By Nichole Olbertz
Today’s trip to Terezin is almost impossible to put into words. To spend your whole life learning about the atrocities committed in concentration camps all over Europe, to read books with real life accounts, to hear from actual survivors themselves, nothing compares to standing in a camp and trying to process the fact that 33,000 people died where you are standing. That people were forced to work and live in terrible conditions that spread disease and lead to death right where you are standing. That people were beaten and forced to kill their fellow prisoners right where you are standing. That 15,000 children who had their whole lives before them, walked into the gates that you just walked through and they were not as lucky as you, for only 150 of those children walked back out of them. And there is still the fact that 88,000 additional people that survived the conditions in Terezin, were sent from that camp to other camps like Auschwitz just to be murdered and that was just the numbers from this camp alone. There were many many more camps all across Europe where so many innocent people faced the same fate.
Walking through the dirt yards and knowing that “prisoners”, innocent people that did nothing wrong other than celebrate the religion of their choice, once walked in that same dirt yard. Seeing the rooms where hundreds of people were stuffed into deplorable conditions that fostered the spread of illness and death. Seeing the shower rooms and acknowledging the dignity that was stripped away along with their clothing. And then seeing the officers quarters and knowing that they lived in comfort with their families, free to enjoy the gardens with vegetables and fruit trees, a cinema, and even a swimming pool angers you beyond belief. How can humans have so little compassion for others? How can someone justify the brutal torture/murder of a life of any kind, let alone the life of a fellow human? How can someone tuck their children in bed or sit down at a table full of food with their family knowing what they are willingly doing to the children and family members of others?
Many questions were on my heart when I left Terezin. How can I live my life in a way that will honor those who were robbed of theirs? How can I live each day in a way that will make my world a better place so that no other people, regardless of race, gender, homeland, language, religious belief, or difference of any kind will face the same persecution? How can I make sure that this NEVER happens again?
By Abbey Wood
After a run through the area between Můstek metro station and Wenceslas square, which included a pit stop to take care of companion wardrobe and contact lens malfunctions, we met up with Adam under the statue of St Wenceslas. Adam, born and raised in Prague and attending university for a masters in comp sci, first asked us what we expected from the tour.
He assured us that was exactly how the tour was designed. As an added bonus, everyone on the tour was from the CCR group so we already knew each other and had a much richer experience as a result. More on that later.
We started by touring Wenceslas square by hearing a bit of general history about the square and St. Wenceslas.
After walking about a third of the way down the square, we knew this was going to be a great experience based on the way Adam related the story of Sir Nicholas Winton to us as we stood across the street from the Grand Europa Hotel. We all had goosebumps. Next, we ventured across the street to visit the memorial for Jan Palach and Jan Zajic.
Insider tip: There are passageways through many buildings that are open to the public and have many shops and eateries inside. We cut through one such passageway, Lucerne, pausing to note the art and learning about the Czech custom of teen proms.
trolling through the tranquility that is the garden behind a Franciscan monastery,
we cut over to another street to have a snack at Lahudky, which specializes in Chlebiczech, a light, open faced sandwich that is commonly consumed for lunch.
This is where being friends made for a much better overall experience. The previous evening, we had an ice cream craving, and though we mistakenly bought some kind of frozen mousse, we all dug in to the container with spoons. And that’s how my Prague CCR food framily emerged.
Because of the previous nights’ germ sharing, we had no qualms about sharing all the food that we selected. My favorite was the traditional Chlebiczech shown below, with roast beef as a close second. We were also introduced to Kofola, a Czech cola that was developed during communism since they were not allowed to import coca cola. It is delightfully less sweet than coke with a spicier kick to it.
Next, we hopped on a train to travel to Můstek station and explore Vinohrady. According to Adam, “Můstek ” translated to “little bridge” and there is a piece of it in the station. We first walked by a large church that was designed to relate the tale of Noah’s Ark before a quick stop at a bakery to pick up dessert on the way to our lunch spot. Adam took us to Pivnice U Sadu, a restaurant in Žižkov that served as the district headquarters for those involved in the Velvet Revolution. Even its ceiling was full of history.
Adam explained the degree system for beers and allowed us to choose the kind we wanted to try. Once we all decided, he went and ordered a variety of Czech dishes for us, which we, of course, happily shared. My favorite was probably the variety of fried cheeses. Sooooooo melty!
We explored Žižkov a bit more to include the TV tower with the climbing babies before stopping at a wine bar. We were surprised to see Adam come out with a box of glasses and 2L plastic bottle of wine from the tap. It was a delicious local Moravian white wine.
My only regret is that there is no photo evidence of us having dessert. Adam had picked up a variety of flavors of traditional pastries. Being the food fam that we are, we stood in a circle, took a bite of pastry, then passed it to the next person. It was an amusing sight, especially because Adam was a bit aghast at our willingness to share this way.
By Trena Kirby
Beer Spa Musings:
“Hmmmm… not sure about this…” said one of my fellow travelers, as we approached an alley in Karlovy Vary that sunny, cool afternoon. From another: “Did you read the reviews?” We had already searched for over 45 minutes for our destination, climbing up hills and knocking on the wrong doors. Now that we were here, could we turn back? No way! This is a once-in-a-lifetime cultural experience. In Prague, we could easily see the prevalence and importance of beer. Word has it that its manufacture saved thousands from succumbing to the black plague. But in this riverside enclave we could see how the hops brew has infiltrated its way into other aspects of life besides just to quench your thirst.
We were looking forward to our spa experience. This idyllic Czech town is known for the healing properties of their supply of water. It is actually a 'spa town' and tourists come from near and far to get pampered and detoxified. In fact, the original (first ever!) beer spa is here and the trend diffused throughout Europe. Yes, we chose the lower cost one, since at the end of our trip our funds were reaching their limit. So here we were, at the doorway of The European Natural Beer Spa, tucked away at the end of what appeared to be a driveway (???!!) and under another building. Cautiously we tiptoed in and found the owner at the reception desk. Very cramped. Not very luxurious. And she was so nice! So we asked for a tour before plunking down our 169 Euros. Small does not even begin to describe it. One room with a tub for up to six people, and one room for a tub for up to two people. One bathroom, one dressing room. That’s it. So in other words, if we had not been the only customers that day (surprise!), they would have been fully booked. But it was clean, and we all wanted to have the experience (plus there was that 45 minutes spent searching…) so we asked for a reservation later that afternoon.
We had to pay in advance, which we were ready to do, but… not so fast. We had to cross the street and go to the subterranean restaurant to make our payment. And no, we cannot split the cost, one card only. Dang. But wait! There’s more! We had to bring the receipt *back* to the spa to prove that we paid before our reservation would be confirmed. …sigh…
The design of the towns seems to be common regardless of where we go: dense and making use of all available space. In fact, this one business was able to operate from two different buildings thanks to the infrastructure here!
So fast-forward a few hours and our time had come. At 3:25 we all go marching up the …er…driveway and into the spa building. We were brought to the big bubbly bucket of beer and were excited to change into our swimmies and dive in. Not sure exactly what to do, I volunteered to go first and get the lay of the, uhh.. bucket. Never thought I would like warm beer so much! We were served glasses of beer (from a tap, not the bucket), and proceeded to relax, laugh, and chat away the next hour in what turned out to be a very worthwhile adventure!
by Kate Wernersbach
Walking into the sanctity of the church, I felt an overwhelming sense of calm and peace. In that moment, miles from my parish in Apex, North Carolina, in a foreign country where the language is a complete conundrum, I was home.
I had decided to attend a Catholic mass at St. Thomas Church located on a quiet corner in Old Town Prague. Although the church offered a mass in English, I wanted to fully immerse myself in this country’s shrinking Catholic culture by attending the mass in Czech. As I entered the church, there was some sort of pre-Mass prayer service happening. A man’s voice came over the loudspeaker and then the people in the pews responded. In the U.S., I have never seen a service like this before mass, but I am guessing that it may have been the recitation of the Stations of the Cross. I actually thought at first that I read the schedule wrong and mass had started, but there was no one at the altar, so I am not sure where the voice was coming from – it was as if an omnipotent God was ringing through the walls.
As mass started and the priest processed up the aisle, angelic organ music flooded the church and lifted my soul. I could not see the choir behind the large column, but their voices intertwined with the organ truly gave me a spiritual sense of being. As the priest began with the blessing – in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – it was the first time I did not feel completely lost in the Czech language. Even though I still could not understand one word of Czech (or even figure it out), knowing the order of the mass gave me a comfort with Czech for the first time in a week. I silently recited the prayers in English as we moved through each part of the mass I love so much. Before mass had started, I did learn how to say “peace be with you” - which is “mir s tebou” pronounced phonetically as “meers tee-bow.” After the Lord’s Prayer, I proudly shook hands with my friend, the people around me and the priest and said “mir s tebou.” I loved how the priest walked around to every single person – it was just so intimate and personal. I knew that the Czech Republic is about 85% atheist, but it did really surprise me that there were only about 40 people at mass. I did later learn from Father Juan that normally there are about 100 parishioners at Sunday mass, but because of the holiday many people were out of town. In contrast, the English mass at 11 am is packed with 250 people, mostly tourists, and of course, some ex-pats.
The celebration of the Eucharist was just as magical and beautiful in Czech as Father Juan blessed and consecrated the bread and wine. As I walked up the aisle to approach the golden Baroque and Gothic altar, I observed the wooden pews, ornate statues, and magnificently arched ceiling and just felt in awe of the fact that I was receiving the body of Christ in this majestic setting. It made the sacrament feel even holier than it already is.
Returning to my pew, I thanked God for this amazing opportunity and his continued guidance on my journey discovering Prague and the Czech culture. Even though I did not understand one word of Father Juan’s homily, I still left with a sense of inspiration and spirituality as if I had – his soft, kind voice and the earnestness of his message resonated despite the language barrier simply through his body language and holy presence. As mass ended, I relished every moment of the organ music that had originally drawn me in at the beginning of mass. I also took the opportunity to talk to Father Juan after mass – he was quite popular with his parishioners as many of them stopped to chat with him, but he was glad to speak with me too. Originally from Spain himself, he said it is hard to get priests in the Czech Republic, and that his English and Filipino masses have about twice as many attendees. The kindness that emanated from him during the service still shone from his face as he welcomed me to St. Thomas Church.
And perhaps what warmed my spiritual soul more than anything is when Father Juan said, “This is your church now. Any time you are in Prague, you come here and this is your church.”
by Sarah Robertson
“You’ve got this” said a voice from below, as I crawled up the ladder, one step at a time. Knees shaking, thoughts of self-doubt run through my head: Why did I think this was a good idea? What am I trying to prove? Did I just hear the guide say that he just “discovered” this jump last week? What if the water really isn’t deep enough? Oh God, there’s a lot of spider webs on this ladder. What if a bug crawls on me and I jump back, fall off the ladder, land on my paddleboard, and get knocked out?? Pushing away panic, I force my body to move up the ladder, rung by rung, step by step, one breath at a time. I reach the top. This is the worst part. Holding tight to the railing, I slowly scoot my feet over the uneven concrete and blocks that line the Vltava River. “Are you ready?” I say, speaking more to myself than anyone else. In a hurry to get it over with, I leap from the side. One, two, three, shouldn’t I have hit the water by now?, SPLASH. I hurry to swim up to the top, gasping for air and smiling when I finally do.
Feeling the rush of adrenaline begin to fade, I climb back on my paddle board to soak in the sun on the unusually warm Prague afternoon. Proud of myself, I paddle my way back to the shore, taking in the extraordinary views of old homes and restaurants along the river. Our guide, Finbar, points out his favorite place to enjoy a drink and as an aspiring architect himself, talks to us about the different architectural styles we are seeing: cubism, Renaissance, Art Nouveau, etc. We pull our paddle boards onto the dock and Finbar treats our group to a bottle of Czech beer and we all spend a while relaxing and chatting together. We say “see you later” to Finbar and walk home, already reminiscing about our afternoon spent with new friends on the water, a July 4th experience so similar, yet so different, from any I’ve ever had.
Experience-Based Travel Writing Piece:
Classical Music Close-Up
Walking around the city, it’s evident that music is a big part of the city’s cultural life - you can hear music students practicing for their final exams walking through Old Town, see posters advertising concerts at small clubs and giant stadiums, and there’s at least 13 music festivals listed for this summer alone.
Of course, Prague comes to this with a long history of music - Antonín Dvořák is probably the most well known classical composer from the Czech Republic, and underground jazz and bluegrass radio continued throughout the Soviet occupation.
The Air BnB Experience “Classical Music Close-Up” was a chance to experience a small taste of this musical heritage. We met at the steps of the Rudolfinum, home to the Czech Philharmonic. Our tour guide lead us through the employee entrance, up many flights of stairs, and finally, onto the roof of the building. We learned about the statues of the famous Czech musicians lining the roof. In addition, we were able to try some of the honey from the beehives on the roof!
The bees were especially interesting - the interior and exterior of the building are decorated with bees, apparently as a clever marketing scheme by the banking company who financed the building (whose logo, of course, was the bee). In the past few years, however, bee keeping has become fashionable in town, leading the Philharmonic to ut some beehives on the roof. It was an interesting mix into old and new marketing and fashion in the city.
Finally, we went back downstairs to hear a performance from the Czech Baroque Ensemble, comprised of members from the Czech Philharmonic. They played a wide range of baroque music. They clearly enjoyed the music and had been playing together for a long time, and the oboe player, in particular, was fantastic. I also found it interesting that the price of the tickets was quite reasonable - much more accessible than classical music performances in the United States.
This experience was a wonderful taste of music in Prague, and I’m already looking forward to my next experience - checking out the Jazz Fest next week!
by Nichole Olbertz
In a city with churches on every street it is easy to overlook the large white structure that is the Orthodox Cathedral of Saints Cyril and Methodius. The base of the church is the original old dark concrete, providing a glimpse of what the original facade of the church may have looked like back in 1942. To the left side of the church you will find a small door that leads you into an even smaller concrete room. This room serves as a reminder of what happened to make this church stand out among the rest. On the walls you will find images, personal artifacts, and stories that explain how an act of bravery by a few saved an entire country.
I was able to draw a connection to a book that I read while looking around at the artifacts on display. In Someone Named Eva, the main character talks about the cards used to aid in race identification using hair and eye color, it was very interesting to see those cards in front of me. In this room you also have the opportunity to read about the heroic efforts of the men that participated in the actual assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, as well as the heroic efforts of those that helped hide them.
Once you have read the story of what happened in the days leading up to the assassination, the assassination itself, and the days that followed, you proceed through a large metal door into the crypt where the final moments of the parashutests played out. Your senses are immediately overwhelmed with the musty smell of the crypt and while it is currently lit so that you can see the memorials that have been placed there to honor the men’s bravery you can imagine how dark it must have been while they were in hiding. To your right is a small window. This small window is where the Nazis lowered in a firehose and began to flood the crypt with the young men inside. This is also the same window that the Nazis fired their weapons through. Bullet holes are still evident in the walls in this area.
Further into the crypt, where the men were safe from Nazi gunfire, stand the monuments. One bust for each of the brave parachuters that in the end took their own lives in that crypt rather than fall into the hands of the Nazis waiting on the outside of the church.
Make sure you stop by inside the church before you leave. The church is stunning and, when we were there, was full of flowers which was a welcomed contrast to the musty smell of the crypt below.
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.