Otta Soap

Koží, that is, Goat Street, the former Ziegengasse in the old town of Prague preserves, like a geologic fossil, the traces of where the asanace – the rehabilitation, that is, the complete elimination of the crowded poor district, especially the Jewish quarter, which began with seismic force in 1893 – ended in the 1920s. The left side of the street was raised to the level of the newly erected Neo-Renaissance and Art Nouveau palaces, which lies, like a smooth-surfaced lake, above the vanished crooked streets of the former Josefov, enclosing the negative island of the lower-lying Jewish cemetery and the two surviving synagogues. The right side of the street, however, remained at the pre-rehabilitation level, and its winding streets also continue the missing tissue of Josefov.

I am rambling in the quarter of Saint Castalius, which goes for only a hundred meters, but at least a hundred years away from the palaces of the Art Nouveau Prague, when in the Street of the Sisters of Mercy, on the back wall of the deserted and decaying medieval Gemeindehaus, I catch sight of a curious plaster ad.

The ghost ad promotes Otta Soap. Its logo, the crayfish (in Czech, rak) suggests that the company was founded in Rakovník, that is, Rakonitz, by Joseph Otta in 1869. But when did they paint it here? The time delimiters are sufficient, as the Otta company, albeit nationalized, was still a going concern after the war, up until the 1990s, when it was acquired by Procter & Gamble.

I am researching in the library the traces of a disappeared inn of Prague, the Golden Angel in Smíchov, on the other bank of the Vltava, when among the old photographs of Smíchov I suddenly stumble upon this one, which depicts the building amely a Štefánikova 9/55:

The adjacent number 10/53 was built in the 1920s, leaving the firewall of number 55 free and suitable for advertisements. This photo was made in 1935. The ads change rapidly, for their effectiveness is contingent on novelty. Therefore the plaster ad in the Street of the Sisters of Mercy probably also comes from that period. In this way, it has advocated for Otta Soap for at least eighty or ninety years, since the end of the rehabilitation of the Old Town, already in its fifth generation. Time has really stopped on Koží Street.

Tábor, the tower of the South Bohemian Industrial and Military Exposition of 1929, from where the President of the Republic was greeted with trumpets, from here

“A riddle. Children, what is this? A figure? No! It is the name «Otta», the soap with the crayfish logo! Excellent and good for everything.”

“Soars the world over without wings / the excellent reputation of Otta Soap.”

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