Every weekend1 large parts of Prague turn into ghost towns. This is particularly visible when a public holiday invites people to extend it and bridge the gap by taking leave. Normally busy streets look like after evacuation, and in usually dense rows of parked cars only few vehicles remain.
Naturally, outbound trains are jam-packed on Fridays, and so are inbound trains every Sunday evening. Students carry their dirty cloths home and return with food parcels. Many people go hiking or join other free-time activities.
An integral part of Czech culture is the chata.2 A chata is a – big or small – cottage on the countryside, sometimes located far away from home or even on the opposite side of the republic. A chata is a refuge for a better life, where you are free to meet the people you like and do the things you wish to do. Here you can host barbecue parties with your friends and family, you can tinker with the building or the garden, or you join village life and enjoy the low price level and the great feeling of having a full wallet.3
For expats living in Prague, however, the chata is mainly a synonym for weekends when you meet only other expats, tourists and pensioners in town. If you hold an Czech-speaking event on Friday afternoon in Prague, you might easily end up being there alone.
I think that the chata-phenomenon has a huge impact on Prague as a metropolis and as cultural space. Virtually on three out of seven days, many young, active and wealthy locals are absent. Imagine the same for other capitals. One visible result is that many Prague resident invest their money, love and creativity in their chata, rather than the town where they live at least four days of the week.
There is a nice film about the escape from urban spaces to a chata. Admittedly, this film is not Czech but Slovak, and no escape is needed from most parts of Slovakia, except to earn a livelihood. On the other hand, I think the situation there is comparable: Bratislava can be considered to be for Slovakia, what Prague is for the Czech Republic.
- Note that in Prague weekends start in the course of Friday. ↩
- Pronounced like “khaataa”, with stress on the first syllable. Please, don’t confuse it with chata: “Nickname for a girl who has a small flat nose, or small breasts.” ↩
- Reportedly, the real villagers are not always happy about chata settlements that naturally turn into ghost towns for most time of the week. ↩