Prague: Glimpses and Stories

Dear Prague,

I still remember the night we first met.

It was July 2014, 10pm. I was seventeen, and it was my first trip outside Germany alone. I had a mobile phone that couldn’t make a call and €40 with me. I learned then and there in a panic that everyone failed to mention a very important thing: Prague does not belong to the Eurozone.

When the sun went up and lit a cloudless summer sky, I fell in love with the hills and the cobblestone roads, the narrow alleys, vintage trams and baroque architecture. If it weren’t for the hoards of tourists in the Old City, I would’ve said I found true love.

Until we meet again,
K.

It’s difficult not to fall for charming Prague. The Czech capital is vibrant and chique and for all who shun grandeur and romantic flair, it has brutal legends to boot.

The Czech name Praha comes from an old Slavic word práh which means ‘rapid’ or ‘threshold’, referring to the city’s location at a crossing point of the Vltava River. The story goes that the Slavic princess Libuše and her husband Prince Přemysl ruled over Czech lands from the hill of Vyšehrad. Libuše was not only a woman of great beauty and wisdom, she also possessed prophetic powers. One day, she had a vision foreseeing the founding of Prague and standing atop a hill, she proclaimed ‘I see a great city whose glory will touch the stars.’  She instructed her people to go across the river in direction of her vision and build a castle where a man was building the threshold of a house (práh in Czech).

And because even the great noblemen must bow low before a threshold, you shall give it the name Praha.

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Perhaps the most beloved of the city’s legends is that surrounding the Prague Astronomical Clock. First installed in 1410, it is the 3rd-oldest astronomical clock in the world and the oldest still operating. Legend has it that after completion, the clockmaker was blinded on the order of the Councillors so that he would never be able to replicate such a beautiful work. In response, he disabled the clock and no one was able to repair it for the next hundred years.

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The Prague Astronomical Clock

Immediately next to the Old Town Hall are cobblestones in the shape of 27 white crosses that commemorate the 1621 execution of 27 noblemen who tried to stand against the Catholic Habsburg rulers.

Three of the men were hanged and the rest were beheaded. One of them, Jan Jesenský, a nobleman and renowned diplomat who was rector of Prague University and a friend of famed astronomer Tycho Brahe had his tongue cut off before beheading. His body was then chopped off and placed on the road to Kutná Hora except for his head.

The heads of 12 noblemen (including Jesensky’s with his tongue nailed to the side of it) were dumped into iron baskets and placed on Charles Bridge to rot.

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The Old Town Hall

One of Prague’s most famous landmarks, the Charles Bridge that connects the Old Town to Prague Castle, had its first stone laid out on July 9, 1357 at exactly 5:31. This exact timing forms an exact sequence of ascending and descending odd digits (135797531). Charles IV believed this combination would add strength to the bridge.

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Charles Bridge

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Between 1683 and 1714, 30 statues and statuaries were erected on Charles Bridge, some of which have interesting stories behind them.

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Who can resist petting a dog?

The statue of John of Nepomuk has been polished to shine by countless people having touched it over the years. John of Nepomuk was a priest in Prague who received confessions from the queen. Unfortunately for him, the king was a very suspicious man and when he refused to reveal the confessions even to the king, he was executed to drown by being thrown into the river from the bridge. Legend says that touching the falling man will ensure good luck and that you return to Prague.

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The falling man: John of Nepomuk
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The Bridge Band

And who wouldn’t want to return to Prague when Czech beers are one of the finest in the world?

The Czechs have been drinking beer since the beginning of time. In the 13th century, King Wenceslas convinced the pope to revoke an order banning the brewing of beer and breweries began selling their product to the public. His legacy lies in his name: “Good King Wenceslas.”

Beer is so ingrained in Czech history, culture, and lifestyle that the Communists nearly doubled the price of beer in 1984 because they knew Czechs would buy beer regardless of the price. These days though, locals wouldn’t buy beer above 40Kč…

Prague has been a political, cultural, and economic center of Central Europe in its 1,100-year existence. It was the seat of two Holy Roman Emperors and a capital of the Holy Roman Empire. It was an important city in the Austro-Hungarian empire and the capital of Czechoslovakia. Under the Iron Curtain, its skyline was permanently jarred with the construction of Žižkov Television Tower.

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The rocket-like structure jarring the skyline of the City of a Hundred Spires

Like many leftover communist-era architecture in Central and Eastern Europe, the TV Tower used to be deeply resented by local inhabitants.

In 2000, sculptures by Czech artist David Černý of babies crawling up the tower were temporarily attached to the tower’s pillars. It was so well-received by locals that the following year, it was returned as a permanent installation.

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David Černý‘s babies

Prague is now the 14th largest city in the European Union and the one with the lowest unemployment rate. Its rich history makes it a very popular tourist destination and it is now the 5th most visited European city after London, Paris, Istanbul, and Rome. Due to its low cost of living, it is now a very attractive place for expats looking to relocate in Europe.

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