Stalin may be purged from Prague’s cultural scene due to structural and legal challenges

The popular hangout under the Metronome has had a poor structural evaluation, and the City Council is examining its future

The base of the former Stalin Memorial at Prague’s Letná park may be shut down due to its poor condition. The popular hangout under the Metronome has had a poor structural evaluation, and the City Council is examining its future.

The area is popularly called Stalin, after a statue of the Soviet leader that stood on top from 1955 to 1962.

Several city representatives recently visited the structure. “The whole building is very dilapidated. In addition, in connection with the visit, we received the Statics Statement from 2016, which draws attention to specific problems. We asked for an update and expert supplementation, because the three-year-old study is not very complete,” City Councilor Jan Chabr (United Force for Prague) said.

stalin letna
Stalin bar in the base of the former statue. via Raymond Johnston

City management will decide on further action after completion of the report and, if necessary, close the space so no accidents occur.

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Prague 7 Mayor Jan Čižinský (Prague 7 sobě) confirmed that the city had asked the relevant building office in the district for cooperation. “We searched for monument’s design plans in the archives and handed them over to the Klokner Institute of the Czech Technical University (ČVUT), which will use them to assess the current state of affairs,” Čižinský said, according to daily Pražský deník.

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The Klokner Institute has been active in evaluating the condition of Prague’s bridges, and found many of them such as Libeňský most to be in poor shape.

stalin letna
The space once served as a bomb shelter. via Raymond Johnston

Councilor Chabr also said that regardless of the structural questions, city officials are also investigating whether there is a problem with the lease for the Stalin cultural center, which is run by Containall from May to September at the base under the Metronome. A complaint filed with the city says that the bar at the cultural center violates the conditions of a non-profit venture.

While young people have been using the top of the base for skateboarding and the lower part as a club, other people would like to see it turned into a museum documenting totalitarianism.

Prague 7’s Čižinský opposes any change in its use after a possible renovation makes the space safer. He feels the current use by young people already celebrates freedom. “The area of the Metronome is a paradise for skateboarders and a popular destination for free-minded people who symbolically overcome the oppressive past of this place,” he said.

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stalin letna
The top of the statue base is a popular hangout.

“Even among the participants of the Facebook group Letenská parta, this place is among the most popular. Therefore, I would not change its use,” he added. Creating a museum would also force other changes, such as a driveway to make the space more accessible.

Prague City Councilor Hana Kordová Marvanová (United Force for Prague) favors a museum outlining the abuses of the communist and Nazi eras. “Of course there would be a need for renovation because it is full of rubble and in a desolate state. The object would have to be repaired anyway,” she said.

“In my opinion, the placement [of the museum] at Letná would also benefit Prague 7, but I do not want to push it against the will of the local town hall,” she added.

Stalin may be purged from Prague’s cultural scene due to structural and legal challenges
Movie prop of Stalin visible above the bar in 2016. via Raymond Johnston

Over the years, the space under the Metronome has also been suggested as a venue for an aquarium or a gallery to show Alfons Mucha’s Slav Epic painting cycle. It has also hosted limited-time exhibitions such as a history-themed light show as part of the 2018 Signal festival, and has opened for tours on national holidays.

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After 1962, when the Stalin statue was destroyed, the communist government planned to build another large monument there, but never did so.

Stalin did make a comeback, however, in May 2016 when a scaled-down Styrofoam replica of the monument was placed there for a TV movie called Monstrum.

Stalin may be purged from Prague’s cultural scene due to structural and legal challenges
Movie prop of Stalin in 2016. via Raymond Johnston

The original statue weighed 17,000 tons and was made of 235 granite blocks. Work on it began in 1950. Stalin died in 1953, and by the time the statue was finished, the cult around him was already falling apart and the monument was a source of some embarrassment until it was destroyed

The statue never was popular with the public. Stalin was depicted at the head of a column of scientists and workers, causing people to quietly refer to it as a line for meat.

Authorities at the time forbid people from filming the destruction of the original and only a few pictures were clandestinely shot capturing the massive explosion propelled by 800 kilograms of explosives.

Stalin Monument
Stalin Monument. via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY SA-2.5

The base of the monument, with large metal doors, was built as a bomb shelter, and in the 1990s was home to a pirate radio station called Radio Stalin and was later a rock club and a venue for fights.

The metronome by Vratislav Karel Novák was installed in 1991. A statue of Michael Jackson stood there briefly in 1996 for the launch of the HIStory tour.

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