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Prague Darth Vader Statue

The Darth Vader Statue

Long before George Lucas (1976 Star Wars director) was born, actually even before his father was born, a statue was erected in Prague and it looks a lot like Darth Vader so what’s going on? It’s another example of a mixture of fact and legend for which Prague is famous. To make this happen there would be a coming-together of a legend about a man called Jachym Berka, an architect called Osvald Polivka and a sculptor called Ladislav Šaloun.

jachym berka, the iron knight or darth vader statue with view of the nova radnice facade in prague
“Darth Vader” on the corner of the Nova Radnice

The Location

Before 1907 this area was a mix of commercial and residential buildings but the city had earmarked it for destruction to be replaced by the Nova Radnice (the New Town Hall). The architect chosen to create this new building was Osvald Polivka, who was becoming well-known for mixing classical styles with Czech legend. He envisaged that legends of Prague sculpted from stone would decorate the front corners of the building so who would that be. Actually, the most famous of the two characters is Rabbi Loew (in legend, the creator of the Golem). On the other corner is our character, Jachym Berka in the form of a knight in armour. Here is the Google Maps link and the statue is on the left as you look at the building.


The Legend

jachym berka, the iron knight or darth vader statue at the nova radnice in prague
You can see why Jachym Berka is often called the Prague Darth Vader Statue

Jáchym Berka served King John of Luxembourg (early 14th Century) and was known as the Iron Knight because of his black armour. Engaged to be married, he was called away to fight and on his return he heard rumours (true or false!) that his fiancee had been unfaithful to him. The legend now has two options:

Option 1: Jachym Berka murders his fiancee and then commits suicide by hanging.
Option 2: Jachym Berka dumps the fiancee and marries another woman which causes the fiancee to drown herself in the river and her father to kill himself by jumping from a tower. When the new wife becomes a drunkard he realises his mistake, kills the wife and then commits suicide by hanging.

Somewhere in here, the woman who dies or gets murdered curses Jachym and turns him to stone (it’s not clear to me how he then hangs himself but what the hell, it’s a legend) but, see the picture below


How is Jachym Released From the Curse?

sculpture of a woman under the prague darth vader statue at the nova radnice
The Fiancee or murdered wife depending on which version of the legend you read

His ghost is said to roam the adjacent street (Platnerska) and on one day every hundred years it’s possible for him to be released. However, depending on who you read, this requires the ghost to be either 1) kissed by a virgin, 2) engaged in conversation by a virgin or 3) engaged in conversation by any woman for an hour.


Positioning

The Iron Knight facing in this direction can be interpreted in two ways. In legend the knight faces the place where his fiancee lived in the house of her father, a blacksmith. In practice, Platnerska Street was known for it’s production of metal armour and weapons so the blacksmith part of the legend is probably accurate although Osvald Polivka may simply have been reinforcing the historical purpose of the street with the new building.

Either way, it’s a great legend.


One Detail

ladislav saloun darth vader jachym berka statue in prague with portcullis detail
Detail of the Old City Coat of Arms on the Darth Vader Statue

Apart from the woman on Jachym Berka’s right who is almost disguised by the folds in his cloak, if you look to his left you’ll find the name of the sculptor Ladislav Šaloun and above the name is a portcullis. This used to be the Old Town Coat of Arms before the Thirty Years War saw the introduction of the Catholic version with the arm and sword. It’s a link both with the role of the building and Ladislav Šaloun’s penchant for inserting anti-Imperial messages into his pre-WW1 work.


Something Related or a Few Minutes Away

Prague Streets – Platnerska

Prague Streets – 17 Listopadu

Prague Streets – Jan Palach Square

Prague Streets – Karlova

Legends – Golem

Legends – Water Wheel and the Demon

Art/Culture – Book Tunnel

Attraction – Klementinum

Attraction – Pinkas Synagogue

Attraction – Museum of Decorative Arts

Cafe – Cafe Au Gourmand

History – City Coat of Arms

Films and Videos – Mission Impossible 1996