Prague pre-show - Culture contrast.
Prague pre-show - Culture contrast. Ancient beauty, modern tat, old values, new freedoms - a city in the throes of massive change.
And so to Prague, another city new to U2. Beautiful place too, one of the most exquisite cities in Europe and another place witnessing enormous change. These former Eastern Bloc capitals have a strange atmosphere to them in the summer, when they are groaning under the weight of so many tourists. Like Poland, its cheap here (for foreigners), so the floodgates open, producing a very weird cultural mix. Against a backdrop of archaic public transport and fantastically over the top architecture (the Catholic Church really never embraced minimalism as a design concept), you get this flourishing 'freedom' manifested in the form of tourism, alongside the invasion of every corporate multi-national company imaginable. (Local reaction seems to be divided between resentment and an odd kind of pride - in Poland I bought one of those 'scenes of Warsaw' type postcards, featuring eight sights of the city, which included pictures of the Cathedral, the Chopin monument, various museums and palaces - and their first McDonald's!). As tourists and businesses arrive with cash, there's an equal number of entrepreneurs, chancers, black marketeers (and of course the Mob) ready to rally round and take it off them. This is only to be expected, but being a perpetual traveler the thing I find most curious is that be it Auckland, Scotland or Prague the tourists are accompanied by exactly the same kind of tourist activities. There's the portrait painters, scenic artists, hair braiders, boards of silver jewelry on black velvet, 'human statue' performance artists, those particularly stupid giant multicolored jester's hats with bells on, ceramic flute sellers, pan handlers and always, always a fucking Peruvian pan-pipe-and-drums band. I've seen all this stuff in every capital city of the world and you wonder if someone's franchising the stuff, or if there was just a memo put out a few years ago. There can't be any musicians left in Peru at this stage.
Coming to a city as stunningly beautiful as Prague, you can't help but wish you could have seen it before the flocks of handi-cams and Spice Girls t-shirts arrived. But then, lets not kid ourselves, even ten years ago it must have been pretty brutal here. Memories of East Germany in the 70's are all it takes to make you drop the lofty nostalgia. Rather tourists than secret police. And after all, we are here to bring the good people of the Czech Republic our 'sci-fi disco supermarket', so who am I to whine about the consumer invasion?!