by: Genevieve Stearns
When your friend is studying the history of beer and asks if you want to tag along to the Czech Beer Museum in Prague of course you say, "YES!" The address was plugged into Google and we were off. Through the twisty turns of Prague 1, Jasmine and I arrived at the Beer Museum in about 20 minutes. It could be easy to miss as the sign for the museum from the street was small and unassuming.
Excited that we found our destination we walked through a courtyard speckled with huge barrel tables and beer crate stools. There were a few people enjoying their beer in the sunshine. Through the doorway in the back of the courtyard we bought our tickets that included a "tasting" at the end. It was tempting to add the "bottle your own bottle" souvenir but decided to hold off and see if the beer was going to be good and worth bottling. Tickets in hand we headed back into the courtyard from which we entered and into doorway on the left to start our self guided tour.
The four rooms were filled with everything you could want to know about the history of beer. A mix of panels to read and actual working machinery of the brewery process intermingled as we learned how beer got started. We learned the progression of beer through the ages in the Czech Republic. The back room to the right gave current facts on the consumption of beer by Czech people. Shocker they consume the most per capita in the world! The four rooms also contained various steins, bottles, caps, and beer warmers used throughout the centuries. The final two rooms gave more detail about the actual brewing process. There was even a station to smell hops and touch malts!
About an 80 minutes later we headed out for the second section of the museum. A narrow spiral staircase took us below ground. The cool air was a welcomed relief from the heat of the day. Not much to see downstairs. We learned how they were able to keep beer chilled during the brewing process and learned how pubs had to be hidden during the Communist Era. Drinking was common during the work day. What the underground level lacked in information it made up for in experience of what it was like to drink in secret.
In the Communist Era pub was the beer maid. We proudly handed over our tickets in exchange for the largest tasting I have ever laid eyes on. She explained the different types of beer we were served and the order we should drink them in. With our beer loaded into a wrought iron caddy we carefully navigated back up the spiral stairs to the courtyard. The wind and picked up and the rain was coming. Back down we went not spilling a drop.
Enjoying our beers in a Communist Era styled pub added to the experience of our day at the Czech Beer Museum in Prague.
No, the Other Jewish Quarter
We left the Slav Epic exhibition at the Municipal House as a group and found snacks to eat. While sharing what plans we each had for the rest of our day, I was interested in the Jewish Quarter. Many had visited to explore beyond the surface level introduction we received with our first day tour. So I set out for the Metro subway based on general direction and my trusted CityMaps2Go offline app.
About a minute into my subway ride I realized the final destination that indicated the direction in which the train was traveling did not match the stop I had in mind. Those darn Czesky and other "Cz" words are very easy to confuse. I decided to hop off at the next stop and then determine which way to go.
When I came out of the Metro escalator and looked around, I saw a distinctive tram stop and added it to my "tram stop" list in CityMaps2 Go so I could find my way back. Creating lists within the app was a virtual breadcrumb trail that allowed me to retrace my steps or coordinate intersecting tram and/or bus stops so I could hop along numbers towards my goal of the day. My plan was to walk around the block and then try to head back to my original Jewish Quarter plan or back to the hotel, depending on how well my feet endured the cobblestones. They will wear you out!
What happened instead was serendipitous and much like my other solo excursions into unknown territory: I found interesting things that I would not have stumbled upon otherwise. I had many stumble-upon adventures during our visit, but this was my favorite. I had unintentionally walked up to "the second most significant Jewish Quarter in Prague" (Municipal District of Prague 8, 2012-2017).
According to two websites (Municipal District of Prague 8 and Prague City Tourism), the Jewish were settled here in the last part of the 16th Century and expanded well into the 18th Century when Maria Theresa expelled Jewish from inside Prague.
The monument to the left caught my eye, as did the homeless people parked in front of the synagogue steps. A synagogue surrounded by overgrown grass climbing toward the barred and empty windows. It was lifeless. I only had questions as I wandered toward the back of the abandoned lot. I still don't know what the symbolism of the monument is, but the date May 9, 1945 was surely significant in this World War II-enriched historical country. I figured I could take to the internet later for research. I learned that the original Libeň Synagogue (1592) was rebuilt in 1770 after two hundred years of use. Let that digest for a moment. It fell victim to frequent flooding. I'll pause here for the biblical irony. A severe flood in 1845 had official considering its demolition but original stones were used in its resurrection in 1846.
"During the Second World War the Jews in Libeň were gradually deported to concentration camps. In 1941 the Libeň Synagogue was shut down and converted to a warehouse storing confiscated Jewish property just as all other synagogues in the Czech Republic. After the war the decimated Jewish community was never revived in Libeň." (Municipal District of Prague 8, 2012-2017). Supposedly, after the war the building was used a prop warehouse for a theatre down the road and then became available for special events, although this website hasn't been updated in a year and again, from the overgrown grass, I doubt it's actual in use. While I had intended to explore the Jewish Quarter near Old Town, I had no idea that one wrong Metro stop would lead me here.
That's an interesting mural
I continued around the synagogue, mouth becoming dry from the heat and the salt-laden food over the past several days. I found a Billa supermarket and bought a bottle of water for 9 crowns - a steal. I looked at my map and decided to take more turn around the corner before returning to my breadcrumb tram stop. What I found up the hill was another incredible stumble-upon.
So there was a man. He had many cats. He lived on this street for a time. He read. He wrote. His name was Bohumil Hrabal, but I would not know this until I set my Google skills to work back at the hotel hours later. For now, I had to walk past a parking lot attendant and in between cars to take it all in. Photos cannot do it justice, you have to visit Prague 8 for yourself to see the magnitude of this homage by Taťana Svtošová. Once I had a title of the art work, then I could find Hrabal and a wikipedia page with so many more details of a rich life. Prague 8 appears to be changing (see my photo album and the top-dollar high rises being marketed in English juxtaposed with older buildings) and I hope this wall will remain a prize for this area. The metro certainly isn't going anywhere, so there should be no fear of this facade being torn down, like Hrabal's home was.
I'm compelled now to find some English translations of his work, for curiosity's sake. A man of books, with so many cats, and an entire subway wall dedicated to his presence on the street has to be worth reading.
I think I found the topic of my future documentary. All because I stumbled upon the "wrong" Jewish Quarter on a July afternoon in Prague. - TM
5. Beer Garden
I've been spoiled by North Carolina craft beer. There are so many, many delicious options and breweries throughout the state and in Raleigh that I just assumed beer that good could be found anywhere. Don't get me wrong--I have loved the beer in Prague, but the options are pretty limited in comparison to what home has to offer. On Petrin Hill, though, is Strahov Monastery and at the monastery is a brewery and at that brewery is the craft beer for which I have become accustomed. Truthfully, this was my end goal on the hill, and I was not disappointed. Even if you are not a beer drinker, the beer garden is a great place of refuge from the bustle of the city, the tourists vying to get to the lookout tower on the hill, and the beating sun on a summer's day. Not only can you taste a brew from the monastery's Klaster brewery, but you can also get a meal or non-alcoholic drink to sit and enjoy the space.
When Kathleen mentioned that part of Mucha's Slav Epic was on display at the Municipal House I was excited that I would get a chance to see more of Mucha's work. I had no idea how epic the Slav Epic truly was. And to be placed in the Municipal House was just perfect. As I'm sure people are tired of hearing me explain, the Municipal House is the best example of Art Nouveau architecture in the world. Not coincidentally Mucha was commissioned to decorate the Lord Mayor's Hall in the Municipal House with several murals. These murals had a strong Slavic theme throughout, and so were kind of previews to the Slav Epic.
I had a Mucha-themed day, and it was awesome. First I went to the Mucha Museum Gift Shop to pick up some postcards and a magnet for my Mom and sister. I know they would love his art just as much as I do, so I wanted to bring some Mucha merch back to them. I met the rest of the group outside of the Municipal House. We all shambled in exactly on time at 1:14 pm (we were meeting our tour guide at 1:15 pm). Our tour guide, Marketa, was there waiting for us outside of the ticket office. At first there was some confusion about our ticket price, we thought we each had to pay 130 czk for entrance and the tour, but apparently we only had to pay 110 czk. That's like $6, how fabulous! We also got to be inside the Municipal House, which was insanely elaborate and ornate, so even the walk to the exhibition was gorgeous.
Marketa informed us that the exhibition housed 11 pieces of the Slav Epic, which is over half of the frames, so I was very excited. I knew from my own research that Mucha's Slav Epic highlighted several episodes in the history of the Slavic peoples, beginning in the 4th century and ending just after WWI (which was present day for Mucha when he completed the set in 1926). What I wasn't aware of was Mucha's ingenious twist on composition to emphasize the story of the Slavic people even when they weren't the main character in a frame. Marketa made sure to explain Mucha's artistic conventions throughout the frames to help us better understand Mucha's intentions in each piece of the story. Mucha's creations were made even more impactful through their massive size. Each one stood at least at an intimidating 15 feet tall, and at least 15 feet wide. I could've stared at each of them for half an hour and still find new things to analyze.
We learned a lot about the history of the Slavic peoples, and it was interesting to see a visual history from the perspective of a Bohemian native. We all thought that the experience was really illuminating, especially with the tour guide, we thought it would have been beneficial for us to go as a class but the exhibition only started on the 19th so it wouldn't have been practical. I was able to chronicle our time there through pictures, however, so now I'm very excited to be able to share them with everyone. My personal favorite was no. 17 "The Holy Mount Athos". I love Mucha's use of color in this piece, he shrouds angels in a bright green glow, which dominates the painting. According to my research, Mucha believed that Mount Athos was an important spiritual location for the Czech people. This painting shows Russian pilgrimage to this holy site. The composition of this piece is so overwhelming and beautiful. The overall experience was just as overwhelming and beautiful, and I am extremely grateful I was able to go through it with friends and with a knowledgeable tour guide at the helm.
A Walk Through Terezin
As a teacher I have read many books with my students about the Holocaust and we have looked at many pictures. The pictures that played in my mind all these years didn’t come close to seeing the real conditions of a concentration camp right under my own two feet. We arrived at Terezn, a concentration camp that is located 30 miles outside of Prague. More than 150,00 Jews were sent here and over 33,000 died. As we got off the bus and made our way into the entrance we immediately saw a cemetery for the victims of Terezin. A Jewish star stood at the far end with a huge cross in the middle. I couldn’t help but be overcome with emotion. As we walked through the cemetery, we noticed many graves were only marked with a number. To me the numbers were very dejecting as the Jews were branded with a number in the camp, and they are still a number in the grave. I longed for each grave to have a name.
As we continued walking we came to a gate with “Arbeit Macht Frei” above it. This was just like the pictures I had seen in movies and in books, but what a somber moment to be standing under it. I found myself imagining that it was me living in the concentration camp and was moved to tears. As the guide continued talking, I could hardly focus. I was now standing right in the middle of a small room filled with wooden bunks. I again couldn’t imagine myself sleeping on the hard wooden planks while starving and freezing through the night in a harsh Czech winter. The guide continued to tell us how thousands died from diseases, starvation, and other ailments.
The question I kept asking myself was, if so many people died here in Terezin, why isn’t it called a death camp? I guess I will never understand the answer to that question.
We kept walking and entered a showering room. As I touched the cold wooden benches, I again imagined myself entering and wondering if they were showers or “gases”. We then moved into the “barber shop”. This was a long narrow room with no windows and about 12 sinks down the side of each wall. Each sink had a scratched mirror hanging above it.
Showered, shaved, and then branded….I can’t imagine the horror these defenseless people went through.
Towards the end of the tour, we stood at the spot where the Nazis executed people –sometimes 15 at a time. The guide explained how they would stand the Jews up against the brick wall and fire away. This was about all I could handle. The stories that I have read over the years were coming alive right in front of me. Although our day at Terezin was very heavy, I don’t regret visiting this concentration camp.
There were no selfies taken this day, but instead somber pictures that I can bring back to my students and explain to them the importance of learning from history so we don’t make the same mistakes again.
By: Paul Kebker
I had the opportunity to visit Terezin Concentration Camp on July 14, 2018. I’m not even sure how to describe what I had experienced that day. Was it humbling? Sobering? Devastating?
Terezin Concentration Camp was a Nazi prison camp located in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia (modern-day Czech Republic). It was used to imprison, torture, and kill Jews and Czech political prisoners. I had seen the images before. The brutal depictions of the living conditions inside a Concentration Camp have been recounted in numerous photos and movies. However, be at the exact site where some of these atrocities occurred enlisted a whole new level of emotion. It left me wondering one thing. How did we (humans) let this happen?
As our tour group exited the bus and started walking towards the camp, we immediately saw the large Jewish Star of David and a large Christian cross standing tall in a large field in front of the camp. Orderly rows of small monuments of the fallen victims filled the field. I had to stop to observe and think about the people who had to endure these tragedies.
We then walked through the main archway and worked our way into the first courtyard. This courtyard was primarily used for check-in and administrative procedures. Painted above one of the archways was a sign that read, “Arbeit Macht Frei”, which translates to “Work sets you free” in German. I found this NAZI propaganda to be infuriating. The original quote was meant to imply that the virtues from work will lead to freedom for gamblers and thieves. It implied that all prisoners in the Concentration Camp were there because they were criminals.
After walking under the “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign, we entered another courtyard. Surrounding this courtyard were small rooms for sleeping quarters. Dozens of prisoners were kept in each of the small sleeping quarter. The bunk beds were wooden planks, without cushions or bedding. The rooms contained one small window and one table. There was no source of heat to endure the long Czech winters. These were truly awful sleeping quarters.
The shower conditions were also poor. Dozens of prisoners would share two shower heads. These showers were in an open bay with no privacy. The shower heads themselves looked pitiful. After visiting the sleeping and showering quarters, I was stunned at how the NAZI’s denied these prisoners basic human dignities.
The tour guide then directed us to the third courtyard. Prisoners would be stoned to death in this courtyard. I also noticed the bullet holes in the walls. It came to my realization that as the tour progressed, the treatment of prisoners became worse and worse. The atrocities became more glaring around every corner.
We then walked over to the Execution Area, where prisoners would be killed by firing squad. To the right of the firing squad, there were gallows where the NAZI’s would hang a dead body. They were sending a message to the other prisoners to submit and obey or learn your fate.
At the end of the tour was a monument that showed people in despair. In the monument were victims that were starved and grieving victims. It was a truly powerful moment in the tour. It sent a reminder that we should never blame an entire group of people and use them as scapegoats. When you treat people collectively, rather than individually, it removes the human element which allows for atrocities like the ones on display at Terezin to occur again. Visiting Terezin made for a difficult and somber morning, but it was well worth the trip. It’s important to remember the victims and learn from the mistakes of history.
Prague Riverside Parties
For an authentic Czech experience through the eyes of Aussie and New Zealand expats, Prague Riverside Parties walking tour should be the top of your list. We hustled our way through the tourist crowds in Old Town to the Recovery Room making sure we got there in time for the 6:00 start. After walking past the alleyway in which the bar resides at least three times, we found our meeting place only to be greeted by, “Oh, you didn’t hear? We’re starting an hour late to watch the World Cup final.”
“No, we didn’t hear. How did anyone hear?”
A shrug of the shoulders, an air of indifference, “You can go downstairs and have drinks and wait.”
The terrifying spiral staircase lit only by dim Christmas lights brought us to a dank, dungeonlike party cave with several rooms reminiscent of a college frat house. “Go to the bathroom in pairs and watch your drinks,” we agreed. Things were looking bleak for us.
The bar has two drink options—Czech light beer from cans poured into plastic cups and sangria dipped from a large plastic jug also poured into plastic cups. We all agreed the sangria was college house party PJ, a drink typically consisting of leftover liquors and a fruity juice. With no music only the faint sound of the Aussies watching the France v. Croatia game in the den next to us, we fired up a saved Spotify playlist on a phone and waited. Like eager freshmen ready for their first frat party to begin, we were on time and self-decidedly lame. Fortunately, it was only about half an hour before other partygoers trickled in seeming somewhat as confused as ourselves.
Just as we decided to get some air, the guide ushered us back downstairs for his pre-walk schpill. In essence, he said the tour wasn’t for everyone, and if easily offended by non—PC talk, this tour was not for you, and you could both leave and ask for a refund at any time. Since none of us are too easily offended (and we all wanted to try the savory pies), we were off.
Like a herd of turtles, we meandered through the streets of Prague with a mobile bar (aka a cart carrying previous mentioned jug of PJ and more cans of beer) stopping first at a David Cerny piece called The Embryo and what a piece it is.
After the babies, we ate pies and made stencils to then spray paint on the John Lennon wall nearby. Fun fact! John Lennon never even visited Prague, but he has an entire wall named for his beliefs in free love and peace. In our group, we had an apple (since we're all teachers), a LOVE sign, a lightning bolt, some initials, and a panda (mine because pandas are the best no matter what my brother says).
We had fulfilled all of our wants and needs on the tour after spray painting, we separated, though, the rest of the herd carried on through the streets. Even though things began terrifying with many of us willing to bail as soon as we ate savory pies, we actually had a blast on this tour. I would absolutely do it again and suggest all you dark souls do it, too!
by Cori Greer-Banks
If you are staying Prague longer than a week, consider taking a day trip to the southern region of Moravia and spending it in Brno, the 2nd largest city in Czech Republic. Buying a train ticket is pretty easy in Prague, and getting there is even easier. The night before, I did my research, mapped out my route, calculated my fare, and created my itinerary to Brno. The next morning, I woke, packed a few snacks for my travels, and hopped on Tram 9, which took me all the way to Hlavní nádraží (this is Czech for “Central Station”). Once there, I walked through the park affectionately known by Czech locals as “Sherwood Forest,” and entered the train station.
Tickets to Brno are relatively cheap; it cost me 179 CZK for a one-way ticket there- that equates to roughly 8 US dollars. Brno is nearly three hours southwest of Prague via train, so it is best to settle in for a nice ride. I loved taking the train; the seats were comfy, the train car was sparsely populated, and it was serene sipping on my cappuccino and munching on my croissant. Looking out onto the Czech scenery was a treat in and of itself...I did not realize I was on the train for three hours!
When the train reached Brno, I was bit apprehensive; there was no tour guide meeting me there, and I knew no one. Luckily, Czech Republic is a very safe country, and Brno was no exception. Brno is seeped with color and spectacle- without all of the gimmicks and tourist traps of Prague. Surrounded by locals and travelers backpacking through Europe, I exited the train station listening to Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You being played via clarinet by a lonely musician. I felt like I was being welcomed into Brno.
Brno is a pretty walkable city, and if you have a good Maps app on your phone (I prefer Apple Maps when walking), then you are good to go trekking Brno by foot. My first stop, the Museum of Romani Kulture, a 22-minute walk from Brno’s central train station, is the only museum in the Czech Republic where you can go to learn about the story of the Roma and its culture. Situated in the economically and socially depressed district of Cejl, your immersion into the past and present of the Roma community cannot get any more real than this. Be prepared to spend at least two hours in there; the collection is vast and wonderfully interactive. Not a lot of attention is given to the Romani’s genocide during WWII, but the Czech Republic lost 90% of the local Roma to the Holocaust; most present-day Roma have come from neighboring countries such as Hungary and Slovakia.
After an excellent visit through the museum, I walked sixteen minutes in the direction of the city’s center, where I was positive I’d find something good to eat. I was not disappointed- I had a yummy, and spicy açaí bowl from Forky’s, a hip vegan restaurant that specializes in vegan salads while playing hip hop music. I did not think I ever ate a spicy açaí bowl while listening to Frank Ocean and Kanye West, but I did...and I liked it!
After a great lunch at Forky’s, I walked across the street to Aida, and scarfed down a delicious pistachio gelato sundae, which was a great finishing touch to a sublimely perfect and solo day. I tried my luck at catching a marble at Brno’s Astronomical Clock (no such luck), and walked 17 minutes back to the central train station, where I bought a $9 train ticket back to Prague. By the time I returned to my hotel room, I felt refreshed and filled with new knowledge. Brno will always have my love.
by Alex Herzing
A good run can be hard to find in a new city, but with a great tour guide like David, it’s all but guaranteed. I found his tour through AirBnB experiences and booked it months prior, finding an afternoon time that worked for my schedule. As my time in Prague passed, I found myself looking forward to the tour with plenty of anticipation, and on Monday morning, David messaged me to ask if I preferred sparkling or still water and if I had any questions. He was able to give me a direct route from my hotel tram stop to our meeting point, which I was grateful for! However, Mother Nature had other plans, and around 4:00pm, an hour before we were to meet, the sky grew dark and rain began. David and I began messaging again, and to my surprise, he offered to reschedule and was able to accommodate me on a different day. I already knew I was in good hands.
When the day (truly) finally came, I hopped on the tram and took easily the longest tram ride I’ve taken in Prague so far. Wow, I thought, I’m meeting him far out from the center of town. However, there he was, waiting for me right at the meeting point. We shook hands and shared our respective backgrounds and walked over to the base of the park in Letna. Using a map, he explained to me our route, and let me know that I was totally free to choose the pace. I’ll admit, I was nervous about what the pace might be given that this was a tour. I tend to run without stopping, and a tour, by nature, entails plenty of stopping. Though we did stop a fair amount, we also ran for long stretches at a great pace. David and I talked as we ran, which I enjoyed immensely.
Our route began in Letna, where we stopped at the top to take pictures of the city and he explained to me the Metronome at the top of the park. From there, we ran down towards Prague Castle, and towards the city center. I was able to talk to David about the places I had visited so far and about questions I had regarding Czech culture. I wanted to know about the ways to greet people, the amount of dogs I had seen in the city, and his feelings about Vaclav Havel. We talked about how he began running and what kinds of runs he liked to do. Occasionally, we stopped for a quick break or for him to explain some sort of history of a statue or nearby building. He had brought along a water bottle for me, which was awesome and necessary, as it was quite hot outside.
As we got to the city center, we ran along the river, but had to choose the far side of the street as it was such a busy time to be out, about 5:30pm. We continued upwards to the Vysehrad area, maintaining our pace as we climbed the hill. At the top, we again marveled at the view. I was amazed to see how much ground we had covered—Letna was on the other side of the city! He asked if I’d like a picture, and I said yes, regardless of how sweaty I was. We stopped for a moment into the famous Vysehrad cemetery to see the unique tombstones.
On our descent from Vysehrad, David offered me the chance to get a beer. I’d never had a beer mid-run before, so of course I said yes. We stopped at a bar and David bought us both a small beer, which we drank while standing. Very, very refreshing—though probably not a great substitute for water.
Towards the end of our time together, David asked if I’d like to head back to my hotel’s area or to Old Town, and I chose the former. We ran down to a bridge where he had to leave me to head to work (at 6:30pm!) and directed me back to Andel. I looked at my watch’s tracking when I returned to my hotel. We had covered almost 6 miles, but I wouldn’t have been able to tell otherwise—we’d spent our time talking and telling jokes nonstop, and I had nothing short of a great time. On top of that, I actually learned things, too! I feel lucky that I got to meet David and experience the city with a true local while pursuing an exercise routine I love. I only wish I had the time here to do it again.