Day 2: Exploring Prague

This is continuation from my earlier blog which you will find here:

Prague once witnessed large settlements of Jewish community, it was also a world renowned center of education which attracted scholars from all over the world.

The next on my explorations was the Old Jewish Cemetery. After a short metro ride and a walk through the narrow cobbled streets lined with typical European buildings on either side, I was at the doorstep of my destination for the day.

The weather was perfect for a stroll and exploration, light drizzle with the sun peeking joyously.

After getting the ticket, I stepped into this sacred place. The atmosphere turned somber. I first went through to the Pinkas Synagogue. The synagogue is a bloodcurdling reminder of the Holocaust with the names of more than 77,000 victims mentioned on the walls of the synagogue. As I took each step, the realization that these were not mere names, these were individuals, alive, with a future, dreams and hopes which was crudely snatched from them during one of the worst man made tragedies we know of. As I was paying obeisance a lump formed in my throat.

In the attached building is the exhibition of the drawings made by children imprisoned at Terezin, which served as the transit camp. Most of the children from here were taken to Auschwitz. An art teacher, Friedl Dicker conducted art classes for the children. these art classes were aimed at being therapeutic in nature, helping the children with emotional expression, establishing channels of communication. As a psychotherapist, her methods resonate deeply. The drawings feature their happy memories, desire to go back home or to Palestine. Vast majority of the children did not survive the World War and these are probably the only reminders of their lives! My deepest regards to the teacher who even in gravest tragedy served others in helping them find some release, some meaning in the chaos, some solace in the suffering…

With a heavy heart I climbed down the stairs to enter into the Cemetery. According to Jeiwsh faith, in death all are equal. This can be experienced first hand in the Cemetery, where the common persons lie next to history carvers. The oldest grave marked here belongs to Rabbi Avignor Kara made in 1439 and the last known burial here was in 1737. Since, the Cemetery fell within the city limits and therefore burials were stopped on the orders of the Enlightened Sovereign Josef II on account of reasons of hygiene. Around the same time a mass sanitation of this part of the town was also underway.

But by this time, this Cemetery was already overcrowded. Jews do not believe in exhuming the bodies or abolishing their ancestors which is why very few expansions were made, hence to make space the older graves were buried under layers of soil and new graves were made atop those. 12 such layers have been discovered here. This explains why the area is on a higher elevation than the streets surrounding.

The headstones represented symbols denoting either the person’s name or profession, like Gans (meaning goose in German) was denoted with the picture of a goose.  Interesting to note is that the graves around the 17th Century, known as a prosperous time, were decorated more elaborately.

As you walk through the maze of headstones, a strange eerie gloom sets in. I paused several times to pray for the departed placing small gravel on the headstones. At some turns it almost feels like they are walking alongside you. Some visitors had also placed their prayers and wishes atop headstones,  an elderly Jewish couple was reciting prayers at one of the biggest headstone.

The attached museum details the process of death and dying according to the Jewish customs which provides some valuable insights into the culture.

An interesting piece I happened to read somewhere detailed that the this part of the town was protected during the World War since Nazis wanted to create a museum of the Extinct Race, which was never to be but helped in preserving this important history.

So when in Prague, visiting the Jewish Cemetery is a must, there are also guided tours around the Jewish town too.

On Day 2 I traveled to Germany, I will share the link to my next blog for a easier continuous reading!


Day 1 contd.: Journey to the Dreamland

This post is in continuation to my earlier post about my solo Germany trip. Please read the earlier one here:

I hadn’t slept since my journey to the airport began, this technicality is still the first day.

So after a sumptuous Indian lunch at Shikha’s home (even more kudos due to the limited availability of Indian food stuff) we got ready to go around Prague (Praha, in Czech)

My idea of this trip was to take each day as it goes, explore the corners of the city, visit touristy places but observe what is usually missed, try the authentic cuisine (being strictly vegetarian makes it tough in Europe), talk to locals, walk and take public transport, experience the cities to the fullest.

Prague is an ancient city official records of settlement date back to the building of the castle in the 9th century, however, Historians have found evidence of settlements around this area right from Stone age. Legend believes that the prowess of the city was recognised by the Princess Libuse, the daughter of the mythical Ruler Krona when she exclaimed, “a glory that will reach upto the stars”

After getting out of the Museum metro station, we stepped out on the alluring cobbled paths adorned with the fall beauty. Unable to resist the glorious aroma of baked Trdlink set perfectly in the chilly air, we went onward with a chocolate dipped Trdlink (do not miss this delicacy, also try them in their original form sans ice cream and chocolate)

Our first stop was to pay homage to the Saint Wenceslaus, the patron saint of Czech. The statue is a veneration to him and a reminder of his martyrdom and his good deeds.

After this, we proceeded to the famous Charles Bridge over the Vlatava river, it is a grand sandstone structure, which at one time was the single connect between the Old town of Prague and the areas around, it also served to make Prague an important trade town in Europe. Now it is pedestrians only. While the walk feels like stepping into pages of history, what with the carved statues gracing the Bridge, you can also enjoy traditional Czech music and get your portrait made, shop for Czech memorabilia.

Crossing over the Bridge, we took a tram to the castle I have mentioned before, a grand palace with a beatific garden around it. We took a long time strolling through the castle, feeling the walls, trying to absorb the essence of the eras bygone.

On our return we stopped by a wall honoured as the ‘John Lenon Wall’, its a wall where artists pour out their creativity, often over others’ work, but inspite of this speaks of a harmony, of the spirit of free expression, and though this is only a wall hidden behind the many bylanes, add it to your stop over on your next Prague trip! I hope you are touched in the way I was!

The sun had set and it was becoming dark and cold, when we reached the town square, it was as if it has a life of its own! Restaurants and Cafes had set up tables on the cobbled footpaths with festive lights and friends and families were having a gala time. The joy was so palpable, it definitely made my heart swell.

We returned home and I was feeling full of life, satiated with the experiences but also looking forward to more of this…

Read the next part about my journey, as I explore Jewish Cemetery in Prague, here:

Day 1: Journey to Dreamland begins…

The Arabian Sea necklacing Mumbai, washing it shorelines never looked prettier as my first ‘almost’ solo trip to Europe began with the Lufthansa flight LH757.

Exactly a decade ago, my father flew with the same airline on his first international business trip to Germany. And he told us wonderful stories about the country, the people to my sister and me till years later.

Long ago I had harboured a dream, to visit this country, to experience all that he had narrated first hand.

Sometimes dreams take long to come true, but when they do they are much grander than you had imagined, here I was hoping to visit Germany, but then it also became my first international trip all alone, and that means a lot when you are the youngest and most pampered member in the family.

This was also the first time I did a lot of things by myself, packing my luggage, getting the the airport on time, ensuring I don’t oversleep or get into accidents (especially since I have a penchant for both!)

From the beginning my journey was chatpata, while I got entire 3 flight seats for me and could catch some sleep, I had to run across the entire Frankfurt Airport (and boy is it big!) to catch my connecting flight, which I missed, was rebooked and almost missed that one too!

Finally landed in Prague and Uber cancelled on me and the airport cab overcharged, but when I finally got to Shikha Di’s home (my sister’s old friend) I felt I had come home! The comfort of the apartment, her bubbly daughter Aashvi, her helpful and caring husband instantly made me feel at home.