Yesterday: Berlin, Germany
*”Good Day” in Czech
I didn’t know a lot about Prague before I visited. Most of my knowledge came from the multitudes of people who told me how beautiful it was, and the play Rock and Roll by Tom Stoppard, which I saw with my dad a few years ago. On Sunday evening, Stephanie and I took a train from Berlin through the German countryside (and past Dresden, which I enjoyed as I was reading a novel by Kurt Vonnegut at the time) and into the Czech Republic. As soon as we arrived, I understood why people think the city is so beautiful. Even at night, I could see so many different kinds of architecture, which I love. Also, like Germany, most people we encountered spoke some English which was good because, unlike Germany, I don’t know a single word of Czech. We met up with Liz and Rachelle, who were coming in from Sevilla, and Jovita, who had spent the weekend in Amsterdam, and had a quick dinner before turning in for the night.
In the morning, we woke up early and went to Prague Square (just a block away from our hostel!) for a free walking tour of the city. If you’re ever in Prague, I highly recommend taking this tour—the guides (assuming they’re all as awesome as the one who led us) are incredibly entertaining and informative and if, like me, you know very little about Prague’s fascinating history, it gives a good overview of the important events and locations of the city. From Charles IV to the Hussite Wars and defenistration leading to the Thirty Years War to the Nazi occupation to the Communist occupation to today, Prague’s history is varied and interesting. There are also, as I said, many different styles of architecture, from the elaborate Gothic cathedral in Prague Castle to more modern styles like the Dancing House designed by Milunic and Gehry.
After the tour, we headed up to the most important landmark in Prague: the castle. First we got a fantastic view of the city from up on the hill, and then we walked around to the major sites in the castle: the cathedral St. Vitus, the St. George basilica, the royal palaces, and the lane of tiny, hobbit-sized houses that was once home to Franz Kafka. Speaking of Kafka, I knew that Prague was a city known for its culture, but I didn’t realize how many important artists throughout the past few centuries have important ties to the city: writer Kafka, composer Dvorak, poet Rainer Maria Rilke, writer Milan Kundra, and director Milos Forman. Others, like Mozart, were not born or lived in Prague, but loved the city as well.
After the castle, we headed down to Prague’s other most well-known landmark. The Charles Bridge is now as much a tourist’s street market as it is a historical site, with vendors selling things on the sides of the road and hundreds of people scrambling to have their pictures taken at various statues, but that doesn’t make the bridge any less interesting. We also visited the John Lennon Wall. During the time of communism, Western music was banned, so when someone painted Lennon’s face on a wall after he was murdered, it was an activist act. Since then the wall has become a showcase of messages of peace and love, and there are always a few pictures of Lennon drawn on there somewhere. The rest of the afternoon was spent wandering around the square and looking at more architecture. Then in the evening we checked out some of Prague’s nightlife, including a communism-themed bar. Well, the decor was communist-era themed, anyway; I don’t think the string of Top 40 songs coming over the loudspeaker would have fit in back then.
In the morning, we made it out to the square just in time to see Prague’s 600-year-old astronomical clock mark the hour. Look, I’m sure that the astro clock was an exciting masterpiece of technology 600 years ago, but there’s a reason it’s listed as one of the most disappointing tourist attractions in Europe. Apparently it’s #2 after the Mona Lisa, but I really enjoyed the Mona Lisa, so. Afterwards, we went to the Jewish quarter, which I’ll talk about more during my history post. We saw several synagogues and the Jewish cemetery. In the afternoon, after a quick lunch of street food at a festival in the square, it was back to the train station and back to Germany. This time we were taking a bus to Nuremberg, and then a train to Munich.
Tomorrow: Munich, Germany and Salzburg, Austria