The distance in time from the period 1948 to 1989 is not long enough for us to be able to objectively assess the city development of that time. The majority of people that live in Prague still remember the socialist period and everyone has a different perspective. It is difficult to write about those forty years without an ideological and political evaluation of events. We decided to give it a try even though it is going to be in all probability an incomplete study that will need to be continuously supplemented. It should be said that the “socialist” Prague was a fast developing city. Prague was on one hand influenced by what was happening in the world; on the other hand it was a product of its time.
Prague was the capital city of the socialist Czechoslovakia and plans and decisions were influenced from the beginning of the fifties by the increasing number of citizens living here.
During Socialism Prague was densely populated
The number of citizens in Prague started increasing as far back as the 17th century. This increase was significant and from the 18th century to the beginning of the 21st century this number increased eight times.
The very years we write about brought a significant increase. In 1961 the number of Prague citizens crossed the one million mark. The increase culminated in 1991 to 1, 214, 174 citizens, which is three years after the fall of communism, but this was a result of previous politics. Just a short excursion: Current years see a continual fall in the number of citizens to the extent that in 2001 less people lived in Prague than in 1980, during the period of so called realsocialism.
Let’s shortly analyse what was behind such a sharp rise in population of Prague in the past regime. One fundamental reason was that it was a preference of industry. The builders of the socialistic dream needed more and more people to work in factories that were mostly concentrated in towns. That’s how a significant exodus of village citizens started and Prague was at the forefront of their interest. Other motives were an unusual rise of central offices and institutions that became concentrated in the capital city.
Newcomers needed place to live
It is not surprising that the sharp increase of citizens brought housing problems that were difficult to solve. Prague like many other European cities regardless of ideology decided to opt for housing estates.
The very first housing estate was Solidarita. Its development however started already shortly after the war and before the revolutionary year 1948. Socialistic character has a later estate at Pankráck pláň. Houses that rose close to the most distinctive building of the Soviet style, the hotel Internacionál in Dejvice, bear the stamp of Moscow influence.
The real housing estate boom started with the prefab houses development. One of the first prefab housing estates is called Invalidovna and it is highly appraised by specialists. These houses, together with some other prefabs that were built in other parts of Prague (at Novodvorská or the housing estate in Krč) were still of good quality and using international and especially western experience and were able to aspire for international awards. The later prefabs that grew in the suburbs of Prague can be called manufactured prefabs.
It should be said that the development of significant areas around Prague has been always counted on. The massive scale of building started in the era of prefab houses. In the eighties, whichever side you approached Prague from you were always welcomed by this grey wall of new prefab estates. Let us briefly remind you of al least some of those that encircled Prague like a strange ring.
The Housing estate Na Dědiněis located in Prague 6 –Ruzyně and a smaller part in Liboce, close to the airport between streets Vlastina and Evropská. The main residential part of the estate is composed of ten twelve storied prefab houses that were built at the beginning of eighties. There are about 1600 flats of 1.category (three and two bedroom). There are also four storied prefab houses in different variations (four, three and one bedroom), the total number of them is 43.
Jihozápadní Město(Southwest Town) is a complex of prefab estates that includes prefab parts of the land register area of Stodůlky and of the Prague 13. It has more than 50 000 people and consists of the housing estate Nové Butovice (mostly prefab houses that were built in the second half of nineteen eighties and at the beginning of the nineties), the housing estate Lužiny (consists mostly of prefab houses that are organised in so called roundels, one of its kind in the Central Europe. Houses stand in a kind of half circle, inside is a quiet zone with a playpit, playground and greenery).Other housing estates Stodůlky, housing estate Velká Ohrada and Vidoule are nearby.
Jižní Město (South Town) is the biggest housing estate in the Czech Republic. It is located at southeast Prague within the district Prague 4 and covers a big part of Prague 11 at both land registry areas (Háje and Chodov). In this housing estate lives a major part of more than 80 000 citizens of the district Prague 11.
Housing estate Košík is a residential area in Hostivař within the district Prague 15. It is located between the old Hostivař estate in north and the South Town in south. It consists of 20 blocks of prefab houses and was built in the second half of nineteen eighties.
Černý Most belongs to the land registry area in the northeast Prague at the territory of Prague 14. According to calculations done for 31 July 2005 at this area lived 21 869 citizens. Černý Most consists mostly of prefab estates.
Řepy is the land registry area of Prague at the territory of Prague 17 and Prague 6. It is located in the west part of city, north from the D5 motorway entry in Prague
Prague transport and its socialistic buildings
Fast city development and the continuous spreading of its borders brought another big problem that had to be solved. It was the city transport system. In the times of the socialist development an ordinary citizen primarily wanted to find a place to live and nobody asked for assigning of the flat close to the place of employment. On the top of that, those times weren’t favourable to the changing of jobs and that’s why it was quite common that a person who was allocated a flat in the south of the city had to commute to the north and vice versa. For entertainment and shopping people travelled to the centre.
On the heels of its fast development Prague developed trams, trolleybuses and buses. Trolleybuses started operating in Prague as soon as 1936, however, they became a thing of the past due to the cheap Soviet petrol that was abundant in the sixties. The last trolleybus carried its final passengers through the city on 18 th October 1972.
Metro as backbone of city transport
The Metro was talked about and planned a long time before the Second World War. At some point there were talks about underground trams. These talks arrived at a solution in the nineteen sixties. The transport situation was fast deteriorating at this time and it was clear that without any action the city transport would collapse.
Surprisingly a winning project was the one that involved the underground tram. This was supposed to lead from the Main Station up to Pankrác. The building started in 1966 but it was soon brought to a halt because of the definite decision to build a metro instead. What was already built had to be rebuilt. Other changes were brought on with the decision that Prague metro will have Soviet trains. These were heavier than the originally planned local ones and the building had to be adapted accordingly.
The first section of the metro should have been opened in 1970 but the lack of experience caused delay and the opening took place in 1974. A year before that began the channelling of the line A from Dejvice to Vinohrady. The ceremonial opening of the first section of the line C on May 1974 at 19 minutes past 9am became a political manifestation, even the Communist Party First Secretary Gustav Husák was present.
On 12 th August 1978 the first section of the line A was opened and the station Muzeum became the first transition point. At the end of 1980 both lines were extended and in 1977 the building of the first section of the line B was started. Development of the section Sokolovská (currently Florenc) – Smíchovské nádraží took eight years, the line B was opened on 2 nd November 1985. It was also time when development of other sections Dukelská (currently Nové Butovice) – Smíchovské nádraží started. The building of Sokolovská – A. Zápotockého (currently Českomoravská) was under preparation and the depot of the line A in Hostivař was built. In 1984 the line C was extended and it led under the Vltava river up to Holešovice.
Gottwald, alias Nuselský Bridge
The first talks about bridging of the Nuselské údolí (Nuselské valley) appeared already in the era of the First republic. The matter became urgent with the development of Pankrácká pláň when many new houses were built. That happened at the end of nineteen sixties with the development of housing estates in the area. It was decided that the territory will be connected with the centre by an underground tram that will drive through the bridge tube. In 1967 the building started and in 1973 the bridge was finished and named after the first working-class President Klement Gottwald. Because of the bridge 17 buildings in the valley were knocked down. In November 1970 a loading test was carried by 66 tanks. The bridge was opened on 22 February 1973, at first it served mainly to locals because the extension of the north-south arterial road on the side of Pankrac wasn’t finished yet. It didn’t become important for long-distance transport until 30 th April 1973. The city metro started driving through the bridge tube on 9 th May 1974.
Problems appeared already before the bridge was opened. At first the concept of the underground tram changed to the metro and later on it was decided to buy metro trains from the Soviet Union. The originally planned trams T3 or light weight Czech trains R1 had an axle pressure of 10.5 tons whereas the Soviet trains had 16 tons. The bridge wasn’t constructed to bear such a load. That’s why a special strengthening grid was built into the bridge. The grid weights 822 tons and spreads the pressure also in the side walls of the tube.
Since the 1990 the bridge has got its current name Nuselský most (Nuselský bridge). In 1997 the steel grid was repaired because of the fatigue cracks at longitudinal girders that were caused by the wrongly designed detail of a connection. These cracks appeared at more than 50% of these parts all over the grid. All longitudinal girders had to be replaced. Another repair is planned for the future and this will restrict city transport. Before it takes place, the line D has to be build. With this line in working the line C can be discontinued without a total collapse of the Jižní město (South town) transport connection.
North-South Arterial Road
It is the most cursed transport road of the city. It connects the north and south of the city and leads through the centre. Because there is a lack of suitable alternate roads, the arterial road is the only option to crossing Prague in the stated directions. Another problem is caused by the time when it was designed. Nobody assumed that motorization would develop at such speed. This became an issue already at the end of the socialism era and has recently became even more serious. Currently Prague is at one of the first rungs of the international ladder regarding the number of cars in relation to the number of citizens.
Some of the current parts of the north-east arterial road were planned in the past. It is for example bridging of the Masarykovo nádraží (Masaryk station) or Nuselský most (Nuselský bridge). The road was built gradually. First was the section Nuselský most – Rumunská ulice (Rumunská Street). In 1978 it was extended to Rumunská ulice – Hlávkův most (Hlávek bridge). In 1980 the bridge Barikádníků was built that later became a part of the arterial road. The reconstruction of the Hlavní nádraží (Main Station) was also designed with the arterial road in mind. Because of the road many other roads had to be moved or completely cancelled. The only connecting section in Holešovice should have been solved by the removal of the station Praha-Bubny and a direct connection of the road leading from Hlávkuv bridge with Argentinska street (close to the bridge Barikádníků).
Buildings that shouldn’t be forgotten
The list of buildings that have arisen in Prague over the last forty years, those that make a mark in the history and life of the city, would be very long. We have already mentioned the Russian skyscraper, Hotel Internacional. There were also other hotels, some of them rather luxurious. Let’s name for example, the Park hotel, the hotel Olympic or for long time unrivalled Intercontinental and many others.
We have already talked about transport. Let’s just remind you of the Petřín lift whose service was restored at that time or the finishing of the Sletový (rally) stadium that was renamed to Spartakiádní (Spartakiad). Let’s not forget new shopping centres that were built at that time. The First republic centre Bílá labuť had been for long time the only proper shopping centre, later on came Kotva and Máj (current Tesco) at Národní třída and Družba (later renamed as Krone, currently Debenhans) at Wenceslas Square, DBK at Budějovicka atc.
Next to the Nuslsky bridge, close to the old Vyšehrad, grew a striking dominant Palác kultury (Palace of culture), currently Congress centre.
It would be easy to name more of these buildings and the list would be long. We would like to pay a closer attention to one of them and it is not because of the building but because of the institution that has its seat there. I have in mind Kavčí hory.
It is a widely known fact that the first steps of television in the Czechoslovakia date back to the before Second War time. Before anything significant was achieved, the activity came to halt because of the war. After the war the development continued. The first experimental broadcasting started in 1948 within the framework of the International radio exhibition MEVRO in Prague. The trial broadcasting from the Studio in Měšťanska Beseda (in Vladislavova Street) happened on 1 st may 1953 and on 25 th February 1954 it was declared as regular. The Prague observation tower at Petřín was adapted to become the first television transmitter. At the beginning television broadcasted only three times a week, in summer only 2 days. In November 1953 this number increased to four days a week and in 1955 to six. Since 29 December 1958 television has been broadcasting for the whole week.
In the sixties started the development of the new television centre in Prague and the government decided to set up the second channel. Conditions for further technical and other changes were set.
In October 1970 the first stage of the development was finished and the first studios at Kavčí hory were handed over. Next stages of the development went on until the end of nineteen seventies, expansion of production and technical capacities enabled the further extension of the broadcasting. On 10 th May 1970 broadcasting was upgraded by adding the second channel. This channel began regularly broadcasting in colour on 9th May 1973. On the first channel the regular colour cast started on 9 th May 1975. In June 1979 a new building was opened at Kavčích hory in Prague.
Leaders of Town Hall
To the list of Prague’s Mayor, in other words, top management of Prague Town Hall were between 1948 and 1989 and added only six members:
- JUDr. Václav Vacek: II. period: 1.7.1946 – 21.5.1954
- Adolf Svoboda: period: 21.5.1954 – June 1964
- Ludvík Černý: period: 29.6.1964 – September 1970
- JUDr. RSDr. Zdeněk Zuska: period: 10.9.1970 – June 1981 (resigned to become a member of the government)
- Ing. František Štafa: period: 22.6.1981 – 4.7.1988 (removed from the office)
- Zdeněk Horčík: period: 4.7.1988 – 8.12.1989 (resigned after the November revolution)
Fall of Socialism
The end of socialism in Bohemia started with the events that closely followed a big student demonstration on 17 th November 1989 that called for the democratisation of the society. Demonstrators who managed to get to Národní třída were brutally beaten by members of the National Security Corps. Soon news started spreading about the killing of one of the students. This was false information, however, at that moment looked completely trustworthy. It was a catalyst that brought people to Wenceslas Square. This place was for a few consecutive days crammed with people. Afterwards there was a general strike with the meeting of hundred thousand people at Letenska plan and demanding negotiations of the hastily formed Civic Forum with the government. The constitution was rid of the section stating the leading position of the Communist Party, Václav Havel was elected as a President…A new chapter in the thousands years history of Prague began.
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