Two nights in ‘Little Prague’ on the way to ‘The Big One’

Now I have thrashed through the many photographs I took of my journeys around Slovakia then the Czech Republic – since I departed from the Hotel Dominika in Petržalka – organising them into some form of sanity, I am at long last ready to pick up, once again, on the thread of posts reporting on the trip.

Although the original purpose of the enterprise was to attend a concert in Slovakia I did go equipped with Kč. as well as Euros in an opportunistic sort of way, intending to make the most of happening to be in that part of the world by visiting the Czech Republic too. The question I had to answer was, “if this is the intention, how am I going to bring this to fruition?” What would help me come up with an answer was the fact that I had attended a concert performed by an artist born in the general area of Žilina – in Marcela Laiferová’s case, nearby Petrovice – and from my previous experience of travelling through Slovakia and the Czech Republic, I already was aware that Žilina was at a crucial location on the route from Košice, in the east of Slovakia, to Prague. So, it was with the then still vague plan in mind to stay in Žilina for a couple of days and then to make further progress into the Czech Republic – therefore, probably, Prague – that it seemed a quite happy coincidence that the place across which I stumbled while going through the list of possibilities of places to stay in Žilina just happened to bear the name ‘Hostel malá Praha’ (‘The Little Prague Hostel’) and that it did have free wi-fi, although – being classified as a ‘hostel’ rather than an ‘hotel’ – I was chancing my arm that I would end up with a room of my own…hence the title of this Blog post.

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Petrovice might have been a challenge to get to in the short time I had in the area. That would probably have to wait until another time. But Žilina was the birthplace of one of my great favourites amongst the GOTGE – Helena Blehárová, so that already made it a highly desirable destination.

It is somewhat apposite that I should be writing about Helena around this time since it is now only just over a year ago that she emerged from midst of the many names that were in my sights at the time with these two aurally and visually astounding videos from the latter stages of a career that had started in the early- to mid-1960s – shot, so it would appear, in the southern Moravian town of Znojmo and, in one of them, showing scenery in the valley of the River Dyje. Sadly, it does not appear that these were based on any actual vinyl-based releases, otherwise I might have considered tracking those records down.

Žilina was a very good choice of destination inasmuch as not only was it a scenically dramatically set place, with views out-of-town into mountainsides, but it was also an architectural revelation – certainly for me, as an enthusiast for architecture of the Modernist Movement – and had two quite substantial shopping centres in the shape of the Mirage and Aupark.The Twentieth Century Modernist highlights had to be as follows: the neighbouring Grossmannovský dom (Grossmann House) and the Mestské divadlo (Municipal Theatre) in the Katedrálne námestie (Cathedral Place) – curiously enough, the smaller Grossmannovský dom (construction commenced 1928…the year our own house was built), designed by Michal Maximilián Scheer pre-dated the Wartime-consructed Mestské divadlo, designed by František Eduard Bednárik and Ferdinand Čapka, meaning that it was the larger structure that was tacked onto the smaller one and, also by Bednárik and Čapka, the similarly Wartime-constructed current SSE administrative building on the Ulica Republiky (Republic Street), which, to illustrate that we were looking at an ally of Germany, was known, chillingly, as Hitlerova ulica (Hitler Street) at the time, so, in a matter of days on my trip, I went from a former ‘Hitler Street’ to a Jewish cemetery – remarkable how the burgeoning Modernist Movement in architecture ground to a halt in Britain under Wartime exigencies whereas in German-allied Slovakia, therefore a legitimate target for Allied air raids, it carried on more or less regardless.

Views of the Mestské divadlo and the Grossmannovský dom, from the Hlinkovo námestie (Hlinka Place).

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Views of the SSE administrative building. It is ironic that – looking, as we are, from ‘Hitler Street’ – the Terno supermarket in the Hlinkovo námestie in the background in the first two photographs was once part of the Prior chain advertised, back in the 1970s, by a short excerpt of Valérie Čižmárová’s ‘Důkaz mi dej’/’Důkaz dej mi’, the music for which (as The Archies’ ‘Who’s Your Baby’) was composed by the part-Jewish composition team of Jeff Barry and Andy Kim. Back in the Summer, I said that, with the Valinka connection, I’d very much like to go shopping at a Prior. I didn’t actually manage that on this trip, but at least I shopped for a few groceries at a former Prior, which is the next-best thing!

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Here are some views of the Mirage Centre and Aupark. I had to abandon the internal photography in the latter case after an experience I had had (again, with the Valérie Čižmárová connection) at the Intu Centre in my home city of Derby, photographing the Patisserie Valerie there, only to be approached by a member of the security staff, who requested that I delete any images I had taken of the café. I spotted a member of security at Aupark looking at me suspiciously and I didn’t want to repeat the experience in a place where making myself understood might have been ‘challenging’, to say the least!

Note the moutainside in the background in the shot of the Mirage Centre looking down the steps from the Katedrálne námestie to the Hlinkovo námestie.

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Some views of the main square in Žilina – the Mariánske námestie (St. Mary’s Place). Note how high the snow was piled up!

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Some views of the Sad Slovenského Národného Povstania  (the Garden Of The Slovak National Uprising) and the ‘big screen’ at its entrance – showing a performance by a local Jazz band, which would no doubt have suited the Jazz-loving Helena Blehárová, complete – in some cases – with Helena’s eponymous LP from 1976.

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Some shots of MŠK Žilina’s stadium and club shop – those favourite footballing colours of mine as a Norwich City fan 😉

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Some views taken around the snowy banks of the chilly and partially ice-bound River Váh, near to the stadium, with Helena’s LP in some. Those sheds-cum-houses clinging to mountainsides are a signature sight in Slovakia.

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Finally, since I have been featuring the eponymous LP from 1976, it would not exactly be very brilliant of me to omit to embed a track from that LP here – in this case, a favourite track from that LP that I have not hitherto embedded, that illustrates that Helena was very British-influenced, possibly as a result of having been (as far as I am aware) the only GOTGE who actually performed in the UK, at the Manchester Jazz Festival of 1964 – her rendering of the Tony Hatch/Jackie Trent song, ‘More Than A Million’, the title of which was literally translated into the Slovak as ‘Viac ako milión’, with Slovak-language lyrics by Alexander Karšay, instrumental accompaniment from Orchestr Gustava Broma (the Gustav Brom Orchestra) and backing vocals from Jezinky. This is literally music to the ears of a British Pop/Soul lover like me.

Strange that a person born (in 1943) in a city with a ‘Hitler Street’ should go on to play a Jazz Festival (of all forms of music!) in a classically ‘mongrel’, multi-cultural city like Manchester, with a strong, historic Jewish community.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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