Every day, scores of tourists cross Charles Bridge and flock towards the John Lennon Wall in the Malá Strana district, making their way across the island of Kampa. If you take that route, chances are you’ll be passing over the Čertovka, or the Devil’s Stream, a quaint little canal that gives the area its nickname: Little Venice.
As you cross a small bridge over the stream, there’ll be a post-medieval water mill called the Grand Priory Mill on the other side, just about 50 yards away from the John Lennon Wall. At first glance, it’s simply a cute, quaint sight, but then you’ll catch sight of a strange figure sitting on the wooden platform beside it. Squint and zoom in, and you will see that it’s not really a human figure, but a googly-eyed, green-skinned goblin smoking a pipe.
His origin is rooted in general Czech folklore as well as the local legends of Prague. In Czech folklore, vodník is a water goblin similar to the vodyanoy of Slavic mythology: a green frog-like creature covered with algae, oftentimes dressed in flamboyant fashion. Some are good-natured, some are mischievous tricksters, while some are more malicious and may drown humans who wander near their territories. Either way, they love beer and locals would provide water buckets for them to stand in so that they could drink at Prague’s old pubs.
In Prague, it is said that a total of forty vodníci dwell in the Vltava, nine of whom call the Čertovka home. Kabourek, as the water goblin of the Grand Priory Mill is known, is one of them. In the past, he would help local fishermen find their day’s catch and keep their boats from danger, receiving tobacco in return.
The statue of Kabourek was created in 2010 by local sculptor Josef Nalepa, who was frustrated with the tourists’ tradition of leaving love locks in Malá Strana, which he believed was ruining the neighborhood’s beauty. His depiction of Kabourek is as a grumpy old goblin, who, like his creator, hates the silly tradition and would not hesitate to pull insolent lovers into the Devil’s Stream.