A city that has paid its ransom
17.02.2008 - 26.02.2008
How a city can regain its status as one of the most beautiful and cultural in Europe after being through so much despair, brutality and turmoil in less than a century is a credit to the strength of its inheritance.
Since WWI, Prague has been the punching bag and stepping stone of Communism, then the ravaging inhumanity of the Nazis occupation in WWII only to be thrown back into the depressed state of communist disrepair and cultural insensitivity.
But it has, and in the relatively short period since the Velvet Revolution in 1989 and the formation of the Czech Republic, the attention to detail that originally created such a wealth of architectural wonder has begun to shine through. There is still much to be done, but the signs of its abuse linger as a reminder, a vast monument of human against humanity, that itself remains its own form of culture.
The following is a small sample of Prague as it is today, a minute picture of life getting back to mundane normality, but in anything but a mundane environment.
Tourism is the predominant industry in the old centre of Town. But some lessons could be learnt in smiling, friendly, service and how to make a decent, drinkable coffee. The food is rich, fatty but rather tasty, roast pork, dumplings (ask for the potato ones rather than bread) and red and white sauerkraut is the local speciality and goes well with the great beers to choose from. Just like Amsterdam, smoking is part of the eating scene and dogs are welcome to sit with their owners while they dine, getting stood on occasionally with a sharp yelp and then dropping their load in the street at any time, which makes wandering the streets looking up at the marvelous buildings and spires a step, possible, in the wrong direction!
Prague Castle dominates the inner city and is one of the few castles that actually continue to perform official residential duties.
The broad Vlatava River that winds around the old town is reason for the beautiful bridges, the Charles Bridge being the most recognised, photographed and walked over and a sunny Saturday stroll across is accompanied by bands, performers, cartoonists, craft and souvenir stalls as the parade of imposing statutes perform a guard of honour.
Walking is the recommended form of transport within the older centre of town. A 2 to 4 hour walking tour will take you past most sights and attractions for you to revisit for a closer look later. There’s an extensive network of Metro, tram and bus services that criss-cross the city but the amount of walking in the Metro between platforms and staggering depth of the escalators just to get to or between trains may make you wonder if in fact you’re saving time or leg-power.
Terezin is the site of the Nazis prison camp and there ‘Final Solution’ were many Jews were interned under some of the worst brutality and conditions to ultimately vanished. The Smaller Fortress, while distressing, cannot fully reveal the horrors endured there and the irony is that on a cold, frosty morning the place takes on a rather elegant disguise.
The nearby Terezin Ghetto shows the signs of progressive disrepair and retains a sense of morbidity that still prevents many from living there, but there are people and a life among the hovering memories.
There is a lot more to learn about Prague and a lot more walking to be done.