The late physicist Albert Einstein, like many before him and many who followed, fell in love with Prague during his short stint here.
While the capital presented him with many charming marvels, with known favorites of his being the architecture and scenic views, Einstein took issue with one vital component of Prague — its people.
Einstein moved to the area in 1911 as a theoretical physics professor at Charles-Ferdinand University (today’s Charles University), where he lectured five hours a week and oversaw practice lessons for two hours thereafter.
During that time, he lived in an apartment on today’s Lesnická Street. There he had access to electricity and even a working elevator, which he frequently mentioned in correspondence with friends.
He was a frequent visitor to the Cafe Louvre and The House at the White Unicorn (Dům U Bílého jednorožce) on the Old Town Square.
But Einstein considered Prague’s people decidedly less enchanting than the physical components of the city itself. In the letters to his friends, he found “humiliated loyalty was mixed with conceit” in the locals.
He also criticized the German community in the area, which was running rampant with dangerous nationalistic fervor.
Otto Stern, Einstein’s research assistant during his third and final semester in Prague, said in an interview that the revolutionary physicist felt “completely isolated” in Prague, having found no-one he could talk to about matters that truly interested him – apart from a mathematician named Georg Pick, with whom he played in a quartet.
In his correspondence from the time, Einstein also said he found Prague to be “beautiful” but “half-barbaric”, with a population generally hostile to the German-speaking minority though he did write that the Czechs “are much more harmless than one thinks”.
“As for what he thought of Prague – here, as someone who enjoys being in Prague and likes the city – it’s kind of disappointing to read of Einstein’s views. He, in general, found his time in Prague complicated and difficult.”
Despite his qualms with the city’s inhabitants, Einstein would have stayed in Prague. Here he had a comfortable salary and continued his research peacefully.
However, his wife — purportedly a more social being — felt uncomfortable among locals and the couple left the city in July 1912, a mere 16 months after arriving.
Though he returned once in 1921 for a visit, the rise of Nazism eventually turned Einstein away from Europe permanently.
Rather than to the cobbled streets of Prague he so admired, Einstein ended up in Princeton, New Jersey where he lived out the rest of his days.