Last week, I had an interview that was supposed to last 15-20 minutes. Instead, it lasted almost 45. I was interviewed by Irene Noguchi, one of the producers on KQED’s Forum.
Perhaps it was a result of her time conducting interviews both on and off air, but she asked me some of the best questions I’ve ever been asked. Not only that, but she saw things in me through my resume that I hadn’t even put together about myself.
Preceding the interview, she asked me to put together three pitches for three story ideas for Forum, which was both more fun and more challenging than I expected it to be. But she said they were very thorough and impressively detailed, so that’s good. One of my pitches was about the robots and science in the search for lost planes, specifically the Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 still missing somewhere in the Indian Ocean, one was about the company Pley, renting toys, and the importance of playing with new toys for children’s’ development, and the third was about the sad lack of international authors translated into English.
As we were talking, Ms. Noguchi asked me why I had traveled to Prague, and what I was getting out of my experience. It was a question I was expecting; in fact, in my internship course just last week, we had mock interviews, and every single person got asked this question. When I answered it in class, I talked about my personal connection to Prague, the fact that my dad spent hours, days, weeks, with Babi translating documents from Czech after Deda died, and my worry that no-one in my family will be able to do that when the inevitable happens and Babi passes on too. In class, my teacher and classmates suggest I not talk about it. Use the question to express your interest in seeing the world, in learning about a new culture; answer every question honestly, but spin every answer to market some aspect of yourself. When Ms. Noguchi asked me that same question, I ignored all the advice, and answered it the same way I’d answered it in class. Instead of being put off by such a personal answer, she nonchalantly said, “So you’re the family historian.”
I’d never thought of it that way. I don’t think I have that much interest in family history, really. We have a family tree of Babi’s side framed in her house, and I know I’ve always been fascinated by it. I love hearing the stories of the past and of all our relatives, but I can never remember them. Isn’t remembering an innate part of being a historian? So I didn’t really think of myself as a family historian, but since that interview, I think it might be an accurate description. I mean, look at this blog. As much of what I’ve written about Prague has been about my search for my family’s history as it has been about anything else. Maybe it is a role I’m stepping into, one step, one story, at a time?
Regardless, the next thing Ms. Noguchi said hit me as telling: “That’s good. Everyone in radio, I think, is attracted to the story, whatever it is.” And we moved on.
A bit later, she said something else that I maybe could have predicted, but also hadn’t really put together. She asked another question, phrased as if it was something obvious. “I see a robots theme here on your resume. Research at Tufts, the Girl Scouts Robotics team.” She interrupted herself. “I didn’t even know the Girl Scouts had a robotics team. And then one of your pitches was about robots. Tell me about this theme.”
My answer to this question isn’t really all that relevant, but I did find it interesting. I don’t think I’m as into robots as I used to be; I’m not on robotics teams anymore, at least. But I still find them fascinating. I read pretty much every article about robots I come across, and I write about them too! Maybe I’m more into robots than I thought, and it just took a single, well-thought out question to show me that.
I hope that, among all the things I get to do this summer, I can learn to ask the type of questions Ms. Noguchi asked me. I hope that I can learn from her, from the other Forum producer Judy Campbell, editor Dan Zoll, and of course host Michael Krasny, to ask the right questions to get the interesting answers.
Because about two days after our interview, I got the email everyone wants when they’re applying for a job. Starting in less than 4 weeks, I’ll be working on KQED’s Forum as an intern, helping to pick and research show topics and guests, to screen callers, and to put the ten hours of fascinating content I’ve listened to for as long as I remember on air.
I’m super excited for this opportunity, and I want to take a second to thank Emily Sena and her friend Erika Kelly for helping me even get an interview. I know from experience that getting the interview is the hard part, so I’m eternally grateful to these two. (Get networking, kids! It is totally worth it!)
I know that the very first thing I’m going to do when I meet Michael Krasny is ask him two questions: How many books do you read a week? How? Because it is clear from his interviews with authors that he reads every book he talks about on air, and obviously dozens on top of that. So I want to learn his secret…
I think it is safe to say that the reality of the awesomeness of this hasn’t really hit me yet. I’m going to working on a nationally aired news program on NPR. Based on things I’ve read (including this blog by a Stanford student who interned on Forum, and this interview of Forum editor Dan Zoll) I know that this is going to be an amazing internship, where I will get real responsibilities from Day 1, get to meet amazing people from all walks of life, and hopefully find a career I love (either radio, or something else that one of the hundreds of guests I’ll interact with does…). Regardless, I’m very excited for what this summer holds in store for me, and I’ll make sure to keep everyone updated as the summer progresses!
And if you’ve got any questions you want me to pose to anyone on the Forum staff, or others who work for KQED, sound off below and I’ll see what I can do!
World War I, or the Great War, began almost exactly 100 years ago. The world lost over 9 million young men in the fighting, and countless other lives were destroyed; the end of the war was accompanied by world leaders proclaiming it had been “a war to end all wars” (Woodrow Wilson). And yet, barely 20 years after the Treaty of Versailles was signed, Germany occupied the Sudetenland and World War II began for the state of Czechoslovakia.
In March 1938, Hitler justified seizing the Sudetenland by claiming that all Germans in the world belonged in the Third Reich, and that those Germans living in the Sudetenland were being threatened by their Czech neighbors.
And then, this week happened. Russian President Vladimir Putin sent Russian troops into Crimea, the southern region of Ukraine on the Black Sea, citing concerns about the safety of ethnic Russians living in Ukraine.
Like in the Sudetenland, the population accepted the takeover with little resistance. Like in the Sudetenland, the population in Crimea is mixed – in this case, much of the population is ethnically Russian, speaks Russian, and supported the former president Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to reject the European Union in favor of closer ties to Russia.
Obviously, the issues in Ukraine are certainly getting a lot of international news attention, and there are some sites that can do a lot better at explaining the tensions and causes of what’s going on than I can. Check out this one, specifically, for a good history lesson without superfluous details. Or here for a who’s-who.
Living in the Czech Republic, which is so much closer to Ukraine both geographically and historically than the Western powers I usually get my news from, I’ve been getting a distinctly different perspective on the events in Ukraine. Add to the geographical difference the fact that my work at Amnesty International this week has revolved around publishing stories of personal stories from the protests, uprising, revolts, whatever-you-want-to-call-them in Ukraine. I’ve been seeing truly disturbing images of innocent bystanders who have been brutally attacked by Ukrainian police forces. One of my best friends here is living with an ethnically Ukrainian family. Being in a homestay for nine months makes you feel like your host family is true family, and Holly shows up to class every day truly scared for her relatives living in Ukraine. We got an email today from our program, reminding us to register with the Embassy here in Prague, to tell them whenever we travel outside of the country, and telling us we are not permitted to travel to Ukraine.
Someone just asked me: “Do you think its gonna happen?” The only thing I can say is, I sure hope not.
But with the escalating tensions in Ukraine, Russia, and around the world, the possibilities are scary. Putin’s statements today imply that he is lessening tensions, but things could easily go either way. The real importance of the Sudetenland comparison is to consider the reactions. In 1938, the world watched Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia, and essentially ignored it. Russia’s invasion of Crimea could be compared to Germany’s invasion of the Sudetenland, or to any other number of invasions over history. The differences are key – will Putin stand by his declaration that Russia has the right to interfere in Eastern Ukraine while the Western powers of yesteryear continue to stand by, or will diplomacy reign supreme and prevent the outbreak of another worldwide conflict?
They say, those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it. Unfortunately, just knowing your history doesn’t mean you automatically avoid repetition. I guess there is nothing to do but wait and watch and pray.
Anyone who’s been around this blog for a while knows that this is my second semester in the most beautiful city in Europe. But I’m not just chilling in Prague, traveling and wandering and taking pictures. (Although that is a lot of what I do here…) I am also taking classes. I’m here, at school, on Monday morning, waiting for my second week of classes to start, and it seems appropriate to let you all in on my schedule. (That, and my Dad emailed, asking that question.)
So here we go:
The first thing to note about my schedule this semester is that I manipulated it and took very specific classes which has resulted in the most amazing study abroad schedule imaginable. The earliest I start is 10:35 (M/W), and I only have classes M/T/W. Aka, I get four day weekends, so when I travel I can do it right (or at least better).
But how? Well, first of all, I’m taking a class called the Films and Literature of Arnost Lustig. A couple of friends took it last semester and loved it, and I’m psyched. The professor is Pepi Lustig, the son of the famous Czech author and director, which means we get an intensely personal view of the material. Lustig and his entire family managed to survive the Holocaust through dumb luck and a willingness to accept said luck, so these stories are really fascinating. I’m really excited about the class. In addition to the overall awesomeness, the class meets for three weekends – I can’t travel those weekends (obviously), but it means my weeks have a lighter load.
I’ve also lightened my schedule stress by taking two classes that meet only once a week. The first, called Nation, Power, and Money, is about the influence of media and propaganda on the Czech Republic and the world. It also got positive reviews from people last semester, and I’m excited to get a bit of this sort of thing from a different perspective. Back at Tufts, I took a propaganda class looking at the rise of Nazism and Japanese militarism, so I’m excited that this class takes the same ideas to look at the popularity of communism throughout East Europe and the Soviet Bloc, as well as how and why consumerism is similar to communism and advertisements similar to propaganda.
My other one-block-per-week class is called Global Crisis, and is about the 2008 financial collapse. This class is taught through ECES, which is Charles University’s center for American students (as opposed to all the programs in Prague that are affiliated with CU, like CIEE). We have our first class meeting tomorrow, but I’m excited. There will be a mix of students from CIEE, students from ECES, and also ERASMUS students from all over Europe, so I look forward to getting to meet some people outside of the program. I’ve never taken an economics class in college, but I think I’ll be okay, and hopefully I’ll learn a lot too.
The last class I’m taking through CIEE is my Czech Language class. There are seven people in my class – four of us from Fast Track last semester, two from other Czech classes last semester, and one whose Mom is Czech, so she has a much larger vocabulary than the rest of us, but never learned the grammar rules. All in all, this class may end up being my favorite (again!) because the people are great, and the professor is great. We had Jana last semester, so she already knows most of us and knows how we study, what we really want to learn, etc. We got new textbooks this semester (that cost $30, not $130 like Amazon says…), and she says we’ll be getting through all 200 pages, in addition to the activity book, so I have a suspicion this is going to be a challenging semester. On the other hand, every day I feel more and more like I’m getting a real handle on the language – I even understood the gist of the news last night. But that is a post for another day.
If you’ve been keeping track, this is only four classes, and CIEE has a strict five-class policy. So what am I missing? My internship, of course! I’ve got an internship at Amnesty International for the semester, which I think (unfortunately) will end up being my least interesting class, because I speak English. Basically, the advantage of having native English speakers for Amnesty and all the other companies CIEE sets up internships with is that we can edit their English documents and publications. It certainly isn’t the most exciting work, but I’m not complaining. I like the people I work with, and I’ve already noticed my opinions and my interpretations of international events changing. Hopefully it gets more interesting, but even if it doesn’t, I’m enjoying it for the most part.
But wait, there’s more! I am taking a sixth class, and I’m in the process of getting it approved for credit. Called Mystery of Words in USAC (another program in Prague), and previously offered at CIEE as Words through History, History through Words, it was the one class that I was most excited about taking before I came here. It is a little bit linguistics, a little bit history, a little bit anthropology, and is basically about how languages evolve over time, and how different languages influence and alter each other.
As always, I’ll be updating as the semester goes on with information about me, my life, and my classes, so check back shortly for information about last weekend’s trip to Berlin, and also last month’s trip to Geneva and the French-Swiss Alps.
Not everything worth doing is written in that guidebook your parents bought for you when you told them you’d picked Prague as your study abroad destination. I personally adhere to the get lost rule: I haven’t truly seen a city until I’ve gotten utterly and hopelessly lost. It is then that you find the best parks and the tastiest restaurants and the cheapest grocery stores. It is only when you get lost that you stumble across a quaint café or meet that kind family or have honest conversations with the locals. But not everyone is down to randomly wander and pray they figure out where they are eventually. So here is a collection of the things to do in and around the city that might not be in that handy dandy guidebook.
An afternoon on Petrin Hill
I wrote about it here, with pictures, but its worth mentioning again. Take an afternoon and walk up Petrin Hill. The funicular is awesome, and the top of the hill, with its tower and mirror maze, is definitely great. Especially in the spring when the flowers are all in bloom. But don’t limit yourself to the top of the hill! Give yourself an afternoon (or even better, pack a lunch and make a day of it) and walk up the hill. The paths are long and winding, and chances are you’ll end up somewhat lost. But the views on the way up are beautiful, and wandering through the woods, seeing the dogs running and the kids playing and the couples …well, … being couples is definitely worth it.
Letna is a giant park – find the metronome where the Stalin statue used to stand, and it just might be working today! A good spot for a picnic or a walk (maybe wait until spring for those!), Letna is also rumored to be the home of a fake Olympic village in February, as the Prague government is trying to get the Czechs to show their solidarity and support for the Czech athletes by standing in the cold and watching the events together instead of in their sweatpants on the couch. In all seriousness, though, there will be an ice skating rink and various Winter Olympics-related activities, so it’ll probably be some good fun.
Prague has a significant Vietnamese minority, a holdover from when the Czech government invited Vietnamese refugees into the city during the Vietnam War. People say it’s a great spot to visit, that you get to see a lot of interesting stalls and you can buy super cheap vegetables and the best and freshest seafood/the strangest forms of meats imaginable (this comes from a Czech, and the Czechs eat some pretty bizarre meats…). I plan on getting there at some point to buy the ingredients necessary for sushi, but for now I’m just imagining it.
This is something that I want to do, have wanted to do since I showed up, and have yet to do it. But it is definitely high up on my list. Vyšehrad is on the lists of off the beaten path places to visit. The cemetary is where famous Czech author Karel Čapek is buried, and is actually really nice for an afternoon walk. We go to school up here, so it should be really easy to visit the castle, the cemetery, everything. Apparently, there is a really gorgeous set of ruins from which you get a gorgeous view of the city. I’ll have to search it out sometime, I suppose.
St. Wenceslas Vineyard
Near the castle, at the top of the stairs heading down to Malostranske, a hidden vineyard hugs the edge of the hill. I haven’t been there myself, but sources say the svařak there is wonderful and the goulaš not too shabby. Perhaps I’ll take an afternoon when it is starting to warm up but not quite warm and head out there.
Everyone has heard about the Lenin Wall, where the city’s many graffiti artists and the woefully unskilled can paint side-by-side. Visiting the wall is a must for anyone in Prague – be warned though, take a guide or a really good map, because its hidden away in the alleyways. For an even better dose of fun, buy some spray paint and make your mark on the wall. A name, an image, a phrase, anything and everything is welcome. (Plus, it makes for a fun and funky profile picture!)
Go to a hockey game
Hockey is a big thing in the Czech Republic, and a lot of people are very passionate about their team. I went to a hockey game when my parents visited, and it was definitely worth it. The tickets are super cheap, so get yourself a front row seat and enjoy the game!
Visit a Butcher Shop
They’re a bit hard to find in the States anymore, but butchers are all over Prague. You can tell, because they’ve got windows filled with meat (logically). Perhaps not the best choice for a vegetarian, but they are pretty interesting and something that you don’t necessarily get to see anymore at home.
A night club and contemporary art space curated by David Černy. Černy is the most well-known czech contemporary artist in the Czech Republic (definitely check out his art pieces and installations scattered throughout the city). Meetfactory has tons of amazing concerts with international artists, interesting theatre and performance art, and when it’s just in nightclub-mode, it’s a good time as well. Don’t let its distance from the city centre deter you from going – it only takes ~20 minutes to get there when you know where you’re going!
It seems like Jazz in definitely the Prague music of choice. It seems like every other block has a jazz club; some are significantly better than others. Every one has pamphlets with their upcoming live musicians, which makes it really easy to find a particular band you like. (I strongly recommend catching a show by Alice Spring’s Band. They always have fun onstage, which means you have fun in the audience.) Each jazz bar has its own atmosphere – I’m partial to the Jazz Republic in Mustek, but I know some people like Jazz Dock better. And there’s always the jazz club below Cafe Louvre, which saw Bill Clinton on his clarinet back in the day.
Trips Further Out
The abandoned soviet ghost town in Milovice, is about a 45 minute train ride north of Praha. During the Soviet Occupation, Soviet soldiers and nuclear warheads were secretly kept there along with thousands of reinforcements. Today there are tons of completely abandoned air force bunkers, cramped apartment barracks (where they filmed the Bratislava scene in Euro Trip!) and crumbling houses of generals. It’s amazing, and not hard to find.
Karlovy Vary, also known as Carlsbad. Many people only know it as a russian spa town in the Czech countryside (Czechs HATE it!) others know it as the town Queen Latifah visits in Last Holiday or James Bond in Casino Royale. However you know it, taking a day trip is definitely worth it. Climb to the top of Diana Tower for the most breathtaking view and also check out Grandhotel Pupp and the Becherovka Factory!
Go to Istanbul
Finally, if you’re looking for ideas on international trips, literally every person I asked said they’d recommend a trip to Istanbul. I went, and I absolutely, 100%, without a doubt want to go back. The city is big enough to have lots of stuff to do, but small enough to see in a weekend. And, its different enough from Prague to feel like you’re really traveling to a different place, whereas Krakow and Vienna and Berlin are very similar in a lot of ways.
To write this post, I really have to start a few years ago: the last time I was in Prague. My grandparents brought our whole family here to explore the city they had been born in, to learn a bit of the family history, to visit Europe, and to have a fun family vacation. Although I was old enough to understand some of why we came, I think I missed a lot of the family history they wanted to share with us, and that is one of the many many reasons I decided to come to Prague.
When we were here, we went all over the city, visiting typical tourist spots, but also Babi’s high school and the house Deda was born in and the park they both played in. We also visited the Pinkas Synagogue, which is famous for the names written on the walls. Not just any names, but names of the 80,000 Czech Jews lost during the war. The Synagogue is dedicated to these people whose lives were lost. Some were lost in the sense that they were killed; some were lost in the sense that the last written record of them are the Nazi deportation lists these names are copied off of. I remember the wall of Prague Jews, the red last names and the gold stars separating families. And I remember Deda standing there, staring at the wall for what seemed like an eternity. I remember the single tear that rolled down his cheek before he hustled us out, saying we’d spent enough time with him showing us around the city, and that we deserved an ice cream.
My grandparents said that they’d always wanted to take the family to Prague and had just been waiting for all us grandkids to be old enough. Maybe that was true. But I can’t help but think that they knew they were reaching the end of their ability to travel across the ocean. They were old enough that crossing the city was a long, slow process, but they were determined to share some history with us. I respect them immensely for that. But I also realize that I witnessed something unique that day. Not just the tear, though it was the only tear I’ve ever seen on Deda’s face. But also that I got to see the last time my grandfather ever visited his mother and brother. Because, when there is no body to be buried, the closest thing family gets to a grave is the name written on the wall in memorandum.
Back to present day. My Jewish history class took a trip to Lidice and Terezin. Lidice is the town completely destroyed by the Nazis in revenge for the assassination by Czechs of SS Officer Heidrich. The Nazis killed every man, and sent every woman and child to concentration camps. They bombed and burned the town to the ground, and even dug up every body in the cemetery. Not a single Jew lived in the town. Terezin is the fortress town the Nazis turned into a Jewish ghetto/concentration camp/transport camp. Nearly every Czech Jew was sent through Terezin on his way to concentration and work camps.
Needless to say, it was an emotional day for everyone that went. Its hard to face the reality of what happened. Even when you know the facts, the emotion of actually being there always hits harder than you expect.
Ever since the aforementioned trip to the Pinkas Synagogue a few years ago, I’ve always looked for my grandfather’s immediate family’s names in lists of names. It doesn’t matter where I am. (even if the list has nothing to do with the Holocaust, I look at the names.) And, honestly, I’ve stopped expecting to see any names I know.
We were walking around a museum in Terezin, filled with stories and pictures the kids drew while they lived in the town. Parents and other adults did the best they could to make life in Terezin as normal as possible, giving children an education and the ability to express themselves and a soccer field to play on when they had the strength. I walked into another room, and am surrounded on all four sides by off-white walls covered in names and dates. The names of children sent to Terezin and their birthdates.
Like any other list, I scan for the names. Like any other list, I expect to see absolutely nothing.
And then it hit me like a ton of bricks. Knocked the wind right out of me, and I literally doubled over. There it was, the name I’d been always looking for but desperately hoping to never see. I was sliding down the wall, gasping for breath, and I heard a comforting voice, but I didn’t know who it was and I didn’t care and I couldn’t think.
The next five minutes are a blur. I don’t know what anyone said, I don’t know what really happened. Then we were watching a propaganda movie filmed by the Nazis near the end of the war, as an attempt to convince the Allies that the camps were good for the Jews. There were young boys playing soccer, watering plants in the garden, reading books, playing cards.
May 31, 1928.
He was somewhere around 13, 14, 15 years old when he is in Terezin.
The Rabbi says children were sent at age 14 to Auschwitz; children under 16 were killed upon arrival. Was this his fate?
Young boys of that age were involved in producing plays and publishing magazines filled with poems and stories and drawings. Did he help with one of the many magazines we have seen over the course of the days, on walls of museums?
The able bodied were forced to do hard labor – digging trenches to redirect the river, building Nazi weaponry in underground mines, digging mass graves for their friends and family. Is this how he finished his life?
Thousands of men, women, and children never made it out of Terezin because of the deplorable living conditions and high disease rates?Did he die in his mother’s arms? His father’s? Did they die in his arms?
Did they ever see each other in Terezin?
A few hundred children survived. A tree stands in the Terezin cemetery where the descendants of these children meet annually. We don’t actually know what happened. Would I find distant relatives of mine there?
Since our trip to Terezin, our class has had the opportunity to listen to two Holocaust survivors. One, Pavel Stransky, defied fate multiple times and managed to survive for almost three years in Auschwitz. Both he and the artist Helga Weiss-Hošková went through Terezin. Both survivors had phenomenal stories. They were, quite simply, lucky to survive – neither could truly explain why or how it happened. It seemed, honestly, like neither had even managed to figure out why they had been allowed to live while their friends and family survived. And both told their stories as if it wasn’t something that had actually happened to them, as if they had no personal experience with it at all. I can only assume that they have put their emotions in a box, separate from their memories, in order to share their memories and stories with us.
And yet, somehow, I am hit by the emotion of it while they sit stoic. It is as if they have passed the emotion onwards, in order that the next generation may remember. In fact, Pavel explicitly said that his main job now, as a survivor, is to pass his story on to the next generation so that the stories and memories may live on forever in our collective memory. I only wish that my grandfather could have added his story too. I don’t even know if he knew the story himself; it is possible that he never found out at all.
And even if I do find out someday, I know there is no way to really understand what my family went through. The reality of the history of the Holocaust is incomprehensible, but I know that it is a part of my history that I know nothing about. I don’t know if I want to know, and that’s an issue I’m going to be struggling with for at least the next few months; maybe the rest of my life.
The Weekend Part I: Home Alone
My weekends technically start Thursday evenings, since I don’t have any classes on Fridays. That said, I didn’t really do much weekend-y stuff on Friday. I woke up early like normal and came to school to get a letter I had written to Babi edited.
Then I went home to spend the afternoon playing in the flat with Jachym.
In early evening, Anna left for a weekend trip with her friends to a mountain town, and Filip took the kids to Anna’s village, leaving me home alone for the weekend. I went to Anděl to meet some friends for dinner, and then they came over for some svařák and krtek. Svařák is just the Czech name for mulled wine, which is known elsewhere in Europe as gluhwein, glogg, and typically as “hot wine.” Krtek is the adorable mole shown below; the star of Zdeněk Miler’s cartoon goes on adventures with his animal friends all over the world. I’m pretty sure Krtek is the most popular cartoon character in not only the Czech Republic, but also all of Europe. He is truly a classic, and the combination of mulled wine, curling up on the couch with friends, and an absolutely adorable cartoon (even if he is aimed at small children) made for a great Friday night.
I had great plans for Saturday. I was going to do homework and laundry and go to bed early. Or not…
Included in my plans was to meet Alyssa at the second annual Prague Burger Fest, which was as awesome as we hoped it would be. We started off by getting two beers to share, then we got in line for some burgers.
I had a lamb burger with goat cheese and plum chutney, and then a Hawaiin style burger, which meant it had grilled pineapple on it. Both burgers were fantastic and totally worth the long lines.
Not included in my original plans for the day was everything else we did. We started with a trip to a chocolate and nuts store, where we got ourselves a chocolate and yogurt covered afternoon snack, and then wandered around for a while. We then met some other friends at a tea room for afternoon tea, followed by a game of laser tag. Then we grabbed some dinner off the street – the first burrito I’ve had since I left California. No photo here, because it wasn’t all that great. (It wasn’t bad, don’t get me wrong. But I’m from California, and I have some incredibly high burrito standards.)
Anyway, we wandered around the city for a bit and I took a bunch of night photos before we ended up at an amazing jazz bar with amazing life music and some pretty kick-ass mixed drinks.
When the music ended at midnight (4 hours of amazing live music for a mere 50 crowns!), we moved on to Martina’s favorite spot, which was a tiny little pub that I literally would’ve walked by without a second glance had she not ducked in. From the outside its just another building and another black door, but inside was lit by candles, filled with only locals, and full of cheap beer and lots of fun.
By the time I got home (3 am!) I was more than a little bit exhausted, and not at all ready to wake up at 6:30 for another long day.
The Weekend Part II: Trip to Trebič
Nonetheless, wake up early is exactly what I did. And had an amazing day learning about the Jewish history of Trebič, which is a relatively small town about 2 hours south of Prague. Interestingly, Trebič is also about 20 kilometers from Anna’s family’s village, which meant that I was less than a half hour from my host family all day long. When we arrived in Trebič, the day was cloudy and cold, but that wasn’t about to stop me from taking photos of the old buildings in the Jewish quarter.
This was, ultimately, an educational trip, so I will do my best to impart unto you some of the stuff I learned. Architecturally, our professor talked a lot about the different things the Jews had to do to deal with their limited space. The Jewish quarter in Trebič is about two square blocks, and at times each building had 15-20 people living in it. The Jews used really ingenious techniques to make their houses larger than the true square footage they had by building up. Obviously, they couldn’t block the streets because people and carts needed to move around, so they used arches and clever designs to make the second and higher floors of houses larger than the first floors. The arches supporting the second floor that come into the street are commonly found in houses that were built in the Jewish ghettos. They allowed the second floor an extra four to five feet while preserving the street space for carts and shops. Similarly, they used arches between two buildings to allow the buildings on either side of a pathway be higher.
Another thing I saw that was really interesting were the muzuzahs. Jews in the Czech Republic cut space into the plaster of each doorway for the Torah portion, where they were covered in decorative plates, which is apparently different than the Jews in other countries.
In many Jewish ghettos around Europe, they’ve been taken down, destroyed, or ignored. The ghettos themselves have often been destroyed or repurposed to the point where they are unidentifiable. In Trebič, however, the citizens banded together after WWII, when only a dozen Jews out of 300 returned, in order to preserve the history. Trebič is the only UNESCO World Heritage Site that is entirely Jewish, and its entirely because the non-Jews in the town worked to preserve the reality of their past. We visited one of the two synagogues in the Jewish quarter, where our tour guide was not Jewish, because no one left in Trebič is.
Neither synagogue is used today for worship, but the only reason they survived is because the local order of Benedictine monks took it over, converting the synagogue to a church and using it as a place of Christian worship so that the communists couldn’t destroy it.
After our trip to the synagogue and through the Jewish quarter, we stopped by the St. Procopius Basilica. I think the difference between the synagogue and the basilica was the most interesting part of the trip for me. While the synagogue, though large, was mostly spartan, the basilica was huge and predictably filled with stained glass and fancy statues. Don’t get me wrong, both were beautiful, but I couldn’t help but feel like the two houses of worship mirror in a lot of ways the history of the two communities.
The last spot we visited in Trebič was the Jewish cemetery. Perhaps the most heartwrenching thing I’ve seen this trip were the graves with space for generations left empty because the family died off during the Holocaust. Similarly interesting, and almost frightening, were headstones with words scratched off because they were in German (German was the primary language of the Jews in Central Europe). The difficulty of the repercussions of the Holocaust is something that I almost can’t comprehend.
Last, but certainly not least, the day transitioned from cloudy and sad to absolutely gorgeous. I couldn’t resist taking dozens of pictures of the beautiful trees (and really, the beautiful city), and now I can’t resist posting some of them now. Think of it as a feast for your eyes for the fact that you’ve made it through this entire post.
Classes started on Monday, and I’m feeling (along with most people, I think) a little bit torn. For starters, I am ecstatic. I managed to create a schedule that I thoroughly love, and I’m really excited about all of my classes. But I’m also like “Wait, what?”, because I got used to having Czech classes all day every day, and they didn’t have 40-60 page reading assignments. So, classes. The reality of being a student, even if you’re a student on the other side of the world. Here we go!
I’m taking five classes: Czech Language Fast Track, Czech and Central European History, History of the Jews in Bohemia, Economics and Politics of the EU, and Czech Politics. Unsurprisingly, I’m taking a lot of politics-based courses, but I surprised myself by enrolling in two history courses as well. I’m not a huge history buff, but I really want to understand the history of the region I’m living in, as well as my own family history, so there you go. I’ll talk about each class in turn, but I’m excited for all of them. (more…)