Rick Steves provides a glimpse of pre-1989 Prague, a section from his For the Love of Europe (2020,) a collection of 100 favorite memories from a lifetime of European travel:

Prague escaped the bombs of the last century’s wars, ant it’s remarkably well-preserved. But it didn’t avoid the heavy, deadening economic and political blanket of communism.

It’s hard for today’s visitors to imagine the gray and bleak Prague of the communist era. Before 1989, the city was a wistful jumble of lost opportunities. Sooty, crusty buildings shadowed cobbled lanes. Thick, dark timbers bridging narrow streets kept decrepit buildings from crumbling. Consumer goods were plain and uniform, stacked like bricks on thin shelves in shops where customers waited in line for a beat-up cabbage, tin of ham, or bottle of ersatz Coke. The Charles Bridge was as sooty as its statues, with a few shady characters trying to change money. Hotels had two-tiered pricing: one for people of the Warsaw Pact nations and another for capitalists. This made the run-down Soviet-style hotels as expensive for most tourists as fine hotels in Western Europe. At the train station, frightened but desperate characters would meet arriving foreigners to rent them a room in their flat. They were scrambling to get enough hard Western cash to buy batteries or Levis at one of the hard-currency stores.

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