Archive for June, 2009

9:15 am

Prague Museum Night

Saturday was Prague Museum Night, an annual event when participating museums, galleries, etc. offer free admission from 7 PM to 1 AM; there is also free transportation provided. Besides their usual exhibits, many museums take advantage of the opportunity to open new shows or offer special accompanying events. Not surprisingly, a lot of people turn out with their families to enjoy the free offerings.

According to the program, 28 cultural institutions and 55 sites were taking part this year, and there were 9 bus lines starting from Náměstí Jana Palacha making great loops to different parts of the city to connect the locations. It made for an interesting variation to the "Traveling Salesman Problem"! I was able to make it to only four museums (mainly because of the crowds).

11:06 am

sv Tomas and The Augustine

My parish here is sv Tomáš.

(The church is tucked into an alley, which makes it difficult to get a good shot.) It was established in the 13th century and there is an Augustinian monastery attached to it. The summer refectory and cloister gardens are used for such gatherings as hospitality after Mass and the annual parish festival:

Father William claims that the cloister garden figures in the carol "Good King Wenceslaus": this is where the poor man was gathering his winter fuel.

The monastery, though, was built for dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of monks, but is now home to only six. This is a common story in Prague: there are dozens of churches and monasteries for which there is little or no need in this era. Rather than demolish them, however, they tend to be repurposed. And so some, such as sv. Mikuláš (both the Jesuit-built one in Malá Strana and the Hussite one near Staroměstské náměstí), are used primarily for concerts, and others, such as Klášter sv. Anežky České (the Convent of St. Agnes of Bohemia) or Klášter sv. Jiŕí (St. George Convent) have become museums.

Part of the monastery at sv. Tomáš, though, has now become a hotel. The Augustine is Prague’s newest 5-star hotel. The hotel also bought the recipe to sv. Tomáš’s beer (the monks stopped brewing it in 1952, although some guidebooks still contain references to it), and they’re serving it in their bars and restaurants.

I visited on Saturday, after Mass (about 7 PM). This is not a good time to be opening a 5-star hotel, and the place was largely deserted. When I visited The Brewery, located appropriately enough in the former monastery brewery, there was only one occupied table, and they left shortly after I arrived. I enjoyed a pleasant chat with the bartender, who was understandably lonely, poor girl.

I had a glass of the sv. Tomáš beer, which was tasty: dark, but not bitter. At 55 Kc (approximately $3) for 0.3 liter, though, I don’t see it catching on.

I also wandered upstairs to check out Tom’s Bar which adjoins the restaurant. It’s a beautiful space, but again only one table was occupied. It looked as though there was only one occupied table in the restaurant as well. I don’t know if live music is a nightly feature or only on weekends:

I wonder what Václav II, who established the church and monastery, would think of this.

10:30 am


Today, I visited Lidice, the village destroyed by the Nazis in retaliation for the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich.

The History in Brief

Reinhard Heydrich died on June 4, 1942 as the result of May 27 attack by Czechoslovak parachuters sent by the government in exile. Hitler ordered reprisals, commanding that, in any village involved in Heydrich’s death, the SS should:

  1. Execute all adult men;
  2. Transport all women to a concentration camp;
  3. Gather the children suitable for Germanization, then place them in SS families in the Reich and bring the rest of the children up in other ways; and
  4. Burn down the village and level it entirely

The choice of Lidice as the victim was somewhat arbitrary: reportedly there was a letter written that suggested some connection between Heydrich’s assassination and the Horák family in Lidice, who had a son serving in the Czechoslovak army in Britain. At any rate, on June 10, the SS descended upon Lidice and carried out the Führer’s orders. 173 Lidice men and boys over the age of 15 were shot in the garden of the Horák farm. The next day, another nineteen men who had been working in a mine, along with seven women, were sent to Prague, where they were also shot. The women were sent to Ravensbruck. The children, except for those selected for re-education in German families and babies under one year of age, were gassed at Chełmno in Poland; 82 died in Chełmno.

The village was burned to ground and the remains dynamited. Even the cemetery was dug up and the remains destroyed.

143 Lidice women (of 184) returned home after the war ended, and a new village was built nearby. By the end of a two-year search, 17 children (of 105) had been restored to their mothers.

The Memorial

If you can ignore the history, the memorial site is quite lovely. The main complex (gloriette, museum, education center, and in memoriam building) is a little bit south of the original village. The gloriette:

The museum has a multi-media exhibition that starts off with a brief film giving a history of Lidice and in particular the events of June 10, 1942. There are pictures and a few remaining artifacts of the village. Just before leaving the exhibition, there’s a film showing interviews with some of the survivors; this film is simply heart-breaking.

From the memorial site, looking north at the former site of the village:

The men’s grave:

The memorial specific to the men’s grave:

"The Woman with a Rose", at the site of the men’s grave:

The remains of the Horák farm, where the men were shot:

The Child Victims of War monument:

People have left stuffed animals and others toys at the monument:

The church was not spared; the museum exhibition has the door, but the rest was destroyed:

"The Grieving Woman" is next to the site of the church:

The school was just in back of the church and its site is marked by the "Mother and Child":

The former cemetery is at the northernmost edge of the former village:

Looking back towards the memorial from the cemetery:

There’s an extensive, quite lovely, and beautifully fragrant rose garden that runs from the memorial site to the site of the new village:

The collection at the Lidice Gallery is the result of efforts by an English doctor, Sir Barnett Stross, who appealed to artists around the world to donate exhibits. The Gallery is also home to the International Children’s Exhibition of Fine Art. The statue in front is described as "(recording) a male nude who is killing three vipers with a gunstock. It epitomizes (maybe German, Italian, Spanish or Japanese) fascism.

The new village is all perfectly ordinary.

I have to wonder, though, about the people who live here: it must be terribly creepy. I remember that, when I visited Terezín, the tour guide mentioned that property prices are very low there, since so few people wish to live in a town with such associations. Is that true here, too?

2:25 am

Ghost Tour

I finally got around to taking a "Ghost Tour" of Prague the other evening, courtesy of McGee’s Ghost Tours. (There are no pictures, as I still really haven’t mastered the art of night photography.)

This would really be a tour best taken on first arriving in Prague, as a lot of it was old hat to me. For example, the tour starts at the Astronomical Clock with the story of the blinding of the clockmaker (so that he couldn’t replicate the clock elsewhere). And some of the stories weren’t really "ghost" stories, although to be fair, the tour is billed as "Ghosts & Legends of Old Town".

Some of the new stories I heard were:

  • The Young Turk in Ungelt: Once upon time, a handsome, wealthy Turkish guard fell in love with a blonde beauty in a shop in Ungelt. Being devout, the Turk returned to his native land to receive the Muslim blessing to marry the girl. He begged her to wait, and she did. For years.

    Finally, she despaired and agreed to marry someone else. On the very day of her wedding, her Turk returned. Concealing his rage at her betrayal, he asked the girl to come away with him for just a moment’s private conversation. Feeling sorry for him (and perhaps a little guilty), the girl agreed. Neither girl nor Turk was ever again seen (alive). Some time later, a servant found the girl’s headless body, still dressed in her wedding finery, in a cellar in Ungelt. And now, the Turk haunts Ungelt, carrying the head of his beloved.

    A classmate of his saw the Turk late one night, claimed my tour guide.

  • Palác Kinských: This palace was built in the 18th century for Count Jan Arnost Goltz. One thing that makes the palace very special in the Old Town Square is that it doesn’t stand in line with the neighboring buildings; rather, it protrudes a bit into the square. The legend says that the town council didn’t want to permit the special position of the palace and so count bribed three councilmen in order to obtain the permit.

    (Ed. aside: This is an icky story. Consider yourself forewarned.) One night, just as the workmen had finished laying the foundation, they went to nearby pub for an after-work beer. They were approached by a stranger who told them that the land on which they were building was cursed and that the foundation wouldn’t stand. When they arrived at the work site the following morning, they found that, indeed, the foundation had crumbled overnight.

    That evening, they sought out the stranger and asked him what they could do. The land was cursed by a demon, replied the stranger, and the only way to vanquish it was to convince the demon that they were even more evil than the demon. To do this, they had to slaughter an innocent child and bury the remains under the foundation. The workers, in fear for their jobs, went to a neighboring village, abducted a young child, and buried the dead body under the foundation.

    The construction continued without further difficulties. The workmen, however, never again saw the stranger, leading to speculation that the stranger had itself been the demon, sent to lure them into evil.

    Coda: By the time the other city council members noticed the position of the palace, it was almost finished and nobody wanted to destroy it. Nevertheless, the count was brought to trial, but, because he had a permit, he was released. The three council members, on the other hand, were hanged in front of the palace. Let that be a lesson to city planning commissioners everywhere!

  • Three Roses House: This is currently the site of the recently opened Hard Rock Cafe. Long ago, however, it was home to three sisters of a wealthy and loving family. While their parents were alive, the sisters were much beloved. But after their parents’s deaths, they gave themselves over to vanity and idleness and extravagance. They bought expensive gowns and jewels and would sit for hours at the window, brushing their long hair.

    One day, a handsome prince from far away came to town and began wooing the older sister. They agreed to marry, and she packed her gowns and jewels and gold and rode off with her prince.

    Some time later, a dashing baron from a far country arrived and began wooing the second sister. They, too, agreed to marry, and she packed her gowns and jewels and gold and left to make a new home for herself.

    At last, it was the youngest sister’s turn to fall in love with a successful young merchant from out of town. And off they went, with her gowns and jewels and gold. And the house was left empty.

    The years passed, and the neighbors occasionally speculated aloud about the lives the three sisters must be leading. One day, an out-of-town visitor overheard them and set them straight.

    The sisters had each been wooed by the same man, in disguise, who murdered them as soon as they were safely past Prague’s outskirts! (Tell me you didn’t see that coming.)

As I said at the outset, this would be a tour better taken on first arriving in Prague. Even so, it was an enjoyable walk around Old Town and I liked seeing some of these familiar sights through this different prism.

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