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  • Scott Williamson

Journey to Prague: Part II

Hebrew Clock at Jewish Town Hall, Prague

My previous post was a photo-journal "journey to Prague" (with Mini-Mozart). Here's a follow-up.

23.XI | Thanksgiving Day | ROA

Prague cultural itinerary:

Dvorák: Rusalka at National Theatre | Charles Park | Rudolfinum

Smetana: House on Old Town Square | Municipal Hall

Zofin Palace on Slav Island | Nemcova statue

Kafka monuments | “Head” and “Description of a Struggle” sculptures | pubs

Also: Hašek | Hrabal | Rilke | Brod | Einstein | Janacek sites

Castle: Golden Lane (aka: Alchemistengasse) – Kafka’s house (#22); Goldsmith’s house

John Dee and Comenius | Tycho Brahe at Tyn Church

Jewish Prague | Rabbi Löw | Golem | Terezin | Spanish Synagogue

Mucha museum | St Vitus Cathedral window | Municipal House

Estates Theatre | Mozart’s Prague

Dalí exhibit | Prague and modernism | Secession – Art Nouveau | Rilke – Kafka

Old Town Square | Astronomical Clock | Prague Meridian | House of the Minute


26.XI | Sunday

Listening to Dvorak’s magnificent 7th Symphony and those sui generis Bohemian horns in the first movement, with its characteristic sweep and drive; the 2nd movement’s assimilation of Brahms and Wagner into the composer’s own Czech voice, and his remarkable ability to sustain the lyric with the simplest economy of means and materials – the bucolic ease of the Scherzo, echoing Haydn and Schubert, with a touch of Bruckner’s Teutonic gravitas (and, in not the only way, anticipating the German – Bohemian hybrid Mahler…)

Rudolfinum, home of Czech Phil's Dvorak Hall

Hermetic Prague: John Dee – the “Western Esoteric Masters” edition I have refers to Diane Di Prima’s introduction to the 1975 edition of the Monas Hieroglyphica, Dee’s inscrutable esoteric masterwork explaining the universe through a highly-charged symbol… (Recalling Diane's deadpan but utterly engaging poetry reading in Paterson, NJ in 1995...)

I’m curious to know which places we visited contained un-grasped hermetic stories or unrecognized "secret" histories – I love the creative energy in the "mysteries" behind lore and mythology, behind the darker or so-called "occult" corners of history – the "Golem of Prague" is as fascinating to me as the Old-New Synagogue – one of the untold stories behind the famous Golem legend is the Promethean-inspired “good intention” of the Magus; in this case, Rabbi Löw, who according to one legend, made the Golem in order to enlist another pair of "helping hands" around the community he served, but then, according to other legends, the Promethean enterprise, like Frankenstein went awry...

Among the 12,000 ancient tombstones in the Old Jewish Cemetery

The "Rosicrucian Enlightenment" and the Elizabethan-era reign of cultural and philosophical tolerance under Rudolf II, when the seat of the Holy Roman Empire was at Prague’s castle; not only were some of the world’s great artists in residence or guests there, but the leading scientists, astronomers, alchemists, and philosophers were in close counsel with an emperor apparently more keen on the artistic and esoteric than the political; more interested in the philosopher’s stone than in a traditional ruler’s practical concerns… Kepler, Tycho Brahe, John Dee, Comenius, and Edward Kelley were among the famed academic, intellectual & artistic company he kept at the dawn of the 17th c…

Tyn Church (where Tycho Brahe is buried); Old Town Square, with Hus statue

27. XI. 17 | Monday | 9 Kislev | Prague reflections, cont...

Prague’s ability – like Venice – to retain its identity and allure, despite the trappings of a tourist industry upon which it depends, is another one of its special features. Like Venice, it is labyrinthine, intersected and entwined by an impressive canal (in this case the Moldau, or Vltava, immortalized by Smetana in the single most famous movement of Czech music). Prague has retained much of its Baroque splendor, however restored and updated it may be. Like Venice, it is an “Old World” cosmopolitan capital where the new still plays a vital role. Prague has claims as a birthplace of modernism (thanks to Kafka alone), and thanks to its famed culture of contemporary theatre, its embrace of contemporary architecture (like Barcelona), the coexistence of disjointed styles in any given boulevard, strand, or imposing intersection…

From the Wenceslas (Vaclav) Square Monument

It’s concentrated period of classical music masterworks from Smetana and Dvorak to Janacek (c.1850-1925) is remarkable and perhaps unique. Its important role as a central European cultural capital rivaling Berlin and Vienna has long been appreciated by artists and knowing travelers, and the lack of population density (when compared with any of the capitals mentioned thus far) is another appeal, along with its central/eastern European-inspired low cost of living.

(Aside: Prague is one of the places where you WANT to go to the local pub crowded with non-English speakers, have barely enough elbow room to sit, where you may muddle through ordering beer and food, you will get stared at and/or greeted by the animated crowd of locals, and have an experience you won’t forget…)


Shoah memorial, Pinkas Synagogue, Prague

Jewish Prague | Pinkas Synagogue and Holocaust / Terezin Memorial

Reflecting on the darkest corners of European history, like Terezin - the 80,000 names etched in the Pinkas Synagogue as a Shoah memorial: names like Shulhoff, Krasa, and Haas, among the artists used as propaganda to appease the Allies. Terezin (Theresienstadt) was unlike the typical ‘KL’ Concentration Camp (in the sense of a Nazi "death camp”). It was used a staging ground for International Red Cross visits to monitor the German government’s treatment of its so-called “refugee crisis.” So the Terezin inmates – composers, writers, artists, families and children – were all deployed as creators and performers to showcase to the visiting teams of media and international diplomats how the Nazi regime was "taking care of its people." Most of the Terezin inmates were then sent to death in Aushwitz after "helping the cause" of the Reich...


Organ in the "reform" Spanish Synagogue, Prague

Other Secret Prague anecdotes, examples, lore (and what "Alchemist Lane" historical drama did we miss?):

Komensky (Comenius) quotes from The Labyrinth of the World and the Paradise of the Heart:

“Here each one sings his own song.”

In Comenius, the “looking glass” recurs as a motif (a couple centuries before Alice materialized in Lewis Carroll) – recalling the mirror images along the symbolic and literal “Golden” or “Royal” path from the Powder Gate (famous now more for its Medieval weaponry museum and its use in contemporary films like Van Helsing) through Old Town Square across the Charles Bridge up to the Castle (and presumably including the “Golden Lane” – even if that “secret Prague” passage was not part of the public procession to the Castle – it is the stuff of legend, the secret back alley where mysteries and intrigue happen; where spies spot the Emperor disguised, visiting one of his incognito underlings, whose found hanging in a cage in the park a few days later, left to die…

One of two imposing medieval "Royal Path" gates in Prague

“The higher one was the more easily one was upset” Comenius writes of kings or mortals in his Labyrinth’s Dantesque Inferno of an adventure, where the poet has the trusted hand of a “guide” another poet, but from a different, and earlier time / place…

“Not all whom Death struck fell dead to the ground; some she [Death] merely wounded, lamed, blinded, deafened, or stunned.”

“If she comes, she comes..."


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