Prague is a classicist delight. There is no doubt that the “city of a hundred spires,” with its magnificent bridges, dominating castle, gothic churches and baroque centre, is everything you’d ever want on a trip to see Europe’s cultural heritage. But as we’re finding out, and you’ll see shortly, the city is closing in on the cutting edge of Europe’s avant-garde urban revival movement. In the first of a series of posts on the spaces defining Prague’s slick, modern avatar, we look at Kasarna Karlin.
Translated as the Karlin Barracks from the Czech language, the enormous multi-purpose cultural space dominates the heart of Karlin, a district that has come to define Prague’s contemporary urban revival. Destroyed in the 2002 flood, which saw large parts of the city underwater, Karlin was submerged for weeks. Residents and businesses moved out in the years that followed, as insurance companies were slow to pay out. And, for a while, Karlin was the area that no one wanted to step foot in.
Some, however, saw opportunity in the chaos, and an eclectic bunch of entrepreneurs, artists and construction firms, took advantage of Karlin’s cheap real estate, grid layout and non-touristy appeal to make it the closest thing Prague has to Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg. Out of this ethos emerged Karlin Studios, the Forum Karlin arena, countless galleries, numerous, hipster bike and coffee shops, and a number of large-scale commercial properties over the last decade.
Kasarna Karlin, which saw its first season run through much of the spring, summer and fall of 2017, is part of a second wave of more culturally and artistic focussed venues that opened almost in response to Karlin’s recent bourgeoisie gentrification. Built into the remnants of a set of five-storied buildings, envisaged to house the Austro-Hungarian army in the 1840s, Kasarna Karlin occupies over 2 acres of space.
It comprises an outdoor cinema and stage, café, multiple bars, indoor galleries, tons of outdoor seating space, pop-up food stores, a volleyball/badminton court, a club, a random sculpture/art garden, a playground for kids (complete with sand, for a beach day) and also hosts the Karlin Studios art collective (which was forced out of its long-time home nearby, for the construction of a new office block).
The venue makes a visual/spatial statement, juxtaposing the old – the Baroque abandoned building block – against the new – the cinema/stage, the art garden, the techno parties, the seating, and Prastanek,the oddly shaped tree bar, built by the modern esoteric Czech great Frantisek Skala (who also refurbed the Palac Akropolis, Prague’s radical tribute to Art Deco. More on that in another piece).
The venue has much to offer culturally. The outdoor cinema and stage will continue as long as the weather permits this fall, with a screening or performance scheduled almost every evening. The galleries are in-demand by Prague’s influential young artists and constantly churn out a plethora of openings, presentations and the odd political debate.
With the summer turning into a warm autumn, volleyball/badminton remain an ever-present option (they have gear you can borrow), as does letting your children ran amok in the playground in the evenings. The bars and club indoors are open till 1 am – the party often moves in after the 10pm outdoor noise ban, with DJs and producers from Prague’s booming techno scene often hitting the decks.
Food and drink are perhaps where Kasarna Karlin could up its game. Rather than being the quintessential quality issue most Czech establishments face, Kasarna Karlin faces a capacity issue with the multiple small bars being unable to efficiently service a large crowd (at capacity you can get over a thousand people having a good time simultaneously). The beer lines can go as long as the drink in your hand, and the in-house food options are for the peckish rather than the hungry (but do the job). There are always a few pop-up foods stalls with finer grub on offer, but they tend to sell out rather quickly. The saving grace is the great selection of drinks from smaller Czech breweries and winemakers on offer, the (very) reasonable prices and the friendly service.
Created and curated by the same collective of artist entrepreneurs who ran the legendary Nakladove Nadrazi Zizkov venue over the past years, Kasarna Karlin is scheduled to run until 2020, when their lease with the Ministry of Defence runs out. Whether it will continue beyond that is up for debate – but with every powerplayer in the city eyeing the massive property, there is every chance it will be a posh new residential complex, resplendent with a few hundred Airbnb apartments in the next five years. Enjoy it while it lasts.
Kasarna Karlin continues in the rich vein of venues that have come to define the modern Prague urban experience (Stalin, Manifesto, Altenburg 1864, Containall etc. – more on them later in the series) with young cultural entrepreneurs coming together to revive prominently dilapidated spaces, forcing the authorities (at least temporarily) out of their stupor, as they put Prague’s modern art, culture, music and urban ethos on the world scene.
Where, When and More Information
Kasarna Karlin is open from 1pm to 1am, most days of the month, and is located at Prvniho Pluku 20/2, Karlin, Prague 8. Entrance is free (except for certain events) and you can access the building from the Negrolli Viaduct, right opposite the vehicular entrance to the Florenc bus station.
Check out their website at www.kasarnakarlin.cz
Article text by Hrishabh Sandilya, all photographs are taken from Kasarna Karlin’s Facebook Page and are the intellectual property of its photographer(s).