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Two Days in Prague

July 21, 2012

The day after we got back to Prague, Thomas and I went into town to go visit the city. We actually live in Čelákovice, about 25 minutes by train from Praha 1, the Old Town. We caught the train into town and got to the Old Town Square in time to see the astronomical clock “do it’s thing” on the hour with bells and puppets in windows and a guy with a trumpet at the top of the tower. It’s worth seeing once, but after seeing it on numerous occasions since my first trip in 1997 I find it to be a little boring. I personally think it is overrated. But, when they get a tamed fire-breathing dragon to come out and ignite a bunch of fireworks that explode and light up the square on the hour I’ll be impressed.

Anyway, we walked around the town. We got to Prague early, which meant that all of the churches that line the square were closed. Because everything was closed I took Thomas to Wenceslas Square, which is never closed (though it is apparently a bit seedy at night). The square has a bit of modern history, and has been the site of the major uprisings against communism. In 1968 when the Russians invaded Czechoslovakia in a single day, bringing in 200,000 troops, the Czechs protested at the top of the square and the Russians machine-gunned them down. The building is pock-marked with bullet holes, and the dark stone of the building has white pieces in it. This is because when the Soviets repaired the damage they used light-colored sandstone, permanently showing the scars of Spring ’68. In 1969 Jan Palach set himself on fire at the top of the square to protest the occupation, and there is a cross dedicated to him where it occurred. We went up to the top of the square and looked to the square below from the National Museum. The museum is closed for a few years for renovation. Not having much maintenance in the last century, it was directly hit by a bomb during the only air raid of Prague in World War II (the Americans claim they mistook Prague for Dresden), and the machine-gun and sub machine-gun fire in 1968 also damaged the building. After the uprising in 1968 a four lane highway was built straight into the square to stop future issues, and Soviet troops stationed in nearby towns such as Milovice where there were 80,000 troops.

We walked down the square, and found the statue by David Černý that parodies the statue of Saint Wenceslas on Wenceslas Square, by having Wenceslas ride a dead horse. David Černý is a controversial artist, and his work has been debated and banned in some places. One famous example of this is Entropa commissioned in 2009 by the Czech Republic. Designed to be a collaboration of artists from all of the EU member states, David and a couple of his buddies completed the work themselves, creating fake artist profiles for supposed “contributors.” The piece is a map of all of the nations, each with its own theme to represent the country. Bulgaria formally complained to the Czech government, for it was represented by a bunch of squat toilets. Take a look at this video to see each individual country.

We walked to Charles Bridge and saw where Jan Nepomucký was thrown into the Vltava by King Wenceslaus for refusing to divulge his wife’s confession in 1393. The spot is marked with a cross and plaque, and there is a statue dedicated to him nearby.

The next day we went to Benešov to visit Konopiště Castle, the hunting palace of the famous Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose famous assassination on 28 June 1914 in Sarajevo started World War I. The Archduke Ferdinand was an excellent hunter, and his palace is filled with his trophies and his extensive collection of weapons. The Czechs also have a fun little tradition of putting bears in castle moats and making rugs out of them to decorate their castles. Adds a homely feel, no?

We went back into Prague, and as we visited Kostel svatého Mikuláše (St. Nicolas Church), my camera broke. After dropping it on the ground it began working again, so something must be loose inside of it I think…time to warranty it. We went to the Jewish Quarter and returned to Čelákovice.

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