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.
But first, I should mention that the Czech Republic is a country that has a history of overcoming oppressive regimes. The Nazis, then Communism (which was followed by the softening of Communism in the late 1960s under Alexander Dubcek), then more hardlined version of Communism, and then finally freedom in 1989. Also, there was tons of religious oppression in the old days as well. This makes for some interesting stories about the Czech resilience. In old town square there is a massive statue of Jan Hus, which features Hus standing near Hussite warriors who were forced into exile as well as a statue of a young mother which symbolizes national rebirth. To me, this statue is very interesting because it symbolizes strength and resilience over oppressive regimes. Whether it’s religious persecution, Nazi rule, or Communism, the Czechs have always prevailed.Another interesting thing about Old Town Square is the 27 crosses. These spots depict where 27 intellectuals were beheaded in 1621 after the Battle of White Mountain. After they were beheaded, their heads were of course displayed on the Charles Bridge
The Prague Castle also provides some interesting stories. Here are a few I think are particularly good.
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 hidden 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 impostor (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 Mendelssohn 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.
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. 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.
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 rules then became harsher.
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.
St James Church – There is a shriveled looking arm that’s hanging here in this church. Apparently, the reason behind this is because a thief tried to come into the church and steal pearls off the statue of the Virgin Mary. Rumour has it that the statue grabbed him and wouldn’t let go. He had to have his arm severed off which in the end was preserved, hung from the church ceiling and served as a warning not to mess with the statue of Mary.