21 November 2011

Touch of grey

First of all, I know this isn't most Deadheads' favorite song, but it is from the '80s, which means I am contractually obligated to link to it.

Second, the process of turning my apartment and/or flat into a home took a significant turn this weekend. I also found out what everyone in Prague does on a Saturday. The tourists go to Old Town Square, and the locals go to Ikea. Now that I am among the latter, I took it upon myself to buy a couch for the bedroom, which, thanks to the TV, also doubles as the common room.

Before. I wonder if I get to chew this, Baldy asks himself.

16 November 2011

The beginning of the end

Tomorrow, the Czech Republic celebrates one of the most significant and stunning days in its history -- the anniversary of the students' march that led to the end of the Communist era. It began with police abusing a suddenly emboldened populace and concluded 11 days later with the announcement that The Party would no longer be in power.

First, the backdrop as the sun rose on November 17, 1989. Mikhail Gorbachev had implemented his openness and reconstruction policies in the Soviet Union by the summer of 1988. Poland had formed a non-communist government in September 1989, and Hungary had followed suit a month later. On November 9, the Berlin Wall had fallen. And in Czechoslovakia ... nothing yet. There's a reason for this, as outlined in a diary written by someone who was 16 at the time:
If you got caught [demonstrating against the government], you might have been beaten, arrested for days without any trial, and afterwards you might have been deprived of your possibility to study - high school and higher, to work in any but the worst of jobs, to travel out of the country, even to walk free. Not just you, but your entire family could face that fate; all that was needed was just one small mistake on your part. So any anti-government activity was a high-risk business and something you wouldn't dare to even talk about to all but close friends; so ordinary people were very scared and very obedient. Perhaps more than in the rest of the communist bloc. The sudden raise of personal and national courage during the 11/17 and afterwards was totally unexpected... and totally euphoric.

14 November 2011

TV signals and crawling babies

Prague is home to a smorgasbord of architecture: Gothic, Baroque, neo-Renaissance, and a huge metallic,  rocket-type thingy rising from a former Jewish cemetery 216 meters toward the sky with crawling babies on it.

The tower, lit up in the national colors of Russia the Czech Republic (I kid, my Czech friends, I kid ...)
When construction began on the Žižkov TV Tower in 1985, criticism was muted, but only because doing such things under the Communist regime was highly frowned upon. Upon its completion in 1992, the mockery was in full force -- locals said the structure ruined the skyline, was disproportionately tall, was too Communist, and even caused cancer in children. Over time, most locals' views have softened to either acceptance or indifference. It's even one of 31 towers to be on the list of the World Federation of Great Towers, although admittedly I don't know what that entails or means (perhaps a spot in the second round of qualifying for the Champions League).

12 November 2011

Just (more November) photos, part tři

St. Nicholas Church and the Jan Hus statue in Old Town Square.
Painting on a building at Old Town Square.
It's about St. Wenceslas -- that's about all I know.

07 November 2011

Letná Park: History, HIStory, and the passage of time

As one of Prague's few open spaces, and with a location overlooking the city, Letná Park (and its adjacent plain) has hosted some of the city's most memorable events. From the coronation of Czech king Přemysl Otakar II in 1261, to the annual May Day parades during the Communist era, to the construction and implosion of the world's largest Stalin statue, to the massive and life-altering Velvet Revolution rallies in November 1989 that helped end the Communist era, to Michael Jackson opening his 1996 world tour in front of more than 120,000 fans there, Letná Park has been a witness to history (as well as HIStory).

And if you're not into history, well, there is this:

The second bridge you see is the Charles. That building is the Ministry of Interior
Strakova akademie, the seat of the Czech government. The balloon is part of the Kafka Museum.

City of 1,000 Spires. Go on, count them.

A man's castle is his (and his four wives') home

Long before the end of the Communist regime, and the start of the Communist regime, and the invasion by the Nazis and the country's subsequent removal from the map, and independence from Austria and Hungary, and its centuries-long period under the control of the Habsburgs, Prague was the center of the Holy Roman Empire.

As such, Charles IV, King of Bohemia, commissioned the construction of a castle in the middle of the 14th century to protect his royal treasures. Today Karlštejn Castle remains among the most popular tourist destinations outside of Prague, thanks to its history and its convenient 30-minute train ride from the city.

The castle overlooks a village that has roughly 800 people
and nearly twice as many shops.

05 November 2011

Reunion of the Plastic People (and others)

The year is 1976. The place is communist Czechoslovakia. The scenario, quite simply, is this: Some rock bands decided to put on a concert. And the government didn't like it. So four musicians were placed on trial, found guilty of "organized (and/or organised) disturbance of the peace" and sentenced to jail sentences ranging from 8 to 18 months.

For many bands who wanted to perform songs about topics other than how wonderful the Communist regime was, playing concerts was a chore. They could play at friends' weddings or other clandestine operations. And when they did play under the watchful eye of the police, they risked a quick end to the show and an arrest for their so-called rabble-rousing. If my Internet sources are to be believed, the outspoken founder of one band was arrested 300 times and named an Enemy of the State.

Times, obviously, have changed, and this weekend in Prague the bands are getting together for a show. There's been plenty of advanced notice and there is no risk of arrest for dissent. An article about the reunion, and the backdrop of these bands' shows during the Communist era, is here.

01 November 2011

"You're hired. You start when the deer have sex."

Most European countries use Latin-based names for their months, but not the Czech Republic. Instead, the names translate into something symbolic for that month. For example, the 11th month is listopad -- which literally (or close enough to literally) means "leaf-fall."

Letna Park is a lovely place to be during "leaf-fall."
Or when the deer have sex, for that matter.