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Here, you will find beggars, junkies, prostitutes and homeless people — but no Robin Hoods. Here, everybody steals off everybody. So begins one of Europe's less family-friendly walking tours. Provided by homeless organization Pragulic, these tours aren't your typical jaunts around Charles Bridge and the castle. They're an altogether darker affair, shepherding tourists around seedier, lesser-known crevices of the Czech capital. Each of the nine employed guides is either homeless or has spent a large proportion of their lives on the streets, and their tours explore the triumvirate of homelessness, drugs, and prostitution—with a bit of police corruption and the occasional mafia killing thrown in along the way.
Our guide—the most popular of the lot, according to Pragulic—is Karim. A former male prostitute and heroin addict, he has spent 25 of his 40 years living and working on Prague's streets. Dressed in a leather duster that sweeps theatrically around every corner, he wears a jumble of pendants and trinkets around his neck and his eyes are caked in thick eyeliner. His hands—an inky mess of tattoos and elaborate gothic rings—don't stop moving throughout the tour, drawing attention to every crack den, brothel, or homeless hotspot he refers to.
There was a balcony in the station where people used to have sex, and others just used the park. Nowadays, the park is more of a living room for homeless people. A quick glance around confirms this; an assortment of beggars, vagrants, and drug-users are territorially occupying the benches, or passed out on the grass around them. The exact number of homeless people in Prague is difficult to pinpoint, but estimates are around 3, —made up of all ages and intellects, from young kids to college-educated adults.
Karim guided us past the ones dozing in the park and dives down a side street that passes the National Museum, before we eventually settle in Wenceslas Square, host to mass marches during the Velvet Revolution and a fortress for many of Prague's pimps. Here is where the foreign girls operate: Russians, Ukrainians, Bulgarians, and Romanians.
Each of them has their own pimp who hangs around nearby, offering drugs and paying the cops a kind of provision so they can work here. The state police often beat up the dealers, then start asking why they're doing it. And the third form are called hybrids—cops somewhere between the state police and the municipal police. If you're selling drugs, begging, or doing prostitution, they will automatically ask you for money, and quite a lot, too. If you pay the cops, they acknowledge your work, and then they let you get on with it.