Jarmila Doubravová — The Signs of “My” City

Nr. 18    Juni 2011 TRANS: Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften

Section | Sektion: Signs and the City. In honor of Jeff Bernard

The Signs of “My” City
(after E. de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats)

Jarmila Doubravová (Dept of Philosophy, Western Czech University, Plzeň) [BIO]

Email: DOUBRAVA.SEMIO@seznam.cz

 Konferenzdokumentation |  Conference publication


The paper is engaged in this concept according to Six Thinking Hats by E. de Bono: Prague from the historical and geographical point of view: the city including many of its disadvantages; the cultural atmosphere of Prague and its perspectives as a crossroad of cultures. In conclusion the author clarifies concept of “my city” as cities connected with friends.


White hat [Facts and information]

Prague has some 1.2 million inhabitants out of which 640 000 are men and 560 000 are women. It occupies an area of about 496 sq km. This capital of a country, which came into existence on 1 January 1993, is in the Central European Time zone (CET). Weather-wise, it is in temperate zone with a mean annual temperature about 0.9º C, the average temperature 19º C in summer and 0.9º C in winter. The language spoken in the Czech Republic is the Czech, the currency is the Czech crown. As for religion, the majority of population (59%) is without religious denomination, 27% are Roman Catholics and 14% other religions. The Czech Republic joined the NATO on 12 March 1999 and the EU on 1 May 2004.  Since 1992 the historic city centre of Prague (866 ha) is on the World Heritage List.
A large number of artistic works have been dedicated to Prague including the widely known Slovanská epopej (The Slav Epic) of Alfons Mucha. Specifically could also be mentioned Hudba pro Prahu 1968 (Music for Prague 1968) of Karel Husa (b. 1921), or, e.g. the works of the poet V. Nezval and the photographer J. Sudek Pražský chodec (Prague Walker).

Red hat [Feelings and emotions]

My first impression of Prague, where I moved to with my parents and sister after my father joined the Czechoslovak Radio when I was five, was the incredible number of lights. The roads and streets lined by tall buildings with brightly lit windows – it was something like Mondrian’s  Broadway Boogie Woogie, as I realised only later on – this was the magical first impression further magnified by the reflections of lights in Vltava River. The other impression was made by the sounds: the city noise from behind the windows, the colourful street sounds mixing mechanical noises and human voices and, also the sounds of nature – the wind, the rain, the charming bird symphony on a clear spring morning. (Since the 1960s the magnified charm of this “world” has been reflected in the development of technology and, specifically, explored in concrete music, as in Olivier Messiaen’s Bird Style).
In developing the natural emotional relationship with my new home, I also developed a strong relationship with the Czechoslovak Radio Building close to the greatest of the Prague squares, the Wenceslas Square, which was certainly because my father worked there. When some years later I went into the building, then under restoration, and saw again the paternoster lifts preserved there as part of the national heritage, I came to remember my terror as a small child of what would happen to me if I did not step off that lift properly and at the right time.

Black hat [Being cautious]

The characteristic sign of this city is its relentless heavy road traffic, constantly becoming heavier and heavier, which is directed right through the historic city centre. The city by-pass is still under construction. As a result, the city is heavily polluted. Adding to the pollution are many factories, such as the ČKD, which were kept in the city because for the totalitarian regime it was important to preserve the “working class and proletarian environment” in the capital: that is to say, a number of large industrial areas with often outdated facilities. Statistics subsequently showed the increase of allergic diseases in the population. Even though these circumstances and the causes and consequences of this “ideological approach” to the urban fabric of the capital city were well-known, the pollution in Prague was never officially discussed, unlike the pollution in the industrial areas in the north (e.g. Ústí nad Labem) or the east (e.g. Ostrava) of the country. Gorbachov’s “glasnost” and the changes 20 years ago had some effect on the environmental attitudes to the urban fabric of the capital city. But the inhabitants and the designers are still learning proper environmental behaviour.(1)

Yellow hat [Being positive and optimistic]

Prague is the second most lucrative city in the Central and Eastern Europe for foreign investors (the first is Vienna). The reason for this is that Prague has a highly developed urban infrastructure able to support not just a high number of passengers on public transportation facilities but also a vibrant tourist industry. The high proportion of the population with tertiary education also means that Prague has no shortage of highly qualified workers. Prague’s Ruzyně Airport is not just the largest airport in the Czech Republic, it is the largest in Central and Eastern Europe. Prague also provides a wide range of cultural facilities including theatres, cinemas, museums, galleries and music clubs. The Prague Metro network continues to be extended; the Circular Road, which will relieve traffic congestion in the city, is under construction; and the conurban transport, using mainly the environmentally friendly rail transport, remains highly efficient.

Also, several important construction projects had been successfully completed in the last ten years in Prague. The most remarkable being, for example, the National Technical Library in Prague-Holešovice in 2009, Sazka Arena in 2004 or the projects such as the Prague Main Railway Station–Masaryk Station and the Libeň Station–Holešovice Station connections in 2009. Quite remarkable is the Golden Angel Business and Commercial Centre in Prague–Smíchov, the work of the French architect Jean Nouvel. There have been also several remarkable projects of restoration and reconstruction of disused industrial structures, particularly old factories. Yet, not all of the new construction projects were a resounding success; the most notorious perhaps being the Library and Theatre in Prague–Letná, designed by Jan Kaplický.(2) The restoration of the Charles Bridge also created much controversy. The construction of this bridge started under Charles IV in 1357 was not finished until the early 16th century but Charles, the Czech King and the Holy Roman Emperor, could walk across the bridge as early as in 1358. However, the restoration of the bridge has been regarded by the conservationists as inappropriate and insensitive (e.g. instead of cleaning and reusing original stone blocks, new stone blocks were mostly used in the reconstruction). The restoration of the Clementinum, one of the oldest of the Prague libraries, is also not going too well.(3)

I was not born in Prague. So why is it that I consider it to be “my” city, if not exactly “my own” city? We moved to Prague when my father started working for the Czechoslovak Radio. But I already knew the capital, mainly through books. From the book Staré pověsti české (Old Czech Legends) by Alois Jirásek(4) the reader can learn the histories of the Prague Astronomical Clock or the Prague Jewish Town with the Golem, a mythical creature made of clay and animated by inserting a shem (capsule) with a written magical formula into its mouth, which would help the needy in times of difficulties. From photographs I knew Prague Castle, the seat of Czech kings, and also Vyšehrad Castle where Princess Libussa prophesied the future glory of Prague. The writer Jaromír John (Bohumil Markalous, 1882–1952) was a family friend and he gave me his book Rajský ostrov (Paradise Island), a story about Žofín Island, the important cultural centre in Prague. On the radio I also heard Má vlast (My Country), a set of six symphonic poems composed by Bedřich Smetana, with the first two poems describing the features of Prague (Vyšehrad and Vltava River). The other source of information about the capital were my father’s friends coming from Prague to see us, including Prof. Mirko Očadlík, the head of the music broadcasting section in Czechoslovak Radio, and Otakar Jeremiáš, the conductor and composer, who was the teacher of my father, with his wife the singer Marie Budíková. When we were in Prague,  my uncle Rudolf Vonásek, for many years the tenor in the Prague National Opera, would come to see us there. I still have and keep a close relationship with Chrudim, my birthplace (I wrote two books on historical aspects of cultural and musical life in Chrudim).(5) For some 30 years I was writing reviews on the “Musical Chrudim”, the concert cycle which my father helped to organise towards the end of the war. Most importantly, I still maintain the family house with garden in Chrudim. Nonetheless, it is not that I just got used to Prague with its cultural opportunities, I now have close ties with the city. This is where my son was born, where I have many friends. This is where my life is.

Green hat [New ideas]

Prague is not the ideal place to live. Its transportation infrastructure is completely unsuitable for the city – a section of the expressway goes right through the city centre, the proposed main circular road to relieve traffic congestion in the city has been under construction for an incredibly long time and drags on with incredible difficulties. The urban plan concept for the development of the city seems to be more a result of the changes in the city political leadership rather than a long-term urban planning policy. In addition, Prague also has to struggle with the legacy of the previous totalitarian regime when the transportation or urban planning policies were developed in consultation with Soviet advisors. For example, given the geological structure of the area, Prague was considered unsuitable for building an underground Metro. The first concept of a surface and underground public transportation system came to an end with the first occupation during the war in 1939–1945. During the second occupation (after 1968) Soviet advisors brought in the concept for the construction of Metro deep underground, together with the nuclear bunkers and assorted military facilities. Subsequently, the Metro carriages supplied by the Russian manufacturer were so heavy that it became necessary to increase the load-bearing capacity of Nusle Bridge, the tallest bridge in Prague.(6) Similarly, the construction of Prague incinerators, particularly the Malešice incinerator, was subject to ideological rather than sound environmental criteria. So much so that in the early 1990s the journalist and author Milan Ruml, father of the Minister of Interior in the new Czech Republic, called the Malešice incinerator the incinerator for the human brain. Nonetheless, the vision still remains of the city that was and, in spite of everything, is the crossroad of cultures.

Blue hat [The big picture]

It is Václav Havel’s concept Vision 97, the so-called Prague Crossroads in St. Anna’s Church in the Old Town, as well as FORUM 2000,(7) the annual gathering of various personalities from around the world, that continue this tradition of Prague as the crossroad of cultures. In historical terms zhis is the most prominent aspect of the city’s development over the centuries as a multi-ethnic, specifically Czech-German-Jewish community, the place for the exchange of thoughts and ideas, that makes Prague a city eminently suitable for conducting important congresses or conferences, such as international conferences convened by the European Monetary Union or the World Bank. Prague also has a strong tradition, dating from the First Republic, of conferences concerning semiotics. The first conference on the concept of unified science took place in Prague and then, in 1934, the philosophy conference provided a platform for the meeting of prominent proponents of this concept including Charles W. Morris, the members of the Wiener Kreis Rudolph Carnap and Otto Neurath, the members of Lvov-Warsaw School J. Lukasiewicz and K. Ajdukewicz and the members of the Prague Linguistic Circle, aesthetic theorist Jan Mukařovský and philosopher J. Král.(8)

Although semiotics was a taboo subject under the totalitarian regime, the Semiotic Group led by Prof. Otakar Zich was established as early as 1974 by the Czechoslovak Cybernetics Society. The Group was disbanded in 1977 mainly because psychologist and philosopher Prof. Vladimír Tardy (1906–1987) became a signatory of Chart 77, but it was re-established in 1990. The Group conducted up to 10 seminars every year which were attended by Czech and Slovak colleagues and also by prominent Czech émigrés including musicologist Vladimír Karbusický, literary theorist and scholar of Surrealism Thomas Winner and culturologist Ivan Bystřina. The Group also convened three conferences. The first in 1992 was a local affair, the second in 1995 was already an international conference attended by Roland Posner, Gérard and Janice Delledale, Dagmar Schmauks and others. The third conference two years later in honour of the Prague-born Thomas G. Winner (1920–2004), which was convened under the auspices of IASS/AIS, specifically by Jeff Bernard and Gloria Withalm,  was attended by Elizabeth Walther-Bensze, the American music theorists Robert Cogan and Pozzi Escot, Czech émigrés including the artist Jan Kotík and literary theorist Ladislav Matějka and, of course, the honoured person himself with his wife Irene Portis-Winner. Thanks to my Austrian colleagues the collection of essays called Czech and Slovak Semiotics was put out in 1992. Then there was a conference in honour of Prof. Ivan Bystřina and Prof. Ladislav Tondl in Vienna in 1994, followed by the IASS/AIS conference in Dresden in 1999 with the discussion panel dedicated to the work of Prof. Tondl chaired by the then General Secretary of the IASS/AIS Jeff Bernard.(9)

It was a fortuitous circumstance that allowed me to attend the IASS/AIS congress in Vienna in 1979 because it was difficult in those days to travel, not the mention getting a passport and exchanging the prescribed, though miniscule, amount of money. My paper presented at this congress then came out in the proceedings edited by Tasso Borbé.(10) After 1989, Vienna was the destination of my first trip abroad with my son and the place of meeting my Austrian colleagues at various conferences organised by the Austrian Semiotic Society and the Institute for Socio-Semiotic Studies led by Jeff Bernard and Gloria Withalm. Then I had the opportunity to meet semioticians, including both my Austrian friends, at congresses and conferences conducted in a number of cities over the past 20 years, places like Barcelona and Perpignan in 1989, Berkeley in 1994, Kassel in 1995, Graz in 1996, Dresden in 1999, Lyon in 2004, Helsinki/Imatra in 2007 and La Coruña in 2009.(11)

Thanks to the friends acquired at these congresses and conferences I now come to regard all those places that I mentioned as “my other” cities because they were places of happy meetings with friends and people with whom I had something to talk about. It is for this same reason that the most characteristic signs of “my” city represent friendship. But the main reason why I keep calling Prague “my” city is this:

Veterrimus homini optimus est amicus.
A man’s oldest friend is his best friend.



  • de Bono, Edward (1985). Six Thinking Hats. [In Czech: (1997). 6 klobouků aneb Jak myslet. Praha, Argo].
  • Doubravová, Jarmila (ed.) (2009). Česká a slovenská hudba období  totality [Czech and Slovak Music Under the Totalitarian Regime]. Chrudim, Město Chrudim.
  • Jirásek, Alois (1950). Staré pověsti české [Old Czech Legends]. (26th ed.) Praha, SNDK.
  • John, Jaromír (1938). Rajský ostrov [Paradise Island]. Praha, Melantrich.
  • Kultur und Lebenswelt als Zeichenphänomene. Jeff Bernard, Gloria Withalm eds. (1998). Wien, ISSS.
  • Nezval, Vítězslav & Sudek, Josef  (1981).  Pražský chodec [Prague Walker]. (4th ed.) Prague, Československý spisovatel.
  • Vybraná témata na přelomu století [Selected Topics at the Turn of the Century]. (2001). Prague, Česká asociace Římského klubu.



1 See the publications of ‘Česká asociace Římského klubu’ (Czech Association of the Club of Rome). 2 Jan Kaplický (1937–2009) was the architect who designed, for example, the Media Centre and Tennis Stadium in London and the Selfridges department store in Birmingham. An exhibition of his work entitled Jan Kaplický – vlastní cestou (Jan Kaplický – His Own Way) opened in 2010 in DOX gallery in Prague; Olga Špátová made a documentary film about him. His design for Library and Theatre in Prague, nicknamed “Octopus”, met with the strong disapproval of some politicians, including the head of state. 3 The architect Zdeněk Lukeš has discussed the future of the city. He expresses his views on the appearance of the city in 20 years and comes to a conclusion that Prague will look more or less the same. Most of the development will take place underground. The Metro will be augmented like the city itself. The most attractive locations for future development will be the former industrial areas where the disused factories will be turned into apartments, the offices into shopping centres. “Let’s hope that the greatest trauma – the housing estates – will be dealt with” by suitable revitalisation projects. At the same time, he warns against megalomaniac projects like staging the Olympic Games. 4 Alois Jirásek: Staré pověsti české (Old Czech Legends), the 1st edition in 1894 was illustrated by Věnceslav Černý; the most popular edition was illustrated by Mikoláš Aleš. 5 Kulturní Chrudim minulosti a současnosti (Cultural Chrudim: The Past and the Present). Zbraslav, ÚJI 1999; Česká a slovenská hudba v období totality a hudební Chrudim (see: Literature). 6 Material was presented by the Magistrate of the Capital City of Prague, Section for Foreign Relations and EU Funds, in May 2006 for the years 2007–2013. 7 Václav Havel – Forum 2000 which has been taking place since 1997; Vision 1997 awards went to, for example, Umberto Eco in 2000, Julia Kristeva in 2008, and in 2010 to Konrad Paul  Liessmann. 8 Doubravová, Jarmila (1999). “The ‘Cercle Linguistique de Prague’ and the ‘Wiener Kreis’”, in: European Heritage of Semiotics, ed. W. Schmitz, Dresden. 9 Kultur und Lebenswelt als Zeichenphänomene.  See: References. 10 “Musical Forms as Models of Communication”, in: Semiotics Unfolding, Berlin-New York-Amsterdam, Mouton 1984, 1613-1618. 11 See proceedings from congresses/conferences of IASS/AIS, etc.


 Inhalt | Table of Contents Nr. 18

For quotation purposes:
Jarmila Doubravová: The Signs of “My” City (after E. de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats) –
In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 18/2011.
WWW: http://www.inst.at/trans/18Nr/II-1/doubravova18.htm

Webmeister: Gerald Mach     last change: 2011-06-17