The Web site for Prague’s Museum of Communism instructs visitors to make their way to No. 10 on Na Prikope in the heart of the city: “We are above the McDonalds and next to the Casino.” Against these flashy consequences of the Velvet Revolution, the museum itself has a cramped, grubby feeling appropriate to the four decades of Czech life that it memorializes. During my Sunday-afternoon visit, I need to crane my neck over someone’s shoulder to read the display panels, and have to wait in a slow-moving line to reach the de rigueur piece of the Berlin Wall at the exhibit’s end.
TIMELY ARRIVAL TO WORK DEALS THE DECISIVE STRIKE AGAINST THE AMERICAN AGGRESSORS! So exhorts the sign posted beside a vintage rack of factory time cards. Nearby grim displays include a replicated police-interrogation room and a photographic history of the gigantic monument to Stalin that stood in Letná Park from 1955 to 1962. But there’s plenty of mere kitsch, too, the sort of nervously nostalgic stuff I found filling a theme restaurant in Moscow three years ago. Here, it’s a Brezhnev-era poster celebrating the launch of the first Czech cosmonaut (a satellite’s satellite) and museum placards explaining how Czechs used to abuse the “Tuzex” vouchers and luxury-item stores that were designed to attract foreign currency:
If for example, a girl received 20 dollars from a foreigner for a night of love-making, she could exchange it
in the state bank for about one hundred and sixty Tuzex crowns, which she could sell on the black market for 800 Czechoslovak crowns, which equaled the monthly wages of a shop assistant.
Discarded busts of Klement Gottwald, the syphilitic Soviet puppet who ruled as president from 1948 to ’53, are so numerous that they have to be crowded together in a corner, on the museum floor.