Let me admit one thing-there are places we’ve gone on this trip which I never planned to go. Not that I didn’t have a good time, just that they weren’t high on my “must do before I die” list. You can probably imagine the places. Then there are the places I wanted to go that Danny didn’t and vice versa. Prague was on a third and more select list: places we both were dying to go.
So, did Prague live up to its expectations? In one word, yes. Although the weather was awful and the only day with sunshine was the day we left, we still loved the city. Without a doubt architecture and culture are what make Prague beautiful. Fortunately the center of Prague wasn’t damaged as badly as other European cities during WWII, so much of the original buildings and work still stand. I happen to be a huge fan of Art Nouveau, which left me usually looking up instead of down, studying the beautiful and ornate buildings around me.
Not all of Prague is nouveau though and we had plenty of time to explore the Castle and its surroundings. Unfortunately several sites within the castle were closed on our visit, so we didn’t get to see some of the main attractions. The famous clock was running though, and although the show was a bit “boring” by modern standards, the skeleton shaking the bell did make us crack a smile.
The history of Prague is a long one though, and the Jewish Quarter tells a long story of the Jewish presence in Bohemia. No where else have we seen Jews intertwined so much with a cities identity and history. For us it was remarkable to see not only historical synagogues, but also the various examples of Judaism’s influence in the culture and architecture of Prague. Like the rest of Europe, a large percentage of Czech’s Jews were killed during the Holocaust, but their legacy lives on in the buildings and monuments around Prague.
Perhaps the most interesting part about Prague is it’s recent history. The first of a few former Soviet block nations on this trip, I was captivated by the recent revolution and the story of Jan Palach. A 19 year old student, Jan and his friends protested the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia by setting themselves on fire. As the first to go, Jan’s death sparked huge protests against the invasion and he became a martyr for freedom in Czechoslovakia. In his memory, anti-communist demonstrations continued in Prague until the Velvet Revolution in 1989. At the day we visited a memorial to him and another student, there were flowers and candles at the site. What struck me the most about their story wasn’t their bravery or their fight against tyranny, it was that the students, more than 40 years later are still recognized as national heroes for taking a stand against their occupiers. To me, that says a lot about the character of this country.