Lucky, lucky you, city of Prague! This glorious city has survived over 1000 years of wars, crusades, reformations, revolutions, fires, and even communism. It is one vast, open-air museum of architecture over the ages, straddling the beautiful Vltava River, bedecked with numerous parks and gardens, and populated by the “smiling devils,” the most sophisticated and cynically intellectual people the world has ever known. Prague has known tragedy, but that has only served to build character. When the tides of empire surged through Bohemia, they arrived at Prague, were awed by the beauty and self-assurance of this magnificent city, and left it unscathed.
Prague is big. It’s also hilly. With only one full day to explore its treasures, Karel and I decided to give e-bikes a try. These are just like regular bicycles, except they’re equipped with an electric motor that kicks in when you start pedaling. It has a range of about 50 km (30 miles) and you can zip up those hills without breaking a sweat. E-bike tours and rentals are a relatively new, undiscovered phenomenon in European cities. Also, the weather was a bit rainy, which meant we lucked out and had to share our two knowledgeable tour guides with just one other tourist. We zipped from monument to palace to church, up through parks, and down through the old quarter, while our guides regaled us with stories of history, vanity, and day-to-day life. It was exhilarating!
One of the funnier stories (not precisely true, but who cares? It’s quintessentially Czech) concerned the concert hall. Atop the building were large statues of famous composers. During the Nazi occupation, it came to the attention of the German officers that one of the statues was that of Felix Mendelssohn who, although converted to Christianity later in life, was born of a prominent Jewish family. The commanding officer ordered some Czech workers to take the statue down. But which statue was Mendelssohn? The workers took a break for lunch and discussed the question over a few beers. After considerable debate and consumption of alcohol, they concluded that the statue of a Jew must obviously be the one with the biggest nose. They carefully measured each nose, and removed the winner with alacrity. The only problem was, the statue they removed was that of Richard Wagner, Hitler’s favorite composer. Oh, those smiling devils!
You see that diabolical sense of humor everywhere you go. Be sure to check out the photo gallery for some great examples. And here, for your edification, is a lesson in design derived from my direct observations of the art and architecture of this great city:
- You deserve immortality! Never miss an opportunity to create a memorial to yourself (even if you’re basically a nobody who happened to be in the right place at the right time). Put your name or image out there!
- Leave no surface undecorated! If you can’t afford gilt, use marble. If you can’t afford to carve it, paint it. Wherever possible, apply rule #1.
- You can never have too many chandeliers.
If ever there was a major city I could love, Prague is the one.This entry was posted in Vacation 2014: Europe