Panenka scarves is one Canadian’s attempt to document his appreciation of the obvious and not-so-obvious experiences of a life in the Czech Republic. For previous Panenkas, click here.
How’s a Czech businessman supposed to become an Abe Froman in these dire conditions?
At the end of last summer, when I first set out to write about some Czech things while I was here, I fired off a quick list of potential topics. One of the first things on that list was the Wenceslas Square sausage stands. These legendary landmarks of the city are small huts in the middle of the street, impossible to overlook, and serve a variety of different sausages, klobasas, and Czech specialties like gooey fried cheese sandwiches. They are renowned for being open very late, and a perfect place to pick up a greasy post-pub meal.
Most of these chapels of meat distribution sit in the shadow of the city’s National Museum, down a boulevard referred to as Václavské Náměstí (or Wenceslas Square), and rival the legendary landmark for tourist attention. Selling meat in Wenceslas Square has been around since the time of the First Republic, the brief era of Czech independence between the two World Wars, though originally the klobasas were sold from wooden carts instead of proper kiosks. These sausage huts have even been featured on an episode of traveling chef Anthony Bourdain’s show No Reservations, cementing their status as one of Prague’s most popular food experiences.
Last October I was quite close to getting started on a piece about the sausage stands. I can recall one night after work when I had my camera, my notebook, and I was ready to walk over to Wenceslas to have a snack. For whatever reason, we ended up walking in a different direction that night and I never made it. I got distracted by writing about a whole host of other topics and put the sausages on the back burner.
About a week ago I decided that it was time to finally take a crack at the kiosks. I picked up my camera, packed up my notebook, and walked over to my favourite one at the end of Vodičkova Street. Was I ever met with a surprise.
The local sausage stand had been shuttered! There was a notice plastered to the front of the stand explaining that may favourite meat shack had been shut down.
I later found out that it was all a part of the city of Prague’s plan for a revitalization of the Wenceslas Square area. The city has been attempting to shut down these sausage stands for years – owing to the amount of homeless that gather around these non-stop kiosks, prompting city hall officials to actually refer to the shops as a nuisance – and it looks like they have finally gotten their wish. The city will attempt to convert these former houses of meat into flower shops, news agencies, tiny bakeries and other friendly establishments which are less appealing to congregate around while drinking wine.
Although my favourite one had been shut down, there was still a plan B. Down the road there was another meat shack that had yet to be closed and we were able to eat a healthy lunch of greasy sausages and delicious fried cheese sandwiches.
The meat kiosk had notices all around promoting a petition campaign for residents of Prague and traveling well-wishers to save these iconic street meat institutions. Being a fan of street meat, entrepreneurial spirit and the right to run your business freely without meddling government interference, I was happy to sign the petition and order a Pražská klobása. My protest sausage.
The Wenceslas Square sausage stands may not be around for much longer, and at the very least their numbers are in jeopardy, limiting the opportunities for any Czech citizen who one day dreams of becoming the sausage king or queen of this great city.
Take a stand for street meat. Take a stand for independent restauranteurs. Eat a sausage.