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10 Ways This European City Keeps It Weird—Really Weird

The Bohemian capital has a long-standing taste for the bizarre.

Throughout history, Prague has been known as a hotbed of liberal sentiment, alternative thought, and general weirdness. That’s translated into a seemingly endless supply of head scratching visions in the cobbled backstreets, hidden gardens, and inviting archways.

 

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Museum of Historical Toilets and Chamber Pots

Taking care of business in the bathroom is not only polite conversation at the Museum Of Historical Toilets And Chamber Pots, but the sole object of its affections. Before the days of indoor plumbing, chamber pots and bedpans carried the heavy burden, and, like the people they served, came in all shapes and sizes. The 1,800 on display here range from simple wood or baked clay bowls to gold-gilt porcelain receptacles fit for a king. Among the highlights are pots made for Napoleon Bonaparte, Abraham Lincoln, Chinese Emperor Qianlong, and guests aboard The Titanic. The exhibition also includes a range of early toilets as well as decades of quirky toiletries. Giggling is encouraged, particularly as chamber pots made ideal canvases for the ribald humor of the time.

 

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Magical Cavern

Everything about the Magical Cavern perplexes and entrances, starting with why a “cavern” was built inside an old mill halfway up Petřín Hill. Pay the Renaissance faire-dressed doorman a few crowns and step inside to enter an entirely different dimension, one full of extremely buxom nude nymphs flitting across two floors of canvases, sculpture, and faux stalactites. All are pulled from the mythical land of “Argondia,” dreamed up by Prague artist, Reon (actually Jan Zahradnik), and inevitably impress with the completeness of the vision and quality of work. Entry also gets you all the juice and sangria you can drink, but you’ll be hard-pressed to tell the difference between the contents of the two jugs, which is perfect.

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Urban Sculptures by David Černý

Prague’s own personal Banksy is sculptor David Černý, whose provocative street art never fails to raise eyebrows and often the ire of politicians and social conservatives, like the time he floated a giant purple middle finger on a raft in the river and turned it toward Prague Castle, the seat of the presidency.  Among the more permanent fixtures today are the famous creepy babies crawling up Žižkov Television Tower, the rotating 42-Layer Sculpture of Franz Kafka’s Head in Národní třída, and the upside down dead horse in Lucerna, off Wenceslas Square. Or you can climb a ladder and stick your head in a giant bent-over ass at Futura Gallery in Smíchov to watch former president Václav Klaus and artist Milan Knížák (actually actors in rubber masks) feeding each other each other slop to the tune of “We are the Champions.”

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Thief’s Arm at St. James the Greater

Several hundred years ago, a thief learned the hard way not to mess with the Virgin Mary. While reaching for the precious jewels on her statue (so the legend goes) inside the Baroque church of St. James the Greater near Old Town Square, his arm was suddenly locked in an unbreakable vice grip by Mary herself. Drastic measures—and punishment—was required. Luckily (or unluckily), the church was a meeting place for the Prague butchers’ guild, which separated the arm from the owner, causing the statue to reassume its original posture. The severed limb was dangled from a meat hook just inside the door as a warning to sinners and remains there today.

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Sex Machines Museum

Prague likes a good spanking, and probably a lot more, as the sex shops on every other corner testify. So it’s no shock (unless you like that sort of thing) to find the world’s only sex machine museum here. Among the lipstick-red walls are three floors of oohs, aahs, and ouch in the form of steam-powered vibrators from the 19th century, bondage masks, wax models of genital piercings, a giant love seat from a Parisian brothel, and even a self-spanking machine. A vintage-style cinema also screens two black and white Spanish porn films from the 1920s.

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Weird-Prague-Poetry-Jukebox
PHOTO: Lenka Grabicová
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Poetry Jukebox

That’s not a submarine periscope jutting from the grass in Náměstí Míru (Peace Square), but a poeziomat that calls up instantaneous poetry read by their Czech and international authors at the push of a button in the original language. The inventor, Ondřej Kobza (who also installed pianos in public spaces around Prague), built the machine to foster dialogue, social justice, and respect and has earned enough success to install further poeziomats in Kiev, Berlin, London, and New York.

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PHOTO: Petr Bašta, Loreto Prague
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The Bearded Female St. Wilgefortis

No, that’s not Jesus in a dress in the Chapel of Our Lady of Sorrows at Loreta Church, but Saint Wilgefortis, the Christian daughter of a long-ago pagan king of Portugal. The story goes that when she was betrothed to a pagan king, she piously prayed for deliverance owing to a vow of chastity. The miracle came as a thick black beard grown to sideshow proportions. Enraged that the wedding had to be called off, her father had her crucified, making her the matron saint for oppressed and unhappily married women everywhere. That none of this actually happened, as was later discovered, matters little to the faithful, who continue to kneel at the well-polished alter.

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Dripstone Wall in Wallenstein Garden

Prague’s most beautiful garden, part of the 17th-century Wallenstein Palace, oddly includes a huge dripstone wall along its west side that looks like a nightmarish cascade of melting skulls. The placement is particularly weird in contrast to the otherwise supremely elegant Baroque garden of manicured hedgerows, classical statuary, spraying fountains, fanning peacocks, and a koi pond. Peer deeper into the smoky gray abyss and find yet more grotesque imagery, including snakes, monsters, and demonic faces. At one end, the wall bulges outward to encompass an aviary, for owls.

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Book Wormhole

At the Municipal Library of Prague, readers can not only be sucked into a book, but an actual wormhole. In the main lobby, 8,000 books whirl upwards to form a tower, with a teardrop opening in the center. Stick your head inside and look up and down into a seemingly endless vortex of books, thanks to a few well-placed mirrors, that looks like it could end in Dumbledore’s office. Entitled “Idiom,” the art piece by Slovak artist Matej Krenis is a particularly mind-bending example of his mission to “erase the boundaries between reality and fiction.”

Weird-Prague-Prague-Golem
PHOTO: cristo95/Shutterstock
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The Prague Golem

For Praguers, the most famous golem is not the one in The Lord of the Rings, but the legendary creation of Rabbi Judah Loew in the 16th century. Conjured from the clay on the banks of the Vltava River to protect Jews in Prague from the pogroms of the day, the monster eventually caused so much mayhem, authorities begged the rabbi to put a stop it, which he did. Where the golem ended up, no one knows, but its image appears again and again throughout the city, in gift shop trinkets, restaurant placards, and one statue with Kafka on its shoulders in the Jewish quarter.