Tschechische Republik – Synagogen und Parks

We woke up after a short night’s rest and walked down the street to grab breakfast on Sunday morning. Today the weather was a little colder than yesterday but we had crystal clear skies, a welcome sight with all of the cloudy weather we see in Germany. Today our plan was to see a few of the sights we missed yesterday before hitting the road in the late afternoon.

We went back to the same little cafe to grab a bite on the go. Unfortunately they were sold out of the tasty hot chocolate, but I had a different sandwich than before and before long we were on our way to our first stop, the Spanish Synagogue. Although this is the most recently constructed of the synagogues in Prague, it is among the most beautiful. Construction was contracted to Spanish Moors who made the building with arches and intricate decorations. Domes and arches frame the interior, while natural light spills in from the dome’s apex and sets the gold trim aglow. The interior is not large, but the view is stunning.

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The synagogue also hosts a small collection of treasures and artifacts gathered after WWII, relating to Jewish life during the war or carrying historical significance. It was sad to see the drawings children had made while at the nearby concentration camp, but reassuring to know that adults at the camp did everything they could to ensure the children were distracted and as comfortable as possible. They also continued with lessons (including instruction in their faith) in secret.

We spent a little time admiring the details of the building before heading out to check out the nearby cemetery, where thousands of Jewish-quarter residents were laid to rest. The cemetery had been built up over the centuries due to overcrowding, and now the graves seem to occupy every bit of imaginable space in the densely populated graveyard. We didn’t spend long here, but walked through the path laid out among the memorials in silence.

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Stones, not flowers, adorn these graves as tokens of remembrance

Exiting the graveyard, people wanted a little time to look for a souvenir, so we lingered by the shops just next to the graveyard. Since the graveyard is raised from street level, the shopkeepers were sharing a wall with the built-up graves. It was a little strange to think about all the bodies just a few feet behind the market tents, but I can’t explain why. I had been inches from bones in Paris and seen lots of graveyards elsewhere. Somehow standing level with them above ground gave me an odd impression.

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At the river one last time

Exiting the graveyard, we made our way back to the river for a brief stroll through a park on the hilltop forming the opposite bank. The park overlooks the city, offering beautiful views of the river and cityscape. After a short climb up some stairs we enjoyed the quiet in the late morning, taking in the views and the sunlight. The overlook where we lounged used to be the site of the largest statue of Stalin ever erected. Stalin died shortly before the statue’s completion. Soon after it was finished, the monument was destroyed as the communists fell out of favor with the occupied locals. Now, a red metronome swings back and forth on the site. According to our tour guide from the day before, the kinetic art serves to recall the time lost under communism.

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Charles Bridge isn’t the only way to cross the river

We finished our stroll through the park and exited towards the Prague castle. Because the cathedral had been closed the day before, we wanted to take a quick look into the interior. The cathedral looked similar to others we had seen on the inside, but due to the sunlight we were treated to a warm glow from the stained glass painting the interior a reddish-purple hue. Most of the church was closed off, so we did not stay too long.

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The glow of the colored glass

We explored the castle grounds briefly before winding down the path towards the river along a different route than we had taken the night before. We stopped in some art galleries to check out some paintings (because some people were looking to buy).

Our group was looking to be on the road before it got too late, but we wanted to catch a late lunch in town before we left. Our guide had recommended a place just off of the main tourist drag by Charles Bridge called Lokal. Here we had tasty food and a few last drinks. The highlight of the lunch for me was definitely the dessert: we had these light crispy pastries glazed with some subtle caramel and filled with a rich vanilla cream. After we ate, we began our trip home to Stuttgart in the car.

Prague has a ton to offer. A variety of architectural styles, rich history, great nightlife, and lots to see are waiting for you in Praha. Like Poland, Prague was pretty affordable, had friendly locals, and was a refreshingly different experience when compared to “conventional” western Europe. I could easily see myself going back someday, but with so much I want to experience, I’m afraid I’ll be adventuring elsewhere for at least a while. You’ll have to hear more about that next time. Until then,
Best wishes and safe travels everyone,

– Ben

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