Whenever I travel to a Central Europe, I am always drawn to the main railway stations as they seem to represent the history of whichever city I am in at the time. A self-confessed train spotter in my youth, railways and the possibilities of travel are a strong part of my psyche, but they take on a whole new dimension in a modern day Europe devoid of either physical or political barriers. The notion of hopping on a train from Prague to Berlin, Venice or Budapest is beyond inspiring and often lost on those conditioned by living on an island.
Prague’s main station is particularly relevant as it represents the cities evolution since it was first opened in 1909. The art-nouveau station hall sets the scene with vibrant flag motifs, marble statues and stained-glass windows many of which reference Prague as the so-called ‘Mother of Cities’. On one of the platforms stands a fitting statue to Sir Nicholas Winton who, on the eve of the Second World War, evacuated 669 Czech children to London via eight trains earning him the nickname, the British Schindler. It took a further fifty years for this amazing act of compassion to be widely acknowledged and he was reunited with many of the children he saved in one of the most moving television programmes I have ever seen. He died in 2015 aged 106 and the world mourned a true hero immortalised on the platform where the children were hurriedly chivvied onto waiting carriages no doubt unaware of their destiny.
Today, the station still echoes the architecture of the Hasburg Empire and remains largely faithful to the designs of Josef Bahnhof. The wrought-iron canopy is similar to those constructed by Brunel and retail outlets and restaurants now dominate the various concourses adding a much more Western ambience to the terminus. Abbreviated locally to Praha, the station is undergoing constant refurbishment although it still attracts criticism from many travellers as being dingy and dirty; to someone used to the inadequacies of the British rail network, these criticisms appear unjustified.
One other touching characteristic of the station is the delightful tones of the announcers who alternate between male and female and the Czech and English
languages. Hard to adequately put into words, but click the link below to access a live web feed from above the station to listen for yourself. You do have to put up with a couple of crazy Czech ads before the feed kicks in, but it is worth the wait.