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Tuesday, August 30. 2016
Vienna was our base, as my sister and her family live there. The hockey tournament was in Prague. So, 5 days in Vienna, drive 3 hours and spend 5 days in Prague, then drive back and enjoy 2 final days in Vienna.
Vienna offers the ability to take boat/train/bus to Bratislava and Budapest for the day. It's proximity to Prague was obviously useful, and the road there allowed us to stop in Heldenberg to see the Spanish Riding School's summer stables, then stop in Telc for lunch (or Jihlava for lunch on the return).
These stops were very nice. Telc, in particular, was a great 3 hour stop. Highly recommend it to anyone passing through. Wonderful town square, beautifully restored. Make sure you climb to the top of the (very claustrophobic and designed for short people) bell tower. But Prague was our main goal. Not just for the hockey (which didn't work out well for our side), but take in one of the most wonderful cities in Europe.
Karel finished his tour asking the question why Prague, almost alone among major European cities, was left relatively untouched during WWII. He didn't have the answer, and it isn't clear anybody does. However, he touched on all several major themes. The most plausible, to me, seems to be Hitler's supposed instruction to not destroy any of the Jewish cultural areas, because he hoped to turn it into a 'museum to a dead race'. Hitler also believed an old military maxim that whoever controlled Prague controlled Europe. Which is likely why he refused to recall troops from Prague during the final stages of the fall of Berlin. These stories don't explain why Prague was not bombed during the war by the Allies, but they do shed some light on why the Nazis didn't inflict more damage of their own.
This fact is particularly interesting when considering Operation Anthropoid, the assassination target being Holocaust mastermind Reinhard Heydrich, and Hitler's reprisals. Hitler would have done far more damage had he not been convinced that Czech industrial productivity was essential to the war effort. It's possible the Allies chose to not bomb Prague in order to avoid providing Hitler the reprisals he'd been talked out of.
After our tour and history lesson, we were able to enjoy the city on our own. We took a walk over to the Petrin Hill, rode the funicular to the top of the hill then walked to the top of Petrin Tower, Prague's version of the Eiffel. We then walked down a path and over to a beer garden above the castle for lunch with a view of the city. The beer garden was right next to the Strahov Monastery library, which was one of the most beautiful I've ever seen. Somehow, we missed the Clementinum. Always leave something for next time...
A bit of Prague that was very special to me was the amount of celebration Kafka receives. I've long been a fan of his work, and they are without a doubt proud of their well-known citizen. The revolving head at the shopping mall is a very intriguing stop.
Like Vienna, from which we took day trips to Budapest and Bratislava, Prague offers many side trip opportunities if you get tired of the city. There are the spas at Karlovy Vary, the concentration camp at Terezin, and even jaunts to Dresden.
I highly recommend a visit for anyone who has the opportunity. To whet your appetite, I offer these views:
Three views of the Charles Bridge, one from the West, one at its entrance to the South, one from the hill above.
The Dancing House
Inside the Estates Theater prior to the start of Don Giovanni. This is the only opera house left standing where Mozart performed.
A statue of Kafka, with the beetle barely noticeable in the stone beneath the statue.
One of Kafka's homes.
A view from Petrin.
The Lennon Wall - with a class from Canada (we listened in, and I won't repeat what I heard, but it was not a reasonable recounting of history. Poor kids didn't want to be there taking a class, and the class they got was pretty poor).
The Old Town Square at night - the Astronomical Clock Tower to the left.
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I fell in love with Czechio a few years ago while escorting the aged mother in law to her home village of Veseli nad Moravou.
We spent a few days in Prague and it was spectacular. Did you notice the multitude of tall, slim, blonde girls?
I am 1st generation of German extraction and was raised to consider German beer the best. Hogwash, the Czechs are better, and 'Uhersky Brod' is the best in the universe, to me anyway.
Should you ever get to Kosice, Slovakia, check out the bell tower attached to the Cathedral of St Elizabeth of Hungary. Obviously used as a watchtower in the early days, it has a worn circular stone staircase going clockwise to the top. Also narrow - have to pass carefully when meeting those going in the opposite direction. Back when I visited, there was no handrail, not even a rope one. Going up was okay, but going down was much trickier, as a misstep would have you plunging down around the core of the stairs. But the view from the top was really great.
That might be the last opera house where Mozart performed but there are other venues still active.
Last Christmas I took in a concert in a hall outside Heidelberg with my college-aged daughters. It was an amazing event, especially knowing that Mozart once stood on those boards playing to my seat.
Based on what I was told (and found online) this is, indeed, the last opera house standing where he performed.
It seems others were destroyed by war or simply replaced.
Other venues must exist - in fact, in Bratislava there was a building with a sign which stated Mozart had been invited to perform there at the age of 6.
I imagine he performed in many palaces at the time.
I know many of these 'first performance' locations still exist. After all, I was at the Schonbrunn Palace.
Don Giovanni was premiered in Prague at The Estates Theater - which is why the continue to perform it, despite Prague having another, more updated and sumptuous Opera House.
Still, The Estates was used in Amadeus as a location due to its history. Obviously, its style matched the period's needs.
Heh - one problem with our comments, you can't edit.
I forgot to note that just because an opera was performed doesn't mean Mozart conducted.
It was in Schwetzinger Castle, west of Heidelberg, named appropriately enough, Mozart Hall.