Top photo: the panelaky apartment building in Bohnice, Prague we were moved to when our old apartment building behind the National Museum was demolished

Bottom photo: The apartment building where we lived with my mother-in-law until we defected. Alena, we lived on the third floor, windows to the right.

When I was growing up in Prague, a typical two bedroom apartment had to be occupied by a minimum of six people. In our case, my parents, my mother’s parents, my brother and I made up the required occupancy of six. In the apartment across the hall, a couple with two children lived with two single women. It was normal to sleep in living rooms and kitchens.

Only two apartments in our building had toilets and bathrooms inside the apartment. One of them was our apartment thanks to some remodeling done by my grandfather before I was born. Everyone else had to use the communal toilet located at each landing on the stairway. When I was older and returned home after an evening out, I would always run into neighbors in their night clothes walking down the hall to and from the toilet.

Like the rest of Prague, we used coal for heating and to heat water. We fired up the hot water heater once a week to do laundry and to allow everyone in the family to take a weekly hot bath. The bedrooms were not heated, not even during the cold Prague winters. The living room where my brother and I slept was heated occasionally for holidays. The kitchen was the main social and television room in our home, and it was always heated during the winter. After my mom’s parents died, my brother and I shared our own first bedroom.

We lived in an apartment building behind the National Museum at the top of Wenceslas Square. It was demolished while I was in the army to make room for the first big highway located in the center of Prague that runs along the back of the National Museum. My parents and I were moved to a new apartment building on the outskirts of Prague near the famous Prague psychiatric hospital Bohnice. These new apartments were Soviet-inspired panelaky pre-fab buildings with bathrooms, heat, hot water, elevators even if the room were much smaller and the architecture lacking old world charm.

When I married, I moved back to the historic center of Prague into the one bedroom apartment my wife and her mother shared. My wife and I, and not to much later also our daughter, shared the only bedroom, and my mother-in-law slept in the living room. This is where we lived until we left Czechoslovakia.