Final Impressions

As my month long adventure in Prague, comes to a close, I have taken some time to reflect on the experiences throughout this trip.  Thinking back towards my initial reactions to Prague, I realize and understand that Prague cannot be defined merely through what one observes.  Prague especially cannot be determined in a short period of time.  Overall, Prague is an intricate place full of amazing history, a general excitement in the citizens, and a great place to study and experience.

 

The most surprising element of Prague has been the natural beauty.  Prior to arriving in Prague, I had only read and heard about the historical landmarks in the heart of the city.  Every list I encountered mentioned spots like St. Vitus Cathedral, the Astronomical Clock, or Wenceslas Square.  Even though I have spent plenty of time at these spots and find them beautiful and intriguing, the natural parks and green areas dispersed throughout the city, in my opinion, help to give Prague its very distinct personality.  Although Letna Park and the beer garden within is my most visited outdoors spot (as mentioned in the previous post), there are numerous other outdoor areas, both small and large, that are constantly used for recreational activities.  The run up Petrin Hill is one of the most beautiful (and difficult hills) I have ever run.  Reaching the top of the hill and looking out over Prague, whether it is in the still morning or the bustling afternoon, is an amazing site and I will remember the mental photo forever.  This past weekend, there was an event in Letna Park for Praha 7 Day (which is the area we live in).  A large portion of the people who live in Prague 7, as well as many individuals and families who do not, made their way to Letna to enjoy live music, great food and drinks, as well as everyone’s company. 

 

Another interesting impression that I believe I was initially incorrect about is in regards to the citizens of Prague.  Initially, I found many of these people cold and unfriendly.  No one smiled at anyone or made conversation while waiting for the tram or metro.  However, as I continued to experience the city, I began to realize an optimism and happiness in most of the people that we talked to.  Even though their faces may be lacking smiles, the majority of people I have met in Prague hold an extremely optimistic view on life, which I believe contributes significantly to the outgoing nature of the Czech people.  The Praha 7 Day allowed myself and a few others in our group the ability to see neighbors and friends get together in a public space.  I was able to observe the lifelong friendships that so many of these individuals had.  Most restaurants in Prague 7 were represented at the festival.  It was fun watching the owners of these restaurants interact with their loyal customers and good friends in the care free, outdoor scenario that the festival provided for. 

 

Perhaps the changes I notice as I get to know Prague better can be attributed to the changing weather.  The muggy, rainy opening week of this trip compared with the sunny, cool days that are currently occurring create two extremely different moods for the city.  The better the weather has become, the more people stroll along the Vltava and stop for a beer at one of the beer gardens.  Today, as we “strolled” home from our final Café Louvre brunch, we stopped at one of the smaller beer gardens along the Vltava that had a man singing and playing the guitar.  As I sat down and looked around me, all I saw were smiles and laughter coming from others sitting around me and from the paddle boats in the Vltava.  When I think about what Prague truly embodies, I feel that my experience at the beer garden today serves as an accurate portrayal: a city filled with a rich history, a care free culture, and a cold beer wherever you please. 

Letna Park and the Wonders Inside

The moment one mentions that he or she is going to Prague, the individual is immediately bombarded with places that he or she “needs” to go to, as these places are clearly “the best” places to go to while in Prague.  Traditionally, these places consist of historic buildings and cathedrals, famous bridges, and other historic sites.  However, places that are often left out, and in my opinion the best part of Prague, are the beautiful parks that are dispersed throughout the city.  In these parks, dogs and children constantly run free, friends and couples have picnics, and others (including myself) tend to congregate around the “beer gardens.”

My favorite and most frequently visited park is Letna Park.  Apart from the beauty within and around the park, it is a mere 10 minute walk from the apartments that I am staying at.  Therefore, Letna Park has become part of my daily routine; whether walking through, relaxing, or exercising, I seem to constantly find myself within the park.  However, I can find no reason to complain about that.  Even though the park is beautiful—filled with cobblestone roads, tall trees, and fresh grass—the views from the park are equally stunning.  The park is situated on top of a hill that overlooks all of Prague and is the picture that I send my friends when they ask to see where I have been living for the past month.   Another great part about Letna is the ability to escape from the big city feel of Prague.  The trees and the height of the park work to muffle the sounds of the trams and the afternoon traffic; replacing it with laughter and the barking of dogs.  Letna also serves as a great place to meet locals and other tourists, as there is always a nice buzz throughout the park. We have come across many individuals in the park that we have continued to keep in touch with. To further the accessibility of the park, there are many elements that have been added as the popularity of Letna Park has grown. One of these changes are the bridges throughout the park that allow it to span over streets, allowing the park to connect throughout (which has been extremely useful for running in the mornings).

A section of the park has been converted into a beer garden.  The Letna beer garden is my favorite beer garden that we have been too in Prague. Unlike many of the other beer gardens, Letna is not enclosed by a covering, as well as being situated along the running path.  Therefore, while at the beer garden, one feels as though they are still relaxing in the park, surrounded by everyone, rather than being separated.  It has definitely become one of the happy spots for both myself and many of my classmates.  Being able to sit down, look at the heart of Prague 1 with a group of friends is an unparalleled experience.  Letna Park and the beer garden within are places that I look forward to visiting again in the future, allowing others to share the same experience I have had within the park.

Cohabitation of Germans, Czechs, and Jews

ImageSimilar to many other areas, the mixed populations in Bohemia and Moravia, especially between the Jews, Czechs, and Germans, was filled with trouble and dispute.  Often, these disagreements are best portrayed through the wars and exiles that took place in the early and middle 20th century.  Today, individuals are able to experience and see first hand the changes that took place by travelling to small villages around the Czech-Republic and Germany border.   Furthermore, many novels also exhibit the tension and violence that took place between the Czechs, Germans, and Jews.  In Jiri Weil’s story “Mendelssohn Is on the Roof,” Weil attempts to describe the Nazi invasion into Prague and the events that followed, specifically the attempted extermination of the Jewish population in Prague.

Today, in the small village of Hartmanice, which lies about thirty miles from the German border, it is extremely quiet and gives off the feeling of being almost deserted.  With around two hundred and fifty inhabitants and a mere three or four restaurants, Hartmanice does not strike its visitors as a lively place.  However, in the “heart” of the city (next door to the lone hotel), there is an old synagogue, which was recently reconstructed from damage from the Second World War.  Inside the temple, the walls are covered with photos showing different areas of Hartmanice before the war and after the war, which coincides directly with the time that the Germans were expelled from the Czech-Republic.  Many of these small villages along the border, which had previously shown thriving communities, were suddenly abandoned (forcefully) by all of the German inhabitants.  Where there were once houses and pubs, today only the fields remain.  The changes that have occurred in the villages similar to Hartmanice result from the inability for these heterogeneous populations all throughout the Czech-Republic to peacefully cohabitate.

“Mendelssohn Is on the Roof” is written from the perspective of a Third Reich officer touring Prague.  Weir describes the take over of the city and expulsion of the Jews, justifying the infiltration of the Germans by uncovering the layers of German influence.  He claims it was “most certainly a German city […] erected by German builders”.  Therefore Prague is merely being returned to its rightful owners.  Weir continues that important places like The German House of Art, the statue of Roland on Charles Bridge, and the Jewish ghetto all came straight from the culture of Germany.   Since the Jews do not belong in the German race, the Jews also do not belong in a “German City.”

He also comments on the new form of warfare, which is much less face to face than he prefers.  Rather than being able to connect fist to jaw, warfare now consists of an impersonal list of “orders to bring about destruction”—far more impersonal.  While touring the city the Reich official did not go out of his way to meet any of the Jews, given that the Jews were not real humans to him, just mere numbers.  When discussing the genocide of the Jews, Weir portrays the Reich officials as emotionless and removed from the horrors of war, especially through their light hearted discussion of the number of exterminated Jews.

Through the scenarios that Weir creates, the insanity of the situation that was occurring is accurately portrayed.  The men never saw anything wrong with the extermination of the Jews, simply because they had it engraved in their minds that Prague was a German city and therefore should be returned to the Germans.  The Third Reich went as far as to deny the very existence of the Jews.  Through his story, Weir is able to accurately portray the relationship between the different populations in the early 20th century.

The Value of a Collection

The act of collecting and forming collections is extremely common.  While some people form collections for monetary value, others form collections merely for the joy and excitement achieved from having a vast collection.  However, while there are many collectors who enjoy having their collections on display in their homes or in museums, often displaying the collection itself is not the main draw of having a collection.  In many cases the value one finds in a collection is not achieved from the collection itself; rather, it is through the process of collecting that one finds true excitement for the objects being collected.  The protagonist (Utz) in Bruce Chatwin’s novel Utz, understands and falls under this concept of seeking the thrill of collecting  in his pursuit of a fine porcelain collection.  Utz spends his life escaping and then returning to Czechoslovakia as an almost prisoner to his porcelain—as the porcelain continues to draw him back towards the communist ruled country and away from his freedom.

Utz had a “passion for collecting exotica”.  However, even though he found thrill in the purchase and smuggling of porcelain, to some degree an obsession, as the novel progresses it seems clear that Utz did not necessarily have a passion for his collection itself.   On many of the occasions that Utz returns to Prague after trips abroad, his return was not for the porcelain fortune at home, but rather for his housekeeper/future wife Marta.  Utz “was desperately homesick, yet had not given a thought for the porcelains. He could only think of Marta.”  However, Utz believed that “Czechoslovakia was a pleasant place to live, providing one had the possibility of leaving,” which Utz luckily had.  Due to the known value of the porcelain collection at Utz’s home, the Communist regime actually lets Utz travel freely under the notion that his porcelain ensures his swift return back into their control.  Ironically, given that Utz has no real loyalty to the physical pieces themselves, the communist leaders were merely playing into Utz’s game of collecting.  In fact, Utz claims that “even if the Communists took the collection, he would non the less continue to possess” for he has already collected the pieces.  For Utz, the appeal of the collecting process brings him joy and value.  Utz claims that without the collection aspect, the pieces are merely “a lot of expensive junk.”  To experience the art is to collect the art.  An example of Utz’s thrill in collecting porcelain comes from him negotiating with the doctor on the price of “The Spaghetti Man” for hours.  “The object, he insisted” was not really in his line—although he would like it in the collection for the purpose of comparative study.”  Once again, it is not about the exact pieces themselves, but the act of collecting. 

In Utz’s mind, art behind the wall of glass imposed by a museum curator almost completely loses its value.  According to Utz, museums should be raided every fifty years to ensure the real owners are returned their property and collections—given that these people are the only people that can truly appreciate and value the pieces, as they are the ones who collected them.  Behind the glass casing in a museum, the pieces “cry for their release” as they are imprisoned and examined by those who cannot truly appreciate the pieces.  To Utz, these people are imposters to the collection, for they have not experienced the pieces beyond the wall of glass.  This idea of not being able to appreciate the art in a museum deems interesting.  In Prague’s Museum of Decorative Art, there is a vast collection of old (and somewhat rare) pocket watches.  Upon looking at them further, two immediately stuck out among the rest—a simple, but elegant platinum Patek Philippe and a slightly fancier IWC.  Both of these watches were originally sold in the early 1930s.  Although one who enjoys watches can appreciate these old, beautiful watches on display, Utz’s opinions hold true.  As one observes the vast collection, the mind ponders the story behind each particular watch.  Who originally carried the watch?  What was his occupation? Where did he live?  By being the actual collector of an item, there is little mystery to the backstory, ultimately enhancing the personal value to any item.  Utz would say that these watches are solely “a lot of expensive junk”.  Perhaps this is the reason Utz may have destroyed his own collection.  For once he is gone, the value of his collection also disappears as no one will know the true meaning behind what Utz collected.

Conversations with Locals

photo-5In my first two weeks exploring Prague, I have had the luxury of meeting many local residents.   Although these individuals vary in their occupation, ranging from student, waitress, and even metro card checker, each one of these people provided me with an interesting and distinct view of Prague, each one differing from the next.  I have discovered that there is not one true way to describe a Prague local; rather, there are many distinct and separate populations and personas.  However, regardless of the social and personal differences between these individuals, one thing that most Prague locals share is their love for beer.

The first person I met was a twenty-three year old Irish student named Dylan.  While heading back to the apartments after an afternoon break at a local cafe, Dylan overheard a group of us discussing possible activities for the night and the rest of the week.  Suddenly, an unexpected voice joined in our conversation to inform our group that the club we were talking about was too touristy.  In order to really enjoy the Prague night scene we needed to go to a different club, leading him to list several of his favorites.  Dylan continued, providing us with his own “must-see” list to help us explore Prague the way he believes it should be seen.   Although Dylan is not actually from Prague, he has called Prague home for the last four years as he is about to graduate from Charles University.  Dylan made sure to note that even though he has an academic major on paper, his real major the past four years was “Prague Beer.”  It was clear from our short encounter with Dylan that he truly has fallen in love with Prague, especially when he informed us that he plans to make Prague his permanent home.  According to Dylan, everything that the city has to offer is great.  Even though he is originally from Dublin, when he meets new people he already claims to be from Prague.  Towards the end of our conversation, we asked Dylan to tell us the absolute must sees of Prague.  Dylan told us that even though it is critical to see all of the sights Prague has to offer, he truly recommended taking advantage of the pub scene Prague has to offer.  He said his favorite activity was frequenting different pubs in order to explore and taste different beers from all over Prague and the Czech Republic.  As Dylan hopped off the tram (a few stops before us), he made sure to mention that even if you do not enjoy beer before visiting Prague, you did not do Prague correctly if you leave without loving it.  Since then, I have taken his advice to heart and made it my goal to find the best beer in the Czech Republic.

The second individual I had the pleasure of conversing with is one of the waitresses at Café Louvre, Lucie.  Lucie, who is 32, is a native of Prague.  Interestingly, Lucie’s attitude towards Prague differed greatly from all of the other individuals I have had the pleasure of speaking with thus far.  Upon asking Lucie what it is like living in Prague, she quickly responded, “horrible, awful, I hate it here.”  I was amazed.  At this point, I had not heard a single negative comment towards this city.  Then again, I had yet to speak with a local, working class citizen of Prague.  I continued to delve deeper into why Lucie did not enjoy living in Prague.  Once again, with little hesitation, Lucie began to complain about the cost of living combined with the cost of food, especially when she was only making the wages that she (and most other working women) are making.  Lucie continued to tell us about how different Prague is today than it was 20 or 30 years ago.  Before, even though people were working hard and were by no means wealthy, individuals still had enough money to go on vacations and to take advantage of their days off.  Now, however, Lucie feels that people must constantly be working in order to guarantee the next house payment and the next meal—allowing little to no time for one to enjoy oneself.

After hearing this, I asked Lucie why she does not move to another place.  “It is too late” she sadly responds, as she begins to tell me how she had always planned to move to a place like England, Greece, or Germany.  Nevertheless, due to family reasons she chose to stay in Prague and take care of her family.  I learned that Lucie has committed herself to taking care of her niece—in order to ensure that the little girl is raised in a loving home.  As Lucie described her niece her eyes gleamed with both pride and love, showing us pictures of the two of them in Lucie’s favorite place: the zoo.  Lucie’s story and our conversation truly touched me and I hope to be able to converse with her further upon the subject matter, to gain a better grasp of the side of Prague that is not always advertised in the open.

Franz Kafka: The Judgment

            Franz Kafka’s The Judgment focuses on Georg Bendermann and a series of events that take place in his life revolving around informing his friend, who lives in Russia, about life back home.  The reader quickly learns that the friend grew up with Georg; however, it quickly becomes apparent that the two men are opposites.   The Judgment and the letter that Georg writes to his friend also serves as an exploration of his thoughts regarding his romance with Fraulein Frieda Brandonfeld.  Perhaps, the impending severed relationship between Georg and his friend represents the fear of Georg losing his bachelorhood, being forced to give up the life that he has grown accustomed to in order to start a new life with his fiancée, Fraulein Frieda Brandonfeld. 

            Georg, through his inner contemplation regarding his friend, provides details about both his life and his friend’s life.  The reader learns that Georg’s friend left home for Russia for a business venture, which was initially successful, although it is now a failing venture.  Georg, on the other hand, is currently experiencing the opposite in business; business is currently thriving, as opposed to previous years (prior to his mother’s death).  Furthermore, the friend “had no regular connection with the colony of his fellow countrymen out there and almost no social intercourse with Russian families, so that he was resigning himself to becoming a permanent bachelor” (Kafka 101).  Clearly, Georg and his friend are opposites, however, what are the reasons for Georg to maintain conflict with his friend?  Perhaps he feels guilty.  In fact, he consults his wife about this, telling her “he would be hurt, perhaps he would envy me and certainly he would be discontented and without being able to do anything…he would have to go away again” (Kafka 104).  Nevertheless, Fraulein Frieda Brandonfeld convinces Georg to invite the friend.  

            As Georg prepares the letter to invite his friend to the wedding, he consults his father to question him on his opinion on Georg sending the letter.  Georg’s father begs Georg to tell him “the whole truth” as the matter of the letter is “a trivial affair, it is hardly worth mentioning, so do not deceive me” (Kafka 107).  Georg’s father continues telling him that his friend does not exist; this matter is far deeper than a friend that Georg created for himself to hide and make excuses.  Georg creates this friend to attempt to cope with the need to rationalize his marriage for himself.  Upon enquiring as to whether he wants to invite his friend to the wedding or not, the reader begins to see Georg draw himself into a subconscious disagreement with himself.  By not inviting his estranged friend to his wedding, Georg exhibits a number of concerns with his upcoming future life.  Although he has pushed these concerns out of sight, he nevertheless still holds them within.

            Ultimately, Georg’s battle with himself is in regards to the transition into a new way of life that he will soon face.  The arguments with his father and the information that his father shares with Georg help to outwardly exhibit the mental breakdown that Georg is currently having.  At the end of the story, Georg hurdles himself over the bridge, showing the inability for Georg to make a clear decision, showing the reader the true nature of Georg and the underlying attributes that life changing occurrences can have on a person. 

Medieval Prague

            The St. Vitus Cathedral is an immaculate Cathedral filled with masterful works of art, meaning, and history.  Situated within the middle of the Prague Castle (Pražský hrad), St. Vitus Cathedral serves as a key landmark to Prague, allowing it to be one of the top tourist attractions within the city.  However, unlike many tourist attractions, St. Vitus not only lives up to one’s expectation of a traditional Cathedral, but the beauty of the Cathedral, both inside and out, far surpasses many of the traditional Cathedrals upon which tourists visit every year.  In all of the works discussed thus far in the class, each author has not only mentioned it, but also focused on the Cathedral—especially as a prominent place in Prague’s past and its future.            

           Although all of the texts place focus on St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague, I See a City places the most emphasis as a thorough description to the meaning and significance of many of the aspects of the Church.  Hodrova brings up many details that one seems to overlook, if one does not understand the story and significance of many of the Saints, which the Cathedral honors, throughout the story.  Perhaps the most outstanding place in the Cathedral is the Chapel of St. Wenceslas, where the relics of the saint are said to be kept.  Therefore, a large amount of the focus of the Cathedral is dedicated to Wenceslas and his family members.  One of the prime examples of Hodrova’s description of underlying aspects of St. Vitus Cathedral lies in her description of one of the mountainous stained glass windows that surround the church.  In this particular window, Hodrova looks out at two particular images within the window.  In the first Hodrova sees a “young Wenceslas…having his hair cropped on the altar steps of the cathedral, as had been the custom in…princely families since pagan times” (Hodrova 8).  Wenceslas is said to have prepared the sacrament of Christ, Wenceslas himself reaping the wheat and turning the grapes into wine. 

            The next picture Hodrova sees (as she continues to move across the stain glassed window) is the murder of Ludmilla, who is strangled with a veil torn from her own head.  The final scene Hodrova sees is the murder of Wenceslas himself, murdered by his own brother.  The picture, however, holds an important detail to Wenceslas’ murder, for “as Wenceslas flees towards the church which might afford him refuge, one of the priests closes the door against him” (Hodrova 9).   Hodrova next describes Charles IV crowning Wenceslas with the jewels that now sit in a “chamber above the Chapel of St. Wenceslas, which is approached by a secret spiral staircase and is protected by a door with seven locks” (Hodrova 10).  In fact, the seven keys, to this day, are dispersed throughout important members in Prague and the Czech Republic, who all must come together in order for the jewels to be obtained. 

            Hodrova’s description of the scenes within the windows provides important information regarding the history and the importance of the Cathedral.  To understand the significance of Wenceslas, one must understand the pictures depicted—a task unobtainable if one does not know the true story of Wenceslas and his family.  In my experience within the Cathedral, I was fortunate enough to have a tour guide who explained the significance of the window to me.  Once I came to understand Wenceslas, my entire view of the Cathedral shifted.  Rather than merely being a beautiful and exquisite house of God, I now understood the deeper meaning of the Cathedral, allowing myself the luxury of understanding the Chapel of Wenceslas and the artwork that accompanies much of the artwork and names on the walls of the Cathedral.

            Further into the novel, Hodrova is once again in the Cathedral.  In this instance, she is in the chapel at night. Suddenly the doors open and “enter a procession of priests with burning candles…The cathedral is dark, only the vestments and silvery bald heads of the old men gleam in the flickering flames of their candles” (Hodrova 35).  Now that the reader understands the significance behind the Cathedral, Hodrova places the reader within the Cathedral amidst a religious experience—showing a second side to the Cathedral.  Although I did not experience a service within the Cathedral, having read Hodrova’s description before my visit, allowed me to imagine and see a procession similarly through my mind—an experience that would not have been possible without Hodrova’s description of both the meaning behind the Cathedral and the visual image of a procession within the Cathedral.  I hope to eventually return to the Cathedral at night and experience the awing effects of the grand architecture in the moon lit sky. ImageImageImage