Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The beautiful Prague - Part 3


This last piece is going to cover all the parts of Prague that I didn't cover in the previous two posts. It will include a really creepy story about a piece of rotting human body hanging on a church wall, a haunted tomb, the Jewish district and the multi-layered Jewish cemetery, the story of human divide caused by religion and the surprising twist at the end, a few weird statutes, an interesting building, and a shout out to all the friends I made whom I cherish a lot. 

If any of that sounds really interesting, keep reading because I promise this post will have something interesting for all of you! 

The Haunted St. James Church, the story of the 500-year-old Hung Arm, and the tomb of doom:

Our really awesome tour guide, Callum, decided to use some of us to hilariously tell the story of the arm. If you're in the mood for a good laugh while watching a haunted story getting played out (who isn't?), click on this video I shot of us on the day of our tour:


I really do recommend you watching it. It's really funny! 

The other story is that of the tomb of Count Vratislav of Mitrovice. He was accidentally buried alive after he was pronounced dead. Churchgoers reported hearing screams during the ceremony but decided to ignore it. When the tomb was opened later, they saw scratch marks on the inner side of the tomb which indicated that the count had come alive and screamed for help that went unheard. This story seriously gives me the chills! 



*For those of you in countries with no access to Youtube, here's how the story of the arm goes. A thief enters the church and pretends to pray. He then hides in the church and waits for everyone to leave. When finally at the end of the day the priest locks up and leaves, the thief jumps out and starts stealing things off the shelves. When all of a sudden something catches his eyes. That thing was a pearl necklace worn by the statute of Virgin Mary up on the altar. He climbs the wall and goes to grab it when all of sudden the statute comes to life, grabs his arm leaving him hanging mid-air, and then goes back to being a statute. The thief spends the whole night hanging there in pain. So the night passes and when the priest opens the door in the morning he is shocked as to what he sees. He immediately calls on the town executioner and they decide to cut off his arm instead of cutting the arm of the statute and hang it there for others to see so that it is a lesson to anyone who thinks of stealing from the church ever again! The arm is actually still hanging there to this day, all dark and rotten, a reminder of the very creepy unreal story! 

Josefov (The Jewish Quarter):


As many times as I visit parts of modern day cities which were once isolated and segregated to house a certain race, religion, or nationality, it never becomes easier for me to digest the fact that segregations like this existed and exist to this day. Having to leave my home country due to my religion not being accepted as one and being constantly discriminated against and stripped of my basic rights, things like this resonate closely with my heart and they truly pain me. The story of the Jewish quarter in Prague has a happier ending than Anne Frank's house in Amsterdam, as it has actually became one of the wealthiest areas in Prague and it is one of the very few places where Jewish history was actually deliberately conserved. It does still have signs of the pains and hardships that Jews had to endure during the time of the Nazis; but what is beautiful is to see the ability that human beings have to build something beautiful out of the ugliest of times and places.

What's really interesting and fascinating about Josefov is that it has the most number of preserved Jewish buildings, artifacts, and history pieces from all around Europe. The reason is that Hitler himself actually decided to preserve all of these buildings and pieces because he envisioned that Josefov will serve as a museum of "the extinct race"!!! His ridiculous mindset actually had the positive effect of leaving us behind with many pieces of Jewish history to this day. This is truly a reminder that everything happens for the reason and good things always come out of what might seem like the worst of situations :)

Walking through the streets of Josefov
Old Jewish Cemetery:

The existence of the neighborhood of Josefov is the result of the forced removal and relocation of Jews to this area by the order of Hitler himself. Due to its closeness to the Vltava river, it was naturally prone to floods and hence it was a muddy and smelly area to live in at the time. In fact, the neighborhood was the worst and least desirable area of town. As time went by, Jews whom were extracted or fleeing from other countries such as Germany or Spain were also stationed in this area, making one big community of Jews crammed in a very tiny area. Although this resulted in a remarkable sense of community, it also gave birth to a very interesting cemetery. Since the many occupants of Josefov were not allowed to live anywhere else in the city, they were also not allowed to not die anywhere else in the city. As additional purchasing of land was not allowed, they started buring bodies one on top of the other, resulting in a 12 layer cemetery which is now referred to as the "Old Jewish Cemetery". This has become a topic of many scholarly debates, as well as a very popular place to visit and pay respects to. We didn't go inside, and I would not have since I am really afraid of cemeteries and ghosts (the one we visited in Paris was more than enough for me), so I do not have any pictures for you guys. However, google old Jewish cemetery in Prague and images will come up that depending on your likes and dislikes can make you excited or really creeped out. 

Synagogues:

There are 6 synagogues in Josefov. Two of the most famous ones are the beautiful Spanish Synagogue and the Old-New Synagogue (yes, that's actually what it is called. It is the oldest version of the newer synagogues, so obviously it makes sense for it to be called the old-new). Spanish synagogue, as some say, is known to be the most beautiful synagogue in Europe. The building is now used as a museum and a concert hall and is owned by the Jewish Museum of Prague.

Spanish Synagogue in Josefov
The Old-New Synagogue and the legend of the Golem:

The old-new synagogue is the oldest synagogue in Prague and for that matter, all of Europe. Originally called the New or Great Shul, it was not until the establishment of other synagogues in the late 16th century that it came to be known as the Old-New (Altneuschul). Legend has it, however, that its foundation stones were brought by angels from the destroyed Temple of Jerusalem “on condition” (Heb. Al-tenai) of their return upon restoration of the Temple. The Old-New Synagogue enjoyed tremendous respect in Prague’s Jewish Town and in Jewish communities abroad. It also became enveloped in numerous legends and tales. According to one legend, the synagogue was protected against fire in the ghetto by the wings of angels transformed into doves, which is why it has remained miraculously intact to this day. Another legend has it that the attic of the synagogue is home to the remains of the Golem, the artificial creature made of clay that was animated by the Rabbi Loew in order to protect the Prague community (synagogue.cz). 

Franz Kafka, his story, and the statute dedicated to his memory:

Franz Kafka was born into a German-speaking Jewish family in Prague. He never took on a career as a full-time writer, something that he regretted throughout his life. At the time, there was a huge conflict between German and Czech-speaking Jews. Czech-speaking Jews despised the German language due to what was happening and the ones that knew how to speak it, generally tried to not flaunt it. Although Kafka was fluent in both languages, he wrote his stories in German. Most of his pieces were not published until after his death. Those pieces were published because of his best friend who turned in the works to a publisher, despite Kafka's wishes asking his best friend to destroy all the works after his death. This is because Kafka did not consider his work worthy. He is now known to be one of the most influential authors of all time. Czechs are definitely proud of him and respect and uphold his memory. 


Plague marking Kafka's birthplace in Prague
Jaroslav Rona, famous Czech sculptor, built this sculpture appropriately titled Memorial to Franz Kafka to pay tribute to Kafka. It is located close to Spanish Synagogue in the Jewish district. The small man is a representation of Kafka. This image of a man carrying another man on his shoulders, walking through the streets of Prague, appears in Kafka’s story "Description of a Struggle."
As always, being that it is yet another weird statute in Europe, it is rumored that touching the tip of the shoe of Kafka is good luck. Hence, this weird pose and the shoe losing its shine and color.

St. Nicholas Church at Old Town Square: 



The Church of St. Nicholas in Lesser Town, Old Town Square, is the most famous baroque church in Prague. It is truly beautiful and definitely captures your attention while you walk around the city. Today , the church functions as a church and a venue for concerts and similar events. The church took about 100 years to make and is made by three generations of Dientzenhofers, father, son, and son-in-law. The church is considered to be one of the most valuable buildings North of the Alps and despite the fact that no creepy stories are linked to this particular church, you are going to be impressed visiting it (Especially if you are a fan of beautiful churches in every country, like me) and is a site you shouldn't miss while in Prague. 



Rudolfinum:


Rudolfinum is currently the home of Czech Philharmonic, which hold their concerts in the beautiful Dvorak hall. It also hosts other small concerts and galleries in its smaller halls, which are all very beautiful. It was built in the 19th story by two famous Czech architects, Joseph Schulz and Joseph Zitek. There's actually a really cool and funny story linked to Rudolfinum. During the 1940s Nazi occupation, the building was restored for the Germans to use. The building has many beautiful statutes on its roof and one of those was that of composer Mendelssohn-Bartholdy. Reinhard Heydrich, SS-Obergruppenfuhrer who was later assassinated in prague in 1942, orders two of his men to go on top of the building and remove Mendelssohn's statute because he was a non-Aryan!!! Basically, he says go destroy a historical building by destroying the statute of a genius who is by the way German but I don't consider him to be human, because I am [insert appropriate word]. Ok, so moving on. His men go up and start destroying the statute which they believe is of Mendelssohn, but wait for it, is actually of Wagner who happens to be Hitler's favorite composer. Fortunately for the men and somehow for history, the mistake gets recognized quickly enough and the statute of Wagner remains unhinged to this day.

Many will argue that a concert, any concert, at Rudolfinum is a must. I will argue that on a student budget, any concert is not a must, but if you do plan ahead and are able to get seats at a descent price for the Philharmonic that you should definitely go.


And finally:

There is still, obviously, a ton more to Prague than I will be able to squeeze into 3 parts. However, maybe not everything needs to be shown here and some should be left for when you go yourself and take a fun walking tour to explore more of the city. However, I will put up a few more pictures of some places with a short description for you guys in case you still feel like you need more guidance. I would also like to give a shout-out to the friends I made during my visit there which as I mentioned I still try to keep in touch with and made my time there absolutely amazing. Some of them I have no pictures of, but here's a shout-out to: Ola, Nate, Scott, Judyta, Mariana and the rest of the Brazilian gang! (I hope I'm not embarrassing anyone here)

Me and Ola - night out on the town :D
This fun sign at a cafe we stumbled upon walking through the streets of Prague looking for a different club. It's so easy to get lost in Prague!!!
Me, Ola, and Nate with our bottle of Becherovka (a drink similar to Jaeger, but more intense and completely herbal), walking in freezing temperatures in Prague. The beginning of a really fun and perfect night out ending with Scott and I trying to find our way back to the hostel at 6 am! 
Ola and I on her last day in Prague at Art Hole Hostel, right before I headed out to Kutna Hora with Nate.
My favorite group of Brazilians adopting me as part of their own and taking me with them for a night out :)
Houseboat U Bukanyra, a bar inside a boat on the water. Our tour guide recommended this place and we decided to check it out. Walked in and tried to walk out looking as cool and collected as possible. Heard a lot of fun things about this place, but whether or not it was our luck that night, the only people there were ahem…really old "gentlemen" and really young "ladies" in an… ahem… really dark room with some old school 90's music playing in the background. 
For my vegeterians out there…do not despair! It can be hard to find hearty options in Eastern Europe as their traditional diet consists mostly of meats. A very good vegetarian restaurant exists in Prague called Lehka Hlava and they have delicious food. Try it out!
The old square christmas tree in the Christmas-market in the early hours of the morning
Photo credit: http://praguepost.com/166-expats-in-cz/38034-top-10-strangest-statues-in-prague

The "empty cloak" statute, is a statute of a ghost located outside of the Estates theater where Mozart performed the premier of his Don Giovanni opera. The statute represents the II Commendatore character from the opera. Despite all of the creepy stories and statutes around Prague, this one is actually the least creepy one. It sits quietly behind the theater and is open for tourist pictures. 
Photo credit: http://www.superbwallpapers.com/world/the-dancing-house-prague-12114/

The Dancing House by Frank Gehry - I actually didn't get a chance to see the building by myself, which I definitely am sad about. But my sister did and she loved it and I think this picture definitely does it justice.

Ok, so it's really hard to cover such a beautiful city in 3 posts. I might have missed some places that you're interested in or didn't say enough about some places that I did cover. I would love to answer your questions in the comments section, so leave me some below. It also shows me that you enjoyed what you read. Thank you so much! :)

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