The Karlin Barracks are a place where people of different ages and walks of life can meet and spend time together. It is a cultural oasis, free of visual smog and only a few minutes from the centre of Prague. There is a coffee shop here, a cinema, a sand pit, a gallery, a campfire pit, a bar with a club and thriving cultural and social life.
The premises were opened to the public for the first time in June 2017 during the celebrations of the 200th anniversary of Karlín.
If you want to learn more about the history of the barracks or about our activities, just grab a drink and make a tour of the exhibition in the courtyard!
What does Kasárna Karlín’s future look like?
Our enterprise has been endangered several times. Since the spring, we have had to deal with tenders that aimed to rent Kasárna as a commercial business, and it was not clear whether we would be able to continue. What is the current situation?
We have a signed loan agreement with the state (that owns Kasárna) until March 2022. Until then, we can theoretically continue as before. At the same time, the state tried to lease Kasárna twice commercially in a tender. However, the conditions are so unfavorable that none of them ended with the signing of a contract with the winner. We did not participate in these tenders. Paying a commercial rent would mean the end of our enterprise, which aims at prices lower than those usual in Karlín, the development of Kasárna and hosting events for only a voluntary admission. We’ve already offered greater financial involvement. However, the relevant amount of rent is unrealistic for us. Although the current situation is uncertain, we have the support of both the public and politicians, and we believe that we will be able to stay here for at least another two years.
Therefore, many thanks to all of you who come to us regularly: every coffee sold, beach volleyball game or cake purchased allows us to open Kasárna for you every day!
The Karlín Barracks as seen by Matěj Velek, the head of our team:
What people or groups fall under the name Karlín Barracks?
- The Cultural and Social Centre Karlín Barracks is operated by the NGO Pražské centrum z.s. (Prague Centre) that consists of a team of approximately fifteen people of different occupations and professions (producers, dramaturges, janitors, managers, public relations people and security guards. There is also a large number of external collaborators, such as people from the legal service, accountancy, graphic design or IT. The atmosphere of the place itself is created by the bartenders, baristas and of course all the wage workers and volunteers.
What experience do you have?
- In 2013 Diana Vávrová and I created a cultural centre at the Freight Train Station Žižkov, which we ran until the end of the 2015 season. In this way we have put a virtually unknown functionalist building listed as historically important on the hypothetical map of Prague. But our work was later appropriated by the director of the National Film Archive Michal Bregant and we had to leave the train station.
How is it possible that an NGO gets to manage the hugest building in Karlín?
- It was a combination of several crucial and unrepeatable circumstances and also thanks to our reputation and experience with huge premises listed as historically important. But let`s take it chronologically: in 2014 the Ministry of Defence cancelled a disadvantageous sale. In 2016 the barracks were made over to the Ministry of Justice who wanted to build a palace of justice here. At the beginning of 2016 I was approached by Petr Vilgus, the vice-mayor for Prague 8, about the idea of a temporary use of the former barracks premises. He arranged for me to meet with the then Minister for Justice Robert Pelikán, who gave the project his support. After that we prepared a plan for the use of the premises as a cultural and social centre. It took a year to negotiate the contract conditions.
What exactly falls under your management and how long is the contract for?
- Our original aim was to manage the whole premises, including the so-called old barracks building. At present we have a contract until the end of 2020 for the so-called new building and the courtyard. We are still negotiating the extension of the contract and the inclusion of the old building in it. Keep your fingers crossed then! We have big plans! Yet already the area now in use has cost us a lot of money and energy. I still cannot believe the amount of work we achieved in only one year. We equipped the former army cinema with the technology for digital projection and we mean to bring back here projection from filmstrips. The former army gym became the Karlin Studios Gallery. The garages were turned into a club used especially for live music concerts and for smaller theatre plays. We also built the back office for the bar and a sufficient number of bathrooms. What demanded the most work was to make accessible the former pool and create a coffee shop in the former changing rooms. And then there is the whole courtyard on which we are now focusing again before the beginning of the season. We hope it will become even more hospitable and welcoming to all our visitors.
Do you have any credo, set of rules or values that you want to observe as to whom the Karlin Barracks should serve?
- What we want to do is show that the use, even temporary, and accessibility of unused buildings can benefit both the owner– be it a state, a state-owned company, a city, etc. – and the general public. The state saves money and the public gets a specific type of civic facility of clearly regional significance. We take pains to make the place accessible to the public in the broadest sense of the word: we keep entrance fees and product prices on an affordable level and we also organise free-entry programmes. We are creating a place devoid of visual smog - the Barracks are an island without ads. We operate with maximum consideration, we recycle materiel and are rigorous in waste sorting. How successful we are in all of this will best be judged by each visitor her/him self. According to what we see and hear, we have found the “gap in the market”. We are happy to see people return to us and support us in what we are doing for improving the quality of life in the city.
How do you finance the project?
- All the initial payments were done by the private money me and my wife had. We had to borrow from friends and secure financial and material support from our business partners and we counted every crown. The postponement of invoice payments was a big help too. Our main sources of income are the coffee shop, the bar and the refreshments. That is why we keep explaining to people that they shouldn`t bring their own food and drink here. To put it simply, every coffee sold helps us create a better and more accessible Barracks for everyone. And this year we also received grant money from Prague 8, from the City of Prague, from the Ministry of culture and from T-mobile`s Talk together. This covers the cleaning of the courtyard, the running of the cinema during the autumn and winter months, the music dramaturgy and a research project on the history of the Barracks, or maybe the whole of Karlín and its communities. In cooperation with Prague 8 we are planning a huge exhibition about the history, the present and the future of the Karlín Barracks. Interviews with witnesses will be a part of it.
What will you do when everything is finished?
- I would like to know that myself! But seriously there is still a lot to be done and it is amazing what so few people can manage and still enjoy it and that we have still not given up. It still is only a temporary venture and none of us has a pension plan in the Barracks. One day we will have to leave here, willing or not, and the whole thing will end. The decisive force is the speed with which the project of the reconstruction and conversion of the barracks into a palace of justice will begin. If it is in ten years, it will be a hypothetical timeline for us as well, of when our enthusiasm will run out and the joy turn into rote. It simply must fulfil us or we cannot do it as well as up until now. What is key now is how fast we can pay off all the debts and when the moment comes that we can really focus all of our attention on the programme. And we still haven`t given up on the plan to use the historical building of the barracks. And that would be a big step to take.
Matěj Velek, 2. 4. 2018