Shadows of Stalin


The last time I went to Prague, it was pouring so much that Anika and I ended up hunted for rubber boots and hanging out in our hotel room, which had a television showing German trash TV with Czech subtitles. This time would be different – for one thing, Inga has been living there for the past four months and new shoes could be had by simply reaching up:

Shoes on a string

I had taken the train from Berlin through the textbook example of a crisp winter morning: Leaving the tunnels under Berlin, we exited onto a white landscape and perfect sunshine, which only intensified as the train glided along the hills of Saxony. Arriving at Prague’s cleverly disguised central station, which goes by the inconspicuous name “Hlavni Nadrazi”, I was greeted by the rest of my family and the reunion commenced. Prague could be the poster child of a former Soviet satellite city: It’s architecture is both beautiful and brutalist, its street signs scream at you in a communist red and with a typography that continues to look entirely soviet. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Mr. Stalin himself had once featured prominently in the city’s skyline – overlooking the city, a statue of his was once the “world’s largest representation of Stalin”:

(cc-by-sa Miroslav Vopata)

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that this kind of thing did not stand the test of time: Only seven years after its construction, the statue was blown up in an attempt to eradicate Stalin’s imprint on history. Where he and his comrades once stood is now a giant metronome, which slowly sways back and forth whilst making the strangest noise.

Standing near the metronome, I took a few photos of the city before my hands turned too cold to even reach for the camera. I was completely unprepared for how cold it would be in Prague and suffered the consequences all weekend, a fact most evidently clear in the desperate look I am sporting on every single one of my dad’s photos. The snow that had covered most of Germany eventually came to Prague and so it felt as though we had the city to ourselves at times, for instance when standing next to the world’s “second ugliest landmark”, a brutalist TV tower adorned with the statues of crawling babies, or even up at Prague’s famous castle. Inga, who had long gotten used to the city’s quirks, would give me a knowing smile and guide us to yet another spot. Meanwhile, my parents seemed to grow immune to the cold, marveling at the city’s buildings and – in the case of my dad – even ditch his gloves altogether.

It was only when I boarded my train to return home, when I realized just how few pictures I had taken… most of them at the former Stalin monument and in the late afternoon sunshine, when the idea of Stalin’s statue had seemed to overwhelming that I momentarily forgot just how cold winter in Eastern Europe can be.

From the tram


Prague in the snow