When I first came to Prague in the spring of 1988, travelling overnight on the sleeper from Budapest, I had only one guidebook to guide me (apart from a fact-heavy, utterly impersonal, poorly translated and amusingly ideological tome published by the Czechoslovak Tourist Office). It was Richard Bassett’s A Guide to Central Europe. According to the short biography printed just inside the cover Richard Bassett is an art historian (Cambridge), a journalist (Vienna correspondent for The Times in the 1980s) and a musician (once principal horn player at the Ljubljana Opera House). I love a generalist. And I loved his very personal approach to everything he saw. It’s always more interesting to see a city through the eyes of an individual, a person, with his own particular tastes and sense of humour, than to be deluged with dozens of dull facts that are immediately forgettable and unmoving. One wants opinion, with which, on occasion, one might disagree.
I stayed , on his recommendation, in the ‘cosy shabbiness’ of the art-nouveau Hotel Europa (which, today, is finally under restoration). He laments the unavailability of any English language newspaper other than the Morning Star (Britain’s Communist Party answer to Pravda, still in print today, though with a daily circulation of only around 10,000), but how times have changed since then.
In vain, this morning, I looked for his remarks on a delightful architectural oddity which drew me to Spalena Street in 1988, and which I noticed again yesterday evening when attending a splendidly euphonious choral concert in which a colleague took part. Bridging the gap on Spalena between the baroque church of the Holy Trinity, 1713, by one of the Dientzenhofer brothers, and a cubist building, the Diamant building of 1912-1913, and squaring the circle in stylistic terms, is a baroque figure of St John Nepomuk protected by a cubist arch. It’s a delightful, witty, confrontation of and synthesis of styles. Who says that the Cubists had no sense of humour?
See also An Architectural Wink
Baroque – 1713
Cubist – 1913
A witty hybrid