Prague: City of Light and Dark – and Snow

Our first full day in Prague was filled with giddy snowball fights and somber reflection on WWII deaths and the 1968 Communist crackdown during Prague Spring.

Our tour guide Renata met us at the hotel promptly at 9 a.m. and we walked across the Charles Bridge up to Prague Castle. We stopped along the way to admire both the bridge and the powdery snowfall.

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The castle is really a compound of homes and offices in mixed architectural styles. The president lives on the grounds, as does the Catholic Archbishop of the Czech Republic. Below are three views of the castle from early morning to early evening today, Monday, Jan. 14.

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The snow began in earnest as we trudged up the cobblestone street that wends it way up to the castle. When we reached the top, the first thing we did was torture a poor castle guard by posing all around him for another group shot.

When "Amadeus," the 1984 film about Mozart was filmed in Prague, the costume designers were later asked to create new uniforms for the castle guards. This guy kept a straight face as people took his picture all day. Of course, he was standing in 25-degree weather, so he didn't have much to smile about.

When “Amadeus,” the 1984 movie about Mozart was filmed in Prague, the costume designers were later asked to create new uniforms for the castle guards. This guy kept a straight face as people took his picture all day. Of course, he was standing in 25-degree weather, so he didn’t have much to smile about.

Among the buildings on the castle grounds is St. Vitus Church, begun by King Charles in the 1400s and completed in 1929, some 600 years later. A lot happened to delay construction in the intervening centuries.

St. Vitus Cathedral is a Gothic edifice containing the Czech crown jewels and the tombs of Bohemian kings and Holy Roman emperors. It also looks suspiciously like Duke Chapel in Durham, NC. Duke Chapel was built 1930-32, just after St. Vitus was finally finished. Coincidence? I think not.

St. Vitus Cathedral is a Gothic edifice containing the Czech crown jewels and the tombs of Bohemian kings and Holy Roman emperors. It also looks suspiciously like Duke Chapel in Durham, NC. Duke Chapel was built 1930-32, just after St. Vitus was finally finished. Coincidence? I think not.

The interior of Duke Chapel in Durham, NC. Hmmmm....

The interior of Duke Chapel in Durham, NC. Hmmmm….

LET IT SNOW, LET IT SNOW, LET IT SNOW

The students and their professors had a ball in a beautiful and, for a time, heavy snowfall. As we broke for lunch, one small group of students stood quietly smiling at the profs before unleashing a flurry of snowballs at us. We retaliated in kind.

Enjoying the snow inside the Prague Castle courtyard.

Enjoying the snow inside the Prague Castle courtyard.

Matt Dowdle said he was posing as a snowman in this shot. Okay...

Matt Dowdle said he was posing as a snowman in this shot. Okay…

It's evident here how quickly the snow covered us each time we stopped for a lecture from our guide. This was taken in the Golden Lane inside the castle walls, a series of houses where the guards used to live. The houses were later rented out, and are now a series of shops. Writer Franz Kafka lived in Number 22 for a time.

It’s evident here how quickly the snow covered us each time we stopped for a lecture from our guide. This was taken in the Golden Lane inside the castle walls, a series of houses where the guards used to live. The houses were later rented out, and are now a series of shops. Writer Franz Kafka lived in Number 22 for a time.

Descending this slick staircase leading from the castle back to the town was treacherous. We had to hold  on to the rail, the wall, and each other to make it. Some of us slid down more than once.

Descending this slick staircase leading from the castle back to the town was treacherous. We had to hold on to the rail, the wall, and each other to make it. Some of us slid down a few times.

The walking tour was disrupted by play more than once. And why not?

The walking tour was disrupted by play more than once. And why not?

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Jason Puckett winds up for the throw.

Jason Puckett winds up for the throw.

A CHANGE OF MOOD

Things became decidedly more serious as we walked through the Jewish Quarter of Prague. We entered a synagogue built in the 16th century that had been transformed into a memorial for Czech and Moravian Jews who died, mostly in the camps, during WWII. Their names, 80,000 of them, were inscribed on the walls. A cemetery out back held the graves of thousands of Jews stacked on top of one another beneath a mishmash of headstones. The last person to be buried there was laid to rest some 200 years ago. Because of Jewish persecution, no more burial land could be acquired and bodies were simply stacked one upon another over the years.

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The men in our group covered their heads as a sign of respect as we walked through the building.

The men in our group covered their heads as a sign of respect as we walked through the building.

Some of the 80,000 names of Jewish victims of the Nazis. Birth dates by the names varied, but all of the death dates were in the 1930s and 1940s when the death camps were operating.

Some of the 80,000 names of Jewish victims of the Nazis. Birth dates by the names varied, but all of the death dates were in the 1930s and 1940s when the death camps were operating.

The Jewish cemetery behind the synagogue where bodies are stacked on one another in the graves.

The Jewish cemetery behind the synagogue where bodies are stacked on one another in the graves.

Student stand in Wenceslas Square where Soviet tanks rolled against protesters in 1968. The square was the scene of mass protests against Communist rule, and also witnessed the self-immolation of two teens as an act of defiance.

Student stand in Wenceslas Square where Soviet tanks rolled against protesters in 1968. The square was the scene of mass protests against Communist rule, and also witnessed the self-immolation of two teens as an act of defiance.

After a tough afternoon of absorbing some of Prague’s sadder history, students scattered to shop the markets and do some sightseeing before the sun, which actually came out today, went down. A handful of us headed back to the Charles Bridge and climbed the winding staircase in the Gothic tower at the base of the bridge. Here are some shots from above the city.

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Students hang out on the roof of the tower.

Students hang out on the roof of the tower.

ONE LAST INSIDE JOKE

Only those associated with Elon University can appreciate this last shot. Dr. Earl Danieley has been a part of Elon University for some 60 years as a student, teacher, and he even served as president. Now in his 80s, he still teaches chemistry as an adjunct every semester. When we spotted this Prague store, we had to post a photo in honor of our beloved Dr. D.

-A. Hatcher

Earl Danieley of Elon University.

Earl Danieley of Elon University.

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