How INXS's Music Video Revealed Prague to the Western World
When I moved to Germany in 1998, the mere mention of Prague still evoked a sense of the exotic. In some ways, it was still a part of the “wild, wild East”, and to visit was a little adventurous. So naturally, I traveled there within a month of arriving in Europe.
In reality, by this time Prague was already well on its way to becoming one of Europe’s major tourist destinations. There was no shortage of hotels, tourist shops, and restaurants. There was admittedly a shortage of good restaurants (thankfully since remedied), but in reality, it was not as exotic or as adventurous as I had imagined. On the other hand, it was even more picturesque and fascinating than I had expected.
But I can only imagine the allure of Prague when this INXS video appeared over a decade earlier in 1988. While it was technically possible to visit Prague, most Western viewers were almost completely unfamiliar with the city. With Prague as a backdrop, this simple music video proved more striking and memorable to many viewers than the slickly produced videos with which it vied for air-time. It must have been equal parts tantalizing and frustrating to think that this impossibly beautiful city lay hidden and undisturbed just on the other side of the Iron Curtain, only a little over an hour’s drive from the German border.
And so when the Cold War ended only one year later the rush was on. In some ways, Prague had lain dormant for nearly half a century. A rush of tourist development and economic progress rapidly transformed the quiet streets of historic Prague into bustling centers of activity, and residents set about restoring the crumbling facades, decaying cafes, and dusty churches to their former glory. It was into this era of change and dislocation that the first Western tourists arrived in Prague. Since that time a huge amount has changed, mostly for better, but certainly not all for the better.
If you speak with those who first discovered Prague in the early 1990’s, such as our travel consultant Andrew, it was the best of all times to be in Prague. They admittedly have some good reasons to think so. In these early years, freedom had arrived and the police were no longer a sight to be feared. Yet at the same time, the Charles Bridge was not overflowing with crowds and vendors. A souvenir shop did not fill every other storefront on the Royal Route. Most of the people walking the streets of the city center where locals and Segway tours did not clear pedestrians off the sidewalks. These first visitors could still feel like they were discovering a hidden treasure rather than sharing a major tourist destination with the rest of humanity.
Now though people from around the world flock to Prague and it is one of Europe’s most popular destinations. It is prosperous and at home in the center of Europe, with a multilingual population including many thousands of expats. And this is why we should be happy about the changes. Despite how nice it must have been for those early visitors, Prague is perhaps the most beautiful city in the world, and it is a good thing to share something so wonderful with the wider world. I think in most ways today’s visitors are actually the luckiest ones. The city is more scenic than ever, and it can be experienced while also enjoying all the comforts of a modern Western metropolis, such as excellent restaurants, fine hotels, and a modernized public transport system. And if visitors take the time to explore they can still escape the crowds and re-discover that authentic city of wonder revealed by this music video nearly 30 years ago. We hope you will also come to visit our adopted home, so we can help you to see for yourself.
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