With summer high spirits a distant memory, few outdoor venues remain open – but fond memories and high hopes still linger for one special venue: the indie club known as Stalin, in Letna Park.
Named after the dictator whose likeness once towered over the spot, the controversially named venue drew hordes in warmer months – often until dawn.
Skára notes that it’s 60 years since that the Czechoslovak regime unveiled a statue of 15.5 meters in length to honor the Soviet dictator. Behind him workers, farmers and a soldier were depicted. Under his pedestal Stalin had an enormous underground construction, along with a pathway for visitors and admirers.
An old urban legend maintains that this construction was used as a bomb shelter, which would run deep into the hill – an idea seemingly logical considering that the statue was erected during the height of the Cold War.
Rudla Cainer, author of the book Žulový Stalin (Granite Stalin) investigated the monument and wrote at length about its many myths. He says the construction was made to house a museum to the former Soviet leader. It was only the foundations that ran deep into the hills, he adds, to keep the structure from sliding down and into the Vltava River.
Despite his strong roots, Stalin didn’t gaze over the nation’s capital very long. After Nikita Khrushchev’s rise to power, things changed. The new Soviet leader denounced Stalin and his cult of personality. The great comrade was brought down from his pedestal, and in Prague that happened quite literally.
On Nov. 6, 1962, only seven years after it was unveiled, several hundred kilos of explosives did their job. The massive granite statue was reduced to a pile of rubble, and pieces flew all over Letná Park.
Since then the site had several uses: as a skate park; as an advertisement for a Michael Jackson shows; and site of the modern art Metronome that ticks there do this day. But the underground section had no use for quite a while.
After the Velvet Revolution in 1989, this cavernous spot was home to Prague’s first rock club, which started out as the pirate station Radio 1 – now a legitimate broadcaster. Here people came to party and taste their newly obtained freedom.
It is exactly here that Skára and ten others run the cultural hotspot called Stalin. The founder says acquiring this special spot proved difficult. It took Skára and the other owners three years of meetings, discussions and planning before Prague city officials would approve their ideas. Skára and company also exploited the place on their own accord, without government funding and financed just with the money from drinks and ticket sales.
They also must cooperate closely with the district of Prague 7 in promoting their activities.
“Back when we started Stalin, it was our goal to bring some culture to the Letná Park area,” Skára says. “We showed people an empty place, but made them see how alive it could be.”
With that ethic they tried to host activities every week since the space opened. Stalin has hosted live music, cinema, DJs and also activities for inhabitants of the area.
One of the entrances of the underground structure was made into the simplest bar imaginable, to serve passing joggers and dog walkers a drink at Stalin.
More recently, all these goals came to fruition during Monumental Lights, a weekend of cultural activities. The underground structure had been closed for over eight years, but re-opened for a weekend and people were welcomed to dance to techno music.
The monument was filled with dust and debris and, according to Stalin employees, this was because of remains from the 1962 demolition. A huge pile of rubble indeed remains within the interior of the plinth, which created dust so heavy that partygoers had to wear surgical masks.
On another night more culture-minded people turned out to see documentaries inside the monument. Only one was subtitled in English and the guest speakers only spoke in Czech but the film Gottland, focusing on pop culture history from a Czech actress’ affair with Joseph Goebbels to the Stalin monument story itself, was accessible to all.
The new Stalin owners plan to keep the site alive and popular among Czechs as well as expats from other countries. What the next chapter of the Stalin tale portends will likely be known only in spring.
By Wim Sprengers