Saturday evening and Kasárna Karlín, a new arts centre which opened on the right bank of Prague’s Vltava river this June, is buzzing with activity. Behind the peeling facades, the vast former barracks includes an alfresco cafe screening films (with English subtitles), deck chairs and a jumbo sandpit. The space doubles as a concert venue and exhibition area, and there are plans to introduce beach volleyball, table tennis and football soon. On barbecue nights, a campfire lights up the square.
It’s hard to believe that, 15 years ago, the Karlín area was devastated when the river burst its banks. When the deluge hit, the neighbourhood – wedged inauspiciously between Vítkov ridge and the river – had been rapidly changing. Architects including renowned Ricardo Bofill from Spain, had remodelled its disused factories, multinationals were moving in, and attention had turned to Karlín’s neglected art nouveau tenements.
After the flood, Karlín lay silent and empty. “The townscape was a void,” recalls architect Ond?ej Kamenický. Recently, however, the area has been given a new lease of life, with developers busy once again. In 2014, multipurpose venue Forum Karlín opened in a space once occupied by a boiler manufacturer.
That helped regenerate the whole district: K?ižíková street is now packed with cafes, restaurants and delis, such as Parlor Café, Nejen Bistro and Cukrárna Laskonka. In April, repairs costing an estimated £48m began on the historic Negrelli railway viaduct, owned by the Railway Infrastructure Administration. How the honey-coloured railway arches will be used after completion in 2020 is uncertain, but locals would like to see these, too, filled with shops and cafes.
Kasárna Karlín is the brainchild of “cultural developer” Mat?j Velek, who says: “We’ve created a new square that people are visiting every day.”
“I admire projects that bring old buildings to life and involve art, and this has it all,” says local Jana Friedrichová. “The whole atmosphere is calm but, somehow, very lively, too.”
The revamp of Rohanské náb?eží expressway, part of the River City Project, epitomises the mix of Karlín old and new. On the riverbank, among trees, is laid-back P?ístav 18600, an innovative open-air, multipurpose venue where people watch gigs or play beach volleyball. There’s also a cafe, and workspace for freelancers.
On Kampa Island, a mile upstream by the Charles bridge, change is also afoot. These days it is Prague at its picture-postcard best but, in 2002, shocking images of the waters of the Vltava crashing against the windows of the Kampa modern art museum shot around the globe. Restoration of the building had been completed barely a year before. This June, the Werichova vila, former home of legendary Czech comic Jan Werich, opened its doors. In August 2002, it would have been submerged.
Run by Museum Kampa, the villa, by the much-snapped ?ertovka canal, includes a permanent exhibition about the performer, and a sweet shop – a Czech institution.
Across the canal, the building housing new Piknik Park restaurant offers a similar regeneration tale. But today, flood damage is hard to spot and locals are optimistic about its future. “That’s no surprise, given its lovely location,” says Ond?ej Kamenický. Other riverbank districts such as Karlín, he noted, have had to redefine themselves after the floods, and find new roles. “That they have done all that and against the background of a global recession is … bordering on miraculous.”