How are the streets in Prague paved?


They say people can watch three things indefinitely: the fire... the sea.... and someone else working. However, the work of the people who pave the cobblestoned streets of Prague is painful to watch. The sheer intensity of the labour is perhaps too close for comfort. We think that the biggest mistake you can make when doing this is thinking about how big an area you have to pave, one stone by one. It's like building the biggest puzzle game ever, again and again, every working day, nine to five.

When we talk with our guests during the tour, one thing comes up repeatedly: the cobblestones in Prague. They are a mixed blessing, really. For a foreign visitor, they are beautiful and romantic, although they do lose points when it comes to comfort. You can leave those high heels at home because you will hardly ever use them in Prague. Local women are an exception - they are simply used to them and seem to have the ability to levitate above the stones in even the highest heels. Czechs also generally like them for their clear benefits and advantages.

First, there are the looks: the cobblestones look better than the cold asphalt. More importantly, they look cleaner than they really are - the uneven surface is forgiving to every cigarette butt and candy wrapper people may leave behind. Corporations also like them when they can order logos to be made out of different-coloured stones in front of their offices. Finally, the stones are recyclable - when a pipe bursts underneath them, you can easily take them out and then put them back again. That is why paving the streets with cobblestones has become a popular pre-election gimmick: many local politicians set out to repave the main streets in their district just before the election to show that they truly care.

Which takes us to the disadvantages of cobblestones. Firstly, their "recyclability"  became a huge problem when Prague hosted the World Bank/IMF summit in 2000, as the protesters from all over the World took to the streets of Prague and used the stones as ammunition against the riot police. Many streets in the centre were stripped of all the stones and became simple dirt roads. (Ouch!) Also, the comfort - or the lack of it - is an issue, especially when the big stones are used to pave the roads. Yes, never buy a used car from Prague because the stones will ruin the entire suspension. Finally, the cobbled streets are demanding in terms of the required labour and time. There is virtually no automation involved, and each stone has to be hammered in manually. Many of our guests were simply fascinated by the work involved in paving the streets when they saw it in action.

The streets around our home were recently re-paved, so Jan grasped this opportunity to interview the workers about their job. The video proves two things: (1) Jan exhibits a striking failure to multi-task for a former conference interpreter and babbles like an idiot when he shoots videos, and (2) people paving the streets of Prague are extremely reluctant to give interview and are clearly surprised when anyone wants to talk to them. We post the video anyway, in all its naked glory. Just enjoy the view of other people working. And please turn on the English subtitles (CC as closed captioning). Enjoy!