Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Prague Day 2

Don't worry, I'm not still watching the marionette man on Charles Bridge! (I've just been busy the past few days, vacationing nonstop and racing about to Targets fetching the Missoni items...)
I'm throwing some photos into this post (finally getting them off my camera) so be prepared, it will be long!

Our second day in Prague began bright and early. Once again we started off with an excellent breakfast (including these strange tea biscuit things L thought tasted just like chocolate chip cookies. My only response-I don't think she has any idea what chocolate chip cookies taste like...).

Jana, our walking guide, picked us up once again at 8:30 and we were off. We started out walking across Charles Bridge, passed another St Nickolas Cathedral (the one from the day before was way better!), checked out some of the original cobblestones from long ago (either 1000AD or 1600 AD, I cannot seem to remember). We walked to the Jewish quarter, passing fab shopping streets and admiring the architecture. (Prague is one of the few cities that was not bombed during WW2 so the buildings are all still intact. The communists appropriated everyone's property and moved people out to large flats and let many buildings fall into complete disrepair, however, they did not destroy the buildings. After communism (1989), people began reclaiming their property and fixing everything up. The few buildings that are still looking decrepit, all boarded up, are the ones that the ownership dispute has not been settled). One of the most beautiful streets reminded Mom quite a bit of a street in Spain.

Charles Bridge

fashionable streets-lovely architecture

The Jewish Ghetto:
Prague has one of the best preserved Jewish Ghettos in the world. It was established in the 1500s. For starters, Ghetto does not refer to a gangsta area-it was a neighborhood that Jewish people lived in. Jews were not always entirely popular in Europe. They lived differently than many people so the general population thought they were a little strange. Unlike Christians, usery (money lending) was not forbidden to them. They were often extremely wealthy and many people, including emperors and kings, were often in debt to them. They had rules and often had to live in certain areas of towns and pay a tax to the king (I'm puzzled as to why they did not try to go for the secretly Jewish thing). Generally, when the debts got too high, people would run them out of town, they whole ghetto would be expelled, etc. They were often accused of witchcraft and all sorts of devilry (people thought they drank the blood of young boys) and, as they were quite hygenic, escaping the worst plagues and such did them no favors with the other locals. They were some emperors in Prague that were more lenient with the Jewish people so Jews started moving in from all over Europe (increasing in numbers until the other people were quite nervous they were going to be taken over), and a strong Jewish community was established as early as the late 11th century.

Prague also has the oldest working synagogue in Europe. It was built around 1270. One leader of Prague allowed it to be built by a very wealthy Jewish man who had lent him a considerable sum of money. Twice, fires came up to the very walls, but did not consume the building.

the oldest working Synagogue in Europe and Mom's fabulous hat (I was very amazed when she would come out of her room each morning with a new head ornament-I cannot imagine how she packed them!)

Eventually (maybe the 1800s) the wealthy Jews moved out, the neighborhood became home to the poor and unwashed masses. Diseases became so rampant the city and the Jewish community agreed it must be rebuilt.
Today there are three synagogues, a few museums, and a cemetery. The cemetery was insane, talk about saving space! The Jewish law was that once a body was buried you could not move it, but, you could put a layer of dirt on top and bury another person there. So, the headstones are only an inch apart because they have so many layers of burial sites. In some places the ground rises quite high because they just kept on adding layers of dirt. Dad asked-are they still burying people here? we were all thinking-of course not, not since the 1800s (I think...) where were you for the entire tour? But it turned out he was only pointing out that the ground could still be raised. According to Fred (who we all know is quite the amazing packer of Uhauls), there is still room for many individuals to be buried there (the rest of us could not see it though). On many headstones there are little rocks. According to Jewish custom, people do not leave flowers, but stones, on the graves.

(yes, Fred is going to find more room here somewhere...)

After walking through the cemetery we headed into the museum in the Spanish Synagogue. The synagogue was amazing, rather Eastern and exotic feeling with lots of gold and mosaics. Around the top they have a Holocaust museum. Hitler's troops took all the belongings from the Jewish people here, and collected all of the important objects from their synagogues and carefully cataloged them. Rather than destroy them, as was done in other parts of Europe, he gathered everything together with the intention of creating a museum of an extinct race. It was absolutely horrific to see the photos of people at the concentration camps-the sort of gateway camp to all the others, called Terezim, was right outside of Prague. One memorial had the names of all the Jewish people from Czech Rep painted on the walls-of the 118,000 Jews living in Cz Rep before and during WW2, 97,000 were killed. Of the 15,000 children, 132 survived. There is one room in the museum that had paintings done by the children at Terezim. These were heart-wrenching. It is impossible to imagine the things done in WW2. While we were talking about these things, we could not fathom how people could have stood by and let this happen to their neighbors and friends. My mom had a quote from Edmund Burke-all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.

Later in the day Mom and I went to another Jewish museum that had furniture and articles and explained the life events, birth, bar/bat mitzpha, marriage, death, and day to day living. It was really interesting. They also had an entire museum on the charity group that helped organize the funerals-they considered it like the highest honor of all, the most popular and powerful society figures were all on the burial welfare committee (very strange actually).

After the Jewish quarter we went to Prague's Old Town to see the clock. A famous clockmaker made the clock, then, to prevent any other town from having such a wonderful town centerpiece, the government promptly blinded the clockmaker-hows that for gratitude. The clock chimes every hour, all 12 apostles come marching out, ringing bells and such, quite a site to see.

the unwashed masses out to see the apostles marching

 Old Town Square
Here we also saw the Jan Huss (sort of the Martin Luther before Martin Luther) memorial (O is his biggest fan ever!)

Ever heard of the Hussites? They were Jan's followers.

After this we walked through the New Town (which is really quite old) and finished our tour in the square where the velvet revolution took place-the students all came out and stood in the square to protest communism and it fell, called velvet because it was such a peaceful transition.

With our walking guide Jana in the square-I told them all before meeting her-I bet our guide has purple hair.

After a lunch-where we ate pancakes, goulash, etc, Mom and I went to the museums while the other three went home to play computer (I think). We met back up that evening, went to dinner (every meal Mom kept saying, we can go to McDonalds if you like. A few days later Dad told us he could go to McDonalds for every meal for the rest of the trip. I told him-to no avail-you did not fly all the way over to Europe to eat at McDonalds!)

Our little lunch tavern (I think I enjoyed goulash at least once a day on this trip).

some extras:

(St Nicholas' Cathedral where we went to the concert. Pity you cannot see clearly how St Nicholas is spearing some poor souls crawling around on the ground-I suppose there are worse things than a lump of coal)

Owen enjoying fried cheese (cannot go wrong there) and fake beer (which was absolutely horrid. Heard some scandalous tales of youthful folly-the things people suddenly open up about when they have been together for days on end...)

 The American Embassy-we had no idea Fred was so interested in politics until he told us he might try to get a job there when he retires.

Dum um Velke Boty-our hotel. Rick Steves said-just look for the geraniums.

Prague Castle and Charles bridge at night. Shortly after I took this, lanterns began floating up into the sky (and L's teary Rapunzel moment began)

Prague was magnificent-more photos to come!


Liz O. said...

Yay! Keep 'em coming!

Kristy said...

I loved revisiting Prague through your blog. It was an amazing city. My hats were very hard to pack, but I thought they would be good protection from the sun. The Jewish quarter was very sad to me. The cemetery was quite crowded. Remember how Fred and O had to wear those little black hats? Thanks for the post!