the Velvet Revolution and collapse of Communism, Prague in the `90s has become the international city.

The capital of the Czech Republic has experienced an influx of artists, tourists and ex-patriates quite similar to what Paris experienced in the `20s. Like Paris in the `20s, writers, musicians, artists, photographers, and intellectuals have flooded Prague's cobblestone streets, covert corners, and mystical Charles Bridge expressing themselves to all who will take notice.


Tourists have turned up in record numbers to marvel at the city's beauty and mystique, and to see what everyone's talking about. But, above all else, Prague's main attraction today is the tremendous financial opportunity available to people of all shapes, sizes, and colors, unlike anything Paris could offer in the `20s, and unlike anything Prague has ever before been able to offer. For these reasons, Prague is the hot spot of the 90s.A Cultural Center of Artistic Free Expression Like the Paris of the `20s, the Prague of the `90s is a cultural center of artistic free expression. 

Writers searching for creative inspiration; musicians searching for the perfect audience; artists searching for the perfect site to sketch or subject to sculpt; photographers searching for the perfect picture; intellectuals searching to contribute to society; and the lost searching to find themselves, have all bombarded the city in astounding numbers.


 "Compared to the Paris of the 1920s, Prague of the 1990s is filled with thousands of would-be Hemingways and Fitzgeralds coming here to write poetry, finish novels, and drink too much while waiting to be discovered (Rocks)."While "Paris had been a cultural and imperial capital attracting foreigners for several centuries (Meisler)" before the 1920s, Prague, on the other hand, "has been hidden for the past half century (Meisler)." "There has been an outburst of talent suppressed by Communism (Gross, quoting Antonin Herbeck, editorial director of Elle magazine)."

In the midst of all this new talent emerging from Czechs and foreigners, there is a downside: Czech culture is fading. Theater attendance is low, book sales are down, and painters have few patrons. Martin Mejstrik, a student leader during the Velvet Revolution, believes that "cultural life has simply failed to keep pace with the commercialization and Americanization that has swept Prague in the wake of the death of Communism (Meisler)."


Opportunity for Capitalism and Entrepreneurship

 While the main attraction to foreigners in Paris in its heyday was artistic expression, Prague today differs in one extremely important factor: financial opportunity is the main attraction. Prague is brimming with opportunity for capitalism and entrepreneurship, and all types of people are taking advantage of it. Under Communism, Czech service and retail sectors were nationalized and provided less than adequate goods and services. Now, while many Czech business are prospering, "thousands of young foreigners have come to Prague to seek their fortune-- providing services that Czechs not only lacked but often didn't even know. These entrepreneurs-- most of them in their twenties and thirties-- run restaurants, discos, laundromats, employment agencies, photocopy shops, bookstores, a mail-box rental and telephone answering business, stock brokerages, and real estate agencies (Rocks)." The low cost of living and low standard of living in Prague now are enabling venturesome foreigners to live cheaply and profit greatly. The estimates of Americans now living in Prague "range from twenty to eighty thousand (Kyn)." Products of capitalism and entrepreneurship in Prague are commercialization and Americanization. Some Czech citizens, like Mejstrik, fear their effects on culture and spiritual values. Mejstrik believes that while commercialization and Americanization will not completely change Prague, "many are in a state of shock over what the free market is doing (Meisler)." Still, many Czech people do not mind such aspects of the free market because they aid in Prague's recovery. There is an abundance of positive effects on Czech society of the flood of foreigners and foreign institutions. For example, many teach English as a second language to Czech adults and children. Furthermore, many services and products new to Czechs and those that they had been denied for the past half-century are being introduced into the market.




Tourists Are Coming by the Millions


Like the Paris of the `20s, tourists are invading Prague by the millions. More than twelve million visitors came to Prague during the first three months of 1992 (Meisler). What they found was a strangely beautiful city, eerie and dark, rich with blackened statues, mysterious towers, narrow passageways, castles, churches, and a mix of "Romanesque and Medieval and Renaissance and Baroque (Meisler)" architectural styles complementing each other. Unfortunately they also found that many of the most intriguing sites are under construction, are being cleaned, or are closed to the public.

Perhaps the most well traveled site in Prague is the Fourteenth Century Charles Bridge, chock-full of vendors and artists. Despite some graffiti, and a lot of traffic, it still manages to maintain an air of beauty and wonder. From the Charles Bridge one can take short walk up a cobblestone street past the massive St. Nicholas Cathedral, to Prague Castle, a striking contrast in white to the rest of the city. Not far from Prague Castle one can find, and many English-speaking tourists do, American bars playing loud music and serving American Budweiser as opposed to the Czech counterpart, Budvar. If one desires an authentic Czech or Bohemian meal, it will take a lot of searching to find a good one. For, many of the restaurateurs enjoy over-charging the non-wary backpacker for low quality meals. After dark, tourists cram themselves into European- style discos like Lavka, a popular night spot adjacent to the Charles Bridge with cheap beer and a large English speaking clientele. Despite this mass invasion of foreigners, the Czechs are not resentful because "it symbolizes a reborn Prague (Meisler)."


People of Prague Are Rediscovering Their City Foreigners and "American twentysomethings are flocking to the city of Vaclav Havel, Franz Kafka, old Beatles tunes and booming new businesses (Meisler)." Quite like the Paris of the `20s, they see a cultural and artistic playland, but there's more. There's financial opportunity, affordable living, and fun. For the Czech people, there's hope, despite the seemingly never-ending difficulties of change. "While Americans and other foreigners are discovering Prague after its years in obscurity, the excitement is helping the people of Prague rediscover their city as well (Meisler)." At the rate Prague is going, the 2000s should be even better than the 1990s.




NEXIS "news" library, "papers,mags,non-us" combined files, "prague 1990s and paris 1920s" search request disclosed the following:

1. Debusmann, Bernd. "PARIS OF THE 90S,' PRAGUE IS THE HUB OF EUROPEAN TOURISM", The Reuter Library Report. Copyright 1993 Reuters Limited. April 23, 1993.

2. Gross, Tom. "SUNDAY MATTERS: Czech this out for glamour Tom Gross reports from Prague on the Eastern bloc's first glossy magazine", Sunday Telegraph, pg. 16. Copyright 1994 The Sunday Telegraph Limited. April 23, 1993.

3. Meisler, Stanley. "`...All they are saying is give Prague a chance." Prague, Czech Republic", Smithsonian, Vol. 24; No. 3; pg. 66; ISSN: 0037-733. Copyright 1993 Smithsonian Institution. June 1993.

4. Rocks, David. "CZECH CAPITALISM BLOOMS", The Baltimore Sun, pg. 11c. Copyright 1994, The Baltimore Sun Company. June 20, 1994.

Addtional sources:

Personal information from my travel experience in Prague during April, 1995.

Comments on draft#1 made by Professor Kyn.





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