Prague Spring – Sunday

It seems that these European sporting meets always have a Brunch on the day after and I’ve signed up for it.

Pavilion Grébovka
Pavilion Grébovka

The Pavilion Grébovka is set in an attractive park and looks like a gingerbread house basking in the sunshine.  I meet up with the three French Guys and proceed to work our way through a feast.  Everything is good except the coffee.  There’s an offer of a free walking tour around Praha in the afternoon so I have to hang around for this to begin.  Pavel is a gay professional tour guide and he promises a somewhat subversive view of things.  He wants to show us the history of the Czech Republic and its relationship with neighbours, the rest of the world and homosexuality. There are 10-12 guys on the tour some of them are from Germany, one guy from Austria, a local gay couple (the younger one comes from Slovakia) and the masseur – who is from Prague but now lives in Israel.

We begin in Wenceslas Square, which is more of a boulevard sweeping down from the Museum towards the Old Town Square.  Pavel tells us this is where, in the past, you could pick up a guy for sex.  We see a memorial to Jan Palach a young student who set himself alight in protest at the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 see: http://www.radio.cz/en/section/czechs/jan-palach-the-student-whose-self-immolation-still-haunts-czechs-today

Canal which was Venice in Film Casino Royal
Canal which was Venice in Film Casino Royal

Pavel shows us the contrast between a Soviet designed building and those of a more elegant era.  Time is short as some of the party have to leave.  They are catching a train and though we don’t have time to go to the station we are told about the Kinder Transport bronze statues which are companions to those at Liverpool Street Station in London.  There’s also a statue of a Czech kissing a Soviet Soldier which Pavel thinks is very homo erotic, supposedly to show gratitude for being saved.  From what is not clear.  For the benefit of the Slovakian, Pavel tells us that Slovakia collaborated with the Nazis by handing over their Jews.  Prague was apparently one of the first cities in Europe to welcome Jews and consequently there is evidence still of a once thriving community and you can still see the Orthodox on the streets.  Everywhere on buildings there are the names of the streets and district we are in.  The old ones (germanised) have not been taken down and co-exist with modern Czech versions.  To understand all this we have to do some history and as we are standing in Wenceslas Square under the statue of St Vaclav this is a good place to start with the story of Bohemia.  There is a very complicated theory of how the word Bohemian came in to being, involving the Roma, who were originally from India via Bohemia and when asked (in France) where they came from the answer was Bohemia, because that’s where they were last.  We get the story of protestant Bohemia being subsumed into the Hapsburg Empire, returning to Catholicism and being forced to speak German.  This is to be a running gag for the benefit of the Austrian and Germans.

Castle Gardens
Castle Gardens

They take it all in good part as we make our way to the Castle area on the other side of the river.  Here we enter fabulous public gardens around the parliament buildings.  The Castle where the president lives is above us as is the Cathedral.  The President is allegedly an alcoholic and has been given this job to keep him out of trouble while the Prime minister gets on with the work.  The President is anti gay and has also been on record saying that everyone should smoke and drink like him so that people will die younger and save the pension funds.  I think that will only work if people have to pay for their healthcare.

Famous View of Prague and the charles Bridge from the river
Famous View of Prague and the charles Bridge from the river

We come down to the river to see a great view of the Charles Bridge and Old City.

But before we cross there are Pissing statues by David ?ern?.  The Czechs are well know for taking the piss out of themselves and here, literally, are two men pissing on a map of their country.

Pissing Statues
Pissing Statues

There are more memorials to the revolution.  There’s the John Lennon Pub unaccountably sitting in a quiet street.   Lennon was never in Prague or the Czech Republic, but the Beatles songs greatly influenced the young and as their music was banned, records were smuggled in wearing Mozart dust jackets.  In 1980 anticommunists painted ‘Imagine’ on a nearby convent wall opposite the French Embassy.  It was removed immediately but the wall remained a focus of dissident graffiti and remains ever changing today.

John Lennon Pub
John Lennon Pub
Grafitti Wall
Grafitti Wall

We cross the Charles Bridge noting the location of a Mission Impossible scene and looking at the propaganda statues on the bridge.  In particular there is a plaque showing the martyrdom of St John.  In 1393 Queen Sophia’s confessor refused to divulge her secrets and was killed by order of the king. It’s supposed to be good luck to touch it.  Various bits of brass have been kept looking clean by the constant touching.  Pavel thinks that the stories change from time to time so that different parts of the brasses can be cleaned by the tourists.

By this time we have lost most of the party who have had to catch trains or go to the ‘After Party’. On the bridge, Pavel points out the Rudolfinum, named after the Hapsburg prince Rudolph who carried out a suicide pact with his lover at Mayerling.  This music auditorium was used by the Germans in the war and the story goes that Hitler attended a concert there.  He demanded that the statue of Jewish composer Mendelssohn be taken down.  The staff had no idea which statue to remove and in the end they decided on the one with the largest nose which turned out to be Wagner.  We turn right over the bridge to take a brief look at the National Theatre but the real prize is the Theatre where Václav Havel worked as a stage hand.

Václav Havel's Theatre
Václav Havel’s Theatre

We wander around the streets looking at insignias on the businesses, all the while noting the German and Czech versions of street signs.  We pass the Gay sauna next to a church and now there are only three of us who eat at a traditional Czech restaurant.  The beer is as usual excellent and the meal, which arrives at speed, is tasty and cheap.  I have to leave now if I’m to make the evening concert at St Nicholas in the Old Town Square.  The ensemble is comprised of four violins, a viola, cello and double bass.  There’s a trumpeter and a Mezzo soprano who come in and out throughout the programme which last an hour. Mozart, Bach, Handel, Franck and Vivaldi are on the programme.  I realise it’s a mixture of what can be achieved with the forces available and what the popular tunes are.  The audience are all tourists from all over the world. Some applaud between movements but it doesn’t matter and the artists are gracious.

Sigmund Freud contemplating suicide
Sigmund Freud contemplating suicide

I’ve an early flight in the morning and decide to take the hotel car so there’s no time for breakfast.  It’s German Wings on the way home.  They are more relaxed and comfortable than Ryan Air but I could have done without the long stop in Köln, where I have breakfast and buy Swiss chocolate from the duty free at much the same price as Sainsburys.

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