You have to do something between beers when you’re on holiday in Prague. We ended up at the Czech National Museum because (a) we’re big swots and (b) it was open. Expecting grumpy staff, dusty trilobites and grubby old paintings, we were delighted to find instead a fantastic special exhibition on the history of the First Czechoslovak Republic, from 1918 to 1938.
The highlight for us, of course, was the room celebrating the traditional village pub.
Early 20th century beer bottles, glasses and advertising surrounded an antique bar with two pumps. Some of the brands on display are long gone; others are still around. There was a lot of German as well as Czech in evidence.
The accompanying text explains how village pubs worked. Tables were reserved for smallholders, who were VIPs. Allotment owners (the scum of the Earth, apparently) “sat in a corner somewhere”. There was no food, except perhaps a pickled sausage or pretzel. If you really needed to eat, the landlord’s wife would bring down leftovers from their evening meal. Bigger villages had different pubs, one for each social group.
It was not uncommon for smallholders to drink away the value of their farm in a session. Blimey. Big sessions? Expensive booze? Or just really crappy farms?
The Museum is that big grey building at the top of Wenceslas Square that looks as if it ought to be the seat of government. The exhibition runs until March 2009. Arguably the most astounding exhibit is a set of blood-spattered medals Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was wearing when he was assassinated, kicking off World War I.