The Dancing House, also known as Ginger and Fred, is Prague’s most famous modern building. Instagram is full of photos of tourists taking pictures with the Dancing House – and I’m sure few of them know that the Dancing House exists as a result of the bombing of Prague in February 1945.
It was February 14th, the end of the war. People in Prague had already experienced many alarms. The announcement of approaching planes only meant that the sirens sounded, people went to the bomb shelters, waited for other sirens to sound, and returned home. Soon most people in Prague ignored the alarms. That’s also why this bombing had so many victims.
Prague was attacked by 62 American B-17 bombers. The bombs fell on the city for only three minutes. There were 152 tons of them. The bombs fell mainly on Vinohrady and around Charles Square. 701 people were killed and 1,184 were injured. 2500 houses were damaged, 88 of them very badly. 68 houses were completely destroyed.
This was all due to fog and poor navigation. Over two thousand Allied aircraft flew out of Nuthampstead, England, that morning on their way to targets in Germany. Among the cities to be bombed was Dresden. But because it was foggy and overcast, the navigators made a fatal mistake, which was also helped by the fact that Prague, with its river profile, resembles Dresden.
Some of the navigators had strong doubts. Ralph McIntyre thought they were at least 80 kilometers further south. Nunzio Addabbo and Robert H. Friedman estimated as much as twice that. But they weren’t sure…
The Emmaus monastery was almost completely destroyed by the bombing. (In the photo it is the building with two modern towers with golden tips.) Three devastating incendiary bombs, each weighing 227 kg, fell on the monastery and the church. The hit destroyed both Gothic towers, the church vault collapsed two-thirds of the way, and the buildings burned down to the vaults on the ground floor.
This is where four members of the 398th Bomb Group came in 2000. They apologized to Pastor Vojtěch Engelhart for destroying his monastery 55 years ago. “We had to come back to say: We are guilty of dropping bombs on this beautiful building,” said pilot Allen Ostrom. The priest replied that there was no need to apologize: “Forty years of Russian occupation caused us much more damage than your bombs.”
Just a few meters from Emmaus, sixteen-year-old Eva Ladová, daughter of Josef Lada, had her piano lesson. One of the most famous Czech painters found his daughter three days later – in a row of dead bodies on the floor of the Church of St. Ignatius where the dead were brought to keep the bodies in the cold.
Behind this statue of the writer, Karolina Světlá was a bomb shelter in which a hundred mothers with their children who were taking a midday walk in the park on Charles Square hid.
And finally – the bombing also destroyed a neo-Renaissance house on the Rašín Embankment. For half a century was just a lawn here, until 1996 when Prague’s most famous modern building was built here.
The Dancing House by architects Frank Gehry and Vlado Milunić…