Liberec Town Hall

The north Bohemian town of Liberec may be only seventy miles from Prague but its origins as an important centre of the Flemish and German textile trade are evident everywhere – not least in the soaring opulence of the town hall, erected between 1888 and 1893 on the site of an earlier building dating from 1602.

A near-contemporary of the Rathaus in Vienna (and clearly influenced by its design) the neo-renaissance structure was the work of the Austrian architect Franz Neumann, who won the commission in open competition against eight other entries. Neumann’s exuberant five-storey edifice, with its impressive loggia and balconies, was crowned by three pinnacles, the central spire bearing a statue of the mediaeval knight Roland bestowing his benediction on the deliberations of the town council below.

During Communism, the statue was replaced by the emblem of the red star – an ill omen, as it turned out. In 1968, Warsaw Pact tanks invaded the then Czechoslovakia in order to restore the iron rule of the Soviet Union. On 21 August, a convoy of tanks smashed into adjacent buildings and crushed to death nine citizens whose names are now memorialized on a plaque on the front of the hall. Protestors scaled the tower and hung a banner reading ‘Russians go home – we want socialism without tanks and bayonets’.

It would take another twenty years for their dream to be realized, and for the red star to be replaced once more by the statue of the town’s knightly protector.