Sounds of a City

Warning, Ice cream.When you live in a city for a long time you become used to the sounds of it. These sounds could be unique to the city or an everyday sound that resonates with you for some reason. In Pittsburgh it could be fireworks, as they are set off to celebrate everything: a Pirates’ win, a Tuesday without rain. In Jerusalem it could be the muezzin calling Muslims to prayer. And in Dallas, the people walking around saying, “Holy fuck. I live in Dallas.”

In any case, you’ll probably continue to identify some sounds to your city until you get really old and start pooping on your stove. Then you’ll live in a place where the only sounds are Matlock on the television and your 16:45 dinner bell.

Here are some sounds that make Prague…well, Prague.

Wednesday Air Raid Siren

I arrived in Prague ten years ago on a Tuesday morning. On late Wednesday morning, as I walked through Anděl trying to find my new school, a siren pierced the air for exactly one minute. I figured it was all over. The Russians were fucking coming. Again.

Little did I know that on the first Wednesday of every month at exactly 12 noon, there is a one-minute air-raid siren that shrieks through the city. Of course there hasn’t been a true air-raid in Prague since, oh, 1968ish, but it’s still a tradition. That means it is largely ignored by the populace and is usually just something you have to sit through.

If you’re lucky enough to be in the vicinity of some tourists, it is damn good fun to watch them squirm and call their mommies.

Bů! Čerstvé mléko! (Moo! Fresh Milk!)

Ah yes, the Bů! Čerstvé mléko! guy. This is a man who drives around Prague in a truck selling fresh dairy products. His ice-cream man call is a recorded voice that says “Bů! Čerstvé mléko!” over and over again.

Depending on where you live in Prague you hear this call for fresh dairy products at different times of the day and on different days of the week. I hear it in Podolí every Monday at 17:30.

I have met the Bů! Čerstvé mléko! guy once, when buying ice cream and yogurt. It was not unlike meeting the Mr. Rogers of dairy. Sidenote: Czech cows say Bů, Czech frogs say Kvak, and Czech cats say mnau. This language is tough.


And not nice ones either. These aren’t Red Cross Santa ding-a-ling bells on a sidewalk outside of Macy’s at Christmas. These bells are attached to the hundreds of trams that run around Prague on a daily basis at all times. These bells essentially tell people, “Stay the hell out of my way!” And as trams are essentially propelled metal monsters, these bells are a good idea. To be in Prague is to hear a cacophony of these bells.

These bells are also attached to the mood or the mental state of the tram driver. A two tap notification ring can represent a driver who is in a good mood. A steadier, more thronging blast suggests a driver who’s nearing the end of his tether. And a violent, obnoxious full-press ringing is indicative of a driver who hasn’t gotten laid since the late 1970s and is just sobering up for the day.

In any event, these bells are synonymous with Prague.

The Rock Boats

This is nowhere near as cool as it sounds. I live near the Vltava River and every summer there are three or four ‘rock’ boats running up and down the river carrying tourists. They allow tourists to see the city from the water – admittedly, a wonderful view – they charge 90Kč for a Gambrinus, serve duck, and blast American rock from the late 80s and that timeless Ukrainian club music.

This, at first, was beyond annoying. However, I am now so used to the rock boats that I can’t sleep in the summer without my Bon Jovi lullaby.

What sounds will forever remind you of your city?     

  1. #1 by Simon Henton on November 21, 2013 - 10:33 am

    Surely that should be Bů! Čerstvé mléko!

    I was amazed to find out the Czech cows say Bů and not Moo, apparently dogs go Haf and not woof.

    • #2 by Damien Galeone on November 21, 2013 - 11:46 am

      Good lord, Simon! Thanks for catching that! How could I have forgotten? I have edited it and added a note. Thank you for the reminder. haha

  2. #3 by greg galeone on November 21, 2013 - 3:13 pm

    Langhorne noises-in summer every other Wednesday they hold a concert(as in someone breaks the nuclear test ban treaty) in the park-one property away from my house-everyone loves them-oh yeah-except ME. the only thing that diverts you attention away from the noise pollution is the occasional non mufflered motorcycle storming down maple avenue. the sounds of a Langhorne summer-wonderful.

    • #4 by Damien Galeone on November 21, 2013 - 3:27 pm

      Hey Dad – yeah, I couldn’t agree more on the motorcyclists. It’s rude. We should throw pies at them next summer.

  3. #5 by Andy on November 21, 2013 - 8:39 pm

    Oh, the Wednesday siren. It was so surreal hearing that the first time and not seeing ANYone react. I thought my mind was playing tricks on me.

    Additionally, anytime I hear the song “The Final Countdown,” I think of Prague.

    • #6 by Damien Galeone on November 21, 2013 - 11:09 pm

      That’s one of the songs they always play on the rock boat, Andy. Remember?

  4. #7 by Hokey Pokey Trainer on November 21, 2013 - 8:43 pm

    We have those sirens every Saturday at noon, in my home country. It’s not a tradition, but a test to see if they still work… And I still shriek every time. But I liked how you tried to make it sound like something badass/pseudo post communistic…
    My main audio feature connected to Prague is: everyone saying Ty Vole all day, every day.

    • #8 by Damien Galeone on November 21, 2013 - 11:09 pm

      HL – I swear that I was thinking of adding that! Glad you put it in there.

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