Museum of Communism

On a Facebook tip Murphy received from his friend Šara we decided to grab a bite at a place called Kolkovna Celnice. Conveniently it’s in the same building as the Museum of Communism, our next cultural destination.

Good view of another baller Prague square from the patio

We grabbed a patio seat and after a quick perusal of the menu ordered two different Fuckloads of Meat. One was a cool tray with a big pile of ham, some kind of sausage stuffed with pickle and pimento, a pepperoni, some soft cheese and (ugh) some salad. The other was a glorious skillet containing a sizeable portion of a duck, ham, bread, two types of sauerkraut and pepperoni, all soaking in a sauce that seemed to be mostly duck fat. Shiiiiiiit

Washed it all down with a couple of beers and fell into a near meat coma. I wanted to take a greasy meat nap on the grass nearby, but the museum beckoned.

The entryway was a gift shop and long set of stairs with an imposing red Soviet star overhead and a welcoming statue of Karl Marx, but otherwise plain white and spartan.Words all over the walls in both Czech and English. Immediately obvious this is more of a reading museum than most. The walls went into great detail explaining how Czech independence came about in 1918 and how the Czech communist party was a major political player from its inception in 1921, and how the Great Depression drew people towards the party.

After a break from democracy with the unpleasantness of 1938-45 (not a lot on that here), the post-war political situation was described in great detail, how the country was still nominally a democracy until 1948 but was de facto under the heel of the Soviets, like how the country refused Marshall Plan funds from the US because Stalin ordered them to.

The next section described a lot of details about everyday life throughout the years of 1948 to 1989, from trying to purchase vehicles to the lack of freedom to travel to sports. A lot of time was spent emphasizing how hopelessly busted the economic system was, with corruption, scheming and outright theft integral for normal day-to-day acquisition of products. And how toilet paper was a luxury and government newspapers were typically used as a substitute. Churchill’s quote seemed appropriate:

The pieces are really well written

One wall was dedicated to socialist realism portraits:

Jagr’s a big deal here…

Around the corner the walls were all painted black and the lights were dimmed. The section focused on the most repressive years of the regime, primarily the fifties. It described the measures taken to keep people from fleeing the country, like a 1.5 km perimeter around the borders that only “trusted” citizens were permitted to be in, and went into detail about the stories of those who were shot, drowned or committed suicide while trying to escape. The punishment for failure was sometimes the gallows, and a glass box held an actual noose that’d been use to execute those captured.

During this time, educated individuals were deemed to be politically unreliable, while those with working-class backgrounds were often elevated to positions of power. A joke illustrated the status quo of the time:

The president requested a locksmith come to fix a broken door at his residence. After the locksmith spent a great deal of time without success, the president explained “What’s taking so long? I could fix it faster than this!” To which the locksmith responded, “Of course you could, you’re a locksmith but I’m just a university professor.”

The mood of the museum lightened somewhat entering the next section on the Prague Spring of 1968 and the years between it and the downfall of communism with the Velvet Revolution of 1989.

Here’s Allan Ginsburg hanging out…

It wasn’t all chuckles though – we’d seen Jan Palach’s image on the side of a building and wondered who he was:

Near the exit was a timeline comparing what was happening in the west with what was happening behind the Iron Curtain. It mostly described major political events like assassinations of JFK and MLK, proxy wars like Vietnam, and cultural and technological touchstones like the release of Windows 1.0. It also included Jaromir Jagr’s birthday (totally a big deal here):

Very comprehensive and complete overview of communism in Czech here, I’d classify this as a great museum. Lots of reading but it was well laid out and sufficiently conveyed the vibe of life during the time and the pitfalls of the system. I’d say their republic is fairing a million times better. With this knowledge lodged in the mind vault the MOC has successfully led us to a deeper respect for the people of this country.

After this the day felt full and we were museum’d out. Might be beer time

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