The Peculiar Perks of Growing Up in Kobylisy

Text: Photo: Libor Petrášek Styling: H&M

If you don’t know Prague and tend to rely on metro stations to approximate where the city center is, it might seems like the district of Kobylisy is almost a part of it. The eponymous metro station is located just three stops from the central bus hub (Florenc), and four stops from the main railway station. But when you actually go there, you’ll soon realize that travelling between Kobylisy and the nearest stop in the central direction (Nádraží Holešovice) takes longer than a Pink Floyd song, and once you step out, there are no doubts: This ain’t no city center. This is a bona fide small town.

We knew this. Yet, when we researched for this article, our efforts yielded some rather bizarre results, like a story about a man who fed some wild kestrels on his balcony. That was literally the first highlighted story about life in Kobylisy: some guy feeding a bunch of birds. So there’s that.

The area around the metro station itself, though, is quite lively — chiefly because buses that serve lots of the surrounding neighborhoods depart from there. Kobylisy is basically a gateway to Prague’s northern outskirts.

“See those big blocks of buildings next to the bus stops? There are apartments there. They look like office buildings, but they’re not. Kobylisy is a strictly residential area,” says Anežka, a Kobylisy-born-and-raised girl whose fond memories of her childhood and adolescence shall henceforth anchor this article. “But these flats are weird and quite expensive. I’ve heard people don’t really want to live there.”

Given the kestrel-gate mentioned above, it’s no surprise that the area’s biggest allure is how green it is. There are several huge park and forest areas located just a few steps away — places like Čimický háj, Ďáblický háj, Draháňské údolí or Troja (the Zoo neighborhood we’ve previously covered here).

Culturally speaking, Kobylisy are no powerhouse, but there are still more options than you’d get on the outskirts — the multi-purpose Salesian center runs lots of activies, there’s also a theater (Divadlo Karla Hackera) and several architectonic jewels, such as two Functionalist villas by Richard Ferdinand Podzemný (located on Čimická and Libišská streets, respectively).

The hood also has a spookier side, though. Apart from a shooting range where Nazis used to execute people during WWII, there’s also the Tax Office for Prague’s 8th district, located appropriately in a scary building that looms over the area from atop a big hill and looks more like a place where vampires fuck (which could also be an apt metaphor, come to think of it). To go return your taxes in Kobylisy must be as fun as poking yourself with a blunt knife.

“I don’t think Kobylisy are very unique,” says Klára, a former resident who’s also lived in Smíchov and Libeň. When comparing the respective quarters, she highlights: “Kobylisy are WAY quieter. Almost no junkies, no shady non-stop bars. They’re quaint, quite cheap, and easy to get there. If you’re the type of person who likes to relax after a busy day, you’ll thrive in Kobylisy.”

It certainly looks like it. Nobody is even trying to convince us there’s anything particularly interesting going on, and the residents are very keen on keeping their privacy intact. Also, there are almost no students, young artists, or similar social groups. Kobylisy is a haven of local elders and families.

Bored? Go play sports!

“Look, there’s nothing punk about this place, but you can still reach for the mantra of the better people — SPORT ACTIVITIES,” counters Jáchym, another local contact who, by the way, works as a realtor in one of the poshest agencies around, so he should know a thing or two about SPORT ACTIVITIES.

“When we first moved here, we immediately went jogging in Ďáblický háj. It was awesome. It was also the last time we’ve left the house — the only exception being the nearest bar. Ha, ha, ha.”

“But seriously: There are three waterparks around here. Na Stírce, Šutka, and a smaller one somewhere next to the panel houses. Šutka is the biggest one — it has three toboggans, three saunas, things like that. It’s very hyper-modern. I’ve been there exactly once. You needn’t carry any cash, even — they’ll give you a watch, and you just… upload money into it and then beep every time you go in. I did this once. Cost me 1000 CZK. Which means I now have a watch that’s worth exactly 1000 CZK minus one entrance fee.”

“Do you want them? This is for an article, right? Just write that if anybody wants them, all they need to do is claim them. Just drop a Facebook comment. I don’t care.”

“Oh, by the way, Šutka is pretty popular with the Letná hipsters. I think it’s because they have these little snacks available right next to the pool, so you can just stroll around in your swimwear and wolf them down at the same time, which is obviously amazing.”

For Boy, our editor, SPORT ACTIVITIES are associated primarily with football — and, sure enough, Kobylisy has their own football club. It’s called Admira, and Boy even attended a match once. It was a local junior league clash against Tábor (a small Southern Bohemian town). He went there voluntarily, on a Saturday morning, and now he wonders why people call him a wannabe hipster.

“Admira is big with the locals,” admits Anežka, comparing the magnitude of its impact on local life to that of Vršovice's Bohemians. Boy saw this firsthand. There were actual fans cheering Kobylisy’s kids against Tábor, fighting Saturday hangover with more beer (as one does). When Kobylisy started to lose their grip on the match, their goalkeeping coach got frustrated and headed for the beer stand located right next to the pitch. His energy quickly returned once he got tipsy. Seems like a good idea.

High School Musical: Kobylisy Edition

According to Anežka, Klapkova St is the new Krymská – according to Kobylisy standards, that it. “Everything happens there. This is the street where trams go, there’s a library and an art school where local kids gather… lots of shops, a local market… and a pastry shop where I had my first date.”

“I was around thirteen and I wore green sneakers. My date was a schoolmate, an older guy. After school, we took the bus from Čertův vršek and get off at the tobacconist’s, where we bought some cigarettes and smoked them right there at the bus station. Then, we continued to Bulovka, took a tram to Kobylisy and went to the pastry shop. I had tea and Indiánek (a popular Czech pastry from the 80’s era, something like a small, tower-shaped Pavlova). There were elderly women there, watching us with derision because I wore this huge-ass boxy red coat. It was very cold that day.”

“We kissed in front of the pastry shop and I went home. The place still exists. It’s located right next to a shop called ‘Essential things’. All the other places around are shady casinos."

As Kobylisy soon became too small for young Anežka, she started to explore further — the neighboring hood of Ládví has two big meeting points, Kulturní dům (basically a local establishment where everything cultural happens) and a cinema where teenagers like to hang and get high. “That’s where I first got drunk,” Anežka remembers. “I threw up at the toilets inside the cinema. By the way, the Kulturní dům was very important for us, because there’s no Kulturní dům in Kobylisy itself. So we went there.”

It seems like teenagers in Kobylisy hit the sweet spot between being village and city lives — the infrastructure is enough to keep them from getting bored, but they’re still free to just hang around without getting overwhelmed by the inner city buzz. Anežka agrees: “Looking back, I think Kobylisy were the perfect place to grow up in the nineties.”

“Libeň? What the hell is Libeň?”

The adjacent neighborhood of Libeň is more famous than Kobylisy. It’s also dirtier, as far as the popular perception goes. Locals agree that there’s a genuine rivalry between the two quarters. Tomáš, an electronic music producer who lived in Kobylisy and then moved to Libeň, remembers the former as a place that can surprise you in various ways.

“When I moved to Kobylisy, I lived in a house on Trojská St, and… well, there’s really no other way to put it: German porn was being shot there. Fan mail would come to our mailbox. German porn fans would demand autographs. And panties. Autographs and panties.”

“Up there on the hill, it’s a sleepy small town… but once you cross the line to Libeň, around Bulovka, you can practically smell the crystal meth hanging in the air. Walk for five minutes around there, and you’ll still have more teeth than all the people you’ll meet along, combined. Walk another five minutes toward Kobylisy, and you’re in the sleepy small town again.”

Tomáš and Jáchym agree that there’s no such thing as a “typical resident of Kobylisy.” When asked to try to define one, Jáchym blurts out: “He’s 38 years old, lives in an apartment he’s inherited from his parents, owns dogs, and does nothing. Every day, he goes into town, where there are things. Then, he comes back to Kobylisy to continue doing nothing.”

What’s pretty cool, though, is that the ongoing Prague housing crisis haven’t yet come to Kobylisy in full swing — this is one of the precious few places where a 30-year-old with an average income can actually afford to live alone, without sharing the rent with seventeen art students who thing hygiene is a fantasy concept that sounds like a character from a Philip Pullman book. A comfortable apartment will cost you around 15 000 CZK a month, which is pretty sweet. For now.

When discussing the Kobylisy–Libeň rivalry, Anežka gets dead serious: “Libeň is evil. Growing up here, all you hear is: This guy got robbed in Libeň. Libeň is a shithole. There’s a tram lockout in Libeň. We can accept Bulovka, because that’s the border area, but nothing further. We’d also make fun of Čertův vršek (The Devil’s Hill), because the houses there are spacious and expensive. Gotta have some class struggle.”

“My dad used to say: I got wrecked up on Devil’s Hill. (Well… it rhymes in Czech.) High school kids still say it as well.”

The aforementioned Bulovka is a place where one of Prague’s largest hospitals is located — and while both Kobylisy and Libeň patriots tolerate it simply because of its border location, its reputation is still pretty shaky, at least among the people we’ve spoken to.

“That’s not a hospital, that’s a time machine to days long past,” says Klára, shaking her head. “When confronted with the possibility to give birth there, I rather did it at home. So, yeah.”

Pubs, Bars, Michal David, Future Plans

When you exit the Kobylisy metro station, one of the first things you’ll see is Kobyla, a pretty run-of-the-mill restaurant that somehow manages to look a little like a railway aquarium. Don’t ask what that means; go look for yourself. Klára adds that there’s a gynecologist right across whom she doesn’t recommend. Sometimes we feel that Kobylisy are very… random.

Apart from Kobyla, there’s also a big Albert supermarket, but while it might be the biggest one around, there’s another Albert supermarket located in Kobylisy that’s more important, according to Anežka: “When kids say they’ll meet up at Albert, they mean the second one. Not the metro one. The second one is the only true Albert.”

As for drinking, Kobylisy are generally laid back. “This is not a drunk neighborhood,” muses Jáchym as we sit at Amarula, a cozy bar located right next to the metro station. The beer is average, and apart from us, the only other patron is a lonely forty-year-old-guy doing something on an Asus laptop. Judging by the movements of his fingers around the Shift key, we are forced to assume he’s playing Prince of Persia and tries to avoid those falling ceiling teeth on the eighth level.

Jáchym used to live next to Zenklova St, an avenue that connects Kobylisy with Libeň. In its Kobylisy part, there’s an Indian restaurant that looks like Frantz Fanon’s nightmare came to life.

Not only it’s visibly marked as INDIAN, but its décor feels like it was designed by a nineteenth century British officer — dominated by a huge mural of Taj Mahal, the wall paintings also offer a selection of your garden variety Indian stereotypes, from elephants to Hindu gods to golden statues to Gandhi. Throw some Bollywood movies playing on an infinite loop in the background and it’s basically the Indian Racist Bingo. But that doesn’t matter, we’re told, because most people don’t go there and instead head for the nearby Chinese restaurant to have a drink.

The most legendary local pub, Vlachovka, is, alas, closed. That’s a shame, but we can still at least get a beer at Enjoy Bar – shout out for the name! – where a friend of ours once had a chat with a lady that claimed to know Michal David, a morally AND aesthetically terrible Czech pop star from the eighties.

“We are friends with Michal!” she shouted, triumphantly, while showing us what was supposed to be his phone number. “Michal likes it when I suck his toes. Save this number, and when you call him, tell him you got it from me.”

“I’ve realized that Prague is filled with neighborhoods where nothing is happening. Outskirts, mostly,” muses Jáchym as we sit in Enjoy Bar again, this time without the company of Czech pop stars' mistresses. “But Kobylisy are located in an area that’s really easy to get out of.”

“There’s tons of trams, the metro… what I want to say is that the place doesn’t take you hostage, you know? On the outskirts, you sometimes get the feeling of being isolated, almost trapped. Kobylisy are great because they tell you: Dude, it’s fine if you just want to go here to sleep. Do whatever you want, man.”

“Besides, the neighborhood is really nice.”

Anežka shares some nightlife tips that vary wildly between your typical Czech pubs that are nothing special but people tend to go there (Na Verandě and U Hofmanů), a tea house that’s supposed to be located “somewhere around”, and PHB – an acronym that stand for Pizzeria Herna Bar.

The latter is a place that used to grace the nearby neighborhood of Prosek. It was famous with local teenagers: “We would hang out in Kobylisy, in front of the metro station. Then, after a while, we would hop on a bus that’d take us to PHB.”

“Patrons were rarely older than 18. Drugs were not in, because we didn’t have money… well, lots of people smoked weed, but that was it. The classic evening would start across the road at Kaufland (a supermarket), where we’d buy some cheap booze and pregame a bit. Then it was PHB time.”

When we ask what exactly is the place like — is it a pub? a pizza parlor? a gig venue? – the answer is swift: “It was everything at once. That was the beauty of it. You could go there for a slice of pizza and a disco, all in one place. Everybody went there. People from all the high schools around. They even had bouncers, but they were generally pretty cool with everything.”

Anežka has left Kobylisy some time ago, but given the chance to come back, she wouldn’t hesitate. “There’s no place like the one where you spent your childhood,” she says, nostalgically. “Once, I’d love to raise children there. It’s a really good place to have kids — lots of extra-curricular activities, an art school, swimming pools… the infrastructure is ready for young families.”

“Also, I really want for my kids to be able to socialize here, as I did years ago. It’s the best neighborhood in Prague. For me, it’s a thing of tradition. There’s no hype about Kobylisy, but sometimes, I have a feeling that it should be.”

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