Prague: Home of one of the most interesting cemeteries I have ever seen
June 19th to 22nd
After our early morning misadventures, Meghan and I made our way to the hostel once we were reunited and then set off to explore the city. There were some free walking tours and decided to go on this tour. (I highly highly recommend doing walking tours in any city - you learn so much you would not otherwise, and it's great to help you orient yourself when you don't know the place!) And so we spent the majority of the afternoon on the walking tour, learning about some of the fascinating history of the city.
Now, I don't know much about many places, Prague being one of them, and loved learning about some of the history that was covered, and seeing the sites. One of the most interesting things we covered was the Jewish history. As I have learned throughout the duration of my trip, the Jews have a horrible history in Europe. It seems that wherever they are, they are blamed for something negative or that they are treated horribly. In Prague, we walked through the Jewish district, and near a cemetery. The tour guide told us that this little cemetery contained thousands of gravestones, and thousands more bodies. This area was the only area the Jewish people were able to use for a cemetery as they were restricted to the amount of land they could be on, and as such, the cemetery eventually was going to fill up. In order to fit as many bodies on the site, they would dig the holes very deep, lay in a body, cover it with a thin layer of dirt, and add the headstone. Then, when another person passed away, they would lift up the stone, lay the next body on top of the one already there, add another thin layer of dirt, add another name to the headstone and put it back. And repeat and repeat and repeat... In some places, there are as many as 14 names on one headstone. Another interesting thing about Prague was that in World War II, the city was quite well preserved. This was due to the fact that Hitler wanted to use it as his 'cultural centre' and he wanted to keep the Jewish District intact to use as a museum dedicated to an extinct race in the future. That man had a sick mind. How one person could ever wish to use a part of a city as a museum related to a race he wished to destroy is more than I can even fathom. On a different note, Prague is also home to one of the most overrated tourist attractions (according to our tour guide) in Europe! Which is the big clock in the city centre. On the hour, this clock basically puts on a show. Some things move and a guy plays a trumpet after the clock ticks. While this is going on, tons of tourists are all watching eagerly while their cameras are snapping. And it's really not that exciting. I could understand how 400 years ago when the thing was built that it was amazing, but for this day and age it isn't. But, being old and downtown Prague, it still draws lots of attention! So, as you can see, we learned some really interesting facts on the tour, and we also got poured on! Not so much fun...
For supper that night we got some food from a little stand in the Old Town of the city. They have a bunch of food vendors set up on one of the main squares that sell beer, cider, sausages, potatoes, and so on. So we had some delicious potatoes for dinner. Anyone in Prague, I recommend trying the food in that square (right by the overrated clock)!
Exhausted from our misadventures in the morning, we didn't stay out late and instead just took it easy that evening. Which was perfectly fine by me!
The next day, we went to explore the area around the city's castle and to visit one of the Jewish Synagogues. One our way to the castle, we came across a statue dedicated to the time of communist rule. The statue (there were actually numerous ones in the installation) started off with a whole body. The statue behind it was missing a piece of the body, the one behind that missing more, and so on. I thought it was pretty interesting, and one of my favorite statues so far. It was not the most impressive as far as art work goes, but the significance of it was represented really well, which is what I enjoyed about it. Once at the castle, we had a fantastic view of the city as the castle sits atop a hill. You can look out over the city for quite a distance. Spectacular view. So we wandered around the castle area for a bit, and then headed down into the Jewish district to visit the synagogue. This synagogue attracted us because it had an area dedicated to artwork drawn by Jewish children during the holocaust period. At the time, the Jews here too were restricted in their lifestyles and forces to life inhumanely. At one point, a woman started art classes for children and youth, but close to the end of the war (if I remember correctly) she was taken to a concentration camp. Before being sent off though, she managed to collect many of the pictures the children had drawn, place them in two suitcases, and bury the suitcases. The suitcases were recovered after the war and some of the drawings are now on display in this synagogue. Also, the names of the 80,000 Jews from Prague and area who were killed during the holocaust are all listed on the walls of the synagogue. It is overwhelming to walk into the building and see name after name after name of those who were murdered. They also have the dates they were born and died, so as you read the names you can see how old they were. It makes your heart heavy to see it. We also visited the Jewish cemetery that had been talked about the day before on our walking tour. It is simply unreal how many headstones have been placed on such a small plot of land. The cemetery was used for 300 years, from the 1400's to the 1700's I believe.
Having enjoyed the potatoes so much the day before, we decided to stop for more food from the vendors at the square the second day. This time we tried a dessert sort of thing. It's pastry cooked on a trundle that rotates over the heat so it cooks evenly. Then it's dipped in sugar. It was good, but not nearly as good as they smelled! And for dinner, bratwursts! That evening, we decided to be adventurous and go out for some drinks, but after one beer we realized how tired we were and headed back to the hostel. Yeah, we aren't exactly huge partiers, Meghan and I!
The next day it was back on a train, off to Berlin!