Expat-terns at a Glance

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Picturing Prague's Past

I love Prague. Who doesn't? Judging by all us tourists, I think everyone wants to be in the Bohemian capital. The running joke is that now the Czech Republic is under yet another regime, the tourist regime. Lord, have mercy on the Czechs.

Either way, unlike Amsterdam and to a lesser extent Berlin, I could see myself here, and considering the already large population of expatriates, it doesn't seem like it would be too hard of a transition. Well, the Czech language would throw me for a spin, but I am sure with time it is conversationally speakable even for the most accent-clumsy language learners. So far of what I can see of Czech etiquette and culture, I am at home. But, more on my thoughts on living in the Czech Republic while I'm in Liberec (which I was told is gorgeous by a Czech woman here), for it is time to see Prague or Praha in Czech!

The Czech Republic's very own Martin Luther figure, Jan Hus led the Protestant reform movement in Prague much
before ML did his 95 theses and is now immortalised in the Old Town square. (Photo credits by PintsizedPioneer)

I cannot entirely go into the rich history of this region, at least not all at once. We took an amazing free walking tour (the Prague Royal Walk Free Tour to be exact) that touched on this place the best that can be done in a mere two and a half hours. The Czech Republic has such an extensive past of warfare, occupation, and social movements that just have now ceased into this new century; there are reasons why people can solely study Central Europe.

Defenestrations, burnings at stakes, and beheadings were popular forms of retaliation and punishment in historical Czech Republic. Bohemian history is "metal," especially in relation to the Old Town's square, which has been the centre for demonstrations, protests, executions, and anything that would draw attention to the region since its beginning as a commercial hub.

Literally just an impressive clock. Skip the crowds, you do have to see it chime.
Prague's famous Astronomical Clock. (Photo credits by PintsizedPioneer)
The main square of Old Town is centrally located in the city, and thus, it is easy to get all the major attractions on this side of the Vltava river out of the way all at once if you plan to explore more of the Czech Republic or just really came here to partake in Czech spirits. Additionally, a little walk away is the Jewish quarter.

First segregated by the Czechs, later unsegregated by the Czechs, and then ravaged by the Nazis, the Jewish quarter has been through a metaphorical marathon of persecution since its more or less racist inception in the thirtieth century. Now however, it is an upscale, affluent, and expensive neighbourhood of central Prague.

The walking tour did not awkwardly skip past the Holocaust related information about this area and the people affected. The Jewish population of these regions was statistically decimated by the Nazis, but this historic neighbourhood and the synagogues were spared as a result of Hitler's twisted plan to make it into a walkable amusement park/museum for the would be extinct race of Jews, filled with our relics and cultural artefacts to remember what the group once was through icons. Most of Prague was preserved mostly because A) the Nazis loved it here as a result of the culture, music, and architecture and B) the Allies had no "good reason" to bomb it.

Today, the synagogues are functioning but with one in particular being dedicated to the Czechs alone who were murdered during WWII, including an art exhibition of works made by children from the Theresienstadt concentration camp to the north, where art therapy was utilised by the imprisoned to express themselves before their impending fates. Visit the museum site here.

The Gothic style Old New Synagogue is said to house the fabled protector of the Jews, the Golem, in its attic.
Apparently, a Nazi guard who went up to find it there was never seen again ...
(Photo credits by PintsizedPioneer)

Dress warmly for Prague. Though more southern than Berlin, it is still a temperate climate and should  be tackled as such. Luckily, it is very cheap to shop, eat, and do most anything here, so do not be afraid to browse around and treat yourself to something warm and delicious during a stroll through these historic neighbourhoods on a brisk day.

After the Nazis left, the Communists came. Wenceslas Square was where the tanks rolled in one morning, the
location of the museum where student Jan Palach set himself on fire in protest, and where the sound of jingling keys caused the Velvet Revolution in 1989. Now, it is the heart of the New Town with western capitalism and
freedom of expression and speech taking hold through the vendors and artists in
the streets on pretty days. (Photo credits by PintsizedPioneer)

Czech history makes me very uneasy and empathetic; the Korean Peninsula has been under constant stress for centuries and has only recently entered into economic fruition. You forget walking through the streets here that it has been less than thirty years since the Czech Republic has been a sovereign nation, but as the tour guide Diana said, remnants of the past can still be seen in the culture and will persist until the new generations. Scars exist, and old wounds are still healing but are doing so now better than ever.

So, that was our brief Czech history lesson. More to come! We are heading to a castle tomorrow! But first, a little taste of Czech nightlife ... I head to the farm in less than 4 days, and judging from the train ride in from the north, it is going to be stunning to live in Liberec. I am enjoying may aspects of this country, the pragmatic culture, the gentlemen, and I am excited for the meaty cuisine! I am told there is a great place near the hostel to get traditional duck, and since food is cheap here ...

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