Fotograf Magazine

Iren Stehli

What brought you to Prague in the 1970s? Why did you stay here and begin taking photographs?

After completing my school leaving exams in Zurich, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. So my parents sent me to then Czechoslovakia to study Czech for foreigners at the Charles University: so I could improve my grammar skills. My mother was in fact Czech and had emigrated to Switzerland in 1948, because she had married a Swiss man. In 1949 she went home for the last time and then they closed the borders. I first made my way to Prague in 1963 as a ten-year-old girl. I met my greatgrandparents. I was glad to see them and at that time I liked everything: it all seemed miraculous to me. I remember how my teacher in Switzerland asked if I had seen a Communist and commented on how life in Czechoslovakia had to be terrible. I told him no. But then again children don’t realise these things. I asked my mom about everything and she began to explain a lot to me. The second “miracle“ occurred in the 1970s, when I travelled from Switzerland to Prague: everything was new and special to me – and colourful in its own way. I took a liking to the Czech language. People seemed kind and friendly to me. Students of many nationalities, for example Mongolian, lived in the student dorm, Windmill (Větrník). I liked that a lot too.
I was more or less in a permanent state of amazement – at everything. I loved the tram. I would sit in it and watch the world pass by – surprised by the novelty of these experiences. I went regularly to the Koruna Buffet and the Rybárna on Wenceslas Square (neither exists today). Their differentness from everything that I had known up until that time fascinated me. And on the Charles Bridge
I fell in love …

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