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THE MANY PLEASURES OF
PRAGUE

by Stuart Haggas

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The fairytale city of Prague is frequently called upon to flex its historic muscles alongside Hollywood’s hottest stars. Resembling a Gothic fantasy as described by the pen of the Brothers Grimm, it proved an atmospheric co-star to Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible, and Vin Diesel in xXx, but there’s more to Prague than ass-kicking architecture. The city has a broader appeal, and has displayed its adaptability in countless other films. In The Bourne Identity it acted as Zürich alongside a sexy Matt Damon. In gory low-budget shocker Hostel it doubled as Amsterdam’s Red Light district. In The Illusionist, Prague’s narrow cobbled streets and gas lamps made it the perfect stand-in for 1900s Vienna, its Vinohrady Theatre a grand belle époque backdrop for the magic of Edward Norton and Jessica Biel. With the aid of some strategically placed palm trees, it was cunningly cast as Miami in Casino Royale—the Miami Body Worlds exhibition was actually Prague’s Ministry of Transport, with scenes of James Bond pursuing a saboteur around Miami International Airport in fact filmed at Prague’s Ruzyni Airport.

As a tourist destination, Prague is equally versatile in its appeal. Dominated by breathtaking medieval and Baroque architecture, the beguiling streets of Staré Mesto (Old Town) attract hordes of tourists, including tightly regimented Japanese tour parties, chattering school groups from Spain and Italy, and backpackers from every corner of the globe.

Thanks to budget airlines inexpensively connecting Prague to other European cities, it’s become popular with rowdy bachelor and bachelorette parties wearing ubiquitous “Drinking Team” t-shirts. Thus the once gracious Art Nouveau Wenceslas Square in the heart of Nové Mesto (New Town) today resembles a pre-Giuliani Times Square, with pavement hawkers touting late night drinking dens, pole dancing clubs, and other carnal indulgences.

Although Hollywood blockbusters have brought Prague to the world via a million multiplexes, films of a different genre have contributed to Prague’s endearing popularity as a gay destination. Renowned for 80s classics like Big Guns and The Pizza Boy: He Delivers, American gay porn director William Higgins has been synonymous with Prague’s gay scene since abandoning West Hollywood in 1988 and opening raunchy sex multiplex Drakes of Prague. After a ten-year hiatus he resumed his adult filmmaking career here, with young Czech athletes and military recruits as his frisky, fresh-faced performers. Perhaps more synonymous with Prague, however, is George Duroy’s film studio Bel Ami. Its output includes An American In Prague, one of the best-selling gay porn films of all time. However, Bel Ami is actually based in Bratislava in neighboring Slovakia, and its most notable stars like Johan Paulik and Lukas Ridgeston are also native Slovakians.

Still, the impact made by the films of both George Duroy and William Higgins demonstrated there was an appetite for pornstars who didn’t fit the beefy, all-American bodybuilder mold, and these young, smooth guys from central Europe helped cement Prague’s place on the gay map.

Although I can’t guarantee you a liaison with your favorite Czech pornstar, the mere chance of such an encounter is just another cherry on Prague’s already delicious cake. While chatting with gay bar owner Paul Coggles over lunch at popular Italian restaurant Aromi, he revealed that a porn company was keen to use his bar as a location. Originally from the United Kingdom, Paul came to Prague in 1997, and recognizing what a tolerant and beautiful place it was, he opened The Saints in 2005. Popular with tourists and Prague’s ex-pat community, this intimate basement bar is part of a portfolio that includes a selection of holiday apartments and Prague Saints, an online gay travel agency. “It can be daunting for a gay visitor to a new city, and I wanted to make it easier,” Paul explained. “I saw a need for a one stop shop that someone could visit and have all his travel needs provided for: accommodation, tours, transfers, plus information on the city and its gay scene. Normally you have to spend a lot of time searching different websites and the information you really need is difficult to obtain.”

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Afterwards, I took a walking tour with Vadim, one of Prague Saints’ enthusiastic, multilingual gay guides. Although there are many ways to explore Prague, from horse-drawn carriage rides to city tours in a vintage Skoda convertible, you’ll see much more by meandering through the streets on foot.

Regarded as Prague’s focal point, Old Town Square is dramatically over laden with charm and character. Casting eerie shadows over the square from the east is 14th-century Tyn Church. With a pair of whimsical Gothic towers, it looks like Sleeping Beauty’s castle after a makeover by Cruella de Vil! At the square’s westerly perimeter is Old Town Hall, famous for its Astronomical Clock. Originally engineered in 1410, there are many urban legends associated with this incomprehensible timepiece—including one that claims the clockmaker had his eyes gouged out by order of Prague’s town councilors to prevent him from constructing a similar clock elsewhere. Crowds of tourists gather here to witness “The Walk Of The Apostles,” a medieval morality play performed every hour by a cast of clockwork characters. The show begins when Death, represented by a macabre skeleton, rings his bell. All twelve apostles appear at noon. Although repairs and additions have been made to the clock throughout the centuries, the most dramatic day in its history came in May 1945, at the end of World War II. As the Soviet Union’s Red Army approached, the occupying German forces retreated; but as they did, incendiary fire set the Town Hall alight. Much of the building was destroyed, the clock badly damaged. It took three years to repair its mechanisms and to replace the calendar face and wooden figures.

Continued
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