Czech Republic: Jumped

This is the sixth installment in a series of essays by globe-trotter Kevin Nguyen, who is currently studying at Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic. With skinheads and thieves on the prowl, the city can become a dangerous place come nightfall.

Mornings usually start the same way, with Carson describing the night before. He is, hands down, the best drinker I have ever met. Drinking stories are often amusing only to the storyteller, but Carson is an exception. Since arriving in Prague, he has fallen asleep on a night tram and woken up in the suburbs; another time, he tried walking home and ended up at the Observation Tower, Prague’s one-fifth scale Eiffel Tower.

“Oh,” Carson laughs, “and then I was jumped and robbed.”

The following is a secondhand account, as I’ve attempted to piece together various perspectives of what actually happened. There are a few inconsistencies, most of which are minor details. The result is a consolidated Rashomon-style narrative. For those of you who haven’t seen Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon, just think about the “Fonzie Gets Shot” episode of Happy Days, when Richie, Potsy, and the Fonz each tell a different version of what happened during the camping trip.

I’ve found that the family-oriented guidebooks like Lonely Planet don’t really cut it when you’re looking for a good bar or club. Fortunately, I have the Prague edition of the Avant Guide series, a self-described “insiders guide to progressive culture.” Sure, author Dan Levine may have written the world’s most pretentious travel guide, but it actually goes in-depth on topics too risqué for Frommer’s–where to drink, where to buy drugs, and where to get laid.

(According to Avant Guide, there’s a brothel here called Big Sister “broadcasting every liaison via 56 cameras so the whole world can watch you cheat on your wife.”)

While I find myself skipping over Levine’s expertise on Prague’s prostitution scene, it’s hard to deny the book’s knowledge of bars. Akropolis, The Blue Light, and U Malého Glena are all excellent locations that don’t appear in other guidebooks.

So it was no surprise that Carson took the book’s recommendation of Club Újezd, located in the comfortable neighborhood of Malá Strana.

“I can’t believe Avant Guide led us to a skinhead bar,” Carson says, “and the best part is that I went there with Joe and Katie.”

Our study abroad program is made up almost entirely of white kids, with the exception of me, Joe, who is Portuguese, and Katie, who is half-Puerto Rican.

The majority of the patrons have shaved heads. The music keeps switching off between hardcore punk and “99 Luftballons.” The bar is three stories tall and contains at least 50 people according to Carson. Katie is the only female in the entire place.

Katie explains, “There was an odd divide. The upstairs had all of the intellectual skinheads, who were reading books and keeping to themselves, while the downstairs had all of the scary, giant skinheads.”

Ironically enough, this is not where Carson was beat-up and robbed. In fact, they found the patrons of Club Újezd, though strange, to be quite friendly.

“The bartender kept giving me free drinks and calling me Katerina,” Katie says. “And one person kept telling me that he and I had the same eyes. I don’t even know what that means.”

“These two guys kept asking me about my shirt,” Carson recalls. “They kept asking me if it was flannel, and I told them it was probably a flannel print. Then I asked them if they liked it, and they said ‘no, but it looks good on you.’ Maybe flannel isn’t big around here.”

The atmosphere wasn’t pleasant for everyone.

“I was very uncomfortable,” Joe admits.

Carson and Joe are having a fairly good time playing foosball downstairs. In the meantime, Katie is upstairs doing shots of yellow absinthe. Like Carson, she has quite the alcohol tolerance, but after a few, she’s face-down on the table. It’s time to go home.

Even though there’s a night tram they can take for free, Carson hails a cab. Cabbies in Prague are notorious for picking off drunk tourists, taking them on roundabout routes home, and charging them an unreasonable fare. But at this point, Carson just wants to get Katie back to the dormitory before she gets too sick. The cab charges 200 Kc (roughly $10) for a 100 Kc ride.

Katie expels the contents of her stomach on the sidewalk for the second time, and suddenly, she’s in an extraordinarily buoyant mood. She laughs for a long time when she realizes the color of her fingernail polish matches the walls of the dormitory interior.

“What? I thought it was funny,” Katie says.

She and Carson also blast “He War” by Cat Power at full volume, on repeat, waking up Katie’s roommate while they use Skype to drunk dial friends from home.

At roughly 5:00 a.m., Carson decides to go for a walk to the nearby park. He finds a quiet bench for a cigarette. Two people approach him. They’re speaking Czech, but Carson thinks nothing of it.

Then he gets kicked in the chest.

“I look at them and see that there’s a big one and a little one,” Carson explains, “so I just start punching the little one in the face.”

He gets a dozen hits in before the big one holds his arms back. Carson takes a few in the head and is frisked of the money in his wallet, as well as the cell phone he has borrowed from Katie. When they let him go, Carson starts punching the little one again before they run away.

According to Carson, there were 250 Kc (roughly $12.50) in his wallet, although with each retelling of this story, the amount is reduced to 200, then to 100.

“I must’ve fucked that little guy up, because my fists hurt more than my head,” he says, lifting his hat to show me the cuts and bruises on his forehead. His injuries aren’t severe, but certainly disconcerting.

Prague has a notorious reputation as a breeding ground for pickpockets, but assault and robbery is nothing we were warned about. I’m not sure what’s stranger–the fact that Carson walked out of a neo-Nazi bar unharmed or that, in spite of getting mugged just hours before, he’s still laughing about it.

Read more from Czech Republic.

Kevin Nguyen is a founding editor of The Bygone Bureau. His only marketable skill is an above-average knowledge of European geography. He has been useless since the introduction of the atlas in 1477. Reach him by email or follow his Twitter account.