Thursday, February 02, 2006
Last night I had the strangest dream …
The last time I drank beer at the late and lamented Automat Koruna was 1991, shortly before it disappeared forever.
Long before the time of my first visit there four years earlier, the Automat had become a characteristically Communist “self-service” cafeteria, dirt-cheap and dirty, but certainly not so bad that it propagated salmonella, rendering it an ideal stop for budget travelers exploring Prague's architectural wonders.
It was located at the downhill extremity of Wenceslas Square, just a few feet away from the Metro stop, and as I subsequently learned, it was an experiment in culinary modernity that dated from the post-Great War period of Czechoslovak independence and actually was fondly remembered as a literary hangout, something that I suppose had faded during the latter period of neglect.
But what a place to drink and watch people during the Communist era!
It may have been a low common denominator in the eyes of judgmental Western visitors, and yet the clientele reflected an indisputably egalitarian ideal. Military men with medal-filled chests jostled for space with longhaired students; backpacking tourists and pretty shop clerks stood side by side; brown-suited functionaries left scraps on their plates, and scruffy street people scooped them up before the busser came to visit.
And the half-liter draft beers were four to a dollar.
You paid at the cashier, took the receipt through a customarily long line, handed it to the white-smocked pourers, and received a cool golden pilsner-style Prazan beer brewed in the Holesovice district – neither the best nor the worst in the then-insular Czech brewing world. You consumed it standing at a stainless steel table. You ate there, too, with a choice of a dozen appetizers, gritty but filling sausages, or whole plate lunches with meat and dumplings.
I dreamed about the Automat Koruna last night.
There it was again, bizarrely welcoming, and there I was againk, draining grain and watching the passers-by … and the reason for it eluded me, even in the dream.
How could this be real again, I thought?
Of course, it wasn’t, and I awoke to strange sensations of confusion and longing, the sort of tricks one’s subconscious enjoys playing on us as a reminder that it has the upper hand.
Four beers for a buck? It's a wonder I lived through it.