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Where Exactly Is the Bohemian In Bohemia these Days?

A new arrival finds plenty of Brooklyn style, but not much bohemian substance, in the newly gentrified Prague

Illustrative image:
Illustrative image:

Where Exactly Is the Bohemian In Bohemia these Days?

A new arrival finds plenty of Brooklyn style, but not much bohemian substance, in the newly gentrified Prague

Published 28.08.2017
Last updated 28.08.2017

The Czech Republic is possibly the only country in the world founded by an artist. Of course, I’m talking about this particular republic and its first president Václav Havel. OK, I may be bending definitions of a founder, country, and artist, but the point is that nearly every other country in the world counts a general, pontiff, aristocrat, tycoon, or revolutionary among its fathers, and most definitely not a playwright.

Considering this is the land of the Bohemian—long the word to define a counter-cultural, anti-establishment, permissive way of life—it makes perfect sense that in the years after the revolution the country would become a beacon for like-minded travelers including myself when I taught English for a year in Anděl in 2001. Returning to Prague last January after 17 years, including the past four in Brooklyn and Queens, I was eager to discover what’s bubbling to the surface at the original well-spring of bohemianism.

Photo: Krymská / Facebook
Photo: Krymská / Facebook

Certainly, the auspices looked good, with the Prague scene—particularly in Žižkov, Letná, Holešovice, and Vršovice—praised often in A-list newspapers and magazines worldwide. Krymská street, considered by many as the epicenter of Prague cool, was even named one of the best streets in Europe by The New York Times. 

Shortly after I arrived, I got the first chance to see the new bohemians, now called “hipsters” like their Brooklyn and Berlin brethren, in their element at the annual Korso Krymská Festival in May. Indeed, the somewhat gritty, sloping, cobbled street was filled wall-to-wall with the young, energetic, and cool, flowing up and down the street like lifeblood through the veins and clotting hotspots created by guitar-wielding buskers, ‘80s DJs, organic food trucks, beer taps, and live painting.

Photo: Krymská / Facebook
Photo: Krymská / Facebook

It all seemed remarkably familiar:

The Hornbrille glasses, lumberjack beards, mustache wax, vintage blouses, back-turned baseball hats or front-turned ivy caps, denim cutoffs, lethargic speech patterns, usually inflected with that heavily affected accent you could imagine saying things like, “I don’t eat anything with the letter C in it.” Indeed, I half expected to stumble upon an entrance to the L train in Williamsburg. That’s not to say Krymská isn’t fun, cool, or exciting, but bohemian, no.

“So, why does Bohemia now import its bohemianism?”

For Prague’s most famous street artist, David Černý, the term is part of the problem. “I would rather say infected than imported,” he explains. “We are living in a global same culture that is the same everywhere since it is so quickly connected.” Before the Internet, “That was a time when people actually had sex, not hip iPhones.”

Photo: Lucerna rooftop / Facebook @Karel Kája Smola
Photo: Lucerna rooftop / Facebook @Karel Kája Smola

Outside Café V Lese, Pavel Turek, a journalist with Respekt magazine, remembers his first exposure to the new hipsterdom, while visiting New York in 2005.  At first, it was very positive. “I was amazed how many people of the same style, and the same way of living, were all in one neighborhood,” he recalls, “it was something I wasn’t familiar with in Prague, where the districts were not so specific yet.”

In more recent times, his esteem for the term “hipster” has fallen along everyone else’s. “I must say I take it in a negative way,” he explains. “Because I can see how hipster is a very useful middle man between marketing machine and the street. It doesn’t matter if we talk about Bobos (bourgeois bohemian), hipsters or yuccies (young urban creatives), there is a lot of downside to this phenomenon when it is only connected with consumerism, with more style than substance.”

One new Bohemian with more substance than style is Ondřej Kobza, owner of Café V Lese, who is responsible for both the pianos set up around Prague, as well as the famous “Poeziomat” (aka poetry jukebox) in Náměstí Míru, and now a public garden (chickens included) on the roof of Lucerna Palace, where he plans to run workshops on composting, butterfly releases, and stargazing. He points to another hipster hotspot as inspiration for his efforts but not responsibility. “Although it is possible to trace the beginnings of such activities to Berlin, it doesn’t necessarily mean Berliners invented it. It's simply human nature.”

Photo: Boho chic Café V Lese / Facebook
Photo: Boho chic Café V Lese / Facebook

But what’s specifically “Bohemian” or Czech about it all still remains elusive and admittedly difficult to define, even for artists like Černý in relation to his own art. “I have the same kind of sarcasm, disrespect, and agnosticism known here,” he considers, which aligns well with the bit of bite that’s always fueled Prague’s love of a good spanking. As native Bohemian Franz Kafka once famously wrote, “Prague never lets you go. This dear little mother has sharp claws.”

Perhaps the issue is that in today’s affluent, free, and largely peaceful Prague, there’s little to snap back at anymore. Since the days of Boii tribes fighting the legions of Caesar, resistance has defined Bohemian (or Boiohaemum, as the Romans would say) spirit, be it the preachings of Huss, the war chants on White Mountain, the writings of Kafka, the music of the Plastic People of the Universe, the flames of Jan Palach, or the rot of prison for Václav Havel.  

Meanwhile, on Krymská, a new IPA has been tapped and snapped by an app.

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Yes I wrote that. So your point is?

13.09.17 08.09.2017

Most of today´s population of Brno actually settled there after 1947 and have therefore their origin all over the Central and Eastern Europe. Main truly Moravian settlement lives elsewhere than Brno and their ´Moravian´ sentiments materialise in different and very friendly, folk ways - in fact it is like Sce described.
Did you yourself emigrate during the 80´s and returned in the 90´s I believe? Stupid it is to swank that you are one of the (few) wanna-be local football rowdies, especially when you say you are a father of a child.

13.08.04 08.09.2017

Striking logic of your arguments is famous, I think you should teach philosophy or similar. You would be a great asset, for sure. Could you please teach us a little? Really admire your smart brain and Oxford English 😂😂😂

05.46.38 08.09.2017

I'm not stupid at all, and I'm not the first of my family to be in the Czech lands. My grandfather was in Patton's group that liberated Plzen. He loved Patton, Patton was killed by the way, because he wanted to re arm the Germans with the US forces and destroy the USSR. And none of these people called it Czechia btw, that's a failed name.

23.06.07 07.09.2017

Kafka was a German speaking Jew who lived in Czech lands, he wrote mostly in German.

23.01.31 07.09.2017

No they are all retard baristas living in Prague or idiotic expats like this American guy who lived in Zizkov for a year

22.45.58 07.09.2017

Ask any western Europeans, Canadians, Americans, Aussies, etc.. the same question.

22.44.12 07.09.2017

You're fucking stupid mate I'm an American living in Brno and proud Moravian, like my wife and kid. I'm a holligan of Zbrojovka, etc... we fought with commies from Bohemians, guys from Ostrava, Prague, etc.. and none of us have ever gotten a paycheck from Putin. Do you get your Soros paycheck, commie boy?

22.40.18 07.09.2017 here for your convenience.
Original tone "Also the young brother Dschochar, named after the… similar name anyhow.. the president of the Czech Republic, the Islamic republic that was formed there… so they are confsuing Czech Republic and Chechen Republic and this is used by Czechs as an argument against Czechia, hard to believe such a logic...

06.29.59 05.09.2017

06.24.52 05.09.2017 35'000 fans on Facebook for a name which nobody is using, weird stuff, probably they are all dumb and Mr. Andre is the only super smart :-)))))))

06.22.05 05.09.2017 CzechTourism is obliged to use the logo until 2020 due to EU subsidies. And if you would search for US newspapers archives, you would see, that Czechia was used regularly before WWII as denomination of western part of Czechoslovakia. And respected magazine National Geographic called Czechoslovakia "awful" still 3 years after the state foundation. The got used to it with time and the same will happen with Czechia.

05.33.46 05.09.2017

Stop your trash talk please.

05.05.49 05.09.2017

What about trying Google search? And Chechnya fallacy, this is a myth no. 14 Czech Republic was confused with Chechen Republic at Boston bombing. You can not prevent idiot from confusing countries. Check video " the former CIA agent confused" on YouTube

05.04.55 05.09.2017

Why should't I discredit his poor English, because this is the name your country is going to use in the English version to appeal to English speaking tourists. If someone doesn't have a good grasp of English, then maybe they shouldn't comment about the Anglophile name Czechia, because everyone who speaks English thinks it's stupid. You can google the poll results yourself on what people think internationally on the name change. It's majority negative. I not stubborn or silly, I'm just trying to tell you it's absurd and comical to foreigners and the majority of Czech people. And it's a marketing ploy, which will be a huge failure, but hey for marketing purposes why don't we just call the USA Coca Cola Land?

22.20.16 04.09.2017

I wonder what dumb ass in Brno founded the civic initiative Czechia? Probably that retard Matej Hollan.

22.09.26 04.09.2017

No one, outside of Prague and mostly expat articles are using the name Czechia. Most Moravians, I've spoken to think it's absolutely stupid. As for the Guardian article.... Forbes and several other English news outlets think it's absolutely stupid as well, that includes liberal favorites like Yahoo, Newsweek, etc... All of my American friends who even know about Czech Republic think it's absolutely moronic and it reminds them all of Chechnya. None of you can deny that it's quite similar and would you want potential tourists and investors to have your country confused with an Islamic terrorist nation? The only positive news articles I've seen about Czechia are from and they're not a good news source. Even your new tourism campaign says, "Czech Republic, the land of stories." Not Czechia! The majority of this nation will never accept this name in my opinion.

22.08.17 04.09.2017

One of Andre´ s errors : It is absurd to ask Czechs (either n a pub, in a wine cellar or anywhere else) if they call their country Czechia! Of course they don´t because Czechia can only be used in ENGLISH ! Those who are not concerned with the English language can keep calm, Czechia is none of their business. - Second, I live in Brno and I have been using (and promoting) the name Czechia since 1993. Moreover, I am one of the founding members of the Civic Initiative Česko/Czechia, which came into existence in Brno 1997.

18.06.58 04.09.2017

There is only one question: are you so stubborn or so silly? In every case, you are very poor.. If you do not have any argument, you need to try to discredit other person by pointing to minor mistakes in English.

07.05.45 04.09.2017

I do not see any reason to buy the wine from Moravia, which is mostly overrated and of poor quality. It does not stand a comparison with medium priced Italian or Spanish wines. And the Civic Initiative Czechia, was founded 1997 in Brno, so please be careful with your violent talk.

07.00.45 04.09.2017

And there are no "Moravians" you are Czechs as well, just talking a Moravian dialect. The idea of a "moravian" nation is a nonsense, pushed by "moravist separatist", funded by Putin.

06.35.31 04.09.2017

We are offering SCM education in Czechia , all our customers came to Prague and not to Grozny, what a surprise ;-)))

06.33.26 04.09.2017

I would not consider myself a hipster. Our company is using CZECHIA since its foundation without any issues.

06.31.47 04.09.2017

Another amazing argument, you are soooo great!

05.15.26 04.09.2017

Čechy are Bohemia, Česko Czechia.

20.19.27 03.09.2017

wow, you are so great, do you have another argument? my English is not perfect, I know but I don't care...

12.11.32 03.09.2017

to call something stupid is really a great argument! And the best thing is, that Czechia is here to stay, you can write in internet discussion whatever you want :-)

12.10.25 03.09.2017

I am not sure about the Czechia thing - to some it can mean Čechy, to some it can mean Česko. Čechy and Česko is not the same thing.

10.52.53 03.09.2017

You probably do not know, that countries have usually geographic (Czechia, France, Sweden) and political names (Czech Republic, French Republic, Kingdom of Sweden). Political name belongs to passports and political documents, geographic name is applicable in all other purposes (thus, in overwhelming majority). In addition, it is timeless, while political name is limited by existence of current state-political system in the country (In case of Cz.Rep. only 24 years). Slang ? OMG! Names as Tchéquie, Chequia, Tschechien, Tsekkia etc. are official geographic names of our country in those languages. You need to check the official United Nation list of countries names UNGEGN, UNTERM and ISO codes. You know obviously nothing. And... to give an example of your opinion by that almost one year old, biased and stupid article in Guardian is only an example of very bad journalism and low level of your knowledge. I am from Czechia, regardless republic, kingdom or whatever - during my life, my country changed its political name 4 times, but all the time, it can be called Czechia, not Cz.Rep. That is the point.

06.29.53 03.09.2017

You don't understand basic facts. For sure there is no Czechia on you ID card, as those documents are bearing the formal name. Italian translation of Česko Is Cechia, no discussion about it. And you can write what you want, you will not change anything. People are using Czechia more and more every day. It's an official short name, get used to it or make peace with it.

06.17.07 03.09.2017

As I said, only Prague hipsters call it Czechia. Try to come to Brno, go to a local pub and call the nation Czechia. You would get your ass kicked in under two minutes. Or better yet, go to south Moravia to buy some wine and tell the owner Czechia, you won't get any wine and he will throw you off the hill in Palava.

01.53.01 03.09.2017

I don't read Cyrillic so that point is wasted. The Official name in French is La Republique tchèque. The example you gave is the short form or slang from French. I speak that language. Also, you gave another false example about the Italian name of Czech Republic. It is officially, la repubblica Ceca. Also, you should learn a bit, because no normal English speaking person who knows the country calls it Czechia, and I'm from a native English speaking country and have never heard that. Other countries are laughing about his nonsense, but I viewed your page and you seem to promote it. Who is paying you for this? The Guardian and many other English newspapers are laughing at this clownish idea: And lastly, since you're from Czech Republic, what is the name of your country written on your driving license, national ID, etc... because on my permanent residency card it sure as hell isn't written Czechia.

01.50.03 03.09.2017

Also it should be, "you're talking such nonsense," not a nonsense.

01.33.52 03.09.2017

It makes no sense for you to continue this conversation. You're welcome for the English lesson, now go back to mom's basement.

01.21.25 03.09.2017

The nonsense about Czechia vs. Chechnya is a myth invented by a few irresponsible journalists. Does your imaginary elderly couple distinguish between Slovakia and Slovenia? Austria and Australia? Georgia and Georgia (USA)? If they don´t, OK, let them just LEARN new words if they want to visit some unknown countries in the far, far, exotic Europe... Moreover, the English name Czechia is officially approved by the Government, adopted by the UNO, etc., and so it is not subject to "popular creativity" and unqualified discussions.

17.14.27 02.09.2017

You are talking such a nonsense, that it makes no sense to me to continue this conversation.

07.46.30 02.09.2017

Czechia does exist the same way as the Czech Republic. Czechia = Bohemia + Moravia + Silesia. It is official geographic name of the country. And again and again this Chechnya probably want to be the same ignorant as that American.... Poor knowledge of country names or geography by some people should not be a reason for refusing a particular country name. There are numerous countries with more similar names than Czechia/Chechnya, such as Austria/Australia, Iran/Iraq, India/Indonesia, Mali/Malawi, Niger/Nigeria, Gambia/Zambia, Slovakia/Slovenia and even Georgia/Georgia (a U.S. state). None of these countries have given up its short name and use its political name exclusively because of a possible confusion with another country (region). The chance of actual confusion of Czechia and Chechnya during various diplomatic, international scientific or sports events is almost zero since Chechnya is not an independent country and does not act as a sovereign entity at the international scale. Czech Rep./Chechen Rep. similarity is the same, e.g.: during bomb attack in Boston (2013) CIA agent mixed up Czech Rep.and Chechen Rep., not Czechia (watch the video on YouTube)

05.21.41 02.09.2017

OMG! Learn a little bit before you start discuss. Czech only 24 years old. Many names of countries (not only ) in English have their origin in Latin. Czechia (Česko in Czech) cannot be translated as Czech Rep., it is the same nonsense as to translate France as French Republic. The right translation in other languages is very similar :
Albanian Çekia
Aragonese Chequia
Belorussian Чзхія
Breton Tchekia
Bulgarian Чехия
Croatian Češka
Danish Tjekkiet
Dutch Tsjechië
English Czechia
Estonian Těehhi
Finnish Tšekki
French Tchéquie
Frisian Tschjechje
German Tschechien
Greek Τσεχία
Hungarian Csehország
Icelandic Tékkland
Italian Cechia
Latvian Čehija
Lithuanian Čekija
Luxembourgish Tschechien
Norwegian Tsjekkia
Polish Czechy
Portuguese (European) Chéquia
Portuguese (Brasilian) Tchéquia
Russian Чехия
Serbian Чешка
Slovak Česko
Slovenian Češka
Spanish Chequia
Turkish Çekya
Ukrainian Чехiя

05.00.12 02.09.2017

I live in Moravia now, not Bohemia. And most Moravians will tell you they are Moravians. Czechia does not exist, If you want to talk about the old kingdom before the Hapsburgs, you could call it the Czech lands. The bohemian lifestyle is actually a French idea. As a marketing scheme, Czechia is stupid because, many of my American friends have weighed in and they said it reminds them of Chechnia. Can you imagine a retired couple from Oklahoma. The wife, "John honey, I would like to go visit some castles in Europe." John, "Sure darling where do you want to go?" Marge, "I want to see Prague castle and Charles Bridge in Czech Republic." Then they go online to book the flights and all they see is Czechia. Husband responds, "The hell with that, let's go to Florida, I don't want to visit some muslim terrorist country."

22.21.54 01.09.2017

The name is 450 years old from Latin, a language no one speaks anymore except in scholarly circles? In Czech language it translates to Czech Republic, in English, French, Italian, Spanish, etc.. the same

22.13.05 01.09.2017

Republic South Africa is called South Africa exclusively. Tschechei is from the point of linguistic completely correct as Türkei or Slowakei. And e.g. Germans did "not create" the name Tschechien, this was coined in cooperation but lead by our 55 experts (linguists, historians, geographers and others) from Terminological Committee of the Czech Office for Surveying, Mapping and Cadaster (Nazvoslovna komise CUZK) . because Tschechei has a negative spin to older Czech people due to the usage by the Nazis. My older friends from Swiss ice hockey club call us tschechei as well,they visit our country and love it there, so no meaning as "pejorative" and so on.

05.55.03 01.09.2017

Andre is not quite "stupid", I would rather say he is poorly informed and too self-assured. What on earth is "Bohemian lifestyle"? By the way, if he lives in Brno now, he does not live in Bohemia but, naturally, he lives in Czechia! - Bohemia + Moravia +(the Czech part of) SIlesia are traditional names for what we call historical lands of the ancient Bohemian kingdom, and these three together constitute CZECHIA. .Do you understand, Andre? Once more: Bohemia + Moravia + SIlesia = Czechia. Would you kindly remember that?

14.27.36 31.08.2017

But the Republic of the Czechs is only one and it means something for the Czechs and for the world. You should maybe get the broader picture. Places like Cairo or Beijing outnumber the whole Czech population far by a double so changing the name won´t really bring any change. The reason is elsewhere. The Czech Rep. isn´t globally any important place and it will never be. It has its own benefits, too. By the way the -ia ending isn´t anything smooth for English if you already speak about clumsiness. That´s why earlier English tended to turn all latin forms ending by ´-ia´ (Italia, Saxonia, Germania) into the -y´s (Italy, Saxony, Germany). In fact English has no problem with formal names of the countries, look at the name(s) of the UK, USA, or of course, the Republic of South Africa. You also make a mistake by thinking that The Czech Republic is an affair starting by 1.1.93 - it was in fact declared already to 1.1.1969 as Česká (socialistická) republika - by then it was clear that the idea of Czechoslovak nation was over. So again, who in the world has some ties to this country, they know and they have the name. But most of the world has no ties to this country. Especially in big and important countries. Good that German, Dutch, Danish and other languages did create a new name for the Czech Lands after 1.1.1993 that rooted and replaced the unlucky expression Tschechei (that is an exact translation of the word Czechia by the way. Čechie).

08.08.08 31.08.2017

There are 150 republics in this world, some of them the worst regimes on Earth. Republic is neither a warrant of democracy, not prosperity. Absence of a short name as clear "trademark" is harming us more, than people imagine. The clumsy Made in the Czech Republic didn't catch up in almost 25 years and is the main reason people still remember Czechoslovakia. And they remember Czechoslovakia, not Czechoslovak Socialist Republic!

07.22.11 31.08.2017

It is not stupid. The ´republic´still, has its importance and meaning within the Central-European space. You cannot dictate 100% to other languages either how their active users shall call your state. So I suppose the time will decide. Meanwhile, I believe all forms like The Czech Republic, the Czech Lands, Czechia and even ´the Czech´ are all right. Everybody gets the meaning and languages of the neighbouring countries have not any issues of such.

07.07.20 31.08.2017

The name is more than 450 years old, coming from Latin. What kind of argument is to say "it is stupid"? Zero. It is only about personal taste, but substantial thing is the geographical name, which is universally applicableit is not depending on momentary state-political formation ibnthe country (which was changed 9 times in recent 100 years. Czech Republic is nothing less and nothing more than the current state formation in Czechia. Stupid is to call the country by transient political name.

05.54.43 31.08.2017

Czechoslovakia was called "awful" and "unfair handicap" by respected National Geographic in 1921, 3 years after the state foundation. Czechia is logical, with hundreds of years of tradition in Latin and will make it in some years as well.

05.40.51 31.08.2017

I was born in Czechoslovak Republic, lived later in Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, Czech and Slovak Federal Republic, later in the Czech Republic but with no doubt I was living all the time in the same country CZECHIA.

05.38.31 31.08.2017

Only people in Prague, mostly expats who write stupid articles like this, call it Czechia, everyone else in the country thinks that's a stupid name.

21.30.38 30.08.2017

Are you even from Czech Republic? Did you live here under Communism and listen to Radio Free Europe broadcast from Vienna to Brno? I know some people that worked with a charity and his wife charged 100,000 KC to do an event for a charity

12.58.40 29.08.2017

what a sad low-life grudging nonsense. Who told you that must have been even sadder than that and I doubt this can be ´many´. Anyway it only testifies about you, who you know (and who is ok to know you)

10.38.02 29.08.2017

I have a problem with Franz Kafka labelled to native-bohemian. If you could label him at all, than he would be Universal, Jewish, and German-writing. Native-bohemian and Bohemian in all sorts of means would be his contemporary Jaroslav Hašek. And the successor of both, Bohumil Hrabal.

10.31.50 29.08.2017

Secondly, the author might want to brush up on his history. Czech Republic wasn't founded by Havel. He became the second president of the newly ex commie Czechoslovakia. Havel was a mediocre writer at best and many Moravians believe that the commies knew they were losing power and cut a deal with him. Notice he didn't prosecute any of the worst offenders in the police state. Many "Czechs" I know were actually happy when he died and preferred Klaus historically.

20.00.08 28.08.2017

If I had a dollar for every "expat" that taught English in Prague for six months to a year, lived in Zizkov, didn't learn Czech and their only lovers were other expats and who came to Prague after 1995 and now write articles after they return after 15 or so years as to how Prague isn't the real "Bohemia" anymore, I'd be a millionaire. Prague is a capital city and I never lived there. I lived in Krumlov in the late 90s, Nymburk and now Brno. If you really want to experience the Czech Republic Bohemian lifestyle, whatever that means, then get out of Prague.

19.56.28 28.08.2017 it is CZECHIA, as Bohemia, who needs the clumsy formal name anyway?

14.43.40 28.08.2017