Ahoj from Prague,
Prague is a picturesque city with much to attract the tourist. M. (In this context dear reader, for “M.” read “Nuvolari”.) was itching to get behind the wheel of a car and we hired one for the week. She’s been driving the little red bubble and I’ve been navigating. I read the maps whilst she negotiates the plodding (only 100km/hour) juggernauts and the speeding bullets on the Autobahns. Note carefully here, I deliberately refrain from assigning an adverb to either party’s performance!
The Czech Republic is an interesting case study of the nation state. Like East Germany, it appears to be grateful to have thrown off the yoke of the Soviet masters. The events of the Prague Spring definitely left a sour taste in the mouths here. The Museum of Communism (next door to McDonald’s!!) is very well patronised and everyone reads all of the interpretive signs assiduously and intently. The general theme is less one of loss of hope but more a sombre celebration of the passing.
The area was ruled for many centuries by a bloodthirsty royal family, including the Good King Wenceslas. Prague – or Praha as the locals prefer to call it – means ‘doorstep’ in the Slovak language. Legend has it that a princess had a vision of a city and ordered it be gazetted on a particular spot on the Vltava River (Remember, this is the land of the spared vowel.). The builders went to the allocated place only to find a person at their home, making a doorstep. The analogy seemed to work and still seems to.
There are numerous striking examples of magnificent architecture in the city, especially the old town area. Like the rest of Europe, there are many castles in the Czech Republic. These imposing vestiges of feudal times are both within the city and without. We travelled to Bohemia in the north of the country to see a few of these. (Yes, the area was called Bohemia! There was definitely no sign of Scaramouche or Be-elzebub. What was Freddie Mercury on about? ) The castles are invariably built on rock outcrops and tower over the countryside. The entry fee for one was 60 Kron (It appears the Czechs have failed to sign the Maastricht Treaty.) for humans and 20 Kron for dogs (!).
In Czech Republic, dogs are ubiquitous; some leashed and others free. They are even welcome – perhaps tolerated – in restaurants. The other evening, a dog at an adjacent table was tall enough to stand at the table and take food from the surface. (eh?!) I would have thought there were good hygiene reasons for animals being barred from eating places.
The Bohemian Paradise (as it is referred to by tourist places) is full of cyclists who drink beer at 9 am (Beer is cheaper than water here.) and use a terrific network of cycleways through the green countryside. Everywhere you look here in the Czech Republic is green. They are either having a very good year or else they receive lots of rain. The soil in the north is clearly very fertile and the string of conic mountains suggests volcanic soil.
Today Prague is the playground (Yes, I’m suitably embarrassed by this cliche!) of the German tourists in their thousands. I imagine many of them are returning to their homeland for a curious look. (Many Germans were ex-patriated immediately after the second world war.)
There are classical music concerts often. It seems you could throw a stone and hit a beautiful venue hosting such a concert. (Is that another cliche?) We saw a concert at the Municipal House, which is an arresting structure of great grandeur. I couldn’t help – perhaps unfairly – comparing it with facilities of ours such as Angel Place Recital Hall. This one puts Angel Place firmly in the shade – and there are quite a few more of them!
We are staying in a hotel called The Cloister Inn. The building was constructed – so the helpful sheet in our room says – in 1933 with a view to house and educate homeless girls. During the Communist regime it became a police station and today a hotel. There was no attempt to explain which regime eliminated the need to accommodate homeless girls.
We decided to venture out to Berlin and sped up the Autobahn with all the trucks and others. I kept trying to recollect the 1970s song by Kraftwerk but gave up when I recalled the fact that it was a tuneless electronic piece with meaningless, repetitive lyrics. (Do you think the band will want to hire me for their next critique?) Berlin presented to us as a city not so much at work but busy receiving large numbers of tourists. The museum at the remnant of the Berlin Wall is very well done, and of course very poignant. Perhaps the best aspect of it – for me – was the fact that the wall was perceived as a concomitant outcome of the terrible war campaign: one more horror in a long line of them. Checkpoint Charlie is also maintained as a tourist attraction, including two guards (presumably American). I can’t be the only one who perceives that as a waste of money.
The way the landlocked Czech Republic bloodlessly parted company with Slovakia and the continuing observance of national borders provides an interesting study in the nation state. Is it really the best way to organise things? Since we’ll be in the Balkan states – where they grapple with this question all the time – in a few weeks, I’ll save further discourse on this subject until then.
Rozlouceni from Prague