Most of the gazillion tourists who stroll across Prague’s most-famous landmark don’t realize it, but the Charles Bridge was built for a king who may have been a “queen.” Charles IV, who was the backer of much of Prague’s exquisite 14th-century architecture, is believed by gay Czechs to have been one of their own.
Prague, it seems, has been gay-friendly for a very long time.
Near the bridge, local tour guide and anthropologist Petr Prokopík pauses our gay tour group at a statue of strikingly handsome Charles to explain that the much-loved king’s marriages were all dubious and politically motivated. Charles banished women from the castle — even as servants, spent most of his time in the company of men, and left a legacy of beautiful architecture. Yes, Petr says, Charles was likely gay.
In the 21 years since the Czech Republic escaped the grip of communism, the capital city has become a magnet for travellers who come to explore Europe’s most impressive collection of architecture and interior design — including stunning examples of Gothic, Baroque, Rococo, and more recently Cubist and even Soviet styles — most of it untouched by the bullets of wars that shattered other European cities. Prague’s treasure trove of design makes it the perfect European city for gay travellers. But what gays find in Prague is a city that gives Amsterdam a run for the title of “most gay-friendly city in Europe.”
“It is not an issue to be gay in the Czech Republic,” Prokopík explains. “Czech people don’t care if you are gay.”
While other European countries’ gay-friendly attitude evolved despite religion, 90 per cent of Czech people have no religion at all, thus less judgment about who sleeps with whom. And it wasn’t 40 years of communism that made Czechs free thinkers: turns out their ancestors dumped religion several hundred years ago in a clash between conquering Catholics and local protestants.
Today, “Queen” Charles’ beautiful Prague remains a very progressive place, with gay-friendly boutique hotels, a gay pub, and a gay strip club in the middle of town where travellers want to stay. A half-dozen other clubs and restaurants are clustered in the Vinohrady neighbourhood where most of Prague’s gay residents live, an easy five-minute taxi ride from the centre.