Witnessing History in Prague
By KAYLA CAMENZIND
Kayla’s European Travel Tales
Looking out of the window in my vacation rental apartment, I sighed at the historical beauty just footsteps outside my door. Sprawling across the landscape were hundred-year-old houses with red, tiled roofs and yellow, white, and brown facades. Far up on a hillside stood the Prague Castle, the biggest ancient castle in the world. In a mixture of Gothic and Bohemian style, the light grey, stone crafted castle was dotted with colorful stain glass windows and topped with circular pillars.
I was in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, a country that was established politically a mere two decades ago after the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. Before the republic existed the country of Czechoslovakia, formerly known as Bohemia and part of the Holy Roman Empire.
Down the hill and just minutes from my lodging was the Charles Bridge, connecting the hillside of Old Town with the rest of the city over the Vltava River. Made of stones of a deep brown color, the bridge was sprinkled with statues of important Czech philosophers, leaders, writers, and musicians of the last 700 years. The 14th century bridge is an iconic monument of the region’s past.
I shivered as I walked across the bridge, absorbing the medieval beauty of the city which housed thoughtfully crafted and colorful buildings. A visit to Prague at Christmas time is sure to leave your teeth chattering – no amount of clothing could keep the harsh wind from searing my skin.
To escape from the wind, my companions and I ducked into a traditional Czech pub. With a warm fire crackling in the corner, the warmth of the pub brought us instant relief. We feasted on homemade, creamy mushroom soap and fresh baked bread all for the equivalent of $3. With an economy still bouncing back from 41 years of communist rule, the cost of living is quite inexpensive in the Czech Republic.
We visited the square where the end of communism began in Prague, Národní Street. The Velvet Revolution, a non-violent, student movement to end communism, was held there in 1989. After the revolution, the communist government fell and Czechoslovakia split into two countries, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
With our curiosity peaked about the history of communism in the area, we visited the Museum of Communism. The small, four roomed museum was brimming with communist propaganda posters depicting cheery, plump children working happily on farms and various tools that farmers formerly used to tend their crops. With the theme "Communism – the dream, the reality, and the nightmare", the museum offered descriptions of Czechs’ daily life, education, politics, and economics.
On my morning run the day before we left Prague, I ran out our apartment door to find a hearse driving down the street followed by a stream of hundreds of people that sprawled across the Charles Bridge and into downtown. Without intention, I had stumbled across the funeral procession of Václav Havel, an organizer of the Velvet Revolution and the first democratically elected president after the fall of communism in 1989. Supporters celebrated him by throwing roses as the procession passed and lighting candles in his memory in corners across the city during a three-day national mourning period.
Not only did I have the chance to take in a city filled with ancient history, while in Prague I got to witness history being made right before my eyes.