Long Study Tour: Prague Memory and Identity

For the first week of my three week break I went with my class to Prague, Kunta Hora, Holsavice, Budjevice, and Cesky Krumlov.

In Prague, the weather was chilly and cloudy but the city was so amazing that I barely noticed. Prague is a city that just breathes history, culture, and majesty. After learning about Prague, Czechoslovakia, and the Czech Republic in class it was exciting to see these pieces of history up close and personal. Prague is described as the “city of gold”, “city of a hundred spires”, “the city of lost time”. The Czech Republic has a dark history of population transfer of Czechs and Germans, Nazism, Communism, and more. So much has been covered up and so much has been forgotten, yet so much remains. Prague shines with the gold of architectural marvels as endless numbers of towers and spires intersect the sky. Prague is the city of fingers reaching to the sky, trying to grasp something bigger, something incomprehensible. These people are always searching for an identity a place to belong. Isn’t that what we’re all trying to do anyway?

“With fingers of a musician. With the intoxicating fingers of women lying on their backs. With fingers touching the stars. On the abacus of night. With fingers from which evening gushes with tightly closed fingers.”– “City of Spires” by Vitezslav Nezval

So much to see, so much to do. My classmates and I attended some lectures, saw the Kafka and Mucha museums, explored the palace, met David Cerny the controversial sculptor, saw an amazing view at the top of the radio tower decorated with Cerny’s babies, ate dinner on a ship, and just explored. Approaching springtime in Prague means trees just waiting to burst and bloom, shops screaming kitsch and warmth, and final snow descending during a peaceful stroll over the Charles Bridge. I was pacified by the fact that I would return soon with Mom.

After three days in Prague, our class set off to the surrounding towns in the Czech Republic. Driving through the country-side we visited smaller villages, pockets of memory forgotten after the cultural revival post-Iron curtain. We stopped in Kutna Hora, once a great medieval city from the gold rush, with a magnificent cathedral that now sticks out like a peculiar mistake in the rural landscape. We visited the interesting Oscillary, or Bone Church, with the interior constructed completely out of human bones.

Another bus tour took us to Holsovice, a small preserved Bohemian village of 140 residents that was nearly wiped out by the plague and the German transfer. The weather was strange. A mix of snow, sleet, and rain that became icy dip’n dots pelting our heads. But as soon as we stepped into the village, the clouds parted and the sun lit up the tiny town square. It was almost magical. The town was small, almost miniature and perfect in a deserted Disney world way. Creepy but pretty. Kristen and I petted the softest and sweetest puppy in the world and I took amazing pictures of Easter eggs decorating tiny shrubs. Easter in the Czech Republic is a quaint and non-religious occasion that presents itself in pastel decoration and intricately painted eggs. It is a celebration of spring and better weather.

Here are my journal thoughts on rural Czech Republic, the type of area my family comes from: “All that remains is the bare bones of 40,000 assembled plagued bodies, chicken coops, snow-lined fields, peeling paint in a marble castle. Prague is a touristy facade of perfection, a band aid covering a long and sad history. The painful past hovers like the patches of forest intersecting the pasture.”

On a happier note, we toured the Budweiser Budvar Brewery in Budjevice and tasted some delicious unfiltered beer. I really like beer. Especially Czech beer. Kozel anyone?

In addition to Prague and the smaller village visits, our group stayed in Cesky Krumlov, a small Czech town with an amazing fortress and charm. We were able to get into the Schiele exhibit which was amazing. And I could see why Schiele was so drawn (hahah pun!) to the city. Looking down from the palace tower you can see everything. Asymmetrical buildings seem to layer over each other like toy building blocks. It is beautiful and packs a powerful punch of color. Each building had character. Especially the random dungeon bar we found on our final night together as a group. We danced the night away to Queen and had the best time. I loved Cesky Krumlov and would love to return.