by Seth Fiegerman
Photo by Whitney Portnoy
Lovers embrace under the Astronomical Clock and almost everywhere else in Prague.
The streets of Prague are filled with nervous lovers looking for the perfect Valentine’s Day gift. Locals scurry alongside tourists into flower shops throughout the city. But this was not always the case.
“When we offered our first Valentine’s Day dinner five years ago, few people came,” said Jaromir Juris, the restaurant manager at the Four Season’s Hotel. “Now the restaurant is fully booked all day.”
According to Juris, the number of people staying at the Four Season’s Hotel is no higher for Valentine’s Day than any other day of the year. Surprisingly, most of the customers at the restaurant live in or around Prague.
“Almost 80 percent of our Valentine’s Day customers live in Prague,” said Juris. Surprisingly, Czechs are starting to celebrate the holiday just as much as the tourists do.
Valentine’s Day came to the Czech Republic in the early years following the fall of communism in 1989 and has grown in popularity every year since. “The holiday became known here in the early 90s thanks to Czechs wealthy enough to travel around and see the Western world,” said Juris.
Prague is undoubtedly one of the most romantic cities in Europe. But a post-communist country with the highest divorce rates in Europe does not sound like fertile ground for Valentine’s Day celebrations.
“Divorce rates here are high, but Czechs still value family and love,” said Karel Muller, a professor of political culture at NYU in Prague.
Muller attributes the rise of Valentine’s Day in the Czech Republic to commercial profits and media influence, combined with the potential for “increasing profits.” But Muller also admits that there is a universal human need for romanticism, especially in Europe. “We Europeans are terribly romantic,” he says.
Some Czechs have a more skeptical view of the holiday’s rising popularity. “People here are only into Valentine’s Day because it’s new,” said Vanda, a hostess at Bellvue Restaurant. “Throughout Europe, more and more people are following this trend.”
Vanda chooses not to celebrate the holiday for one reason: “If you’re in love with someone, you’re in love all year round.”
“I think many people celebrate because they think it’s expected of them,” said a cashier at Rosetta Flowers. “But I don’t like being told when to love.”
Yet Juris disagrees. “It’s nothing new to give a lady a flower,” he said. Though he does not celebrate the holiday, he claims it is only because it was not an option for most of his life.
Still, even some members of the previous generation remain open-minded. “My wife this morning asked me to be her valentine,” Muller said. “I asked her what this meant and we unraveled it together.”
For tourists, Prague is the perfect city for Valentine’s Day. It’s easy to find that perfect romantic outing with your date. You can cruise down the scenic Charles River or take a romantic stroll through Petrin Park and stop before the statue of Karel Hynek Mácha, the famous Czech romantic poet.
Best of all, it’s a cheap date. Just come before the dollar slumps even more.