Train Station Discovery ... WOW!...Art Nouveau

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November 17th 2008
Published: November 24th 2008
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Art NouveauArt NouveauArt Nouveau

This is the piece that is in our guidebook.

Main Train Station - Guide Book Description

In a guide book we have there is a beautiful photo of an Art Nouveau decoration. When I saw the photo in the book I thought, "We have traveled from and to this station quite a number of times and I have never seen any art nouveau. Where can it be?"

I thought it strange that we had never seen this piece of art. The artwork in the photo was obviously large. It wasn't like it was asomething small could be hidden easily. Additionally the guidebook states that the station is "one of the finest examples Czech Art Nouveau." It was obvious from this statement that there was not just one piece of artwork, there must be many. So where were they?

It is interesting also that the station is named in honor of Woodrow Wilson. The station was built just prior to World War I, but was officially named the Woodrow Wilson train station in 1919. This was probably because of admiration for the United States President who said, "The world must be made safe for democracy". A new memorial plaque will be installed in the station in 2009.

This is a quote from the U.S. Embassy site “The Wilson Memorial in Prague, as the counterpart of the Masaryk Memorial in Washington, will complete the symbolism of the long-standing ties of friendship and joint democratic values shared by the American and Czech peoples.”
These days 100,000 people pass through the station each day.

Happy Discovery

Tomorrow we are traveling by train to the Olomouc, a city in the eastern portion of the Czech Republic. Our friend, Eva lives there, and we will write about Eva after our trip.

Today, being Saturday, we decided to go to the train station and buy our tickets so we would not have to stand in line tomorrow. We left IBTS about 11:00 and went directly to the station. A huge reconstruction project is underway at the station. Once finished it will look much more like a modern air terminal than a train station. One section already has an upscale book store, and a clothing store. The rest, frankly, is one big mess. Walls have been demolished, stairways blocked off, passageways reduced in size-it looks like the typical international airport where someone is doing a renovation

except this is a train station.

I, Nancy, decided I really should use the bathroom at the train station before we headed downtown since I had already had two cups of tea, two orange juices and a cup of coffee. We had gotten up quite early, eaten our breakfast, then while I was editing the book I brewed two cups of tea in the room. Then at 10:00 we went back to the cafeteria to chat with students who always eat late and I had a cup of coffee. We knew the bathrooms we used to use in the station were gone (all you can see of them is the obvious bathroom tiles on the floor where they used to be) but had seen large signs saying New WC. We found the new, really up-to-date WC which now costs 10kc instead of 5kc, used it and discovered that one of the pretty pieces of art was right there above our heads. It consisted of two statues high on the wall and then a circular open area above us. Bill said that definitely was a surviving part of the old, lovely Art Deco work.

Outside the station

We decided to walk outside the train station for the first time ever. We have always gone there on the subway and left on the subway. The sun was shining and it was heavenly outside. We wandered along watching people eating their sandwiches on benches and saw what we thought were two or three new pedestrian stairwells that were quite fancy towers. Bill saw what he thought was a parking lot on the top of the train station and said we should climb up the stairs and see if there was a good view of Prague from the top. Once we entered the tower I KNEW it wasn't new. It had that latrine smell stairways seem to get after ages of people rushing in and using them when no WC is in sight. When we got to the top, there was no flat area with a parking lot and a view. It was the original level of the train station apparently. We began walking along the building and found fantastic faces of women representing apparently the majority of the world's possible facial types, head dresses and hair styles. Some were still in great condition but two were ruined and a few had flaws. Billy got pictures of all of them and we will post them in another entry.

Inside the station ... a neat discovery

Then we noticed an entry way into the station itself and found ourselves at the site of those great pictures we had seen in guidebooks. There were the original ticket selling windows, the round open area that looked down on the two statues we had seen from the new WC area, fantastic large windows with stained glass and a open door area leading down to the train station platform. We could see that people used to come into this area, buy tickets and then walk to the train. Around the open circle there were tables and chairs. I walked to the front and found a menu. You could have various things to eat or drink including some good desserts. We were both pretty full from our large breakfast but I just had to have something to eat in this obviously old and formerly glorious area. We ordered a single dish of goulash soup with bread. The bowl was a large one and the bread nice and crusty and European. We shared the bowl and thus didn't feel too stuffed.

We watched workmen through the open doorway installing new lovely tile walls one piece at a time. They were measuring, cutting the tile, affixing it to the wall, then repeating the process. We saw one of the new pretty glass light covers being carried up a ladder and placed on the ceiling. It was noisy but we didn't mind. It is great the station is being restored to its former grandure.

We walked all over that area and found you could still go down to the main station by a stairway we hadn't noticed from below. Then we went outside again and looked more. We saw an Asian family obviously lost as they got out of a taxi. I showed them the entrance and we walked them to the stairway and followed down. We then found large computer generated 'photos' of the area we had just left as they plan to have it look when the renovation is finished. They will fill in the circular opening with a glass floor, have an escalator down the open stairway to the area that was being tiled. The stained glass with all be refurbished. It will again be a glorious and lovely train station of the old fashioned sort upstairs while the downstairs will be 22nd century modern. Quite an ambitious task and well worth doing to preserve the best of the old while making the rest suitable for today's traveler. We are and have been impressed all over the Czech Republic with the way people are preserving the best of the past and making cities and towns look as they once did when possible. They are so proud and conscious of their rich heritage. I hope the economic turndown doesn't stop all this wonderful work.

Additional photos below
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