I Speak of Lost Names – Prague – Day 2

I learned a valuable lesson last night.

After seeing a tall, dark, and frightening-looking figure in an alleyway, don’t hang up your black coat and scarf across the dark black room so in the middle of the night, you wake up, see the coat but don’t think it’s a coat but the ghostly creeper, and scream bloody murder. 
Not that I did that or anything. Just sayin’. 
St. Nicholas Church
Mala Strana

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. 

I will never open my eyes again at night. 
It’s Easter Sunday, so our intention was to visit one of Prague’s famed Easter Markets. We met for breakfast at Julie’s hotel, mapped out our route, and bundled up against the cold and half-sunny, half-cloudy day. 
We strolled down the hill of Mala Strana, picked up Starbucks – this Starbucks is in the basement of an old palace and has its own gothic hangout downstairs – before walking toward Stare Mesto and Old Town Square, easily spotted by walking toward the two spires of the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn. 
Traditional switches
Handpainting eggs

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!

Stare Mesto

Charles Bridge was alive with people, but not as many as would be teeming over it later in the day. It was still early, about 9:30, and not many were about yet. A chilled breeze urged us over the bridge and into Stare Mesto, eventually locating the gorgeous old square lined by cathedrals, restaurants, and palace facades. Little wooden huts appeared on the square, stalls for traditional foods, drinks, and crafts.   Huge hams smoked over open fire pits, Czech pastries called tdrlo (or trdelnik) rolled over smaller fires, and sausages sizzled on grills. Many of the stalls had tons of these Easter eggs and other tourist gifts. It was a feast for the eyes – and nose!

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. 

Our lunch was hot, mulled wine (in a takeaway cup!), sausage and dijon mustard on a roll, and another trdlo. We ate on a table in the square, admiring the beautiful scenery and wondering what our next move would be.

Trdlo

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!

Alright, I’m a tourist, but I think to think I’m a reasonable one, at the very least. I don’t stand in front of people trying to take pictures, I pay attention to “no picture” signs, and I can read arrows. Amazingly, arrows are the same in every language, even if people don’t realize that? 
After visiting the Town Hall, we gathered in the crowds downstairs to watch the famous  Astronomical Clock chime the hour. There are four main figures on the outside of the clock – Vanity (a man looking into a mirror, Greed (a man with a money back, originally Jewish but changed post WWII), Death (a skeleton which chimes the hour and flips its hourglass over), and Pleasure/Entertainment (a Turkish figure with a musical instrument). These figures were meant to represent what people disliked most at the time – sort of the anti-virtues of the medieval church. There are two years for its construction – 1410 and 1490.

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.

I’ve tried to include a video below of the Astronomical Clock chiming out the hour. Watch the movements of the four figures and the 12 Apostles coming up through the windows. Overall, it’s pretty cool to watch, but there is a lot of “That’s it?!” from the crowd because it really isn’t as ostentatious or insanely incredible about it.
Once it chimed the hour, we started to roam away from the square. Suddenly, we came upon yet another Starbucks, where we were able to find our Prague Starbucks mugs. The one closer to us only had Czech Republic mugs, and we wanted Prague. So, we picked up the mugs and continued to wander aimlessly through the medieval alleyways, trying to stay away from the crazy crowds of people. 
We passed the Chocolate Museum, which was turning out delicious delicacies as we stood by the window and watched, and the Wax Museum, which had a figure of Harry Potter and Hedwig in the window.
Our search took us to St. James Church, which was supposed to house a shriveled human arm from a thief who tried to steal the jewels from the Virgin Mary inside. According to legend (there are a load of legends from Prague!), the Virgin came to life and gripped the man’s arm so hard that he couldn’t release it. Several church workers tried as well, and finally, his arm ripped off him (I didn’t promise this would be a sweet, bedtime-for-children legend), dropped to the ground, and shriveled. He was jailed, of course, after trying to run off. I don’t think he made it very long after that. So, the church has the arm in a case on display. It was closed, unfortunately, even though I really wanted to see it!

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!

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