In November 1989, the Velvet Revolution gave birth to a new democratic state. In November 1990, another newborn made its way into the world, half a continent away. The idea that these two November-borns would, two decades later, become inextricably linked, was unimaginable at the time. Or perhaps overlooked, equal to every possible fate. Three years later, when I was learning the letters that make up my name, the Czech Republic peacefully split from Slovakia, and began its own lifelong learning process.
It is strange to look at the ancient history around me and realize that this city’s modern identity is only as old as myself. Ancient castles and cultures make for some impressive DNA, but the Czech Republic is nonetheless a bewildered twenty-something, making its way in the world.
It’s often said that it takes twenty years to build a reputation. In my case, I was known at 20 for academic ability, involvement in the music scene, and a penchant for the overdramatic. I suppose these things will follow me all my life, and I’m sure that others will join them. In the case of the Czech Republic, its reputation preceded it – it was born into a name forever synonymous with grandeur, art and architecture, but also with invasion, suffering and revolution. I think that inheritance will always weigh heavy on its shoulders.
Nonetheless, as with many twenty-somethings, the Czech Republic seems to be finding its niche. Prague had its wild teenage years, known worldwide for strip clubs and stag nights, but after a decade or so of partying, it looked for something more. Like a partied-out graduate stepping into the wider world, Prague began to open its mind. Now, alongside its own unshakable heritage, the city is dabbling in international art, music and cuisine – acquired tastes, little hallmarks of newfound maturity, but expressed in a way that’s uniquely Czech.
At 24, I’m not yet the adult I thought I would be five or ten years ago. I don’t even think I want to be that adult any more. If I seem grown-up in my work-day best, negotiating partnerships and writing press releases, that’s only because you haven’t seen my wild sides. The one I cultivate, all velvet and leather and screaming my lungs out at rock gigs. Or the one that creeps in occasionally, anxious and irrational and pushing help away.
From what I’ve seen, this city is facing the same truths, and dealing with them in the same way any 25-year-old would. It scrubs up well, its gleaming spires an undeniable statement of power and gravitas, but there is more to it than the professional facade. Like me, it has an underground culture to be proud of – modern music and alternative art are ever on the rise, and if you know where to look you’ll see youthful, anarchic Prague, creating without borders, making its voice heard. And of course, like me, Prague still has its breakdowns and shameful episodes, areas where life isn’t pretty or fair or easy to fix.
A quarter of a century – it seems like forever, and like no time at all. It seems like I should be embracing adulthood, and it seems like I should be making the most of youth. It seems like the time to heal the broken parts of me, and it seems more impossible than ever to do so. It’s a messy time of life, and I’ve a feeling then next 25 years won’t be any tidier. But the Czech Republic and me? I guess we’re doing alright.