Central Europe in a nutshell: Prague
Visiting cities in Central Europe – from Strasbourg to Brasov and from Milan to Copenhagen – can be like listening to Strauss’ waltzes: at some point one feel the need to pause the player and say `OK, I got the idea !`.
Of course, this is a very minimalistic statement and I don’t support it myself. However, you will admit there’s a certain amount of reason in this `seen-one-seen’em-all` approach when talking about Central-European / German / Austrian (call it whatever you like) cities. Those who find this approach very reasonable would probably like to deal with the original – well, Prague is definitely it ! The one city among them all to best explore the square-place-paved-in-stone-with-a-baroque-church-on-one-side-and-two-dozens-of-Jugendstil-buildings-on-the-other-three-plus-a-Gothic-cathedral-downtown type of Central-European city.
By all means Prague is much more than that, but that’s because all the others are less than Prague. I came to Prague with high expectations and I must admit I was only dissapointed by the cold and gloomy October weather (but I hear they are working on it for the next summer).
In order for a city to be a nowadays’ successful touristic attraction, it seems it should have been a capital of an empire at least for some time in its history. This theory appears to work pretty well for many of Europe’s most popular city-break destinations: Vienna, Rome, London, Paris, Istanbul, St. Petersburg, even Budapest if we relax the definition of an `empire`. It is somehow the case for Prague too, since it served – unofficially and briefly – as capital of the very fluid and conceptualized Holy Roman Empire.
Prague is displaying today more than a thousand years of history, civilization and culture. From proto-Slavs to Jews, from Middle-Age German spirit to modern Czech revival, from stone bridges to steel and glass buildings, from Nazi holocaust to Soviet and communist holocaust, from beer to ice-hockey (often bundled), from Mozart to jazz and New Age – Prague has it all. Therefore it’s hard to present in an organized way all these aspects within one single blog post. But since I like to do it the eclectic way, I’ll just invite you to roam through Prague for a little while. Pictures will do most of the job, while your guide will keep the talking to a minimum.
I don’t have a particular route in mind, but I feel I should begin the tour with a picture taken from the Vyšehrad Hill, as Smetana’s six tone-poems cycle, Má Vlast / My Homeland (of which Vltava / The Moldau is the most famous) begins with the soft harp chords of Vyšehrad.
Here, at Vyšehrad, I found out that the capital of a landlocked country has a marina. Now I don’t find that strange any more that Hungary, another landlocked country, once had an admiral as a ruler…
There’s also a toy museum inside the castle. Considering the entrance fee, now I regret I didn’t keep all the toys from my childhood…
Municipal Theatre, where Mozart’s Don Giovanni world premiere took place in 1787. For this reason, Prague positions itself as a `Mozart-city`. I would note the harsh competition in this market segment: Salzburg and Vienna are tough competitors. Salzburg is Mozart’s birthplace, Vienna is the headquarters of Mozartkugeln !
Tombstones in the Jewish cemetery, the place where, according to a fake but still popular tradition, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion originated. The story proved a mystification and was publicly exposed as such many times, but in vain for those who still need to believe in the theory of world conspiracy.
I would have liked to take some pictures inside Pinkas Synagogue too, but it was not allowed. On its walls, the names of over 77.000 Czech Jews murdered by Nazis are written. To me, it reminds somehow of Sighet Memorial in Romania- another memorial filled with the names of thousands of victims: the victims of communism. I find it strange and frustrating that Jewish martyrdom is widely recognized, as it should be (you can even go to jail if you deny the Holocaust), while the communist holocaust is regarded as a trivia, even in the former communist countries (if you deny the communist holocaust you will be seen as trendy, fancy and open-minded !)…
The triumph of Jugendsil eclecticism – Masarykovo boulevard and its buildings. Šitkov water-tower at left.
Deep metro station at Republic Square. The guy with a blurred face doesn’t seem very happy about me taking this picture, as he and his boyfriend must interrupt their making-up for a few seconds. Speaking of metro: I am a big fan of the closing doors announcement in the Prague metro trains: `Ukončete prosím výstup a nástup, dveře se zavírají`.
P.S. – You may wonder why I spoke so little about beer. Czech beer is very good, but with that kind of cold and rainy weather we got in Prague, the best beer I had was a glass of hot wine…