prague in the seventies

a short excerpt of a conversation between myself and a czech student of mine, a doctor in her mid-fifties. reminiscing about the not so good ol’ days in the capital.

“so, you went to university in prague during the seventies, right?”

“yes, i lived there in the late seventies until 1983.”

“so you really must have seen the city change over the past few decades. what are the biggest differences between prague then and now?”

(thinks) “ohhhhh, it was terrible then!”

terrible? really?”
“oh yes. you couldn’t do anything.”

“really, you couldn’t buy books. they were all in russian [and czech]. there was nothing in the shops. you couldn’t buy toothpaste if you wanted to. you couldn’t buy clothes….”

“is this because there was just nothing in stock?”

“absolutely nothing. tuesdays were the only days that there were new books. we would get one or two western titles–hemingway and things like that–and they would only come on tuesdays….. at about two o’clock. there would be a big queue and you would have to stand and wait for hours for a chance to buy it. and even then, there weren’t very many copies so you wouldn’t be guarenteed to get it.
and furniture– there was no furniture in the furniture shops! there were plastic chairs and some boxes but nothing like this (motions to the sofa she is sitting on).”

“how were people supposed to get furniture then?”

“oh, i don’t know, it didn’t make sense. and you couldn’t find clothing. it was terrible. if you wanted a red wool coat, you would go to this obchodní dům in wenceslas square– it was the only good place to shop. and they wouldn’t have any red wool coats so you’d have to buy a black one.
and childrens’ clothing? no, there was none! we all had to learn how to make our own childrens’ clothing, and then we would give it to each other when the child grew out of it.”

“wow! that doesn’t seem like the government had really thought all of this out, does it?”

“but there is still a problem with the people.”

“what do you mean?”

“the people there and other parts of the country…. we haven’t changed from this time. communism was over forty years and it is too hard to change. this is the problem. some thought that life was easier then. and for some it was.”

photos via lostandfoundinprague