PRAGUE NEVER LETS YOU GO… THIS DEAR LITTLE MOTHER HAS SHARP CLAWS, INDEED.”
~ FRANZ KAFKA
Truth be told, I may be one of the very few people who do not like Prague. Before I spent two weeks studying at Charles University a few years ago, numerous friends told me what a great city Prague is and how much I would enjoy it. Perhaps I expected too much, but I just wasn’t a fan (and that was before the robber entered our apartment at 3:00 am two nights before we were to leave.).
Since my visit there in 2011, I have done a little more research on Czechoslovakia’s capital, and I’ve come to appreciate some of the city’s qualities. (I told Mike that I might even go back for a day or two just to see how the city has progressed.) Here are a few facts I found particularly interesting.
Dating back to the ninth century, Prague Castle is reputedly the largest castle in the world. It sits on 18 acres and includes a number of churches, residences, palaces, towers, halls, and other buildings. The castle encompasses 750,000 square feet, and is more than one-third mile long at 1870 feet.
After the Velvet Revolution, the Rolling Stones played one of the first concerts in Prague. They loved Prague Castle and, while having a beer with Vaclav Havel, then-president of the Czech Republic, lamented the fact that it was difficult to see the castle at night. Havel told them that he had other priorities, so the Stones had their stage light technician design lighting of the castle. They paid $32,000 for the lighting’s installation, which is still in use today.
THE CHARLES BRIDGE
Connecting the Old Town with Prague’s Castle District, the Charles Bridge spans the Vltava River, the longest river in Czechoslovakia. King Charles IV laid the first stones of the bridge on July 9, 1357. Actually, Charles IV was very superstitious, and he laid the stones at exactly 5:31 am on July 9 because, at the time, the date and time’s written form was 135797531.
Nonetheless, the bridge is supposedly haunted. For years, following executions in Old Town Square, officials would place the victims’ heads on the bridge’s spikes as a type of warning to others. Legend has it that the headless ghosts prowl the bridge nightly and that the statues that now adorn the bridge move around.
THE ASTRONOMICAL CLOCK
Installed in 1410, Prague’s astronomical clock is the oldest still in operation. At the top of each hour, the clock strikes the hour and a “procession” of the 12 Apostles and a skeleton (representing death) takes place in the windows of the clock. As the clock strikes the hour, a trumpeter plays a short melody to the crowd below. (We could hear the trumpeter from our apartment, and after two weeks of hearing the same melody 12 hours/day, I was ready to scream.)
THE DANCING HOUSE
Nicknamed “Fred & Ginger” (after Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers), the Dancing House stands out in the midst of the Baroque architecture that surrounds it. Frank Gehry, who worked with Czech architect Vlado Milunic on the building’s design, called it Fred & Ginger since it resembles a pair of dancers.
The building is nine stories tall and originally housed commercial and business offices. In 2016, a hotel took over two floors, and there are now apartments in the building, also. The Ginger & Fred Restaurant is on the seventh floor, while a glass bar occupies the eighth floor.
JOSEFOV—OLD JEWISH QUARTER
The Old New Synagogue, located in the Old Jewish Quarter of Prague, is the oldest active synagogue in Europe. There are five other synagogues in the district, including the Spanish synagogue (Moorish interior) and the Klaaus synagogue (baroque interior). The old cemetery (above) was in use for three centuries. Because of a lack of space, the dead were buried in layers, and officials believe there are 11-12 layers of dead in the cemetery.
During World War II, Hitler did not destroy the area because he supposedly intended to turn it into a museum to the race he tried to exterminate. Today, there is a Holocaust Museum in the quarter.
Novelist Franz Kafka was born in the quarter in 1883.
It comes as no surprise to me, but the citizens of Prague drink more beer per capita than any other city in the world. The locals drink an average of 150 liters (or almost 40 gallons) of beer, aka “liquid bread.” Pilsner, a light brew that originated in the Czech city of Pilsen, is popular in Prague.
As I mentioned, it came as no surprise to me that the people of Prague drink so much beer. We found it cheaper than any other drink, including coffee and water. In addition, we noticed that corner shops that sold beer opened before most coffee shops every morning.
Thankfully for me, Starbucks opened at 6:30.