“The American girl arrives in Prague today. Finally! Finally things will happen. Everything will change…soon terrible things will happen. At the end of it all, I will be free.”

The Riddle of Prague, Chapter 3, The Nomad

Prague in the early 1990s: This is when Hana Silna travels to Prague. This is also when I first moved to what was then Czechoslovakia.

prague 1990s 4

The Berlin Wall had fallen, the Iron Curtain lay in shambles, and we joined thousands of other 20-something Americans who went to Prague to transform the former Soviet-dominated state into a shining beacon of democracy.

In our jeans and sneakers, we stormed the Medieval gates of the city. We went to teach politics and economics at Charles University; to start The Prague Post and Prognosis; to open the first Tex-Mex restaurant; to launch TV Nova, the first nationwide private television station in the former Communist Bloc.

prague 1990s 6

We wandered past ancient doorways and over cobblestones feeling like we’d stumbled onto a movie set, or into a portal that threw us backward in time. We thought we were going to reinvent a world that had been isolated for decades. But we were unaware of Prague’s extensive history of transformation.

“Straw into gold, water into wine, blood into life! I have long witnessed Prague’s obsession with alchemy. Now it’s my turn! I shall become like quicksilver. I shall transform secrets into power and power into money.”

The Riddle of Prague, Chapter 3, The Nomad

We blazed a path to Prague wanting to make a mark on the city. Maybe some of us did. But mostly Prague got in our blood and changed the course of our own history.

There’s something unsettling about the place. Something stark and grey and haunting. The Czech word for Prague — Praha — means threshold, and the ancient city feels like a gateway to another dimension. Timeless. Immortal. A place where you could reinvent yourself over and over again…maybe for centuries.

Like the Nomad.

swein prague photo

The Charles Bridge is rarely empty. But once, as the clocks chimed midnight on a cold November night, we had it to ourselves. S.M. Tunli’s photograph of the Charles Bridge reminds me of those early days. Check out more of his work at his website:

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