A bonfire, a potluck, a harvest celebration—all these are features of the autumn festivals that, just prior to my study in Prague, I had assumed were distinctly American traditions that I had thus been preparing to miss through my semester abroad. To my surprise and delight, I experienced them all in a community garden in Holešovice, the urban neighborhood at the center of Prague that I have the pleasure to call my home this semester.
The dožínky (harvest celebration) at the Prazelenina community garden was organic in nearly every sense of the word: the garden itself was established, as I have been told, by a local group of friends seeking to build community and green space on a post-industrial plot of land. Since then, the garden’s function has expanded: in addition to offering small plots of land for planting, the garden plays host to picnics and free live music events, complete with a bar converted from a trailer. The annual dožínky emerged when the same group of friends—my own host family included—realized that the end of the gardening season would be the end of enjoying the garden space together until the next year, and wanted to close the annual activity by coming together once more.
Holešovice is a vibrant neighborhood, but its proximity to Prague’s tourist attractions has left the area vulnerable to gentrification, rising housing costs, and an influx of AirBnBs—threatening the local community. Prazelenina is therefore, as I see it, an increasingly important contrast to the commercial development: it is a public gathering space that revitalizes a neighborhood according to the local community’s needs and intention, unlike the corporate developers seeking land nearby. And it is the spaces like Prazelenina that have led me to love Holešovice—such as the non-profit creative hub, Studio Alta, that fosters art and culture in a space converted from a disused industrial facility.
Prazelenina, over the past two months, has served as my primary window and gateway into the local community and culture: the families who use and maintain the garden are the same families with whom my host family and I spent a weekend at a cottage in the mountains, and who attended my twin host siblings’ recent birthday party. In a mix of English and Czech, we’ve been able to share our thoughts and experiences, helping to contextualize and explain my personal observations of Czech culture. One might even say that Prazelenina and its families comprise the primary mechanism by which my neighborhood in Prague is beginning to seem, by a small stretch, like a place I can feel at home.