Sculpture in the courtyard of Kasárna Karlín. via Raymond Johnston

Cultural events at Prague’s Kasárna Karlín may stop, as the state is seeking a new tenant

The association that runs events at Kasárna Karlín may have to leave if the state finds a new tenant for the former barracks
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The party at Kasárna Karlín may end early. In recent years it has been cultural center with concerts, movies, and other events but the Office for Representation of the State in Property Affairs (ÚZSVM), which manages the premises, is looking for a new tenant. The conditions of the new selection procedure do not support cultural and social functions.

If the ÚZSVM finds a tenant, the current occupants would then have to leave within three months, despite the fact that they just renewed their lease for two years.

Prague Mayor Zdeněk Hřib (Pirates) wants to keep the place going. “We will do everything possible to ensure that Kasárna Karlín can continue to serve the Prague citizens. We insist on maintaining the existing authentic culture. We would then like to transform the interior into affordable housing. So we are continuing to negotiate with the state on how to acquire the premises in Prague ownership” he said on Facebook and Twitter.

The association Pražské centrum, which operates the Kasárna Karlín cultural center, explained the situation. “Nearly three years ago we opened Kasárna Karlín for the first time for the public. This created an unprecedented space in the Czech Republic — in the heart of Prague it offered the public a summer cinema, a playground with a giant sandpit, a café, sports facilities, a bar and many other activities. The original contract that allows us to do all this, but will expire this March. Therefore, we negotiated intensively with the state throughout the year so that Kasárna Karlín could continue to function,” they said on Facebook.

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“Last week, this effort paid off: we extended the contract for another two years. But we were only happy for a few hours. On the same day, a commercial tender for the lease of the premises was announced. What is the problem? There are basically two things: the one whoever gives more money wins the selection procedure. And second: even if we succeed, Kasárna Karlín, as you know them, could not continue. The tender is formulated in such a way that its wording makes it practically impossible to use it for varied cultural operations as it is now,” they add.

“The situation is therefore serious. Our team hopes that the state will review the unfortunate selection process. We would be extremely sorry — and probably not only us — if such a unique space belonging to the public is turned into a warehouse or parking lot of a private company. Please keep your fingers crossed!” they concluded.

The ÚZSVM tender covers the lease of the courtyard and smaller buildings where the cultural center now operates.

Kasárna Karlín, originally built as a barracks, has been protected since 1958, and the cultural association has been operating in part of the complex since 2017. It has created a gallery, a dance school, a cultural club with a bar and a café with almost daily concerts, lectures, and open-air cinema screenings. The association never managed to gain use of the main barracks building, which is empty and in poor condition. The association is based on a smaller building ion the complex.

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Until last year, the complex was controlled by the Ministry of Justice, which intended to renovate the space and then use it. They eventually turned it over to the ÚZSVM instead.

The ÚZSVM’s tender is expected to last until mid-March. If the ÚZSVM selects the winner and signs the lease, the operators of the cultural center will have to vacate the site within three months of the signing of the new lease and return it to its original state.

kasarna karlin
Cultural event at Kasárna Karlín. via Dorota Velek

Matěj Velek of Pražské centrum said that in three years the association invested millions of crowns into the complex, mainly in the repair of a smaller building used by the center.

“From the beginning we said that when the office announces the tender, we like to participate, because we believe that we will win it,” Velek said. “However, the published tender is at least unfortunate written because it does not allow future tenants to do what we do here,” he added.

The conditions are most suited to someone setting up a construction yard or storage, Velek said, adding that he would seek help from politicians to have the tender canceled.

The ÚZSVM on Twitter said that they had attempted to work with the city, but had no success. “A year ago we offered you Kasárna Karlín in exchange for the field in Letnany. The offer is still valid. Unfortunately, we have not yet received a factual answer. At the same time, we did not receive your promised memorandum between the state and Prague. The state is still ready for negotiations,” the ÚZSVM said in response to Mayor Hřib’s tweet.

The ÚZSVM office is now looking for a state institution interested in taking over the barracks premises. If a state institution is not interested, there will be a tender for the sale of the property or auction. The ÚZSVM claims it is simply following the law, and it has a duty to try to maximize the yield from the real estate it manages for the state.

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kasarna karlin
Interior of Kasárna Karlín in 2017. via Raymond Johnston

The Karlín Barracks were built in the 1840s due to a lack of suitable housing for soldiers. It was designed to house 2,000 soldiers, and was used by the military in various capacities until 2008. The site was chosen because it was close to the city gate that existed at the time.

Originally it was called the Ferdinand Barracks after Emperor Ferdinand I of Austria, who was also King Ferdinand V of Bohemia. Once Czechoslovakia achieved independence in 1918, the barracks was renamed for Jan Žižka. It was used by the occupying German forces in World War II. During the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion, it served as a makeshift radio station since other locations had been taken over.

Once the compulsory draft was canceled it was no longer needed by the Defense Ministry. It was transferred to the Justice Ministry in 2016.

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