By Diana Kosslerova
Devotees of Central European cafe culture can now add a particularly distinguished example to their list of places to visit, with the reopening in Prague this week of a unique Cubist cafe.
The Grand Cafe Orient has been restored to its original splendour
The original Grand Cafe Orient opened in 1912 in the House of the Black Madonna, a department store designed by Josef Gocar, one of the founders of the Czech Cubist movement.
Czech artists were then at the forefront of the European avant-garde, and were quick to latch on to the latest artistic developments.
In this respect, Prague was ahead of Vienna - for despite being a Mecca of cafe culture, the Austrian capital never had a Cubist coffee house.
Restored to life
Cubism was first formulated by Pablo Picasso and George Braque in Paris and was soon taken up enthusiastically by Czech architects and designers, who made their own distinctive contribution to the style.
Gocar pioneered the application of Cubist design principles to furniture
During the 1910s and 1920s, artists such as Josef Gocar, Pavel Janak, Josef Chochol and Vlastislav Hofman applied Cubist principles to architecture and domestic artefacts.
Gocar's House of the Black Madonna - with its gabled front, Cubist-shaped entrance and internal spiral staircase - is an early example of the style.
The name of the building comes from a Baroque statue of the Madonna on the front facade. The statue originally belonged to one of the two houses that were pulled down to make way for Gocar's department store.
"Gocar's architectural ingenuity manifested itself most in the way he managed to harmonise his radical architectural thinking with the actual neighbourhood of the house, dominated by several picturesque Baroque and Neo-Baroque buildings," says Czech art historian Rostislav Svacha.
Old photographs of the Grand Cafe Orient were used to help restoration
Gocar's use of a new construction method - with a reinforced concrete skeleton - made it possible to create an integrated inner space, in which the Grand Cafe Orient occupied the entire first floor.
Guided by a few surviving plans for and photographs of the cafe's interior, proprietor Rudolf Brinek set about bringing the Grand Cafe Orient back to life, using replicas of the cafe furniture and brass chandeliers designed by Gocar to help recreate the original atmosphere.
"Czech modern architecture is my greatest passion and what more could I wish for than an opportunity to revive Gocar's cafe," Mr Brinek told the BBC.
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