The Golden Maze: A biography of Prague
by Richard Fidler
ABC Books $39.99 hb, 580 pp
On May Day 1955, two years after his death, a colossal memorial to Joseph Stalin was unveiled on a prominent site north of central. Towering above the city and containing 14,000 tons of granite, it was the largest statue of the dictator ever created. Stalin was depicted at the head of a representative group of citizens, dubbed by some as a bread queue. Otakar Švec, a prominent Czech sculptor, had won the commission in 1949. After the work’s stressful gestation, he killed himself shortly before the work was unveiled; there had been constant interference and police surveillance, and his wife committed suicide in 1954.
Švec had intended bequeathing his possessions to the Prague Institute for the Blind, possibly knowing that the recipients would never see his socialist-realist monster, but the secret police destroyed the contents of his apartment and the Institute received nothing. Following Stalin’s fall from favour, the memorial was detonated in 1962. The podium survives (it’s now used as a bar), and the platform above houses a modern sculpture of a gigantic metronome, installed in 1991.