Prague Part II: Unusual Art and the Golden City’s Dark Underbelly

So these bar-code-faced babies by artist David Černý are easily some of the creepiest
outdoor sculptures I have ever seen, and I’ve seen quite a few…
After shelling out more for a cappuccino than half a liter of beer, I’m refreshed and we’re off to Josefov, Prague’s Jewish quarter. 
Before we get there, we stop at Prague’s Museum of Communism
Unapologetically capitalizing on tourists’ curiosity, it sits perched above a busy McDonald’s, crammed with creepy Cold-War-era artifacts and propaganda. There’s even a small model of an “ideal” communist classroom with a doll dressed up as teacher.  I feel more sick than fascinated
, and the museum is really quite small, so it’s a quick visit.
Kafka or bust…..
A bust of Franz Kafka, Prague’s most famous Jew, signals the author’s birthplace, a private residence metamorphisized into a museum about his life. Even though I’m not a fan, I nod and tip my invisible hat to the author, a lifelong local yokel, and continue on to the Old New Synagogue
Europe’s oldest active synagogue, it’s also one of the first examples of gothic architecture in Prague. According to legend, it’s in this synagogue’s attic where the remains of Prague’s golem are kept, in the event that the Jewish community requires its services. Created from clay by the chief rabbi of Prague in the 16th century to protect the Jewish people of Prague, it became uncontrollable and violent and had to be put to sleep.
During the Nazi occupation of Prague, six synagogues, the old cemetery and the Old Jewish Town Hall from the original Jewish quarter were miraculously saved from destruction, “conserved” by the Nazis for future use as the site of an exotic museum of an extinct race. Here, in Prague’s ghetto, the Nazis planned to showcase Jewish artifacts “collected” from all over central Europe. 
The Old New Synagogue, Home to the Golem…
While the old synagogues and cemeteries still impress, they peek out from among a startling mixture of big-name luxury shops (think Gucci, and Louis Vutton) and small souvenir stores populated with Russian nesting dolls and goods made in China emblazoned with “Prague” and images of its most famous monuments. In the distance I’m distracted by Vratislav Novak’s giant, and rather silly Metronome, busily swiping through the sky. Silly or not, it’s certainly an improvement on the Stalin monument it replaced.
Kafka-inspired Sculpture Outside the
Spanish Synagogue in Josefov.
On my way to Mala Strana, where I have big plans to see the Lennon Wall, I occasionally stumble on the cobblestones. Once a source of intense irritation for the communist regime of Gustav Husak, the wall has been filled with John Lennon graffiti and pieces of lyrics from Beatles songs since the 1980s. 
What was once a political statement is now merely amusing and sometimes strange, with unique quotes such as: “Friends are like potatoes, if you eat them, they’ll die.”
Lennon Wall, Prague
Close-up of the Lennon Wall, Prague
From Mala Strana I continue up, up and away to Prague Castle, the biggest ancient castle in the world. Encompassing multiple palaces, churches, monasteries and defense towers, it’s quite simply so massive, that you can’t really focus on any one part of it. 
St. Vitrus Cathedral at Prague Castle
By far my favorite section has got to be St. Vitus Cathedral, which makes me think of Notre Dame; this makes sense, as it is a Gothic church designed by a French architect, complete with its very own rose window.
On the way back across the river to our hotel, I spot Prague’s dancing house, sometimes known as Ginger and Fred. Even though the shiny glass side is curvier, I think the tower with the strange fuzzy-looking sort-of-cap must be Ginger. I explain my reasons to my laughing husband as hands-linked; we walk across the Vitava River one last time (this trip) as the sun sets on the Golden city. 
Fred and Ginger
Wandering the swiftly darkening streets, we happen upon Prague’s monument to the Victims of Communism. Alarming in full daylight, at dusk it’s eerily heartbreaking, the bronzed men gradually fragmenting into nothing in the distance, lives “ruined by totalitarian despotism.” And for the life of me, I can’t disconnect my beautiful, fairytale city from its harsh, and too often, tragic, past. Of course there are those who might argue that Prague’s past adds a certain depth to its charm that other picturesque European cities may lack…
Plaque, Monument to Victims of
Communism, Prague
Monument to the Victims of Communism, Prague

Copyright 2011-2012 Chris Ciolli. All Rights Reserved. First Published in the Tipton Times unless otherwise noted.

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