Quick Trip to Prague 2017
Chester and I left Budapest, Hungary and took the train through Slovakia to Prague, Czech Republic. When I asked the train conductor what country did we just pass through he said, “Slovakia.” And then I realized – when I was growing up studying world history the country was called Czechoslovakia and on January 1, 1993, Czechoslovakia dissolved and became Slovakia and Czech Republic.
After WWII, Russia took over Albania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Poland, and Yugoslavia. These countries became known as Eastern Europe.
Prague is a Unesco World Heritage Site. The city has been in existence for 1100 years. In the Middle Ages, Prague was one of the leading cultural centers of Christian Europe. Prague University was founded in 1348. In fact, everything seems to have started in the 1300s like the buildings in the Castle District (my Neruda Hotel) and the Medieval Pub where we had lunch.
Founded during the Romanesque period, flourishing by the Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque eras, Prague was once the capital of Bohemia. The Kings of Bohemia also ruled Moravia, Silesia, Lusatia, and parts of Saxony, Brandenburg, and Bavaria. As you can see this area has changed names many times over history.
Prague is magical and mystical. It is an enchanting fairy tale city. Bohemia-Austrian poet and novelist Rainer Maria Rilke’s work is described as inherently “mystical” (1875-1926.) He is one of their famous authors. The art of puppetry is alive and well in Prague. Puppets and marionettes are recognized as a key element of national culture and are truly amazing.
Legend says that Czechs lived happily in Czech lands around the Rip Mountains. The new leader Krok had 3 daughters. The youngest, princess Libuse, ruled after her father’s death. She had a vision. Standing on top of Vysehrad Hill overlooking Vltava River, “I see a large city whose fame will touch the stars!” She directed builders to build a castle across the river and name the new city Praha. Praha is Prague in Czech.
Immediately, Prague felt enchanting and charming. Although it was crammed with tourists, mostly Chinese from mainland China, I kinda fell in love with it. Along the Charles Bridge are important statues.
I didn’t realize Prague was the fairy tale location for Chinese weddings. Asian couples arrived from China daily to have their wedding photos taken on the Charles Bridge with the fairy tale castle in the background. Hundreds of Chinese lanterns were released nightly as part of their wedding ceremonies. Fun Fact: it was said that when Walt Disney saw the castle in Prague it inspired his castle design at Disney Parks.
I’ve gone to court! The magnificent castle – and it is truly amazing – took 600 years to build. It started Gothic with flying buttresses – they added Renaissance – spectacular doesn’t begin to describe it. During the Russian intervention, tourism was on a “special” invitation-only basis. Today you can barely see the buildings blocked by a sea of International humanity. Mid-day visit in the summer is super hot and chaotic. But… visit anyway. I was told that evening when the twinkling lights come up is the best and most quiet time or first thing in the morning.
The guide explained that the grand churches were built when people didn’t trust religion. Times were tough so magnificent churches were erected to give regular people hope that they too could get closer to God and riches.
Prague is known to have thresholds to other realms. The city area has been considered a powerful energy vortex. Prague has always attracted various mystics and many esoteric societies and lodges were established here. Charles IV, the first Bohemian king to also become Holy Roman Emperor, believed that Prague was the New Jerusalem, and built the city based on astrological, astronomical, and alchemical symbolism. The later emperor and spiritual seeker, Rudolf II., continued his legacy and turned Prague into the esoteric center of Europe.
The city is said to have a strong, protective shield, and that’s why each time someone tries to harm it, the energy of destruction bounces off. This could explain why it hadn’t been destroyed even during the biggest wars. Hitler, who was clearly an occultist and worked with dark magic, must have been aware of this, as he spared Prague, and actually wanted to make it his place of residence. He wanted to use the power that dwells in the city before it turned against him. Due to the magic shield, Prague may not be beneficial to all the people living there. (notes from Iva Kenaz’s blog)
Our guide said Golden Lane holds the magic so I immediately headed there to explore the artisan cottages.
The magical mystical portals of the castle grounds were at the Golden Lane, an irregular strip of land between Romanesque walls from the 12th c. There are 3 defense towers. In 1597 the “Red Artillerymen” asked the Emperor for permission to build little rooms. The little houses began to expand. It was a super cute little alleyway where I spent a few hours exploring.
Some people believe that in addition to standard homes, there’s a special one that is visible only occasionally. When entering, it takes you to other dimensions. The Invisible Prague by Gustay Merink refers to it as the House at the Last Lantern. I looked but couldn’t find it. It must have been invisible that day.
Up until the departure of the last tenant in 1952, the community was very colorful. At first, it included employees of the castle and later it housed craftsmen and eccentrics. Each home has been re-created to how people lived as tradesmen in these cute little houses. I bought a replica of an old-time wind-up watch and whenever I wear it I say, “I am on Medieval time.”
The houses are numbered and each has a story. House Number 22 was the home of Franz Kafka from 1916-1917, who rented it from his sister. Here is where he wrote “The Country Doctor.” I bought a copy of his book “Metamorphosis” at the house gift shop. Hardly any of his work was published in his lifetime. He wrote in German.
Number 14 is the Little House of Psychic Matylda Prusova lived. Before WWII Madame de Thebes, Prague card-reader and fortune teller, whose real name was Matylda Prusova, wife of the local pharmacist, predicted Hitler would fail. She was arrested by the Gestapo and eventually tortured to death.
A Medieval Tavern is from the 13th c. The Medieval Tavern where we had lunch is the oldest pub in Prague (1375.) The waitresses were dressed as wenches. The waiters in rags. “Welcome stranger, to our tavern, we will treat you with tasty dishes and offer you drinks. Beer, wine, mead or clear water will moisten your thirsty throat in our noisy tavern. You came to the tavern from the 14th century, so do not be surprised if the staff uses your name or is shouting around. The behavior is a little rough, however, all of them are good-hearted. They will take care that you have a comfortable table, full stomach and then you leave the tavern much poorer then you came. Whenever they call you farmer, knight, or robber they do not mean to offend you, it is just the Middle Ages. King Wenceslav IV, Rudolf’s alchemists, the executioner Mydlar, W.A. Mozart and Jaroslav Hasek all used to drink their pints of beer here along with rogues and fraudsters.”
Every evening we walked back and forth across the Charles Bridge. The bridge is believed to be special when it comes to astrology and constellations; Charles IV consulted his astrologer and ordered the stone to be laid on July 9, 1357 at 5:31 am.
The town hall Astronomical Clock (built 1364) is perhaps the most well-known astronomical clock in the world, with four moving automatons (including a skeleton ringing his death knell for each hour), and rotating statues of the 12 apostles. It displays Babylonian time, Old Bohemian time, German time, and Sidereal time. It also shows the moon’s phases and the sun’s journey through the constellations of the zodiac. The calendar dial, just below the clock, shows the day of the month, the day of the week, feast days and allegorical pictures of the current month and sign of the zodiac.
The clock also has a dark history. Rebuilt in 1490 by clockmaker Mikuláš from Kadaň. Such was the reputation of his craftsmanship that Mikuláš was approached by many a foreign nation, each wishing to have its own town square topped with a marvelous astronomical clock. Mikuláš refused to show the plans of his masterpiece to anyone, but word got back to the Prague Councilors. Overcome with fear that Mikuláš might build a bigger, better, and more beautiful clock for another nation, the Councilors had the brilliant clockmaker blinded, ensuring that their clock would never be topped. Driven mad, the clockmaker took the ultimate revenge, throwing himself into his extraordinary work of art, gumming up the clock’s gears and ending his own life in one stroke. In doing so, he cursed the clock. All who tried to fix it would either go insane or die.
The Gothic hall of the Old-New Synagogue has been a house of prayer for over 700 years. It is the oldest surviving medieval synagogue of twin-nave design and Europe’s oldest active synagogue. Completed in 1270 in the gothic style, it was Prague’s first gothic building. The older Old Synagogue was demolished in 1867 and replaced by the Spanish Synagogue. I also visited the beautiful Spanish Synagogue and the Maisel Synagogue.
For over 300 years the Old Jewish Cemetery was the only burial ground for Jews. It remains its 1478 Medieval size of 12 layers deep because Jews can’t be moved once buried. There are over 12,000 gravestones. There was something so tranquil and surreal about this cemetery that I found myself haunted and hung out here for hours in meditation.
Understanding gravestones: from the 16th c. onwards, tombstones in the Jewish cemetery were decorated with symbols, denoting the background, family, name or profession of a deceased person. Blessing hands – the Cohen family. A pair of scissors – a tailor. A stag – Hirsch or Zvi family. Grapes – blessings of abundance.
RABBI LOW AND THE GOLEM
The scholar and philosophical writer Rabbi Low, director of the Talmudic school in the late 16th c, was also thought to possess magical powers. He was supposed to have created a figure, the Golem, from clay and then brought it to life by placing a magic stone tablet in its mouth. The Golem went berserk and the Rabbi had to remove the tablet. He hid the creature among the Old-New Synagogues rafters. I had a strange experience in front of the location where the Golem is supposed to be. I was doing selfie videos. I did 3 of them with the building in the background (I did not know this was the exact location at the time.) When I went back to my room later I realized the videos were only still photos with a ray of strange light across my face (see my image earlier in the blog.)
Cafe Louvre was Prague’s Cafe Society hangout. It was visited by the cream of Czech Society or those who had contacts in the arts or literature or worked in the world of science. To Prague writers, it was also their office and allowed them to be seen and get phone calls.
A must-visit is the famous Dancing House. Designed in 1992, completed in 1996. It was designed by the Croatian-Czech architect Vlado Milunic in cooperation with Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry. Gehry originally named the house Fred and Ginger (after the famous dancers Fred Astaire and Giner Rogers) – the house resembles a pair of dancers but this nickname is now rarely used. Gehry himself was later “afraid to import American Hollywood kitsch to Prague”, and discarded his own idea. We went to the rooftop for a fantastic city view.
Rainy last night in Prague – farewell Europe!