The Cold War Years – Prague under Totalitarianism

The Cold War Years – Prague under Totalitarianism

Cold 1If you’re in Prague on the first Wednesday of the month, listen up at noon.  As the air-sirens are tested, you’ll hear an eerie reminder of the city’s 40 years of suffering and struggle behind the Iron Curtain.  There are still nearly 800 pressurized bunkers located across Prague that can accommodate 40% of the city’s population.  Built primarily during the 1950s, the bunkers were a response to the shocks of WWII as well as the omnipresent threats of the Cold War.  One of the larger shelters is tunneled into Vitkov Hill, where you begin your3-hour walk focused on Prague’s decades as the capital of a Soviet satellite state.

As you explore the decorations and statuary of The Hall of the Red Army, created on the site after the communists took power in the “elegant coup” of 1948, we discuss the heavy-handed propaganda strategies of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSC). You visit the mausoleum that displayed the mummified corpse of Klement Gottwald, first chairman of the KSC, along with the adjoining laboratory and temperature control centre, where a team of doctors, cosmetologists and technicians cared for the embalmed body. Vitkov Hill was already home to the largest equestrian statue in the world, monument to the undefeated 15th century Hussite general Jan Žižka, which was erected to honor the WWI Legionnaires who fought for an independent Czechoslovakia. To gain legitimacy, the KSC persistently used this tactic of linking their icons to Czech nationalism. Standing atop the Vitkov Memorial, you’ll take in airy panorama of the city and the Žižkov Television Tower, an example of high-tech architecture that looms above the rest of the city’s skyline. When construction began in 1985, rumors circulated that it was designed to jam Radio Free Europe.

Cold 2Returning to the city center, you visit key sites that focus our discussion on the life of Prague residents under totalitarianism. You look out on Letna Hill where the world’s largest Stalin statue once stood, staring down menacingly on the city. Ashamed for accepting the commission, sculptor Otakar Švec committed suicide three weeks before the colossus was unveiled. At the famed John Lennon Wall, you contemplate the site where poems, pictures, complaints and hopes were scrawled by individuals yearning for freedom. Each time the police had the wall painted over, Czechs risked imprisonment to put up this “graffiti of protest” anew. Perhaps the most symbolic structure of the totalitarian regime is the National Assembly building erected in 1972 as the seat of the communist government. A unique example of the “Socialist Brutalist” architectural style, the building was constructed as a titanic arch over the former Prague Stock Exchange, visually representing the triumph of socialism over the First Republic’s market economy.

Cold 3From here you visit Wencelaus Square, the point of convergence for the Warsaw Pact tanks that crushed the Prague Spring of 1968, ending the 8-month period when freedom of speech and of the press blossomed. By the end of the tour, you’ll have a broad picture of the rise of communism in Czechoslovakia and of the consequences and key events of the Velvet Revolution, which ended the long Cold War era and swept Vaclav Havel, a dissident playwright and a prisoner of conscience, to the presidency of today’s liberal democracy, which is still recovering from the social and economic effects of totalitarianism.

*Note to travelers with difficulty climbing: We recommend leaving out Vitkov Hill. We can offer you an excellent walk in the city center that doesn’t require the ascent to Vitkov. When ordering the walk, specify in the “comment” section that you prefer to leave out climbing or email us at [email protected].

from 1 April to 31 October
St Vitkov Hill Memorial is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays
from 1 November to 31 March
St Vitkov Hill Memorial is closed Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays

On these days we can offer you a Cold War walk that does not include a visit to the St Vitkov Hill Memorial

Vadim ErentVadim Erent was born in St. Petersburg and immigrated to the USA at 13. He did graduate work in Slavic Studies at the University of Chicago, then spent a decade travelling through the United States as an interpreter for the US State Department. He has lived in Prague since 2003. An art critic and literary historian, he contributes articles to Litteraria Pragensia Books, the affiliated press of the Philosophy Faculty of Charles University. Vadim’s photography has been featured in Vlak Magazine, Grasp Magazine, The Humanities Review and Streetnotes. He is editor of a book of essays on Serbian filmmaker, Dušan Makavejev, published by Charles University in 2018. After years of giving tours of Prague to friends and family, he founded Insight Cities to offer in-depth experiences to a wider group of visitors. Vadim is married to Insight Cities co-founder Bonita Rhoads. They are the parents of a little Pražačka, Lucy, born in Prague in 2008.
Bonita RhoadsBonita Rhoads Bonita Rhoads earned her PhD in Comparative Literature from Yale University in 2009. She was a lecturer at Charles University in Prague and an assistant professor at Masaryk University in Brno (the Czech Republic’s second city) for a decade before leaving university teaching to run her scholar-led guided walks company, Insight Cities. A native of New York City, Bonita moved to Prague in 2003 along with her husband, Vadim, co-founder of Insight Cities. She publishes on topics in nineteenth-century British and American literature. Her delight in her remarkable adopted city led her to become a dedicated student of Prague’s cultural and political history.
Kateřina PrůšováKateřina Průšová After studying Medieval Architecture at the Università per Stranieri, Perugia, Italy and Art History at the Université Paul Valéry, Montpellier III, France, Kateřina Průšová received her PhD from the Institute of Art History in the Philosophical Faculty of Charles University, Prague. A lecturer in Art History at both Charles and Anglo-American Universities, she is also an official guide of the Prague Jewish Museum, a docent for the National Gallery on the collection of old masters at the Sternberg Palace, for the St. Agnes Monastery, and for the newly opened exhibition of Alfons Mucha’s The Slav Epic at the Veletržní palace. In 2010 and 2011, she was a guest lecturer on Medieval Art at the University of New Orleans.
Jan richterJan Richter Since 2007, Jan has been a producer and journalist for the leading news radio station in the Czech Republic, Radio Prague (the Czech equivalent of the USA's NPR). In addition to hosting a regular 30 minute show on current national affairs, he also provides analysis and reporting for the English language service of the station on topics ranging from contemporary Czech culture and business to Czech history. Jan took his MA in History from Masaryk University in Brno. Fluent in Spanish (as well as English), Jan spent two years teaching in Latin America, then became the first translator of Che Guevara's Motorcycle Diaries into Czech. Jan's fascination with the turmoil of the twentieth century also led him to spend six years (2001-2007) as a historian and curator for the Regional Museum in the Moravian town of Mikulov, where he prepared exhibitions on Czech Jewish history, World War II history and post World War II development. Outside his busy work schedule, Jan always appreciates a good night out with taroky, a rapidly disappearing Moravian card game. For visitors interested in the war years, the communist and post-communist periods in Prague, Jan is your guide.
Hana KubatováHana Kubatová Hana Kubatová recieved her PhD in Modern History at the Charles University in Prague and her MA in Nationalism Studies from the Central European University in Budapest. While writing her dissertation (book version to be published Fall 2012), she was a research fellow at the Heinrich Heine University in Germany, the Slovak Academy of Sciences, Tel Aviv University in Israel and the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. Hana is the recipient of various awards, including the Charles H. Revson Foundation Fellowship from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Marie Curie Fellowship for Early Stage Training from the European Commission, the Felix Posen Fellowship from the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism, the Israel Government Scholarship, and the Gisela Fleischmann Scholarship from the Milan Simecka Foundation. She is an assistant professor at the Faculty of Social Sciences, Charles University in Prague and a lecturer at Anglo-American University. Hana teaches and publishes on modern Jewish history, as well on the social history of WWII and European nationalism.
Alex WentAlex Went Alex Went attended Cambridge University, where he took his MA in English Literature. Since first visiting Prague in 1991, he has developed a close association with the city, and has adapted a number of Czech works in translation for the stage, including Bohumil Hrabal's Too Loud a Solitude and The Diary of Petr Ginz, a moving account of the life of a Jewish boy in 1940s Prague. As well as being an accomplished writer and poet, Alex is the curator of The Prague Vitruvius, an online guide to the history of the city's architecture.
Hana NIchtburgerováHana Nichtburgerová Hana Nichtburgerová handles public relations for the European Shoah Legacy Institute, a public benefit corporation which cooperates with governments, non-governmental organizations and experts to foster the restitution of Jewish cultural assets stolen by the Nazis and to promote Holocaust education, research and remembrance. As an undergraduate, she spent an exchange year at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst taking courses in Jewish Studies and Philosophy. She obtained her MA in Jewish History, Jewish Literature and Philosophy from the College of Jewish Studies at the University of Heidelberg in Germany. In Israel, she studied Hebrew in Haifa while also participating in the Ramat Rachel Archeological Project. Hana is fluent in English and German and conversational in Hebrew.
Max BahnsonMax Bahnson Max Bahnson was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Having fallen in love with the beauty and the magic of Prague, and not just its beer, he moved to the city for good in 2002. Max is a writer and a blogger on the topic of Czech beer and is considered to be one of the leading authorities on the subject. He authors a regular column in The Prague Post under the pen name Pivní Filosof, The Beer Philosopher, and is a regular contributor to specialized magazines in Spain, the US and the Czech Republic.
GeorgeGeorge Thompson A citizen of the United States, George has lived in cities around the world. He has degrees in physics, the Japanese language and in architecture. George has a passion for uncovering the details in all that surrounds him which has led him to discover hidden and overlooked sites in the Golden City. His tours are bent toward exploring the beauty of the buildings and gardens of Prague that express the ideas and culture throughout the city’s long history. He loves photography and will point out photographic shots along the way. George's work experience in small-town preservation and the urban fabric of community development lend insight into Prague's history.



Meeting Point


Kostel Svaty Josef

Náměstí Republiky 1077/2, 110 00 Praha 1



Groups of over 10 should contact us at [email protected] in order to get a special rate for their party.

Cancellation and Tipping

See all Prague Walks