Exploring a city through a derive

When looking into De Certeau’s theory, he suggests that you walk through a city not view it. He argues that  walking in the city has “its own rhetoric” and with people’s limited scope as they move about and write their own course of subjective use of the urban space “the network of these moving, intersecting writings compose and manifold story that has neither author nor spectator”.

De Certeau, “the pedestrians of a city create it through their walking about, as an objective mass made of subjects which escape any planned or regulated scheme of the city. The pedestrian, while walking in the city, has his own style, which is a sort of language which speaks about the city and take part in creating its meaning.” In walking in the city, the pedestrian gives new meanings to places and streets which are not the same as those originally assigned to them. Pedestrians, for De Certeau, create the meaning of the urban space by applying their imagination to it through the manner in which they move about the city “linking acts and footsteps, opening meanings and directions, these words operate in the name of an emptying-out and wearing away of their primary role. They become liberated spaces that can be occupied”. 

We used De Certeau’s theory in ‘walking in the city’ and applied it to Guy Debord theory the derive. A derive is an unplanned journey through a landscape, usually urban, on which the subtle aesthetic contours of the surrounding architecture and geography subconsciously direct the travelers, with the ultimate goal of encountering an entirely new and authentic experience. Having applied the two theories together, to make sense of our location, and to avoid what the city wants us as tourist to look at, we did two of Debords derive, to explore the city in depth.

We did the random directions derive, we started off at the hotel, and took turns at choosing random directions to follow. With these directions we found ourselves at VE Stinadech, here we found a wall full of communism related graffiti and we had our first sighting of and old style communist tenant building (Panelak).

We did a second derive called the wrong map, this derive involves us taking a map of another city for example the map of Bucharest and using it as if it was a map in Prague. We used a Bucharest map and mapped out a route starting from Intercontinental hotel to Parliament Palace. When we used this route in Prague, it lead us from our hotel in Prague through Charles Bridge and the final destination which was The American Embassy.

Bucharest Map 

map hotel praliament building 2

Prague Map 

map prague

Lesoda Otu-Iso


Media Portrayal

Jan Palach article – http://www.britishpathe.com/video/jan-palach-funeral

Jan Palach article 2 – http://articles.philly.com/1989-11-22/news/26140827_1_czech-regime-czech-government-civic-forum

Prague Spring article – http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/august/21/newsid_2781000/2781867.stm

Vaclav havel article – http://edition.cnn.com/2011/10/05/opinion/avlon-vaclav-havel

Plastic People of the Universe article – http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2009/sep/06/plastic-people-velvet-revolution-1989

Jan Palach 2 : Media Portrayals

The story of Jan Palach and his dramatic action of self-immolation captured a lot of hearts. Many people and media outlets wanted to retell the story and help the world become aware of his actions, and message. From documentaries, music videos to simple references Jan Palach became world known as one of the heroes that actively stood up against communist Czechoslovakia.

One of the most acclaimed documentaries that told of his story and the days following his suicide, is The Burning Bush by Agnieszka Holland. Holland is a Polish born director who having had studied in Prague at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (FAMU), had knowledge and interest in the Czechoslovak revolution and Jan Palach.

Many bands and musicians also wanted to portray or dedicate and tribute their songs and music videos to Palach’s actions including Kasabian’s song “Club Foot”, Francesco Guccini’s song  “La Primavera di Praga”, “The funeral of Jan Palach” by the Zippo band.

As well as documentaries and songs, statues were also erected to commemorate Palach.  Though statues and art might not be considered media, they still serve the same purpose of informing and reminding the masses of a person or event creating a collective memory. Andras Beck unveiled a statue in the city of Melnik dedicated to Palach on the 40th anniversary of his death. This statue is currently in France.


Mwen Fikirini

Jan Palach

Jan Palach was a student at Charles University in Prague that committed suicide in 1969 in protest against the invasion of the Soviet forces marking the end of the Prague Spring. His act of self-immolation was meant to remind the Czech people of their demoralisation, it was said a resistance group was set up for the purpose of acting out until these demands were met. Many different people some who spoke to Jan and knew him reflected upon their meetings with trying to explain why he did what he did. Many people spoke of his protest against demoralization of the Czech people and his hatred of the Soviet regime. These demands were abolition of censorship, the banning of Zprava (the official newspaper of the Soviet forces) also calling for the Czechoslovak people to strike in support of these demands.

The people of Czechoslovakia united in their sympathy for Palach and their realisation of what their government was doing to them.

“Last night, students in Vienna took to the streets to express their solidarity with Czechoslovak students. Equipped with dozens of banners, they organized a silent procession.”

Svobodné slovo daily, 25 January 1969


The world also sympathised with the Czech people, many newspapers reported of his suicide and even officials from around the world sent their condolences. Pope Paul VI paid tribute to Jan Palach’s memory in his message of 26 January 1969 when he stated: “We can uphold the values that put self-sacrifice above others to the supreme test, but we cannot approve the tragic form taken on behalf of their aims.”

Palach was buried at Olsany Cemetary, because of his politically charged suicide his gravesite became a national shrine. This scared the communist party as they did not want an anti-communist martyr, so the StB exhumed and cremated his remains sending them back to his mother. The urn with the remains was not returned until 1990.


P1010732In 1989 people began airing their grievances in peaceful marches, these protests were named “Palach Week”, the police tried to quash these anti-communist demonstrations. Since they knew news of them might spread disobedience and revolt through the country, the Velvet Revolution occurred and less than a year later communism had fallen. In Tim Cresswell’s book Place an introduction, he states there can be “many manifestations of place” (2004:3), in Prague this can be related to Jan Palach’s (and Jan Zajic’s) memorial. After the revolution they were commemorated through a bronze cross embedded in Prague outside the National Museum, for the people this is a sign of hope and honour to their memory while for the communists it was a significant sign of the revolutions both Velvet and Prague Spring as well as the end of communism. Different spaces are made meaningful by different individuals making them places “a meaningful location” (Cresswell, 2004:7) because they become attached in a variety of ways.

When considering place it is also important to highlight that John Agnew (1987) defined place as having 3 components making it a meaningful location these are location, locale and sense of place. Cresswell also discusses the issue of gaining a sense of a place from filmic representations of the place, this relates to hyper reality. If you look into the previously linked BBC video of Jan Palach’s funeral which was broadcasted across the world, it is important to realise to the western world this was one of the few representations of war torn Czechoslovakia. This sense of place proved to be very different to what we came across when we travelled to the Czech Republic.

As well as this memorial, Jan Palach was also honoured through different places, streets and squares being named after him in Czechoslovakia, Luxembourg, France, Poland, Netherlands, Italy, Bulgaria, United Kingdom and even Mauritius.


Cresswell, T. (2004) Place: a short introduction. Blackwell Publishing Ltd:Oxford

Mwen Fikirini

The Czechoslovak State Security (StB)

The Czech state security known as the StB Státní bezpečnost (Czech)/ Štátna bezpečnosť (Slovak) was active between 1945 and 1990. The sole aim of this force was to deal with any issues that could be considered anti-communist; this usually meant arresting, torturing and even executing any citizens that spoke up against or protested the communist regime.

The StB were used as an instrument by the communist party to show their power, they intimidated, spied and even forged false allegations and evidence against anti-communists. Their aim was to keep any talk against the party and therefore chance of uprising at a minimum. One of the many visible actions they took against the Czechoslovakian people was by trying to destroy or erase any signs of their revolutionary actions against the regime. One of these was the self-immolation and suicide of Jan Palach in 1973, the StB tried to destroy any memory of his action by trying to stop the demonstrations that occurred at his funeral as well as exhuming his body after burial and cremating it. An anonymous body replaced his at the grave site, reassuring the communist party that they had deprived the Czech and Slovak people of a martyr. It is not until October of 1990 when the cremated remains were returned to their rightful resting place. Actions such as this were seen as normal for the StB, as it was very important for them to keep the communist agenda.

The StB now

Though the StB was dismantled and dissolved in 1990, their headquarters still remains in Prague. It is currently being used as the police headquarters.Image

Some members of the public that we spoke with felt that this was not a coincidence as some members of the StB still held powerful positions in companies, businesses and even the police force. This is not meant to be the case, as with its dissolving in 1990 former members of the StB and associates were banned from specific and powerful roles such as that of a police office, government official etc.

Support for the opinion that this rule has not been adhered to exists in a lot of sources some of which can be seen at the bottom of this post, showing that perhaps the StB still has former members in powerful positions.



                                                             Mwen Fikirini

The German Democratic Republic (East Germany)

Germany was exceedingly affected by the Second World War, being leader and part of the defeated forces meant they had to follow the rules put in place for repairing Europe after their defeat. This included paying reparations, dividing its land between the allies and the Soviet Union. This meant in Germany as a whole as well as Berlin, now had been split into British/ French/American and Soviet regions.

-Germany 1947


Credit: thirdstringgoalie.blogspot.com

-Berlin 1947


Credit: german-way.com

East Germany

The Soviet occupied part of Germany then became the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), which was fully under communist rule and ran by the communist government until 1990 when communism fell and Germany was reunified. East Germany was under the Socialist Unity Party led by Wilhelm Pieck, with Otto Grotewohl as prime minister. Though Grotewohl was against illegal arrests, and wanted more respect for the East German’s civil rights he seemed to not want East Germany to answer to its mistakes after the Second World War.  West Germany was the legal successor of the Third Reich, meaning they now had the responsibility of paying reparations and take any other actions the world saw fit. East Germany chose to denounce its Nazi past, declare itself as a socialist state, refused to acknowledgement of the existence of anti-Semitism and Israel and therefore refused to pay the Holocaust victims. Though they did have to pay war reparations to the USSR. Though East Germany considered themselves a completely separate state from West Germany Stalin wanted to reunify Germany, Western allies refused this proposal.

Television and radio in East Germany were controlled by the state, though many artists returned from exile after world war two many of them left again after increasing levels of censorship. Foreign films were also shown in cinemas, though only few as it was expensive to buy the licenses and they had to be suitable in not glorifying capitalism.


On June 16th 1953 construction workers working on the Stalinallee boulevard in East Berlin went on a strike because of a 10% production quota increase and them being informed that their salaries would be affected if this quota was not met. The demonstrations began small but soon the participant numbers rose including the general public both in East Berlin as well as in other places in East Germany. By June 17th more than a million people rioted across towns and cities, the government feared an anti-communist revolution so called upon the Soviet Occupation Forces and tanks to help the People’s Police (Volkspolizei) control the situation. 10,000 people were arrested and fifty people killed.


 Credits: libcom.org

Berlin wall

Many people did not like living under Soviet communist suppression, the majority of these people were young well educated citizens. This meant if they managed to cross into West Germany, East Germany would have less and less intellectuals and therefore be weaker economically. This led to the 1961 creation of the Berlin Wall, a wall separating West and East Berlin meaning neither sides could cross over. Before its creation approximately 3.5 million East Germans defected to West Berlin, leading them to West Germany or any other country. The wall had armed guard towers that could shoot down any person trying to cross, they also contained anti-vehicle trenches and many other defences. The wall existed from 1961 to 1989, in those years approximately 5,000 people tried to cross over of those it is said more than 600 people were killed.


After a peaceful revolt in 1989 the Berlin Wall was destroyed and communism fell in East Germany, democratisation and reunification was the countries aim and on the 3rd of October 1990 the German Democratic Republic was dissolved and Germany was reunified.

Though there was initial joy after the reunification, this quickly died down as popular opinion in West Germany was that they had won. This led to resentments on both sides, the East Germans resented the wealthy West Germans and the West resented the opportunist East Germans. With the closure of factories and increase of unemployment, many East Germans experienced “Ostalgie” the term coined and seen in media portrayals such as Goodbye Lenin! By Wolfgang Becker. This meant nostalgia for the east (Ost).


Credit: beyondthefilmblog.blogspot.co.uk

Mwen Fikirini