it never fails that I set out to write a quick post about some place of seemingly limited historical significance, only to learn it’s far more important than I understood at the time of my visit.
situated on the southwest side of Wenceslas Square, the Melantrich Building doesn’t stand out from other facades but is steeped in history. it was reconstructed in the early 1920s and renamed for the Czech-language publishing firm that occupied the building. until well into the twentieth century, German was the official language of the Czech lands and there is a long history of fighting or Czech language rights to support Czech autonomy.
the publishing firm was established in 1897 and lasted until 1999, surviving the many political ups and downs of the twentieth century. initially, it was associated with the Czech National Social Party (which formed after breaking with the Social Democratic Party) and began a “printing press for national socialist workers”. a printer from the firm (Jaroslav Šalda)began a successful daily in 1907, “The Czech Word”, and with it’s success the firm purchased the Hvězda building (or “The Star”) on Wenceslas Square and began reconstruction to suit its purposes. during this period of success, the firm adopted the name of Melantrich (after Jiří Melantrich from Aventino, a 16th century printer) and gave the building that name after completion of reconstruction in 1922.
in 1919, the publishing firm obtained an official permit to print newspapers and began to expand throughout the country and, in the 1930s, even got into film production. during the years prior to Nazi occupation, circulation on some of the newspapers and journals reached hundreds of thousands and, in a few cases, over a million.
during the Nazi occupation, the press was taken over by the Germans and Šalda was thrown into prison. the communists took over publication in 1948 but Šalda no longer wanted to participate in politics and was removed from his position by the communist party leaders. the firm was split into three parts and, while technically owned by the state, the party ran publication. this odd arrangement resulted in protracted legal battles during the 1990s and, eventually the firm was sold off and, when the new owner bankrupted in 1998, what remained of the firm couldn’t compete.
and now the part I set out to tell you: in 1989, the balcony of the building was used as a platform for those addressing protesters gathered in Wenceslas Square during the Revolution. the success of the protests, moreover, was confirmed when Vaclav Havel (future president of the new democratic Czechoslovak Republic) announced the end of the communist state from the balcony.
the building is now luxury apartments and a Marks & Spencer.