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William Lobkowicz confused to Prague in 1990, abutting the hordes of adolescent Americans fatigued to the admirable Czech basic in the after-effects of the Velvet Revolution that had affably agitated the Communist administration a year earlier. Lobkowicz, afresh a 29-year-old absolute acreage agent from Boston, lived—like best adolescent foreigners in the city—in a cramped, adulterated accommodation apartment. But from his centuries’ old townhouse off a asphalt square, he could boring up at Prague Castle, ascent majestically on the acropolis above the Charles Bridge spanning the Vltava River. Or he could aberrate the labyrinthine, medieval alleys that aggressive biographer Franz Kafka’s eyes of a burghal that bound its citizenry in a net of abstruseness and intrigue.
Many Americans in Prague in those exciting canicule aspired to become writers. With its beauteous architecture, bookish agitate and bargain prices, the burghal evoked bohemian Paris of the 1920s, breadth Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald aboriginal acid their talents. But Prague produced no abundant American novels. With prices ascent and accumulation diminishing, best Americans alternate home.
Lobkowicz stayed. The grandson of adopted Czech aristocrats, he had appear to Prague on what would become a added benevolent quest—to balance the ten castles and palaces that had already belonged to his family. The new, autonomous government of President Vaclav Havel had assured in the aboriginal 1990s that backdrop expropriated by the Communists could be alternate to their applicable owners. But the acknowledged morass and huge costs complex in accomplishment the Lobkowicz estates and their all-inclusive cultural treasures were alarming for a young, common American. “Bankers laughed aback we appropriate putting up aged castles as accessory for loans,” Lobkowicz recalls.
Even so, giving up was out of the question. “What would I acquaint my kids and grandchildren—that it was too tough?” asks Lobkowicz—now Prince William—as we sit on a terrace of Lobkowicz Alcazar demography in a picture-postcard angle of the city’s abbey spires, tiled roofs and meandering river below. Located at the eastern end of Prague Alcazar (the aforementioned battleground that Lobkowicz already beheld from his aged apartment), the adapted 16th-century alcazar was opened to the accessible in April. With some of the admired Lobkowicz art collections on display—including masterpieces by Pieter Bruegel (the Elder) and Canaletto—and classical concerts performed every afternoon, the alcazar has become a cultural mecca for foreigners and locals alike. And the above Boston absolute acreage agent has become a above arts patron.
Americans acquire fabricated arresting contributions to Prague’s post-Communist renaissance. Poland’s Warsaw is larger, and Hungary’s Budapest is about as beautiful. But in neither of those capitals acquire Americans fabricated the aforementioned appulse as they acquire in Prague. Lobkowicz may be the best arresting American here, but added arresting Yanks accommodate Tonya Graves, an African-American accompanist affiliated to Prague’s reemergence as a centermost of accepted music; Jack Stack, an Irish-American broker in the beat of the city’s activation as a cyberbanking capital; Karen Feldman, a burghal New Yorker who has about alone adequate the attitude of fine, handmade Czech glassware; and David Minkowski, a above Hollywood agent who has led Prague’s awakening as a world-class blur capital.
“The backpackers advance the chat aback in the United States that this burghal was a actual appropriate place,” says Jiri Pehe, administrator of the New York University annex in Prague. “And the Americans who followed them saw opportunities to do some absorbing things for Prague.” Amid them, alone Lobkowicz had antecedent ties to the city. His ancestors traces its attendance aback seven centuries or so, to an era afore the Vienna-based Hapsburg dynasty, in the 1500s, continued the authority over Czech lands. Lobkowiczes, like added blue-blooded clans, acclimatized into palaces that amidst Prague Castle, the bench of aloof power. The German-speaking Hapsburgs were not alone adopted rulers; they additionally led the Catholic Counter-Reformation that ashamed Czech Protestant heretics during the Thirty Years’ War (1618-48), abrogation Prague in ruins.
The Baroque appearance that dominates the centermost of Prague can be traced to the about-face of the burghal afterwards that war. Gothic abbey facades were adapted with awe-inspiring curves and accessory detail, and inside, effigies of saints and angels were opulently accomplished in adhesive and gild. Secular architectonics followed suit. “Catholic aristocrats accession from Vienna congenital themselves palaces in the Baroque style,” says Simon North, a British art historian alive in Prague. Now that all-encompassing advance efforts acquire been undertaken, Prague’s Baroque flourishes acquire become added arresting than ever. Statues angle like sentinels at the doorways of old townhouses and accessible buildings, and bas-reliefs adorn their pediments and alien walls.
The Hapsburg absolutism burst with the end of Apple War I in 1918, and Czechoslovakia acquired independence. (The country breach into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993.) Although the Lobkowiczes had deeply accurate the Hapsburg monarchy, William’s grandfather, Maximilian, became a Czech nationalist afterwards independence. “He took stands that absolutely weren’t accepted with the blow of the ancestors or bodies in his amusing circle,” says William. Afore the Nazi activity of Czechoslovakia in 1938-39, Maximilian served as a agent to the Court of St. James. (He backward on in London during Apple War II as Free Czechoslovakia’s ambassador.) Afterwards the war, he alternate to Prague as a adherent of autonomous government. But with the Communist takeover in 1948, he was affected to abscond again—first to London and afresh to Boston. “He was one of the richest men in Czechoslovakia and absent it all,” says William, who was 7 aback his grandfathering died at age 79 in 1968.
The Lobkowiczes acquire recovered four of their castles and palaces, and disposed of the blow to accounts aliment and the canning of their collections, none of which can be awash for export, beneath Czech law. “We kept what we admired most,” says William, 45. He and his wife, Alexandra, administer the Lobkowicz estates and draw salaries from acceptance fees, amusing receptions and business conferences. They and their children—William, 12, Ileana, 9, and Sophia, 5—live in a busy three-bedroom apartment. “We never basic to alive in palaces, anyway,” says the prince.
If Lobkowicz identifies with the Prague of the Hapsburg era, Karen Feldman, addition crude American, is fatigued to the Prague of the decades amid the apple wars. “That was a time aback the burghal was at the beginning of glassmaking design,” says Feldman, 38. Alike afore then, Prague was already the automated hub of the Vienna-based Austro-Hungarian Empire. And afterwards independence, Czechoslovakia became one of the world’s best affluent countries, acknowledgment to booming exports of machinery, cars, shoes, acreage articles and accomplished glass. “Prague confused far avant-garde of Vienna in bread-and-butter development,” says Milada Polisenska, a historian at the New Anglo-American Academy in Prague. “Independence additionally unleashed astronomic activity in so abounding fields—art, music, literature, architectonics and design.”
Much of it was concentrated in Prague’s advancing Jewish community, which accomplished 55,000 inhabitants, or one-fifth of the city’s population, on the eve of Apple War II. Though Jews lived throughout Prague, the association remained abnormally articular with the aboriginal Jewish adjacency of Josefov, aloof arctic of Stare Mesto, or Old Town, a commune that dates to the 12th century. Two-thirds of Prague’s Jewish citizenry asleep during the Holocaust. Currently, alone an estimated 5,000 Jews abide in Prague. By 1900, Prague’s elite had amorphous to move into the Josefov area. Today, its Art Nouveau accommodation buildings—with their angled facades and corrective statues of fabulous figures—recall the affluence of the aboriginal 20th century.
Feldman finds sources for her bottle designs in abrupt nooks and crannies of aboriginal 1900s Prague. “Inspiration can appear from anything—old postcards, fabrics, children’s books and toys from decades ago,” she says. Aided by her new guidebook—Prague: Artel Style—visitors can analyze some of the venues that best blaze her imagination. In Mala Strana, the commune at the bottom of Prague Castle, a tiny shop, Antiques Ahasver, sells aboriginal 20th-century linens, folk apparel and jewelry. For ceramics abode settings and figurines, there is Dum Porcelanu, in Vinohrady, a contemporary eastern adjacency alleged for the vineyards that already grew there. Prague’s best hat shop—Druzstvo Model Praha—is on Wenceslas Square, armpit of the better political demonstrations of the Velvet Revolution.
Most arresting of all is the Building of Czech Cubism at the House of the Atramentous Madonna in Stare Mesto. Though Cubism originated in Paris in the aboriginal 1900s, boilerplate was the movement added foolishly accepted than in Prague—in art, architectonics and autogenous design. The building itself, advised a masterpiece of Czech Cubist architectonics and completed in 1912 by Josef Gocar, specializes in paintings, sculptures, appliance and ceramics of the 1920s and ’30s.
Feldman, who is from Scarsdale, New York, confused actuality in 1994 as a adumbrative for an American absterge company. But she anon quit. A beneficiary of bottle aback her apprentice canicule at Bard Academy in upstate New York, Feldman became alert with accomplished Czech altar from the pre-war period. Bottle achievement remained at a aerial akin alike beneath the Communists because—unlike literature, painting or sculpture—it was advised ideologically innocuous. “The aptitude survived, but glassmakers absent a faculty of how to reinterpret designs to accomplish them beginning and ambrosial to markets abroad,” says Feldman.
The bottle artisans did not readily acquire her ancient architectonics suggestions, which included bake-apple bowls and annual vases hardly busy with balloon patterns—bublinka, or Czechified bubbles, as Feldman calls them. Earlier artisans were alike added arguable about her mollusk and charge motifs. But her designs became bestsellers abroad. At first, Feldman formed out of her accommodation in Vinohrady—with the abutting buzz three blocks away. But the Czech Republic offered advantages bare in Western Europe or the United States. “Here, I could go to a branch or branch and ask them to accomplish aloof one sample of a bottle article for a hundred dollars or so,” says Feldman. “Back in the States, that would acquire amount me bags of dollars.”
She alleged her new aggregation Artel, afterwards an aboriginal 20th-century accommodating of Czech artisans who alone accumulation curve in favor of well-designed, anatomic handmade objects. At her aboriginal barter appearance in New York, in 1998, Feldman came abroad with aloof 30 orders. Today, Artel sells in 26 countries, with the United States, Abundant Britain and Japan as the better markets. One applicant is Rolls Royce, which buys custom-built Artel glasses and whiskey decanters for the bar in its top-of-the-line Phantom sedan. She additionally advised a set of tumblers in accord with Sol Lewitt, the American minimalist, who died this accomplished April. “The burghal itself had annihilation to do with my affective here,” Feldman says. “But in retrospect, we are a abundant match. I’m a actual beheld person, and every distinct day in Prague is a barbecue for the eyes.”
And ears. Despite a citizenry of alone 1.2 million, Prague supports three above venues for opera and dance, the Prague Accompaniment Opera, the National Theater and the Estates Theater, and two above concert halls. There are a dozen or so alcove music performances in Renaissance and Baroque churches every day. Several nights a week, audiences sit on the carpeted, marble stairway of the National Building and accept to a cord quartet.
Mozart admired Prague. In Vienna and added European capitals, his operas were performed for aloof and aloof audiences. But here, the audiences were mainly merchants, tradesmen, shopkeepers and artisans who reveled in the amusing gibes that Mozart aimed at the dignity in works like Don Giovanni and The Marriage of Figaro. Either or both are acceptable to be appointed every anniversary at the Estates Theater, breadth Mozart himself conducted the 1787 première of Don Giovanni.
But not all of Prague’s music is classical. In the 1920s and ’30s, the burghal was the basic of applesauce in Central and Eastern Europe. Alike in the Communist era, Prague’s bedrock groups exerted a stronger affecting authority on their admirers than bands abroad in the region. During the acrid repression that followed the Prague Spring of 1968—the abrupt ameliorate movement headed by Communist affair baton Alexander Dubcek whose byword was “Socialism with a animal face”—a bandage called Plastic Bodies of the Universe became a admired of dissidents. It was the arrest of its associates in 1976 that helped atom the movement that culminated added than a dozen years afterwards in the Velvet Revolution.
Today, Prague is already afresh a basic of accepted music, and at its amphitheater is an American, Tonya Graves, and her band, Monkey Business. Graves, 37, was built-in in Peekskill, a New York Burghal suburb. Her ancestor is a Baptist abbot and her mother a nurse. In college, she sang some dejection and hits by the Grateful Dead. Strictly abecedarian hour. Her attendance in Prague is accidental. Literally. Injured from walking through a restaurant’s bottle aperture in New York, she was awarded abundant advantage to acquiesce a continued vacation in Europe.
On her aboriginal day in town, Graves visited a applesauce club and congratulated the musicians on their virtuosity. They asked her to sing. “I was from New York, atramentous and too abbreviate to comedy basketball, so they affected I was a singer,” Graves recalls. She complied, got affable acclaim and was asked to appear aback a additional night, afresh a third. Still, she was not accessible to acknowledge herself a singer.
In the United States, Graves had formed at shelters for delinquent teenagers. “It was draining, but actual enjoyable, and I anticipation I could acquisition article agnate in Prague,” she says. But she didn’t allege Czech. “Singing was the one affair I could do in Prague afterwards a affidavit or diploma,” she says. Aback 2000, she has been one of Monkey Business’s two vocalists. The bandage is a seven-member accumulation with a able alternative for alarm music. Her seven CDs acquire awash widely. Graves (who today has a Czech husband, Marek Gregor, and a 2-year-old son, Sebastian) additionally sings jazz—Ella Fitzgerald classics, especially—with a big band. “I’m alone bristles feet, but with 15 musicians abaft me I feel ten anxiety tall,” she says. At a clandestine affair in a alveolate amplitude in Barrandov Studios, the allegorical moviemaking centermost on the city’s southern outskirts, the bandage appears cutting apparel that arm-twist a antic nod to the group’s name—car mechanics’ uniforms, beat by “grease monkeys.” But aural minutes, Graves, afraid profusely, strips off her compatible to acknowledge a red, strapless dress.
The abutting day, I acknowledgment to Barrandov to accommodated David Minkowski, a Hollywood displace who, in affiliation with Matthew Stillman, has become one of the city’s arch blur producers. Prague, which has been abundantly safe aback the Thirty Years’ War about four centuries ago, has become a prime area for actual aeon films. “If you appetite to blur Paris or London afore the 1800s, the locations [are] in Prague,” says Minkowski, 42. “Palaces and townhouses and abounding streets actuality haven’t afflicted that much.” Added bashful accomplishment and prices accomplish filming in Prague a lot cheaper than Western Europe or the United States. Prague additionally has a affluent moviemaking tradition.
By the 1920s, affection bashful films were actuality produced here. The Barrandov Studios were congenital in 1931 for talkies. (Even today, the adequate villas of ’30s stars and admiral adhere to the abandon of Barrandov Hill.) Prague’s blur industry was advised so technically avant-garde that the Nazis, aggravating to escape the Allied bombing of Germany, relocated their advertising moviemaking actuality during Apple War II. Afterwards the Communists took over in 1948, Barrandov started bearing anemic appearance about chic attempt and ballsy revolutionaries.
Occasionally, affection Barrandov films—even some analytical of the authorities—were buried abroad. These included administrator Jiri Menzel’s Closely Watched Trains (1966), about a adolescent alternation base accessory who becomes an absurd war hero, and Milos Forman’s The Firemen’s Ball (1967), about boundless bribery in government. Forman went into banishment afterwards the Soviet Army invaded in 1968 to put an end to the Prague Spring. In Hollywood, Forman went on to alike greater success with films such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) and Amadeus (1984), both winners of assorted Oscars.
Minkowski was acquainted of all this aback he accustomed actuality in 1995. At that point, Prague’s blur industry was at a low ebb, and the 30-year-old Californian had no admiration to break above a distinct project. It was a low-budget, made-for-cable-television film, Hidden in Silence, about a absolute jailbait in Nazi-occupied Poland who conceals a accumulation of Jews in her tiny attic.
But already assembly ended, addition Hollywood aggregation flew in for a television miniseries and asked Minkowski to advice out. That led to a third project. And in 1997, a London agent of commercials asked Minkowski to arch up assembly of affection films for his Barrandov-based company, Stillking Films. “I could acquire gone aback to L.A. and become one of bags angry to appointment on films, or I could break actuality and bang out on my own,” says Minkowski, who now has a Czech wife, Lenka, and a son, Oliver, 4.
At first, his better botheration was a attenuate activity pool. Old-timers, who had been accompaniment advisers at Barrandov during the Communist era, were afraid to appointment the continued hours appropriate by Hollywood filmmakers. Minkowski supplemented them with teenagers and twentysomethings—bright, eager, motivated—that he begin alive in restaurants and hotels. He would bang up conversations to analysis their English, and if they seemed acute abundant to bound apprentice a new, aggressive job, he would ask if they basic to appointment at Stillking. “They consistently said yes,” recalls Minkowski. “I beggarly who would accept to be a aide or agent instead of accomplishing movies?” Today, best Stillking advisers are beneath 40, and the earlier blur crews are gone.
During my visit, Stillking was producing The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. Minkowski guided me through three behemothic sets: a 30,000-square-foot courtyard amid by stone-like ramparts and amidst by a moat; the abundant anteroom of a alcazar with gargoyles bulging out of its walls; and best absorbing of all, an calm backwoods of alive ache trees, moss and wildflowers. Minkowski wouldn’t say how abundant the blur will amount except that it exceeds the $175 actor account for Casino Royale, the James Bond caricature additionally co-produced by Stillking in 2006.
At its peak, over 1,500 locals formed on Narnia, arresting for a mid-sized burghal with nine added alive Barrandov companies. To account this massive awakening of Prague’s blur industry, array of baby and medium-sized businesses acquire opened to baby food, accumulation actual for sets and accommodate trailers for actors amid shoots. “The blur industry has helped about-face Prague into such an aggressive city,” Minkowski told me.
“Entrepreneurial” was not an adjective acclimated abundant aback Communism burst here. Economists afraid that large, aforetime state-owned companies would not survive in the new backer era, and that not abundant baby and medium-sized businesses were actuality created in their place. Yet today, signs of bartering success are everywhere. Clothing boutiques and chump electronics shops band the above streets and banal malls. Pubs and sidewalk cafés are awash with audience blaze the accepted leash of Czech specialties—sausages, dumplings and cabbage—along with pints of bounded concentrated brews such as Pilsner Urquell and Budvar.
Behind the bang is a affecting ameliorate of Czech cyberbanking in which yet addition American transplant, Jack Stack, has played a arch role. Like the blow of the cyberbanking arrangement during the Communist era, Ceska Sporitelna, a accumulation academy founded in 1825, had collapsed beneath accompaniment control. Afterwards the Velvet Revolution, Czech banks were accepted to acclimate bound to the new bazaar economy. Instead, bribery and anarchy ensued. In the aboriginal 1990s, abounding businesses were privatized by adumbral promoters, who secretly awash off the best admired genitalia of the firms. They afresh took out coffer loans on the companies’ money-losing remains, never intending to accomplish repayments. In added cases, politicians pressured banks to accomplish loans to ample companies whose managers could bear their employees’ votes in elections. By 1999, about bisected of all coffer loans had failed. “The Czech abridgement was in bad shape, and investors were accident absorption in the country,” says Zdenek Tuma, governor of the Czech National Bank—the agnate of the Federal Reserve Coffer in the United States.
It was afresh that Stack, a constant New Yorker and adept banker, absitively to attempt into Prague’s black cyberbanking waters. He had spent added than two decades at Chemical Coffer (now allotment of JP Morgan Chase) in a array of administration positions. “But I consistently basic to run a bank, and I wasn’t accepting any added up the authoritative ladder,” says Stack.
Through a headhunting agency, Stack had been contacted in 1999 by Austria’s Erste Bank, which was negotiating to acquirement Ceska Sporitelna and was attractive for a arch controlling officer, a alarming assignment. According to a 2000 analysis by all-embracing administration consulting close Accenture, Ceska Sporitelna ranked asleep aftermost amid bounded banks in chump satisfaction. Though it was the best overstaffed coffer in the country, its advisers were the best ailing paid—and amid the surliest, according to applicant complaints. Investments in technology were so low its ATMs bootless to accomplish at times of greatest demand. Stack talked it over with his wife, Patricia. “She acicular out the coffer was in such bad appearance that I could alone advance it—and the chance began,” Stack recalls.
Once installed, he absitively to draw on measures that had formed able-bodied at Chemical Bank. He boring bargain the aggrandized agents by a third. He offered the 10,000 who remained bonuses based on the cardinal of new accounts they opened and the old ones they induced to stay. The autogenous architectonics of branches was adapted from state-era stodginess to a added airy free-market style. Gone are the continued counters abounding by clerks whose brainy bulletin to barter appeared to be: “Wait to be alleged by the authorities.” In their abode are arced desks set in small, open, alone spaces. Investments in new technology awfully bigger the achievement of ATMs, and Ceska Sporitelna’s alarming 45 percent bad-loan amount has been brought bottomward to beneath than 2 percent, acknowledgment to risk-management behavior that amount clients’ creditworthiness added than who they apperceive in aerial places.
The aforementioned sorts of reforms acquire aback advance throughout Prague’s cyberbanking system. “Jack Stack played a actual important role in this process,” says Tuma, the Czech National Coffer governor. “The turnaround he led at Ceska Sporitelna was a key anniversary in the transformation of our cyberbanking system.” For Stack, the abstruse of Czech banking’s contempo success has been to tap chump appeal that had been pent up for decades. Mortgages in Prague are growing at over 40 percent a year, and coffer loans to baby and medium-sized businesses are up by 20 percent a year. “Czechs appetite to accomplish up for accepting absent so abundant time during the Communist era,” says Stack. “People actuality and throughout Central Europe will become the agent of advance for all of Europe because they are added ambitious, harder alive and are developing a absolute aggressive spirit.”
Stack won’t be about to see Prague acknowledgment to the aerial alive standards of Paris and Vienna. At 61, he is affective aback to New York this year to booty some time off and bolt up with old accompany and family. “I’m actual afraid to leave Prague because I will absence it,” he says. “But I’m additionally actual abiding it’s time for somebody abroad to booty over the bank.”
For the added Americans, Prague has become home. With absolute flights now available, Feldman allotment to New York several times a year. “I don’t acquire to accomplish choices anymore about breadth I should alive permanently,” she says. Graves’ and Minkowski’s Prague-born accouchement acquire adoring Czech grandparents who won’t acquiesce them to aberrate too far abroad for too long. And Prince William’s son, William, wants Lobkowicz Alcazar to be added kid-friendly. He’s helped actualize a kids’ card for the alcazar restaurant, featuring peanut-butter sandwiches and adolescent melts. He has additionally created addition diversion, a advertisement area absolute a alcazar bewilderment game—with three levels of difficulty—allowing diners of assorted ages to blow abroad while apprehension their food. “Not a bad abstraction from a 12-year-old,” says his dad.
Writer Jonathan Kandell is based in New York City. Photographer Tomas Van Houtryve works from Paris.
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