So today I guided the TEFL Worldwide Prague orientation walk, leading the new class throughout the city of Prague on this chilly November afternoon. We started by hiking up towards the castle, enjoying some nice views, watching the changing of the guards, then heading torwads the castle grounds, entering the St. Vitus cathedral, heading down Nerudova street, crossing over, crossing the always entertaining Charles Bridge, winding down Karlova street, entering Old Town Square, making a right, and then stopping for some typical Czech food at U Balbinu restaurant.
This tour today got me thinking about how interesting the history of this country is. It’s so rich in culture, there are so many interesting chapters in this city, and also more relevant to this blog post, there are so many interesting facts and stories as well! I’ll list a few of my favorite ones off the top of my head.
The Czech Crown Jewels are housed in the Prague Castle. These jewels include a sword, sceptre and crown belonging to the legendary King Wenceslas. These original Crown Jewels are in the castle and are hiddden behind a door with 7 locks that require 7 different keys to open them. Each key is owned by an important Czech figure. For example, the President has one, the head Clergyman has one, etc.
Speaking of which, there is a legend that says that if you put this crown on your head and you’re an imposter (aka not the real king), you will die within a year. In one particularly famous instance, Reinhard Heydrich – Hitlers second in command who was headquartered at Prague Castle in the late 30s, apparently tried the crown on in 1941 and was then assassinated less than a year later by Czech paratroopers trained in England. An interesting thing about his death is that he was badly injured, but refused Czech blood, so he died for his own racism. Very interesting!
Another interesting Nazi story is that outside of the Rudolfinum concert hall, there are statues of various composers. Hitler ordered the statue of Mendlssohn to be destroyed because…well…obviously, he’s Jewish. The Czech men he sent to destroy them did not know which statue was Wagner, so what was their logic? Let’s destroy the one with the biggest nose!! But of course, this one happened to be a statue of Alfred Wagner, Hitlers favorite composer! Figures.
Of course, with the coming and going of Communism, there must be some interesting stories to go with this! One particularly interesting one came around the time of the Prague Spring, when Communism became a bit softer. It was more like Socialism at this point. But long story short, Alexander Dubcek was not a hardline Communist leader, the Soviets didn’t like it, they didn’t want it to spread, so they invaded. And here’s where the craziness begins.
In this plan (the Warsaw Pact), they planned to invade at midnight when the radio would be off air, but the problem was that Czechoslovakia didn’t use daylight savings time (the Russians did, so it was only 11 when the Russians came to invade, so the radios were able to warn everyone. The people of Czechoslovakia united and in a very clever display, they defaced all the street signs except the ones that point back to Moscow, which confused the hell out of the Russians. Also, the small villages all renamed themselves to “Dubcek” during this time, which made the Russians even more lost! However, in the end, Dubcek was arrested, and the rule then became harsher. Good try guys.
St. John of Nepomuk – I like the story of St. John. He was the priest of the royal family when Wenceslas was in power. Wenceslas’ wife confessed his sins to John, and of course, Wenceslas demanded to know what she told him. John, being the professional that he is, refused to tell him, and thus, he was tortured and thrown off the bridge. There is a rumor that 5 stars appeared above where he landed the night that he died, so on all statues of him, there are 5 stars above his head. This one is the most famous.