A divisive new monument to Soviet leader Lenin was unveiled in Germany on Saturday, in the middle of a global row over the controversial background of historical figures immortalized as statues.
More than 30 years after the post-World War II communist experiment on German soil ended, the tiny Marxist-Leninist Party of Germany (MLPD) installed Lenin’s likeness in the western city of Gelsenkirchen.
The statue was made in Czechoslovakia in 1957 and originally unveiled in December 1957 in Hořovice in central Bohemia, where it remained until 1990.
The MLPD is said to have bought it at auction for 16,000 euros from an Austrian entrepreneur.
“The time for monuments to racists, anti-Semites, fascists, anti-communists and other relics of the past has clearly passed,” MLPD chair Gabi Fechtner said.
“Lenin was an ahead-of-his-time thinker of world-historical importance, an early fighter for freedom and democracy.”
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Not everyone in Gelsenkirchen, a center of the former industrial and mining powerhouse Ruhr region, has welcomed the over two-meter likeness, produced in former Czechoslovakia in 1957.
“Lenin stands for violence, repression, terrorism, and horrific human suffering,” representatives from mainstream parties on the district council in Gelsenkirchen-West said in a resolution passed in early March.
“It’s hard to put up with the fact that a dictator from the 21st Century is being placed on a pedestal and a memorial is being made out of it. Unfortunately, the courts have decided otherwise, we must accept that, but not without comment,” said Mayor Frank Baranowski.
Lenin was a leader of the 1917 Russian Revolution and led the country until his death in 1924 when he was succeeded by Josef Stalin. However, he has remained a symbol of communism rule across the world, both among supporters and those who remember the human rights abuses that took place under the USSR.
Germany itself was divided for decades between the West and the communist East, until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
The video from the inauguration, showing a musical performance, was shared in social media.
Communism rising: A statue of Vladimir Lenin has been unveiled in the western German city of Gelsenkirchen pic.twitter.com/SUAQXcXZ5y
— Only Observer (@Only___Observer) June 20, 2020
It was December 4, 1989, when the so-called exit clauses—aka special permits—were finally abolished, which was not possible to leave former communist Czechoslovakia without (with the exception of several Eastern Bloc countries). For the first time in many years, Czech tourists could travel freely into the world. But at a time when they didn’t have this option, how and where did they travel?
Since 1970, Czech and Slovak citizens (formerly Czechoslovaks) could travel more or less freely only to some countries of the socialist camp, namely Bulgaria, Hungary, the German Democratic Republic, and Romania. The visit to these states was covered by a so-called permanent exit clause, which has been part of the passport since that year.
To other countries (including socialist countries) it was not so easy. The Soviet Union and Poland needed a verified invitation; the journey to the West was virtually closed for most of the population.
Even if one wanted to visit one of the Western European republics, they had to undergo an incredible martyrium: first, they had to process an application for a foreign exchange promise addressed to the Czechoslovak State Bank. This was the only official way to get a foreign currency (in a minimum amount). This request had to be recommended by the employer, the school, or the national committee.
Only with a criminal record, then was it possible to apply for an exit clause. This application request had to be approved by the National Committee and the employer, including the working organization of the Communist Party and the special department.
In the case of students, the school, and the Socialist Youth Union, it was only with the clause obtained that a tourist visa could be applied for. At any step, one’s planned trip could have been halted. Moreover, either parents or children could travel at the same time, but not together because part of the family had to stay at home as “hostages” to prevent others from emigrating.
To nudism to East Germany
Husák’s children living in Prague may remember the German Cultural Center, which was based on Národní třída, not far from the Church of St. Voršila. In the second half of the 1980s a remarkable publication was sold there: a photo book of nudist beaches in Rügen.
The white chalk cliffs and the unbridled nudism beneath them became iconic in the years of socialism ending. In addition, there were individual trips to the East German island of Rügen in the Baltic Sea.
Despite nudism and interesting rocky panoramas in Jasmund National Park and the Stralsund Marine Aquarium, Rügen did not offer much. In fact, it was relatively windy, and the Baltic Sea was rather cold compared to the more popular Adriatic. Furthermore, it was considerably poorer in observing underwater life. Czech tourists usually slept under the tent in camps, which they had to book in advance.
Nevertheless, Rügen was extremely popular, partly because of the widely practiced, tolerated, and propagated nudism. Partly because the classical socialist black trade worked in its developed form and it was possible to buy any goods that were in short supply in Czechoslovakia– if one managed to carry extra marks (foreign currency allocations were not high).
Journey to the future and years back
In the 1980s, tourism beyond weekdays was also associated with trips to the Black Sea (i.e. to Romania and Bulgaria, which were mostly traveled through Hungary). For Czech tourists, this meant an interesting journey through time. While Hungary tolerated at least partially small business and the existence of the private sector, and since its foreign policy was more open to the West, in Romania—under the reign of Nicolae Ceausescu —it was the opposite. As a result, a visit to Hungary meant a half-opened window into a world that, for example, Husak’s children knew only from illegally imported copies of West German magazine Bravo, or from those Western European films that were released by the Central Film Rental.
In Hungary, for example, it was possible to buy postcards with naked women (unthinkable in Czechoslovakia at that time), and a marketplace with a rich offer of vegetables and fruit from private farmers was popular, which was again quite unprecedented in our country.
Meanwhile, Romania was most reminiscent of the reality of some backward outpost of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. A common reality on the roads was donkey-drawn wagons. At the resting places, Czechoslovak tourist buses were immediately surrounded by a bunch of begging children. And the dominant feature of Romania at that time were the herds of stray dogs, which occurred almost everywhere. On the other hand, the country offered breathtaking natural beauty, like the Romanian Carpathians, which were virtually undamaged by civilization.
To the Soviet Union only with an expedition or by invitation
A separate chapter was represented by trips to the Soviet Union, where it was practically impossible with a collective and organized expedition (the only other option was a verified invitation). Officials in the Union were noticeably polite to the Czechs, but this commitment was a little chilling – often it was that they wanted to have the fullest control over the movement of Czech tourists and show their country in the best light.
“My dominant memory of the Soviet Union is mainly that we got there about a month and a half after the Chernobyl disaster, so we all were terrified of what would happen. But when I [reminisce] this is what I like to remember,” said Markéta Kasalická, a student of a secondary medical school, who visited the Soviet Union with a school expedition during the so-called exchange stay.
“They probably wanted to show us the best they had, so they took us to a burn clinic that was super-equipped at the time. They had modern positioning beds to prevent bedsores that I was rolling my eyes on. But it is quite possible that the patients lying on them were from Chernobyl”, Kasalická adds.
She also remembers the taste of Russian ice cream, Russian tea, and leaven. “A strong memory is that I was standing on Arbat classroom in the center of Moscow, and suddenly heard Waldemar Matuška’s song about Prague Mother of Cities. At that moment I had tears in my eyes. After returning home I did not hear her for years, because Matuška just emigrated and stopped playing,” added Kasalická.
Yet, the mecca of socialist tourism was primarily Yugoslavia, especially the Adriatic coast in present-day Croatia. Split, Makarska, Baska Voda, Jelsa, Dubrovnik- these places have many Czech families associated with the most beautiful holidays they have experienced during socialism.
But getting to Yugoslavia was never easy. This country was not on the list of socialist states where it was possible to travel with the so-called permanent exit clause. To travel to Yugoslavia it was necessary to undergo a similar martyrium with obtaining an exit clause as anywhere in the West. The reason was that Yugoslavia has been considered politically not very reliable since President Tito’s times. It was also known for helping Czechoslovak citizens to escape.
It should be added that these suspicions were not entirely unfounded. Yugoslavia in 1968 not only joined the occupation of Czechoslovakia, but 200,000 volunteers from this country wanted to help Czechoslovakia fight Soviet intervention, and Yugoslav officials also opened the arms of Czechoslovak tourists literally.
“When we went to the reception on August 21 at 7:30 pm to pay for our return home, the receptionist showed up completely [and said]: ‘Where do you want to go back? Are you occupied by the Russians, shooting there! I will give you the radio, you must not go home!’,” explained Markéta Krupková, who in August 1968 spent a holiday in a camp in the resort Mlini near Dubrovnik. Since Markéta and other Czech tourists were under the validity of the exit clause at that time—whose exceeding was considered a crime of leaving the Republic—they went to the passport department to confirm the validity of their travel documents.
“The passport clerk was a tall young guy, welcoming us with understanding and participation, [saying], ‘It’s terrible what’s going on with you. Do not go home, do you have a place to sleep?”
We said that we still have accommodation, but that we would need to extend our exit clauses, that we can work. “I’ll arrange the items, don’t worry about your work at all, do you have money?” he replied. “Then he reached into his pocket and opened his own wallet. We were almost shocked,” recalls Krupková.
Until the fall of the socialist regime, Yugoslavia remained one of the most popular—although difficult to reach—destinations, and there were often friendly ties between Czech and Yugoslav citizens. These began to complicate only in the 1990s when Yugoslavia engulfed in a series of war conflicts between its individual republics, which eventually led to its disintegration.
For the Czechs, this war was difficult to understand because they had warm relations with both Croats and Serbs, and even those two nations came against each other during the war.
Prague residents and visitors can now observe the artworks made by students from three art schools, expressing their view on the 30 years of freedom of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic.
The exhibited works originated from a competition organised by the AVU, AMU and UMPRUM schools together with Díky, že můžem (Thanks That We Can Association).
Thanks to this project, dozens of young artists had the opportunity to show their work outside the gallery. “Most of the contemporary art goes to gallery spaces; artistic use of urban furniture is an exception. In addition to the presentation of selected works, the exhibition also raises the question of art in public spaces, which is now in the vast majority provided by commercial communications. Also, where else should freedom be celebrated other than in the streets,” explains Oskar Rejchrt, a member of the Díky, že můžem, which is preparing this year’s sixth annual celebration on November 17th at Národní třída, named Korzo Národní.
The extraordinary presentation is emphasised by augmented reality, right in the viewers’ mobile phones and after downloading Synetech’s Freedom Festival app.
Forty students from different schools and faculties entered the competition called 30 Years of Freedom in Art. The designs, therefore, included graphics and photographs, abstractions and works of a specific nature. The feelings that the works evoke are also diverse – some underline the reasons for the celebrations, others evaluate the thirty years since the fall of the communist regime rather critically.
“I am glad that we are living at a time where we can express ourselves openly, and I know how important it is to draw attention to this constantly. The renowned student competition across three Prague art colleges is a common gesture and a way of commemorating the anniversary and legacy of the revolutionary year 1989 in the form of artistic concepts situated in public spaces,” adds Doc. MgA. Tomáš Vaněk, rector of the Academy of Fine Arts, that this year celebrates 220 years since its foundation.
The winning student work of Dana Vojtíška, Sofia Makanová, Lucie Michnová, Kateřina Kuchtová, Dana Kinská, Jakub Ra, Jana Kvíza, Martina Kyjovská and Jana Hladíká will be displayed on advertising spaces at one of the most frequented streets of Prague, Na Příkopě, and Václav Havel Airport from September 15th to October 15th.
WHEN: 15. 9. – 15. 10. 2019
WHERE: Na Příkopě street and Václav Havel Airport
If you want to experience authentic Czech history with a touch of luxury, you should not miss the municipal house. This splendid Art Nouveau building encompasses several treasures, from authentic café, restaurant, marvelous concert hall and impressive exhibition halls. Furthermore, you can have a guided tour by the whole building and discover all the representative halls that hosted imported events of the Czech(oslovak) history.
Explore the Interiors of Municipal House
When I used to be a university student, I always passed a municipal house while running to my lectures to the nearby Celetna street. I like to watch the luxurious interior of café from outside and dreamed of me sitting there as well. A few years later, I start to establish a deeper relationship with the municipal house by attending temporary exhibitions. I admired beautiful décor that impressed me to the very detail.
These limited visits draw my curiosity to explore this place even deeper, so I joined my first guided tour. I was impressed by the stunning décor of different representative halls that is projected to every detail. Even door handles, heating system and knobs are matching the design of every room. I especially like the Oriental lounge, original paintings of Alfons Mucha and stained-glass windows. I have some pieces of this beauty right here for you.
Concerts in Municipal House
Furthermore, the municipal house has a monumental concert hall called Smetana Hall that can encompass up to 1200 listeners and host regular concerts of classical music. There are even two smaller halls, so it is suitable for hosting musical festivals such as the well-known Prague Spring. If you are not a big fan of classical music, I would encourage you to have a try. Especially, I like the concert “The Best of Classics” that gives you a shorter version of famous classical songs. I must say that my friends were impressed even like a “beginners of classical music.” So, give it a chance and check the program here.
History of Municipal House
The municipal house also has a crucial role in our history. In middle age, there was a seat of the Bohemian kings. However, the royal family moved to Prague castle, and the original Royal Court fall into ruins. It was finally demolished in 1903, and the new building of the municipal house was ready by 1912. In the 20th Century, it hosted two significant events of the Czechoslovak history. Firstly, the independent state of Czechoslovakia was proclaimed right here on October 28, 1918. Secondly, the municipal house hosted the first meeting of the communist party with Václav Havel in November 1989 that leads to the democratization of Czechoslovakia.
This article originally appeared on czechbyjane.com