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New Europe

Day One Hundred and Eleven: Prague

Norbert Auerbach 
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At the Café Slavia with Prague-born citizen of the world, Norbert Auerbach.
Michael Palin - New EuropeHe holds a hand up before I can ask another question.

'Did you hear the story about the Russian projectionist who got a Stalin Prize? He showed a two-hour picture in an hour and a half!'

He chuckles for quite a while at this, before nodding to himself.

'Yes, the one thing the communists did respect was culture.'

He reiterates the point I've heard so often on this journey, that the nostalgia for communism is still strong amongst the older generation. The Party is alive and well in the Czech Republic, picking up twelve per cent of the vote in the last election.

Norbert cautions against thinking that the EU can ever become the same thing as a United States of Europe.

'Ninety-nine per cent of people who went to the United States wanted to become Americans.' It's different here. 'Most Czechs,' he thinks, 'don't understand what Europe is about, what is a European and what it involves when you start talking about "yes constitution" or "no constitution". Tell a Czech to move to Austria and wear leather pants, he's going to tell you you're completely crazy.'

We order more coffees.

'The French have always wanted to be French because they believe they're the best. The Germans are only now emerging from that guilt feeling of what happened prior to and in the Second World War. The Italians are confused in everything they do, and I think the Czechs are secure in being Czechs with Czech traditions and a Czech way of life.'

I ask him what that is.

'We're a very intelligent, well-educated nation; good workers, not aggressively commercial, like the Americans, let's say. And the weekend is sacred! You tell someone to work on Saturday... '

He waves his hands in mock indignation.

'... Oh my God! Are you crazy?'

In that case, I ask him, who are all these people making money from the tourists on the Golden Mile, seven days a week?

He answers smartly, and with a rueful grin.

'Russians.'
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day One Hundred and Eleven: Prague
  • Country/sea: Czech Republic
  • Place: Prague
  • Book page no: 259

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