It’s a cold, sunny day in mid-January, and I’m sitting on a frosty barstool outside, sipping the hot mulled wine the Czechs call Svařák. 

I can see the colorful Astronomical Clock about thirty feet away, built by Master Mikuláš Kadaň  in the early 1400s, with the Church of Our Lady of Týn looming above Old Town Square. 

Across the narrow cobblestone street stands the ornate house, dubbed the Minute House, where the influential writer Franz Kafka spent his early childhood. 

As always, there is a constant flow of people bustling about, wrapped in parkas and earmuffs, moving into and out of the beautiful square.  Many people stop every hour to watch the Twelve Apostles appear at the top of the Astronomical Clock. 

It’s busy but not too crowded, yet more proof that the best time to travel is in the winter, when prices are low, tourists scarce and you can appreciate what a place has to offer. 

Escaping the Covid madness

The author, enjoying Prague

I’ve come to Prague to escape the Covid madness still gripping much of the United States and the West – and the increasingly aggressive propaganda of the corporate media. 

My grandchildren needed someone to take them back to London after their annual Christmas visit, and I instantly volunteered.

With my American Express travel points, I could get a ticket almost for free – and prices for a week-long visit in Prague were too good to pass up.  My hotel right on the Old Town Square, with its large ornate bedrooms and funky statues of angels with swords, cost me just $83 per night, breakfast included. I couldn’t afford to stay home.

I did have to take not one but five separate Covid tests and demonstrate a near-professional knowledge of computers to clear the bureaucratic hurdles, but I sailed through Czech Immigration with hardly a glance.

After breakfast, I work in the mornings on my laptop and then spend the afternoons exploring the city – Prague Castle and the magnificent St. Vitus Cathedral on the hill, the medieval Charles Street bridge, the Museum of Communism, the shape-shifting steel statue of Kafka’s head by the artist David Černý, the National Museum near Wenceslas Square, the Jewish Quarter. 

I pay the obligatory visit to an Absentherie, tasting the once-forbidden Green Fairy, and take a cruise out on the Moldau River. 

What cities are supposed to be like

What strikes me the most is the upbeat, freer atmosphere in Prague.    

As much as the US prides itself on its love of liberty, the truth is that there is more freedom now in Eastern Europe than in many countries in the West or in places like Australia. 

Some tourists wear face masks but most of the Czechs do not.  Life has returned to normal here in Central Europe, and the smiling faces and friendly greetings of dobrý den on the street stand in marked contrast to what you see in locked-down Los Angeles, New York or Chicago.

After nearly a week, I have been asked only once for my digital Covid Passport, and, when the scanner couldn’t read the QR Code from the U.S., the waitress just shrugged her shoulders and let me in anyway.

The thing about the Czech Republic is that its people had more than 40 years’ experience dealing with Communist governments and their insane bureaucratic demands, from 1948 up until the Velvet Revolution threw the dictators out of power in 1989.  Once you’ve dealt with Soviet tanks rolling down your streets, as happened in Prague in 1968, Covid insanity is small beer.

The other aspect to Prague that both delights and unsettles me is how safe and clean the city is. The streets are spotless, the centuries-old architecture magnificent and the buildings freshly painted. 

There are no homeless visible on the streets at all, although you do occasionally see a beggar kneeling with his forehead touching the ground, hat or cup obsequiously raised upward for a donation.  Young women walk the dark alleyways and cobblestone streets late at night, seemingly unafraid.  

In contrast, on the car trip to Los Angeles for my flight here, there were entire tent cities tucked underneath the freeway overpasses, mounds of garbage piled ten feet high.  Violent crime in American cities is skyrocketing, thanks to the “defund the police” movement and the election of “decriminalize everything” leftist prosecutors. 

In other words:  Prague shows you that cities don’t have to be cesspools of crime, violence and uncollected garbage.  Instead, they can be havens of culture, beauty and neighborliness.  The ethnic hatreds and identity politics that are tearing America and countries like the UK apart are absent here.

In the end, this trip is restoring my faith in humanity – and in the possibility, at least, that big cities can be livable again. 

If the relatively poor Czech Republic can afford cities of unparalleled beauty and serenity, surely the vastly more affluent United States can do the same. 

The lesson I take from Prague, therefore, is that there is hope for the future. 

If the Czech people were able to remove authoritarian, surveillance-obsessed bureaucrats from power in a peaceful, nonviolent revolution, so, too, can liberty-loving Americans. Hopefully, it won’t take us 40 years.

Robert J. Hutchinson writes about the intersection of politics and ideas. He latest book is What...