How the Cold War Brought Us Closer to a Galaxy Far, Far Away

From the end of World War II until its dissolution in 1990, Czechoslovakia was a perilous place to be, at least in the sense that it could be the subject of a massive attack at any time. The nation, positioned between Germany and Poland, was under Soviet control for most of the latter part of the 20th century and was central to the Soviets’ Cold War efforts. It’s widely believed that the USSR housed nuclear missiles in Czechoslovakia, although as Radio Free Europe notes, even today, “the history of Soviet military activity in Czechoslovakia during the Cold War is still largely a dark secret, with many of the key documents held in closed Russian archives.” Regardless, the threat that Czechoslovakia posed meant it was a potential target, and if you were living there, you probably knew where the local bomb shelters were — just in case.

Some of the bomb shelters were impressively large. Take, for example, the one at Folimanka Park. Situated near the Vltava River (here’s a map), the park is not a bad place to go if you’re looking for some fresh air away from the hustle and bustle of city life — and that’s been true for decades. In the 1950s and into the 1960s, authorities built a large bomb shelter there — the Folimanka Underground Bunker — so that parkgoers could be safe in case of an attack. The bunker, according to Prague’s official website, “could hold 1,300 people, and its stocks could allow people to survive for up to 72 hours.” Further, it was outfitted with “its own well, toilets, and infirmary, [and] an independent power generator provides light and heat” — not a terrible place to go if the end of the world was happening outside.

But being underground, it needed ventilation shafts. The Folimanka Underground Bunker has two such shafts: large-ish concrete structures with dome tops, and over the years, they’ve become the target of graffiti artists and vandals, as seen below.

That’s an eyesore, to say the least. So in 2017, an anonymous artist — well, most likely a group of them — decided to improve the situation, as seen below.

Yes, that’s a very large R2-D2. From the torso, up — or whatever the R2-equivalent of a torso is, at least.

The creation wasn’t just a paint job, either. As the BBC reported, “as well as painting the air shaft, the anonymous painters added two large pieces of concrete to create the droid’s legs.” And, continued the BBC, the artists added a sign to their creation “asking people not to damage the work.”

While the droidification of the shaft was not authorized by the city, the city decided to heed the sign. As the municipal subdistrict’s mayor, Jana Černochová, told the local press, “of course, we do not support illegal spraying, but we like this decoration of an unsightly shaft.” And they decided to let R2-D2 here on Earth.

Over the years, other people have decided to add to Artoo — and unfortunately, not in a good way. As seen in these pictures from 2019, vandals have regularly tagged R2 with graffiti and, at one point, even removed its concrete legs. But the city has stepped in to fix it. As recently as about a year ago, as seen here, Artoo’s legs have been replaced and most of the graffiti has been removed. The anonymous artists succeeded in turning a local eyesore into a community treasure.

In fact, their success has spread. In 2022, according to Expats.CZ, the city restored R2-D2 again — and gave him a friend. The other vent was “given a full-body coat of paint (and piping goggles) in the style of the minions from the Universal movies,” as seen at that link, “depicts not only a single Minion but a pair that can be seen on two sides of the vent going up and down the path.”

C-3PO, though, has not yet joined the adventure.

Bonus fact: The Folimanka Park R2-D2 isn’t the Czech from a galaxy far, far away. In 2021, the Czech Republic census asked people what religion they followed. While most respondents stated they were atheists, many others identified with a specific religion — including 21,023, per CNE News, claiming to be Jedi. That’s good, because the census also uncovered a problem that only a Jedi can solve; according to Prague Morning, 516 respondents stated they were followers of the Sith.

From the Archives: Not Even Baby Yoda Knows How to Drive: A Star Wars-themed stunt — or maybe a scam? — that, well, turned out okay.