The man behind the counter

By Alexandra Fileccia

 In the Prague 1 Municipal District, across the Legion Bridge, there is a quaint shop with a goat sculpture that sits on the nearest right side corner under the blue, green and red letters of the store name, Zdravíček. A young man stands idly inside, hidden by the windowless entrance. From the outside, it doesn’t look like anything more than a place to eat; the chalkboard above the goat advertises soup and sandwiches. Once inside though, the little eatery unfolds into a colorful farmer’s market.

 Jakub Holzer, 27, stocks a shelf of local, homemade desserts. Occasionally, he knocks some over and rights them again. He walks back to the cash register and hovers for a few seconds. When he sees that no one is ready to pay yet, Holzer retreats into the back room where his colleagues are gathered in conversation. When he hears the door open, he peers his dirty blonde haired head into the room and returns to his post greeting incoming customers with a smile and a timid head nod.

Holzer speaks perfect Czech, having grown up in Nová Ves nad Lužnicí, Czech Republic. To foreigners, he speaks broken English, hesitating before each word. From his backpack he pulls out bilingual a copy of Don Quixote, one page in Czech and the opposite page translated in English. “I have taken four years [of English] in school, but without active speaking, it is poor,” says Holzer as he flips through the pages of the book. He says that reading literature with English text along side Czech text is how he keeps the Anglo-Saxon language in his head. As a customer approaches the checkout counter, he slides the book back into his backpack and rings up the fresh vegetables grown organically on local Czech farms; an involuntary action after the years spent as a cashier. Though his smile hides his annoyance with such a simple task, it is clear that the young man is capable of much more.

Being a cashier at Zdravíček is only a part-time job for Holzer, a way to make some extra cash as he says. Though he studied design in school, he is a paid journalist for Nový Prostor, a magazine sold by the homeless and those in social distress. The title translates to New Space in English. “Writing was always my hobby,” says Holzer, who says he got this job by chance. The magazine focuses on social issues and alternative culture. He has written about a variety of topics ranging from squatters in Prague to theatre technique to esotericism in Czech.

Though he currently spends his time among organic cabbage and potatoes, and shelves of locally jarred honey and jams in the Czech Republic, Holzer has traveled to Spain, Italy, Albania, France, Germany, and Romania. He says he enjoys traveling, even within his own country. “With every article,” says Holzer, “I meet new people and visit new places.” This is one of his favorite things about his career in journalism. At times he says writing for the paper is stressful, but says it is as close to a dream job as he can imagine.

Though he has done quite a bit of traveling, he plans to stay immersed in the history of his home country. “I love the nature here,” says Holzer as he hunches over the checkout counter, “and the Czech people.” He says that Czech people have a certain ironic humor he couldn’t live without. He makes a motion of opening a book and says that by picking up almost any Czech book, you would be able to pick out the humor—that it’s hard to explain. He would miss his culture too much to move away. “I feel like I belong to the Czech Republic,” Holzer says and stiffens his posture. He looks around the store for something to keep him busy, lingering around his post. With no customers around, he rejoins his coworkers in the backroom.

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