To Pilsen or not to Pilsen?
That is the question.
A lot of Czechs wondered why I wanted to go to Pilsen… it’s so boooooring there. Well, I can’t say February, cold and icy, is the best time to go, but even then there were interesting museums to visit, good food to eat, and excellent coffee to drink!
Tour the historical underground passageways (link to ticket site) beneath Republic Square
Full disclosure: you will need to look like a fool and wear this lunch lady’s hairnet and “hard hat.” Underneath the city, you’ll be taken through a labyrinth of passageways which connected houses around the square and allowed an escape route or a safe place should the city be attacked. There was also a secret pub down there when there were curfews or limits on drinking in the city proper. The museum inside had some interesting things like cannonballs used in the attacks in the 1600s and traditional glassware that was recovered, but it wasn’t terribly impressive and it felt a little hokey. The passageways were restored in a very modern-looking way and didn’t feel sufficiently “authentic” to me. Overall though, it wasn’t too expensive (plus a free small beer is included to sweeten the deal) and it’s definitely worth it for the idea of living in such a time when this was necessary.
The famous Czech beer brand emblazoned on a barrel top along with the official seal of the city of Pilsen.
2) See the old Water Tower (Vodárenská věž) from the inside and outside
Your underground tour will end in the room that’s beneath this tower, where you will see a still-turning water wheel which powered a flour mill. Pretty impressive. Also, there’s something I love about seeing really old structures next to new ones. I don’t like it so much in London, too much of a shock, but the old stone looks so pretty next to the red Czech roofs 🙂
3) Puppet Museum (Muzeum Loutek)
Possibly my favorite part of Pilsen, since I am a five year-old at heart and they had lots of great interactive displays. The history of puppets in Pilsen is connected with two of Czechia’s most famous puppets, Spejbl and Hurvínek, first imagined by puppeteer Josef Skupa in the 1920s. According to Wikipedia, Spejbl is the “dim-witted” teacher father of the at-once “lazy and hyperactive” Hurvínek, and other main characters include their landlady and her daughter. Many scenes take place at their apartment. The recordings of their stories are still watched by Czech kids today during the evening program Večerníček.
What I found most interesting was that Skupa even used his puppets to criticize the Nazis, risking imprisonment and worse. We can all find ways to live our activism and stand up for what is right, no matter what our art form or passion is 🙂
They have displays of puppets used throughout the history of theatre in Pilsen and Prague, and look how intricate and impressive they are!
I especially love the doubled puppet, one the alive version and the second dead.
These puppets involve a story of a woman who cries pearls. Beautifully made, but rather creepy I must say.
To see a puppet show live, you could also visit Divadlo ALFA.
4) Branch off from the main square and admire the Velká Synagoga (Great Synagogue)
This massive synagogue (it’s in the name) is the SECOND LARGEST in Europe, and seems a little out of place with its eccentric, colorful onion domes and brick architecture. It was actually built by a Viennese architect. When it was built in the 1890s, the Pilsen Jewish community was about 2000. However, they were decimated by WWII and now number about 70 – services are still held but only in one part of the synagogue. It survived the war by being a storage space. *Nonchalant.*
5) Check out the “Thank You America” monument
“THANK YOU / AMERIKA! / ON MAY 6TH 1945 / THE CITY OF PLZEŇ / WAS LIBERATED / BY THE U.S. ARMY.” Na pravém pylonu český lev a nápis “DÍKY, AMERIKO! / DNE 6. KVĚTNA 1945 / MĚSTO PLZEŇ / BYLO OSVOBOZENO / AMERICKOU / ARMÁDOU.”
Well, it’s not that interesting in February… but I have to gloat, because seeing “Díky, Ameriko!” on an information arrow sign makes me want to make pointer fingers and pretentiously say, “You are welcooooome!”. Plus, you gotta take admiration for the US seriously these days where you can get it.
This monument was made in honor of the liberation of Pilseners from the Nazis by the American army, based on an agreement with Russia… which “liberated” (for 44 more years) the rest of the country, including the nearby concentration camp Terezín.
6) Take a photo with some gigantic masks
Visit a nice green space called Mlýnská strouha or Plzeňské Benátky where there are benches, interesting statues and sculptures to check out and playthings for children. We stumbled on this by accident but I’m glad we did!
7) U Mansfelda,
as mentioned in the previous post. They had wonderful pork neck and škvarkový dumplings, and the walls were decorated with newspaper clippings about Pilsen and beer.
8) Na Spilce,
also previously mentioned, had amazing Spaetzle and a very cool atmosphere due to its status as (one of) the largest restaurant(s) in CZ with 550 seats, built in a former fermentation cellar.
9) Ganesh Indian Restaurant
The non-smoker part of the restaurant is downstairs. With its brick columns and stone arches it felt a bit like a fancy dungeon, but with the addition of straight-backed, carved wooden chair and colorful flags and table cloths, it turned into the feast room of a castle. We got a coconut milk-based lamb dish with naan and a tomato-based chick pea and chicken dish with rice, which were held over and heated from the bottom by a candle. Classy and delicious, and well worth the price.
10) Pappa Coffee
This is a small, father-and-son-run, truly family café with an authentic atmosphere and many interesting choices including Turkish and Vietnamese coffee and quiches. You can get breakfast or soup there too, and they have some fantastic carrot cake which I ordered! They go out of their way to make your experience pleasant – just look at the powdered sugar impression of the fork on my plate 🙂
There were tons of shows, exhibitions and concerts advertised in Pilsen as well… just starting in March, after we left Maybe don’t go in February, but definitely don’t miss this relaxed and historical city!