The poop-check deck and pass-through room: Things that surprise foreigners about Czech flats

Czech apartments come with some features that may take a little getting used to; we asked a Prague real estate agent to shed some light on them

Chloe’ Skye

Written by Chloe’ Skye Published on 15.12.2020 11:21:00 (updated on 20.12.2020) Reading time: 6 minutes

Whether it’s the exercise you get walking up the five flights of stairs, the fact that you can brush your teeth while sitting on the toilet, or the decorative pasáž entryway found in your standard pre-war building, there's a lot to love about Czech apartments.

But there are also plenty of things about local flats that could make newbies -- or even those of us who’ve been around for awhile -- raise an eyebrow.

We spoke with some expat renters living in Prague, Brno, and Olomouc about what they found most surprising when they rented their Czech apartment. We also talked to a Czech real-estate agent who shed some light on everything from the pass-through room to the “poop-observation deck.”

Baffling buzzers and escape-room entry ways

Petr Šmerkl, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0
Petr Šmerkl, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

When entering most Czech apartments you buzz a last name written on the doorbell (domovní zvonek), meaning if you want to visit someone, you have to look for their name rather than an apartment number, which is usually nowhere to be found. 

Robert Press, a Property Manager at Happy House Rentals in Prague, told me that he believes this system makes it easier for people to find who they’re looking for. But most of the internationals we spoke with said that wasn’t necessarily a positive thing.

Oriana from Venezuela, a member of the Facebook group Living in Brno, said that as delivery people and visitors usually call rather than ringing the doorbell it doesn’t help anybody except maybe “a crazy stalker who now knows where you live with certainty.”

Once you’re inside, knowing someone’s floor or apartment number may not even make finding them any easier as you’ll likely find yourself knocking on the right door...a floor below. That’s because Czech buildings start with a ground floor (přízemí), followed by the first floor (první patro) which is traditionally located after the first flight of stairs. 

Helena from Portugal, also from Brno, said that these “crazy constructions like a jigsaw puzzle” often force her to pick her visitors up herself. 

Press confirmed that the Czech entryways tend to unsettle foreign tenants and says that not only is finding the way to an apartment a common problem, but “every building has its own system of numbering, so the lift numbers often differ from the floor levels.”

Doors that lock you out rather than keep you in

Photo: Wikipedia Commons
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Many expats said Czech doors (dveře) made them feel insecure rather than safe. 

That’s because, without a turning handle (klika) on the outside, you can’t get back in without a key. Press agrees this is a huge problem for many expats, Americans in particular. “They forget about it all the time and lock themselves out easily,” he says.

Jen, the Prague-based creator of YouTube channel Dream Prague, told us that thanks to her building’s unintuitive doorknobs, she locks herself out of her own apartment almost monthly. When hosting parties, she and her husband have devised a clever hack: a hook with a carabiner that allows people to leave with the key and send it back up through the window once outside. 

Rooms made for just passing through


Just inside the door, you’ll find the front room or předsín. While some internationals we spoke with found the idea of a room designed for the practice of taking off shoes and putting on slippers (which Czechs do for hygiene reasons) strange at first, most have grown to love it, with Hattie from the U.K. calling the cloakroom or šatna “lovely.”

Many of us are also familiar with the “pass-through room” or průchozí pokoj, an awkward room smack dab in the middle of the apartment that seems to serve no purpose other than to be, well, passed through. While these rooms were originally intended as common areas, today landlords often convert them into a bedroom to gain an extra tenant. 

Press says foreign clients especially dislike having to walk through someone’s bedroom to use the bathroom and feel it reduces free space in the apartment

The claustrophobic toilet set up

Photo: Wikipedia commons / Flammingo
A flachspüler-style toilet. Photo: Wikipedia commons / Flammingo

It took me an entire year after moving to Czech Republic to stop asking friends where their bathroom (koupelna) was when I meant “toilet,” or záchod.

Among the foreigners I spoke to the number-one complaint about Czech apartments was that the toilet (which skittish Americans might call a “half-bath”) and the bathroom are often divided into two rooms. 

Many commenters echoed these sentiments, particularly those from Italy, Hong Kong, and Japan, who called the water closet “coffin-like” and “unhygienic.” Many reported that their WC lacks a sink (not all do). 

Flavia from Italy went into specifics: “The separate toilet and bathroom is the most uncomfortable thing... you have to go with your dirty butt from one part of the apartment to another.” She also finds “the missing bidet” uncomfortable.

South American respondents as well as one Portuguese woman said the bidet is a must where they come from. In places like Japan and Egypt, the toilet includes a water spout that replaces a bidet. Americans don’t have it in the U.S., so we tend not to miss it at all.

Now, for the toilet itself. A big shock for many internationals is what Ryan from the U.K. calls the “poop inspection deck”...and guess what? That’s actually what it’s for. 

Common in Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands, the flachspüler (English translation “shelf shitter,” formally called a wash-out toilet) was invented by Germans to make it easier to, ahem, monitor their health, as well as facilitate the use of toilet brushes! 

While Ana Paula from Brazil says that she “freaking loves” the flachspüler -- it allows her to make sure “the business stays in the conference room where it should be” -- Oriana counters that it gives some toilets “threatening auras,” adding: “If you've ever encountered one of these, you know what I'm talking about. They force you to really face what you've done.”

The low-riding showerhead

Photo: JayMantri from Pixabay
Photo: JayMantri from Pixabay

The number-two complaint about Czech flats among foreigners living here? Shower design. For most, this was connected with the missing rod for a shower curtain or the showerhead holder being “at waist height” rather than positioned above the person showering.

Some ended up installing a rod themselves. Nina from the U.S., who is married to a Czech, knew about it in advance and brought a special rod when moving. But it’s not such a happy story when it comes to the showerhead, or sprchová hlavice. 

Olga from Russia lamented, “How do people wash their hair?” while Eoin from Ireland said that having to hold the showerhead “resulted in me going through a ‘bath phase’ for the first time since I was 4 years old.’” 

People from countries like Colombia, Ireland, the U.S. and the U.K.,  also noted that the location of the  washing machine (pračka) in the bathroom came as a big surprise and also had a problem with the drying rack (sušák na prádlo).  

Small kitchens and big bedrooms

Photo: JayMantri from Pixabay
Photo: JayMantri from Pixabay

Internationals rarely brought up the bedroom and kitchen. When they did, it had to do with differences like size -- Czech bedrooms are too large while the kitchens are too small, especially for Italians -- and furniture, including separated beds for couples and too-thin mattresses (which Alejandra from Mexico was disappointed she couldn’t jump on).

The main quirk Americans mentioned was the missing smoke detectors. Jen says it’s enough to “drive you crazy from a fire safety perspective,” and Emmet and Nina agree. Is it because more buildings are made of concrete in Czech Republic than wood? Well, who cares when the double-locked doors in the entry hall constitute another fire hazard?

Finally, getting used to Czech windows (okna) takes time -- Ana Paula said she almost broke her window trying to open it. Meanwhile, in one of her videos about Prague apartments, Jen hilariously mimes the “really careless, giant hole to fall out of” to the street below, located in her bedroom. Since everyone knows Americans will sue you on a hair-trigger, we almost can’t believe it’s possible.

In 2017, Chloe's post “11 Things You’ll Find in Every Czech Home” went viral in the Czech Republic. Read it here.

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