Pocit: JAKO IM HRANI SACHU
(Translation: Feeling like I’m playing chess). (Why you ask? Well, because…. CZECH MATE). (Czech that out).
I was a trifle downtrodden to bid bye to the beautiful city of Berlin. What with its openness to its past, thrift shop of jumbled styled buildings and enthralling wall and graffiti art, a little bud of – the only word I can summon is – brotherhood had been seeded in me.
Tour guide Tarryn announced that on the way Prague bound we would be having a significant stop off in the dwelling place of Dresden. Having never heard of the town I did not expect more than a meagre servo stop and perhaps a building to half heatedly fawn over or two; mate, was I wrong.
Well, driving through the outskirts I can be forgiven for thinking so. I absent mindedly gave note to the fact the city was bigger than I had been expecting, but the surroundings did not elicit any sense of excitement or non controllable gasps. But then we reached the city centre.
Honestly, why is Dresden not such a well-known site to add to the must-do? Maybe it’s just me (and a number of others on my trip) but I must confess I had never even heard of the place before. And now I’ve been, I am quite ashamed of that. It’s certainly a place I shall never forget.
Quick Dresden info imparter (I promise it shall be brief).
In four raids between 13 and 15 February 1945, 722 heavy bombers of the British Royal Air Force (RAF) and 527 of the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) dropped more than 3,900 tons of high-explosive bombs and incendiary devices on the city. It was absolutely devastated in the attacks, with the vast majority of the beautiful architecture decimated.
But in the past few decades’ mass repairing’s have taken place, with the city centre once again re-established with its past glory. It’s amazing; on some buildings, the original structure stands at the bottom with the rebuild at the top, and having not been able to find the exact same brick to continue there is a slight variation in hue. But the buildings are majestic! Opulent and ornamental and decoratively delightful.
And my word, the cobblestones! The spiralling pavement patterns, the weaving footpath formations, the tetras-like stone street sequences; I’m pretty sure a good three quarters of my photo reel were of the glorious ground. And whenever a car drove alongside you, the sound was simply delightful – like a smoothly running conveyor belt or rhythmic motions of popcorn going to town on a stovetop. I’m pretty sure a good 22 minutes of my hour-fifteen stop off was just me standing hearing the sounds at the roadside.
We boarded back on the bus and set off in the direction of the Czech Republic. Last year I met a friend I am extremely fond of that comes from Prague, so I was rather excited to roam along into the land of where she came from.
Here I want to just clear up a bit of confusion (I was oblivious to this before I looked into it). Prior to 1993, the Czech Republic was in cohorts with Slovenia as one nation under the very well-termed name of Czechoslovakia. The country came about after declaring independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918; it then became part of Germany in WWII, and after the war’s end it was under control of Soviet Union and the Communist party. With the collapse of communism in 1990, the country’s freedom was restored, and in 1993 the one country peaceful split into the two separate nations of the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Driving into Czech lands had me astounded. Mate, it was the lush life with its highlighter green fields and storybook cottages. I was surprised; I mean coming from NZ usually paddocks and such lark do not ignite impressions upon me, but I was truly tickled by the tussocks. In polarisation to home however, these fields were entirely empty with not a sheep or cow in sight. (May have been on account of the season, but twas rather unusual).
So the CR is a landlocked country in Central Europe, cosseted by Germany, Austria, Poland and Slovakia. It’s shaped like a piece of fish food that you’d see in a cartoon – you know, the ones in like Catdog and Rugrats where they sprinkle and shake in little flakes that are shaped like small sprats? (It was a long afternoon sitting in front of my map and CR was one of the last to scrutinise ok). Australia is a whopping 97.5 times bigger, New Zealand about three.
The first signs of a Czech state date back to the early Middle Ages, with a kingdom established in the early 13th century under the rule of Charles IV (and the first uni in 1348; brainy biscuits, these Czechs). After 1620 it became part of Austria, and 1867 saw it as a section of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. (And then as with above, the whole Czechoslovakia-CR-Slovakia to and fro.
The CR is made up of three regions – Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia. Collectively referred to as the “Czech Lands”. The Prague Castle complex is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest ancient castle in the world, and the country has some rather curious traditional cuisine – Veproknedlozelo (the “true soul food” of the CR, being pork as a base covered in dumplings and sauerkraut apparently it’s rather bland and high in fat and can be seasoned to be sour or sweet); Svickova na smtant (the “sweet cousin” of goulash, being beer tenderloins pot roasted and served in a crème sauce, sweetened with carrots and topped with cranberries and whipped cream); Medovik (honey cake), and Kolache (a doughnut-esque sweet round yeasty pastry filled with fruit, curd and poppy seeds). And of course, all served with the ever-present glass (or keg) of beer.
Yes, BEER. It deserves the caps because beer is BIG, with Czech beer said to be the best in the world. The first brewery was founded in 993 at the Brevnoc Monastery in Prague. In the early early days, all beer brewing took place at monasteries; in 1250 Pope Innocent IV ended a 250-year ban that declared brewing could only take place at the aforementioned one, seeing right for new beer birthers granted to several other cities. Over the course of the following few centuries, “brewing rights” were permitted to noble families and homeowners in towns, and more pint sized (well, not always small. But I had to slip that in somewhere) establishments sprung up.
Even in the early era, Czech beer was highly prized overseas. Back in the day it was mostly a cloudy wheat beer using a so-called top fermenting yeast known as bile pivo. Transportation innovations in the early 19th century allowed the importation and exportation of the bevvy, and soon bottom-fermented beers arrived in Bohemia from Germany in 1830.
The Czech fell in love with this “Bavarian beer”, and experimentation began, especially in the city of Pilsen; drying malt in an English-style malt kiln with indirect heat led the beer to taste crisp and clean, and being of a golden colour rather than the dark of the past. Hello Pilsner! With the world’s first blonde lager, the Pilsner Urquell, shared with the world in 1842. A New York Times article in 1876 hailed it as a “complete revolution”, and the number of Bohemian bottom-fermented breweries rose from 135 to 831 in a mere few years.
The latter 19th century saw large industrial breweries appearing, with refrigeration replacing the use of ice. Many shut down (breweries, not fridges) in WWII and the Soviet occupation era, with only 60 still running at the turn of the new millennium; by 2007 this was back up to just more than 100. Craft beer movements in the UK and USA saw a revival with a flood of small brewpubs opened about the lands to total a good 250.
So the beer of the Czech Lands is considered as the inspiration for more than two thirds of beer produced the world over today. They were always well a head (pint pouring pun).
Righto. A few more fab facts (the culture and nuances – quite quirky, read on! – famous peps and a few inventions) then a little on my time there.
Now, the Czech people are known for being rather reserved and standoffish, with behaviour being more on the formal side. It is said this sometimes distrustful behaviour stems from the communist era when many people would betray their friends and family and reliance on relatives was finicky.
The CR is one of the least religious countries in the world, but this apparent lack of interest in traditional forms of Christianity is accompanied by a massive popularity in what sociologists deems “invisible” or “alternative” religion, almost a “belief in magic”. Many of the people may not be enthusiastic church goers, but easily accept the idea that fortune tellers can predict the future, lucky charms bring good luck and that stars influence events. Furthermore, Catholicism in the 19th and 29th centuries were seen as an Austrian import that was placed forcibly on the “true” religion of the nation, being Protestantism. The denunciation of the Hapsburg Monarchy and the German language and culture also led to a rejection of the Catholic faith, and in gaining independence from the monarchy in 1918 the country experienced a major religious change. More than 1.5million Catholics left the church in the first three years and instead of up taking an alternative they simply became “unaffiliated”.
If in the CR, it is a good idea to avoid anything with an argyle print; the local nickname for the design is the same as that of for a woman’s nether regions – I.e., the fanny. It does not cause offence, but a good few giggles will take place behind your back.
Miniskirts and transparent tops are the go amongst the females. In Czech context, it’s not only fully accepted hat women show off their physical qualities, they are almost expected to. To be an object of men’s (or women’s, if you swing it) desire is not – as Western political correctness often dictates – humiliating or discriminating, but is downright desirable. Therefore, the super sexy, mini-skirted up ladies are just ordinary women off to work in ordinary jobs.
A peculiarity – the importance of wearing pyjamas. If you are planning to spend the night at someone’s house, to make sure you are not viewed as a sexual deviant or uncivilised primitive make sure you take a nightgown or pair of PJs (I cannot say if this extends to if you are “staying the night” in a not-sleeping-over-sense, if you catch my drift. Like, after the completion of the deed, do you arise and yank on a floor-length nightie? I’m unsure. If you ever find yourself as a bed buddy with a Czech lad or lass, please let me know).
And this unwritten rule extends to footwear. When entering a home, taking your shoes off is a must MUST do move, regardless of the homeowners doing the whole, “Oh no no, eave them on!”. Do not, I repeat DO NOT leave them on. You shall risk eternal damnation – “Remember that time that Poppy girl came to our abode and wore her shoes inside all night?”, que gasps of horror 50 years on. Trust me, take them off. In fact, many households actually have extra pairs of slippers for guests to slide into when they come over. So choose your socks accordingly – they’ll be on show all evening.
Taking off with this, according to Czech researcher Radim Uzel many men take advantage of this etiquette and the anecdote that there is direct correspondence between hoe size and the length of the male appendage (I.e., the penis). Therefore, a few chaps place shoes a good few sizes larger than their actual size outside to impress their female neighbours. (So when Czech-ing out the whole PJ situation, on entering his home also catch sight of the lad’s sneakers, have a look at his wang and let me know if it measures up).
A few famed Czech people: Sigmund Freud first off. Although deemed of Austrian origin, Freud was actually born on May 6, 1856 in Freiberg, which is in present-day CR. (Though he did move to Vienna at the age of four and lived and worked there for the rest of his life. But he’s Czech, all right?). This was the chap best known for developing the theories and techniques of psychoanalysis, with his thoughts of child sexuality, libido and other such subjects being some of the most influential academic streams of the 20th century. (You know, the whole “every-young-boy-wants-to-root-his-mum-and-every-little-lass-has-erotic-thoughts-bout-theirr-papa”. While some of his works definitely hold huge insight and truth, I can honestly say I have never ever EVER in my life entertained thoughts of Henio. Even writing that line right there has me shuddering and feeling ill with abhorrence). (No offence Henio – you are on point. Just not in your daughter’s eyes).
Ivana Trump, infamous for her marriage to American magnate (and of course, currently running-for-president) Donald Trump. She was born in what was Gottwaldov, what is now Zin, in 1949. The 1980s saw Ivana and Donald all over the New York social elite scene, before their split in 1990, where Ivana won a mind-blowing $20million divorce settlement. She went on to publish her book, The Best is Yet to Come: Coping with Divorce and Enjoying Life Again, where she advised all females in the divorcee ship to “take his wallet to the cleaners”.
Ferdinand Porsche, the lad who founded the Porsche car company in 1931, is of Czech roots. He oversaw the development of the Mercedes car compressor and later developed the first designs of the Volkswagen with his son, as well as created the first gasoline-electric hybrid vehicle, the Lohner-Porsche. He ignited a fair bit of controversy in his time; Porsche was a member of the NSDAP, the forerunner of the Nazi party. He had a pretty good relationship with Hitler and designed many of the tanks and vehicles used by the German war machine, utilising prison labour from concentration camps in his factories. Porsche also received an award from Heinrich Himmler for his services and was honoured by the Nazi state.
In 2013 a permanent exhibition was erected in Porsche’s hometown in his honour, spurring the people to protest; as they saw it, the display was glorifying his Nazi past. However, the town’s mayor asserted it was purely to highlight the “genius of our native engineer”.
The very much loved author Franz Kafka, who lived between the years of 1883-1924 and is considered to be Prague’s most famous son. He explored theme of guilt, absurdity and anxiety in the face of social-bureaucratic powers to fuse the real with the fantastic and today has been deemed a genre in his honour, with s specific style of work described as “Kafkaesque”. He was quite the lad – never marrying, he lived a life of incessant womanising.
And last Czech celeb – Joy Adamson, the conservationist who pioneered the movement to preserve African wildlife and was world renown for her books about raising the lion cub Elsa. She founded the Elsa Wild Animal Appeal in 1961, before being murdered at the age of 69 by a disgruntled employee.
Just a few interesting innovations and inventions, I promise! A proud phrase is the, “Golden Czech hands and clever Czech heads”, which is rung well and true when ruminating the following:
- The sugar cube: Jakub Krystof Rad – a real sweetie – was inspired when his wife and her kitchen staff kept cutting themselves as they tried to slice the unwieldy loaves that sugar was produced in. Rad wanted to eradicate his loved one’s pain in her phalanges, so he was set on finding a form in which sugar could come in a much more manageable – and less injurious – size. And the sugar cube was refined!
- Fingerprints and the theory of cells: the work of one Jan Evangelista Purlyne, a 19th century physician and scientist. His pioneering lab techniques as well as developing of the compound microscope led to major discoveries of the working human body. His work stimulated a mass advance in criminology after he ascertained that all human fingerprints are unique and could thus serve as a form of ID. His work on eye movement and how human vision functions presaged the advent of cinematology as well.
- Lightening conductor: the invention of one Vaclav Prokop Divis; although largely credited to Benjamin Franklin, actually the innovation of a little-known Czech priest
- The contact lens: seen to be the discovery of Otto Wichterle in 1961.
- The ship propeller: Ironically enough, what with CR being landlocked, the first ship propeller was motored into being by Josef Resell in 1827, being used in the steamboat as of 1829.
And two random facts that bring me great joy (don’t ask me why for the second one, I can’t tell you mate. I just can’t let it lie).
- The only Czech word in the English language is “robot”.
- The CR has the most hospital beds per inhabitants in the EU. (I really don’t know why that rouses me so, but it does).
So we arrived in Prague. I had been told it was a stunning place, like a real world fairy-tale land, and my sources were not wrong.
We parked up and tour guide Tarryn took us on a two-hour walking tour of the city centre. We saw the Hradcany Castle complex, the Schwarzenberg Palace, St Vitus Cathedral, the Old Town Square, the grandiose views and – to my great elation – eons of fabulous footpaths and roading made up of complicated cobblestones (the reason women hardly ever wear heels in Prague).
I won’t go through each and every as I feel I have bombarded you with enough in this posting, but just one noteworthy tale of one sight: that of the Archbishop’s Palace.
Now it is unknown whether the following is true, a stretch of it or not at all in the slightest, but most opinion sway to yay so we are going with it.
Inside the buildings lies an altar which depicts the scene of the crucifixion. Allegedly, the Italian artist behind the work just could not procure the face of the son of God that expressed the fitting amount of pain. He went to Charles Bridge (honestly, best bridge I’ve ever been to. So on point) and appropriated a beggar, offering him a few crown in exchange for his sitting. The artist tied him up as tight as he could so his face would show great anguish; however, it was still not enough. Increasingly frustrated at his inability to capture Christ as he wanted, the artist stabbed the beggar in the heart, grabbing his brush and capturing his dying expression. Apparently, after the altar piece was completed, the artist felt such remorse he went to Charles Bridge where he had found the beggar and jumped to his death.
And on a lighter note.
We all trooped to the hostel, our home for the following two nights. Sheri and I were ecstatic with our huge room to just the two of us, as well as hostel offerings in both a sauna and swimming pool.
After a jostling communal dinner, a busload of the others headed into the city centre to get drinking (with the most reappearing the following morning at 4.30am). I opted to stay back with a group of others, where we yarned and did admin and generally chilled out.
The following morning we all (well, a few scragglers didn’t make it after their rager; Sheri was a bit beyond the 9am wake up) headed back to town to explore. I purchased my Prague key rings to add to my over abundance, Katie and I went and saw the Peeing Man Statue outside the Kafka Museum (my number one must see in Prague), we walked along to see the John lennon wall and then I flitted around different groups of people and newly found friends just jabbering and joking in the mild Czech sunlight.
(Also saw the Astronomical Clock change at the turning of the new hour. Researching online it sounds incredible; hearing from others I’d been told it was the most overrated sight in Europe. I have to say I agree with the latter. It’s pretty much a procession of figurines – which at first with my eyesight thought it was actual people and commented to the lass by my side that it was really rude they were parading about when it was meant to be changing, my bad – flitting by this little window, followed by a bell clanging the number of what time it was. Glad I’ve seen it; wouldn’t mind if I didn’t see it again).
I walked back to the hostel (pratyahara in my blogging the whole way) where I met up with a severely-hungover-but-recovering Sheri and we went to have a swim (when I say “had”, I mean went up to our knees before declaring it too cold and hustling right back out). Her, Jag and I had a seriously sensational sauna where we could have stayed all night – especially when a bunch of sexy Belgian boys filed single file in to join us and the heat went up a good few notches – but we soon vacated, went and packed our bags, went to the on-site restaurant for some dins, then retired to our rooms to slumber. (And instead stayed up until 2am giggling and what not; I feel like I’ve known Sheri and Katie for years, not not even a week).
So all in all, Prague? I’m going to go with “Fairy Tale”. (It counts as one, ok?). It’s like a storybook Cinderella town, all turrety and Prince Charm-y, with bubbles blowing about the square and children giggling and running everywhere. (And eons of bloody segways whirling about the show. But we won’t go there). Trinkety shops selling Babushka dolls and finely detailed garments and opulanet ornaments.
I loved wandering about getting lost in little lanes. Observing others as they went about their days. Just one big fairy tale story – that I am now about to close book on and move onto the next chapter.
Prague, thank you. I’ve loved Czech-ing you out.