We started our day the way any good North American would, with a bagel. We were so impressed with our Bohemia Bagels yesterday that we returned this morning for a repeat, but this time we took pictures! They actually have a really good breakfast deal with a fried egg bagel (with your choice of two of bacon, sausage, tomato, mushroom & cheese) and endless coffee/tea/soft drinks. It was a most delicious start to the day 🙂
We then walked to the Jewish Quarter, commonly referred to as the Ghetto, to see the sights of the Jewish museum. The term museum can be a bit confusing in this case as it is not just one large building of artifacts. The Prague Jewish Museum consists of a collection of seven different locations.
The Jewish Museum was founded in 1906 to preserve the valuable artifacts from the Prague synagogues that were liquidated during the reconstruction of the Jewish Town at the beginning of the 20th century. The walls came down and for the first time the Jewish community was able to live somewhere else in Prague. In 1942, the Nazis established the Central Jewish Museum in the city and brought artifacts from many liquidated Jewish communities and synagogues. Across Europe synagogues and Jewish communities were being destroyed but Prague’s remaind completely preserved, even added to with the liquidated artifacts from across eastern Europe. Why? Hitler had plans to created a museum in Prague display the “extinct race”.
We started with the Pinkas Synagogue. After WWII, this synagogue was turned into a memorial for the Jews of Czechoslovakia murdered by the Nazis. The walls of the synagogue have been painted white and the names of 77,000 Jews murdered in the war have been inscribed. This is all that remains of many of these people. For some their personal data and the names of the communities to which they belonged have been included but for some all that is left of them is their name. We’d read about this memorial in Rick Steves and heard about it on our tour yesterday, so we felt prepared walking in. We knew it would be a big place with a lot of names…but we really had no idea how many names… It’s not just the main room, but the side rooms and the balcony upstairs; in each of these places all of the arches, columns and flat walls are covered with writing. And what really gets you is the size of the writing…the names are written so tiny! We’re not sure what font size we were expecting, but it was so small….making you marvel at how many more names could be squeezed in…
The “Children’s Drawings from Terezin 1942-1944” is housed in the upper sections of the synagogue. The Terezin Concentration Camp was located just outside of Prague and over 10,000 children under the age of 15 ended up imprisoned. When she was deported, a teacher in Prague brought only art supplies for the children with her. With these supplies she was able to carry out a secret art-therapy session. The children started drawing and painting what scared them, but soon learned to deal with those fears and focus both their art & their minds on what made them happy, and what they looked forward too. When the teacher was sent to Auschwitz she hid all the art to be found when the camp was liberated. Over 90% of the children of Terezin did not survive the war…for most all that remains is this collection of art.
The next location was the Old Jewish Cemetary. This cemetary was established in the 15th century and tombstones can be found from this time, as well as for centuries after. Today the cemetary contains 12,000 tombstones, but there are many more people buried there. In the past the Jewish Ghetto was contained within a wall. It was originally built to protect the people of the area, but was soon turned against them and used to keep the Jewish people in. When the cemetary became full, the city of Prague would not grant the Jews more land…the were not even allowed to live outside of their walls, so they definitely were not going to be able to bury their dead outside of them. As a result, the Jewish community brought in soil and began burrying people on top of the existing graves. The cemetary is now surrounded by a wall of at least 8 feet and it is believed people are buried 12 deep in some places! This process has given the cemetary an unusual look. The ground is hilly and the tombstones lean in every direction. The grave markers also appear much too close together as a result of keeping all tombstones above ground whenever the ground level is raised. The Jewish Memorial in Berlin is said to be based off of this cemetary. You may remember us describing the hills and slants of that memorial.
The Maisel Synagogue was built in 1590 by the Mayor of the Jewish Town. This stop featured the history of the Jews in the Czech lands exhibit. Unlike many Jewish sights, this exhibit begins in the Middle Ages and focus on the hardships the Jewish people faced in creating settlements and achieving legal & social status in eastern Europe. You can’t help but marvel at the strength & perseverance of the Jewish people…they have not had an easy run at things. The Klausen Synagogue, from 1694, came next. This synagogue houses the exhibit on Jewish customs and traditions and highlights the significance of the synagogue in many Jewish festivals. We were able to learn about Jewish births, bar mitzvah, weddings and the Jewish household. It was incredibly interesting to learn about this different faith. The Ceremonial Hall, located next door, was built in 1912 as a mortuary house for the purification of the dead. It continued the exhibit on customs and traditions, featuring illness, medicine, death and cemeteries.
The Old New Synagogue was built in the 13th century and is the oldest synagogue is eastern Europe. The synagogue is perfectly preserved. It is simple with wooden seats ringing the rooms perimeter. The roof is made in the vaulted style, although instead of the usual 4-pillar vault it has 5-pillars. This synagogue was actually built by Christians, as the Jewish people were not allowed to build at that time. These builders were masters of 4-pillar vaults from building churches, but they carried too much resemblance to the cross to be allowed in the facade of a synagogue. As a result they invented the 5-pillar vault…which looks just like a 4-pillar except with a leg coming out at a random place that makes the whole thing off-balance & unsymetrical. The most ornate part of the hall was the Shrine of the Ark. This is the focus of worship and hold the sacred rolls of the Torah.
There is a legend associated with the attic of the Old-New Synagogue (the dark wood part). It is said to hold the broken stone of the Golemn. No, we are not referring to our favorite creeper from Lord of the Rings, this is an even more murderous creature… The Golemn was a hardened clay man, created by a local rabbi to protect Prague’s Jewish community from the threat of the Catholic city. The rabbi noticed the growing acts of violence towards his people and caught wind of a threat that the Catholics had organized a mob that was coming to attack the Jewish Quarter. Reciting some ancient prayers & magical words, the rabbi brought the Golemn to life. When the Catholics arrived they broke through the gate using a giant wood battering ram, but before they could attack any of the people the wooden pole changed hands. The Golemn seized the battering ram and knocked down the invaders, killing many. The leader of the mob dropped to his knees in front of the rabbi, asking if he intended to enslave the city using his new killing machine. The rabbi replied that he had only created the creature to protect his people & that all he wanted was peace. With that the Golemn fell to rubble.
There is another part to the legend…it states that the Golemn will reawaken to help the Jewish people when they are at their most threatened point. Considering the horrors we have been learning about, and the fact that the Golemn has not made another appearance, many of Prague’s Jewish people believe things are not looking good for the future.
The final stop was the Spanish Synagogue. This synagogue dates from 1868 and featured an exhibit that concluded the history of the Czech Jewish community up to the present. The exhibit was extremely interesting as it talked much about Terezin, but also the contributions of Jewish people to modern art, literature and science. The synagogue itself was also extremely interesting. The entire interior was elaborately decorated. There was not a single surface that was not bright colored & patterned. These patterns were detailed and often carved right into the wood before they were colored (as opposed to just painted on). A recurring pattern was the star of David, which was also featured in the ginormous chandelier that hung over the seats.
When we finished in the Ghetto we walked back through Old Town Square and along our tour route from yesterday. We knew this would take us to Wenceslas Square. This square is really more like a long, wide street…it even has traffic running down the center of it. One end marks the location of the bridge over the moat to the entrance of Old Town. The mixed architecture buildings running along the side frame an image of the National Museum at the other end. And in front of the museum, riding his horse as any good ruler should, is the statue of St. Wenceslas. You may recognize the name from the Christmas carol (“Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the feast of Stefen” and so on…). He was in fact a very ‘good king’ right up until his murder in 929. He was well-educated, brave & kind and is still seen as an icon of Czech unity. There is a legend that King Wenceslas still lives within the Blaník Mountain, east of Prague, with an army of his men. It states the mountain will open up and they will ride out to the rescue when the Czechs face their darkest hour. Their lack of appearance in 1938 when the Nazis arrived, in 1948 when the Soviets overtook the country and in 1968 when the Communists crushed the Czech revolt & therefor the Czech citizens furthers the belief that the worst is still yet to come for this constantly challenged nation.
We stopped at McDonalds for a coffee break. To be honest, it was more just to get out of the rain for awhile but we did enjoy a hot beverage & baked good. I was here, while Kristin plugged away at our blog entry, that Justine read an interesting article…an article that made us finish up our walk of Wenceslas Square and then return to our hostel. We didn’t leave the hostel again until the next day because we had so much to do…but we’ll get to that in a separate post…don’t worry, everything is ok…
We ate supper in the hotel restaurant, because we were already sitting at a table there & were starving. We had BBQ Bacon Burgers. They were totally delicious. We also has two 2 for 1 drinks each while we worked. We then went upstairs only to come back to the restaurant. One of our roommates convinced us to come down with him so he wouldn’t have to eat (& drink) alone. We had another two 2 for 1 drinks each then…don’t judge, it’s was a slightly stressful, brain frying type day.
Things We Learned Today:
– There once was a princess named Starosta. She was the daughter of a pagan king but wanted nothing more than to commit her life to Christianity & become a nun. Her father would not hear of this and arranged for her marriage to a foreign prince. The night before the wedding the devote young woman prayed and prayed that God would save her from this marriage. She awoke the next morning finding her prayers had been answered, overnight she had grown a long, thick beard. The prince took one look at her and refused to go through with the marriage. It would seem the princess was avid…but, in fact, her father was so furious he burned her at the stake… For her martyrdom she was made a saint, the patron saint of bad relationships. An interesting fact, but what we really learned is that before you pray for help in your love life be prepared to borrow your fathers razor!
– Tim Hortons constitiues 66% of all coffee sales in Canada, 76% of the sales of baked goods and makes up 23% of all fast-food restaurants in our country…that’s twice as much as McDonalds.
Love, Luck & Ljubljana,