Famous Czechs – Karel Hašler
Every year thousands of people are walking up or down the Old Castle Steps at the back of Prague Castle and at the top of the steps they walk past (and briefly look at) a sculpture of a man with his legs crossed, leaning against the wall and playing a guitar. The nameplate shows the signature of a man called Karel Hašler but as the sculpture gives you no more information I thought it might be nice to briefly tell his story and tell you why the statue is here. Note where you see Hašler it sounds like “Hashler”.
From an early age Karel Hašler’s real loves were music, theatre and entertaining. Mostly self-taught, by the age of 30 he was an established figure in the Prague Cabaret and Theatre scene eventually becoming director of several including the Lucerna. But he wasn’t just a theatre director. He was a talented actor, composer, songwriter, screenwriter and musician. His talents got him into the film industry but unfortunately only silent films and he had to wait until 1932 when aged 53, he got his first role in a film with sound called “the Songwriter”.
The sculpture of Karel Hašler by Stanislav Hanzík was unveiled on the Old Castle Steps to a packed crowd on October 31st 2009 on what would have been his 130th birthday. The official title is “the Songwriter”. Why here? In 1910 Karel Hašler composed the popular song “Up the Old Castle Steps” where men would sing about taking a lady up the steps and into Golden Lane where they would kiss.
The most important thing that you need to understand about Karel Hašler is that his songs were patriotic. He played tunes and wrote songs of independence and freedom, fighting the enemy and many other nationalist themes. He seems to be labelled as a Fascist supporter and yet was clearly disliked by the Nazi occupiers for his ability to stir up sentiment against them. As a popular folk music songwriter and potential rallying point for the Czechs, he was arrested for the second time by the Gestapo in September 1941 and taken to Mauthausen concentration camp close to Linz in Austria a month later. On December 21st 1941 he was beaten and left to freeze to death the following day. Cause of death was officially a bacteriological infection and dysentery.
To give you an idea of how popular Karel Hašler was post World War One, in 1920 following the official acceptance of the new Czechoslovak Constitution the manufacturer of a menthol cough sweet produced in Prague requested permission to use Hašler’s name. On 13th December 1920 he gave his permission and the sweet was renamed “Hašlerky”. You can still buy it in the shops today except they are now sold in bags, not tubes.
Post World War Two
Hardly surprising that his musical works were largely banned after the 1948 Communist Coup due to their patriotic lyrics describing happier times. He had an asteroid named after him in 1998 (37939 Hashler).