Via The Left Bank of the ’90s — Nádraží Veleslavín & Daniel Adam

Veleslavin’s history stretches much further back than a short tenure as a Prague transit spot. The village was first mentioned in the founding charter of Saint Adalbert’s Břevnov Monastery, although most believe it was already inhabited by this point. It stayed under the command of the monastery until 1420, when part of it was sliced off by Prague’s Old Town. Centuries passed without major incident until the 22nd year of the 20th century, when the 1814 inhabitants and 173 houses of Veleslavin became an official part of Prague. As of 2006, that population had grown to more than 6,500, but the glamour of modern-day Praha is long gone. The feeling of a crumbling small provincial town persists, no matter how hard one tries to shake it. The local karaoke club looks like it should focus its advertising more on how seedy it seems as opposed to what tunes you can sing, although the existence of an irony-free karaoke club in the late 2010s says more than enough. The area seems to have more car dealerships and apartment blocks per square metre than it should. It is as offensively stereotypical as Eastern Europe gets, although that in itself is a stereotype that needs to be resigned to the bin of history anyway. Prague is west of Vienna after all.

This is the opinion formulated from the eyes of the tourist, and judging everything through those goggles will only provide consistently incorrect opinions. Veleslavin isn’t going to be anyone’s favourite part of Prague, but then why should it be? People live here, and people live well here, so who cares if there isn’t a bucket list’s worth of sites waiting to be ticked off by hashtag happy tourists? Young and idealistic backpackers clog up the bars of Žižkov and Vinohrady claiming to have found the ‘real Prague’, oblivious to the fact that it is more likely to exist in somewhere like Veleslavin. ‘Real’ never ever equals idyllic, for reasons that are clear to anyone who understands what either of those two words mean.

The metro station isn’t the only thing that takes its name from the village in which it is located. Stumble back just four and a half centuries into the past and you will find a publisher and translator who is rightly considered to be one of the fathers of the Czech National Revival, although that didn’t kick off in earnest until well into the 19th century. The first of many writes to take centre stage in Via The Left Bank of the ‘90s, Daniel Adam was historically known as Daniel Adam z Veleslavina, or Daniel Adam of Veleslavin. This is his story.

Born into a highly respected (and fairly wealthy) family, Daniel Adam studied in Prague before going on to become a professor at the university, although he was forced to give this up once he married. Teachers in the 16th century were legally obliged to take a vow of celibacy, and Daniel decided that wedding vows were more important to him than professional ones. His decision wasn’t made in the throes of intimate passion however, as he married his way into a similarly powerful family. Adam, by now aged 30, married the 19-year-old daughter of Jiří Melantrich of Aventino, an equally important figure in the early stages of the Czech National Revival. Jiří was born in 1511 and he established a small printing workshop in his early adult years before a revolt in 1547 put a stop to any and all publishing of Czech Protestant literature. Jiří managed to get around this somewhat, by collaborating with the Catholic publisher Bartoloměj Netolický, establishing himself with Melantrich’s Bible in 1556. Another two decades passed before his eldest daughter became engaged to Daniel Adam, a commitment that Jiří approved of whole-heartedly. By this time his printing workshop was up and running, and he needed someone solid to take over the family business.

Daniel Adam z Veleslavin and Jiří Melantrich z Aventino didn’t see eye to eye all the time, and the relative age difference between the two led to a clash of ideology. Jiří was from a more restrained time, and as such, he knew that consistently making concessions in a tolerant manner was vital to gaining any sort of momentum. Daniel Adam was far more daring, and the son-in-law consistently sent books to be published without going through the rigamarole of censorship beforehand. Sort of like how this book has barely been edited. Daniel’s rebellious nature didn’t sit too well with his father-in-law, and when Jiří died in November 1580 he bequeathed his entire business to his teenage son. A boy in his teens had no chance of carrying on a business however, especially not when the son has his own debts to worry about, and he soon died young. Daniel Adam z Veleslavin was the only heir left, and the printing workshop was his. He dove headfirst into the world of publishing, translating the Bible into Czech and establishing a circle of intellectuals who spent considerable amounts of energy encouraging the Czech language and pushing it ever forward. Heady subjects were tackled in the vernacular of the local people. Daniel Adam spoke of the inevitable Judgment Day, meaning both the rise of the Czech people and the one that gets mentioned at the shocking conclusion of the Bible.

Daniel Adam of Veleslavin was a fierce nationalist and an even more fierce lamenter of the degradation of his people, famously stating that ‘soon it would be more probable to see on the Prague bridge a deer with a golden antler than a true Czech’. One can only shudder at the thought of Daniel Adam in the 21st century, looking at the patchwork of nationalities treading the cobblestones of Charles Bridge today and desperately pleading for the arrival of his golden-antlered deer. Daniel published books at an alarming rate, publishing over 140 volumes including a fascinating book of techniques on how to distinguish the truth in times of religious squabbling, and another on how to identify that divine spark of light hidden in the human heart. His fertile publishing career didn’t lend much time to his own work though, and he only managed to write a single book in his life. This was no mere 30-page pamphlet however, more a large overview of European history as a whole. The book was called ‘Kalendář historický’, and you don’t need to be a scholar of Czech to decipher what the translation of that is. In many ways, it was written as a ‘thank you’ to Prague, the city that had imbued Daniel Adam of Veleslavin with his life, his passion and his soul. He was a hugely influential figure in his time, but the true scope of his importance wasn’t felt until centuries later when people began to accept that he was probably right with his lamenting when it came to the decline of the Czech language.

Daniel Adam of Veleslavin died on October 18 of the final year of the 16th century, but his mark had long since been made. His actual list of job titles is not unlike the bio of an idealistic young hipster in the 21st century — writer, philosopher, humanist, educator and translator. The difference, of course, is that Daniel Adam z Veleslavin was all of this and a whole lot more, a man so influential that his time is known to some as the ‘Age of Veleslavin’. There could well be a Daniel Adam somewhere in Veleslavin today, sleeping in late in one of the soulless tower blocks, the old or the new, or maybe even clocking in for another day’s work at a local car dealership. He may well be a barman at the seedy karaoke club, reticent to look for work elsewhere because of the emotional debt he feels he owes the club for giving him the job in the first place, but also because giving up seediness that is so readily served up is difficult for the young to do.

In Via The Left Bank of the ‘90s, John Bills takes the reader on a tour of Prague using the underground network as his guide, from the birth of the city at Vyšehrad through to the Velvet Revolution at Národní Třída and everywhere in between, including blokes who loved orchids and no small amount of executions. This is everything you ever wanted to know about Prague, and then some. The eBook available in our splendid little shop here.

Left Bank eMock

 

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