The Golden Angel stood in the center of Smíchov on the spot where the main road, named for the local garden of the Kinsky Princes (and since 1920 after the Slovak general Štefánik), comes from Prague’s Lesser Town through the Újezd Gate, and then crosses the other main road coming from New Town over the Palacký Bridge, which was named after the historian František Palacký (and since 1945 the martyred town of Lidice). It was a squat, one-story house, but its low tympanum proudly proclaimed that this is the most upscale restaurant of the town – because, until 1921, Smíchov was an independent town! –, the first to be encountered, both when just arriving at the Smíchov railway station two blocks away, and when coming out of Prague to look after your job in the dynamically developing industrial quarter.

In the restaurant, founded in 1869, they first served the beer of the nearby Action Brewery (from 1911 Staropramen), but nine years later they opened their own brewery in the back wing of the building. The 10° Angel beer, a “desítka” in local parlance, though brewed only in quantity of 8,400 hectoliters a year, only a quarter of the Staropramen’s production, became famous even outside of Smíchov. Until the early 20th century, by which time the Staropramen brand had become so prominent that the small breweries of the neighborhood could not compete with it any more. Nevertheless, the Angel restaurant, even without its own beer, remained an important reference point of the small town, which later became the 5th district of Prague, so that also the intersection and the surrounding area was referred to as “the Angel”, křižovatka Anděl.

The intersection of the two main streets in the 1920s, coming from the station. The Golden Angel is on the left corner.

The Golden Angel coming from Prague’s Lesser Town, 1935

The 1920s and 30s were the golden age of the middle class of Smíchov. Czechoslovakia finished the war on the side of the victors and, thanks to them, it received independence, new markets, and customs sufferance. Czech heavy industry flourished, the Ringhoffer-Tatra wagon and machine factory devoured entire blocks of houses in the area opposite the Angel, and glory winged its way also to lower social strata. In the downtown of Smíchov there was not a house without one or two stylish shops on the street front, and a few more in the courtyard.

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The expansion of the Ringhoffer factory also laid claim to the former site of the Jewish community of Smíchov. It was for this reason that the community moved into the center, in the block of the Angel, where in 1927 they built their new synagogue at the factory’s expense, and in the new Functionalist style, fashionable throughout Czechoslovakia, about which we will write more later.

The synagogue still standing in the Station (Nádraží) Street. Behind it, to the left, the block of the Angel.

The golden age came to an end in 1948. The shops were nationalized, and in the following decades, slowly eroded. Anyone who came to Smíchov in the late 1980s was greeted by the sight of a once prosperous little town left to decay for forty years, a familiar situation throughout the Eastern block. On the majority of the once elegant houses on the main street were signs reading: “Pozor, padá omítka!” – “Caution, falling plaster!”, complemented by the folk graffitti that read: “V sobotu a v neděli též kominík!” – “On Saturday and Sunday the chimney sweeper, too!” Although Jan Čech’s 2009 blog entry lists with a profound nostalgia the small pubs and dingy canteens of Smíchov in the 70s, it is probably the magic of time which lends enchantment to the view. Nor did the Angel restaurant escape its fate: it became an eating house, “Bufet – Smáženka”, where, you remember, one could have a greasy fried sausage and an early morning beer standing at the small round tables in the unheated room on a winter morning, before beginning the sightseeing tour.

The block of the Angel and the synagogue, 1970

The block of the Angel seen from the railway station (and the synagogue). Photo by Jan Čech, 1970s

The entrance of the Angel eating house. “Smážené speciality” – “Fried specialities!” Can you imagine? Photo by Jan Čech, 1970s

The Angel junction in the late 1970s, from here

Then in 1980 this also came to an end. The Smíchov stop of the underground’s B line was placed in the block of buildings where the Angel had stood. The Golden Angel was pulled down on 16 January 1980, and the metro station, as well as the junction – for, of course, such a sacerdotal name could not be tolerated – were rechristened Moscow. Only the emblematic angel mural on the facade tympanum, the work of the eminent late 19th-century historical painter Václav Brožík (1870) was saved by the restorer Olga Beránková. And above the station they begin building the Moscow department store, which, however, was never completed. For years, from the partly finished walls of the ground floor loomed up the stumps of the iron girders of the concrete monster, planned to be five storeys.

The mural, since 2000 at the entrance of the metro station (see below)

But Smíchov did not fully remain without an angel even after 1980. In 1929, they had transported over and, in the Kinsky garden, installed the wooden Greek Catholic church of St. Michael the Archangel from Nagylucska – Velyki Lučki – in Subcarpathia, which had been carved out of Hungary and awarded to Czechoslovakia by the 1920 Treaty of Trianon. The Czech public at the time cherished a kind of romantic image of the tiny, archaic and unspoiled Slavic villages in the Carpathian mountains, and they enthusiastically received this exotic ambassador from the remote province, officially a gift of the people of Rusinsko to the new capital. The archangel has ever since kept guard over the quarter from the Petřín hillside. From under the church tower an excellent view over Smíchov can be seen, as well as Vyšehrad Castle on the other side of the river.

Consecration ceremony of the church of St. Michael the Archangel in Smíchov, 10 September 1929

After the Velvet Revolution, the rehabilitation of Smíchov, where the proportion of the industrial areas which was outdated or ruined during the socialist period was particularly large, took place quite slowly. Development was given a great impetus by the fact that the ING Group Real Estate chose Smíchov as its center in Bohemia, precisely because of its major brownfield areas just some minutes away from the center of Prague. In the first phase, by the autumn of 2000, they built the New Smíchov shopping center – about which we will write later – on the site of the massive Ringhoffer-Tatra factory, decaying in the center of Smíchov; and in place of the torso of the Moscow department store, that is, of the former Angel, they built the Golden Angel office building.

The architect was the Frenchman Jean Nouvel, designer of iconic buildings, such as Vienna’s Gasometers, Barcelona’s Torre Agbar, Paris’s Musée du quai Branlay, or Copenhagen’s Koncerthuset. No wonder then, that Prague’s Golden Angel also has become an emblematic building. It floats over the neighborhood like a blue ship, its stern rising up precisely at the spot of the old Golden Angel, on the corner of the block. Beneath it, at the corner of the reconstructed metro station – on the upper floor of the Colosseum pizzeria, to be exact – the angel mural saved from the tympanum of the old restaurant was exhibited. The tower is decorated with quotes from great Prague authors, such as Kafka, Rilke, Gustav Meyrink, Konstantin Biebl, and Jiří Orten. And above them, as for the third in a row, the angel who became man from Wim Wenders’ Wings of desire keeps guard over Smíchov.

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