|St. Nicholas Church
The first thing I did in the morning was remove the offending black coat from the hook and laid it over the chair, realizing that I would never hang anything on that hook again. There’s just something unsettling about a 14th century building with dark hallways and equally dark rooms that gives you the heevie-jeevies even if the walls are painted white.
On our way there, we stopped by a shop window where a woman was painting eggs, a traditional Czech craft from the early pagan days when eggs meant fertility rituals and not the “renewing of life” that Christians changed it up to be. We watched her paint the delicate surface of the egg and looked at the selection of beautiful, hand-painted eggs and little muslin chickens embroidered with tiny stitches of color. We bought up a few of the creations, and then I noticed the stand by the door filled with birch switches, braided together and tied with brightly-colored ribbons. These switches were for men, who were supposed to whack the legs of their wives/girlfriends/women in general to “beat fertility” into them. Awesome. But I swear if I got hit by one, I’d grab that switch and crack the infertility into the offender. Ain’t nobody got time for that!
I picked up a trdlo and walked around the square, watching people take horse-drawn carriage rides (I wondered if I could hire one as a taxi to take us to our hotel?) and others pick over the eggs to see which ones they wanted. We poked in and out of buildings and churches surrounding the square. We did our shopping, finding beautiful sets of eggs to bring home, and simply people-watched as the square got busier and busier.
Since the Old Town Hall was right there, we decided to go up into the tower for a great view of the city. I hate heights and won’t climb a lighthouse, but I’ll go up stairs from the medieval period and hold on to those balconies just fine. I don’t get it. It was worth the admission price, mostly because there was a lift to the top of the Hall. The view of the market and the city was amazing, even if the tower was crowded with tourists. Dang tourists – seriously! Follow the umbrella, la la la!
The 1490 legend has it that the clockmaker was blinded by council members who didn’t want him to replicate the clock in another town; in return, the clockmaker was said to have disabled the clock so no one else could get it to work. The word has it if the clock is tied to the fate of the city; if the clock is damaged or broken, then the city will be as well.
We also tried the English-language bookstore across the street, but it too had its medieval wooden doors closed to visitors. It was Easter Sunday, after all, so most of the churches were closed for services, and some of the smaller shops were closed as well.
It was rather quiet as we walked north from the square toward another part of Prague called Josefov. This was the Jewish Quarter of the city, and since I am a person really interested in WWII and Holocaust history, I thought this would be worth a visit. I picked up tickets to view the synagogues, Old Jewish Cemetery, and the small museum there.
Despite Krystallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) during German occupation of Europe, the Jewish synagogues of Prague were never destroyed. This was confusing, since many of them were ransacked and bashed up by the Nazis. One synagogue finally explained why in a chilling memo: the Nazi regime had decided to keep the synagogues intact as a “museum of an extinct race.” That made the hairs on my arm stick up.
The most compelling part of the visit was the Pinkas Synagogue. On its walls were the names of the tens of thousands of Jews who “disappeared” during the Nazi era. The person’s name, birth date, and date of disappearance were listed. In one room, the names of the major death camps were listed. During the Communist era, the names were painted over, but people have slowly but surely begun to repaint the names on the wall, in a painstaking manner. The low-lit walls spoke of lost names, people who never came home, people who were “disappeared.” The Memorial of the 77,297 from Bohemia and Moravia.
The synagogue also contained artwork from the children at Terezin. This certainly cemented our desire to visit Terezin, which was only an hour’s bus ride from Prague. Again, with nearly all the names of the children were the words “died in Auschwitz.” Artwork that never made it to a refrigerator of a proud parent. Just to a museum for others to see. For others to ponder. For others to change things in the future.
After visiting the synagogues and the cemetery, we started back toward our hotel. It was a long, chilly walk back over the river, locating the Shakespeare and Sons bookshop by the bridge. We picked up some reading material, souvenirs, and then grabbed some pastries for dinner instead of a full meal.
Another night to listen to CNN news and to pray that “creeper” doesn’t show up in my room!