Václav Havel

RORY: Did you know the cell that Václav Havel was held in is now a hostel? You can stay there for like $50 a night.

Václav Havel (1936-2011) was a Czech statesman, author, and former dissident. He was the last president of Czechoslavakia from 1989 to 1992, then the first president of the Czech Republic from 1993 to 2003.

Havel was a playwright in Prague who rose to prominence with anti-communist works such as The Garden Party. After participating in the Prague Spring, he became more politically active, and played a major role in the Velvet Revolution that ended communism in Czechoslavakia in 1989. A popular president and major intellectual figure of the twentieth century, he was awarded multiple international awards for peace and freedom.

During his period of political activism against communism, Havel was under the surveillance of the secret police, and sent to prison several times, the longest period being from from 1979 to 1983. Havel was held in a prison opposite the police station in Prague; it was a basement cell in a building that had once been a convent run by the Franciscan Grey Sisters (religion was banned under communism, and all church property siezed by the state).

Once communism had ended and the nuns were allowed to have their convent back, they turned part of it into a hostel for budget travellers and called it Pension Unitas; it generated enough funds to rebuild the convent, the church, and other buildings owned by the Grey Sisters.

Pension Unitas closed in 2006 after hosting 150 000 guests, and was relaunched as the Unitas Hotel. You can stay at the hotel for about $180 a night, and it receives excellent reviews.

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