Monday, November 23, 2015

Prague, Czech Republic


Prague has been my favorite city, by far.  Prague wins. What a spectacular city. It is home to about 1.3 million people. It's famous for surviving the violence and destruction of 20th century Europe. As well as being a 1,100 year old city.  It has survived being occupied by the Nazis, then after the communist regime.  The city has so much history.

The Communism Museum

Through the 1970s and the 1980s, the government's emphasis on obedience, conformity, and the preservation of the status quo was challenged by individuals and organized groups aspiring to independent thinking and activity.  But the state viewed any independent action, no matter how innocuous, as a defiance of the party's control over all aspects of Czechoslovak life.  The government's response to such activity was harassment, persecution, and imprisonment.  The museum described the ban of music, dance, and anything else that valued creativity or independence of thought or progression.  It was literally a story out of 1984.

There was a passage about a man who was describing how a sort of underground market formed with people trading services and goods. People like doctors and mechanics became people of great importance.  The government controlled everything, but then they were failing.  It was not only tyranny, but also a poorly executed form of communism.  The man said, "I went to the grocery store one day and realized that the shelvers were empty."  But the scary part about communism is that you cannot go to the authorities, you cannot write an article, you cannot call upon a council. 

I walked into a room in the museum & began to watch a video. I felt a pit in my stomach as I read the words, "student protest" and watched police beating protest members with batons, spraying them with hoses and releasing tear gas.  The protests were not violent ever.  The police wore plain clothing and pretended to be part of the masses until they began beating citizens. They dragged them aside from the crowd then would ask (irrelevant) questions basing their imprisonment off of their school grades, social status, and neighborhood. 
I was dumbfounded to find out that it was almost entirely students.  We always hear about how the majority of new ideas, revolutions, and political movements begin in colleges, but it really didn't become concrete to me until I was sitting in front of this horrible video.
They watched their parents and teachers become stagnant and demoralized by the communist movement unsure of how to fight back or too afraid. 
What really stood out to be was the story of Jan Palach.  Jan Palach decided to sacrifice himself in protest of the invasion by setting himself on fire in Wenceslas Square.

Palach did not set himself on fire to protest against the Soviet occupation, but did so to protest against the "demoralization" of Czechoslovak citizens caused by the occupation.

 Below is propaganda that was released by the Soviet Union after they heard of students and citizens becoming enticed by the new ideals of American freedom and progressive movements.  In response, the Soviet Union released propaganda showing how 'horrible' American was.

There was also a year in which a lot of crops were destroyed in Czech due to a bug taking over wheat fields.  The government released propaganda calling the bug, the "American Bug" claiming that America had released the bug purposefully in order to cause destruction in Czech.

At the end of the museum, there was this.  It was a plastic mold of a teenager's hand making a peace sign.  I placed my hand in this spot meditating on how many thousands and thousands of teens, students, and people my age had suffered in order to rid their country of communism. 

David Cerny is a Czech Sculptor.  He has sculptures all over Prague. He became famous in 1991 when he painted a Soviet war tank pink. He was arrest for the act of civil disobedience. But this sculpture most amazes me depicted men who were "victims of communism."

The Astronomical Clock

It is the oldest astronomical clock still working today. We climbed to the top right in time to see the sun setting over the tops of the buildings.

We went to a Pub called Beer Geek which had 30 taps.  There were beers from all over the world.  I would highly recommend it! Plus, everyone spoke English, which was awesome because Czech is incredibly difficult.  Possibly the only thing keeping me from moving to Prague permanently.

photos by: Carol #ieatlikeamonster

In 1969, the year that Jan Palach lit himself on fire.. the Beatles released Abbey Road.

We walked to the John Lennon Wall and a man was there playing Beatle's songs.  We admired all the newly painted support for France.  It is a really nice wall, filled with love and peace and freedom and all the right things. 
It's crazy to think that the wall was first painted just to irritate the communist regime.. what an incredible way to make a change.

Then there was a lock bridge..

"Mutually Weird"

The French Embassy

The Charles Bridge
The first brick of the famous bridge was laid by Charles IV himself.

Baby Statues
David Cerny is the coolest dude ever.  The city asked him to make sculptures of interest, but instead he said.. **** you, I'll do what I want.  So he made satirical statues all over the city.  

One included super creepy naked baby statues with no faces.

People in Prague eat so much meat!! Every dish has meat in it.  A traditional dish is Goulash or Schnitzel.  I actually haven't eaten any meat (besides fish & eggs) since coming to Europe, so my stomach didn't handle it well.

I decided on French Toasted Bagels & Fruit for my meal the next morning! Yum.

& a delicious Apple Strudel filled Trdelník

Prague Castle

Prague Castle: Lobkowicz Palace Concert

Prague is the birthplace of Czech composers Antoni Dvorak, Leos Janacek, and Bedrich Smetana.  Also, Mozart premiered Don Giovanni here at the Estates Theater.
I saw all of the concerts behind held around & knew I had to attend one.  I have been missing live music so much since being in Europe.  I joined music club at school, but I don't get to hear classical music or listen to recitals like at Millikin. I didn't realize how much of an integral part of my life live music is until I heard the first note of a piano and thought I was going to have to leave the room.  The tears began instantly and were uncontrollable.  There was nothing I could do.  It was so magical, sitting in a room that looked like a scene off of Pride & Prejudice in a Castle listening to everything I needed all at once.  Music will never stop filling me.  I will never go that long again without live music in my life. What a way to learn a lesson.  And as I lost myself in the music, I was surrounded by all the things I love most.. St. Charles church, my grandpa's lap, my grandma's laugh, my mother's hands, my favorite painting in Grand Rapids MI, Pride & Prejudice.. all from a song that I had actually never heard live. Art does weird things to a person.
I think it was a mixture of mysticism, love of music, and a little smudge of un-confronted homesickness.  I sat alone, weeping to the Turkish Waltz...which is absurdly ridiculous. The lady in front of me turned and handed me a tissue staring at me as if I was completely insane.  I wept through the entire concert, but never felt so happy and rejuvenated afterward.

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Amsterdam has more than 5 million international visitors every year, but luckily we caught Amsterdam during the off-season. It's a beautiful city with perfect, but sinking buildings, as a result of the city being built on a swamp.  It is the most bike accessible city in the world, and you learn really quickly that the bikers own the city streets. The biker lane is not a place you want to be. Feisty bikers with bells speeding by you in all directions.
There are more than 1,200 bridges in the city.  You'd think that the famous Amsterdam picture is taken from one or two spots, but really, that is what the entire city looks like. Every street is equally as beautiful as the last. At night, we walked along the canals looking inside the beautiful homes lit up with families inside.  I liked Amsterdam because it felt less like a tourist city and more of a traveler's city. People's style in Amsterdam was impeccable.  It was an alive city, full of movement and youth.

Anne Frank
The Anne Frank house was where Anne Frank hid from Nazi persecution with her family and four other people in hidden rooms at the rear of a 17th-century canal house, known as the Secret Annex.  Anne wrote a diary while she was in hiding.  Her father, Otto, was the only one to survive the war.
I read Anne's diary in 6th grade.  It had little meaning to me and I found it to be boring to read about Anne's mundane daily activities. Freshman year of high school, I read it again.  Now, I had an understanding of the Holocaust, and the book disturbed me.  I felt like I couldn't empathize correctly.  It was so devastatingly sad, but it was un-relatable for someone like me, in a small town high school with little understanding how truly inhumane and disgusting the Holocaust was. It was too much to comprehend.
Now, it was much more real. First, I read how Otto moved the family from Germany to Amsterdam in an attempt to escape.  They watched the news until realizing that they were going to invade Amsterdam as well.  As a father, having to send your whole family into hiding for the safety of your lives.  Watching your children ask about the sunshine, complain of boredom, or watch the horrific news as the Germans got closer to your hiding place. Anne Frank, a child, wrote, "the English news says they are being gassed."

First you walked through the store and the storage rooms for Otto's business before getting to the Secret Annex.  When we took a step into the Secret Annex, you could feel the change in air.  It was colder, both physically and psychologically.  I couldn't imagine being in there longer than 30 minutes.  It felt old and secret and unimaginably depressing. Anne so frequently talked about missing fresh air, and walking through the cold, dark, stuffy hidden rooms made it only more real to understand the depressing seclusion she must have felt. 

Van Gogh
Van Gogh was a phenomenon.  His paintings were so unreal.  He found liberation in his art and his wild colors as do many people, but he was a slave to his insanity.  He was kind and knew he was struggling with the limits of his mind.  I listened to the letters he wrote to his brother referencing very casually, his fits, his fears, and his insanity in which he knew encroached upon him unexpectedly. It was so relatable.  To feel so close to his fears through the beauty of his art. 

Craft Beer Brewery
We went to the coolest Brewery I've ever been to.  The IPA was phenomenal and I will miss the delicious beer when I leave Europe. It was a perfect atmosphere and we laughed a lot as we felt a little tipsy after a day of walking, lack of food, and most likely dehydration, which doesn't sound as fun as it was. But that is such an accurate description of studying abroad.  You are always dehydrated, you never know when you will eat, you overwhelm yourself with lovely things and excite your mind with new aesthetics that make you forget all bodily needs.

Red Light District
It's interesting how Amsterdam's culture has formed around the legalization of prostitution.  It has become thoroughly commercial and has been capitalized in a way that creates an atmosphere of competition for traffic.  Without bringing in the politics that go along the legalization of prostitution (which I support), I hated seeing men choosing women off the streets like they were choosing a can of beer off of a shelf, laughing and prideful as if it wasn't a person they were going to use, but something trivial. It was a sad place for me. It sounds oppressive and I don't mean it that way because I don't ever want to condemn a lifestyle or a choice because there is no part of my reality that allows me to understand how and why, but for me, it was hard to think that perhaps a man I could be with in the future could potentially instill values in my children of women being trivial prizes. Perhaps our generation can get past that and make it not about that, but rather about freedom of choice, but it is difficult to say.

The tragedies in Paris happened while we were in Amsterdam. We watched as the breaking news came out.  Everyone in the place turned and watched the Television in awe. There is so much to be said, but this photo Amsterdam displaying the French flag meant more to me than any words or articles could ever meant at that time.

Amsterdam was beautiful.  Full of lessons, sad, beautiful, and enlightening.