With the info gleaned from our tour yesterday, today we headed straight to the Jewish quarter. This whole area had been a closed of section of Prague for hundreds of years, keeping the Jews away from everyone else and keeping everyone else away from the Jews. However, it was also in an area that was prone to flooding, so the inhabitants were constantly dealing with disease. However, the population still grew to the point where more than 18,000 people were living in about a dozen square blocks of space. However, in the 1800s, the walls were torn down and the Jews were given additional freedoms in Prague.

Our first stop was the Pinkas Synagogue. It was once a functioning synagogue, but today stands as a memorial to the Czech Jews who lost their lives in WWII. Every wall inside the synagogue is covered with the names of Jews who perished during the war, their date of birth and their date of death. It was amazing to see the sheer number of them. Over 80,000 names were on the wall, completely covering nearly every vertical surface, organized into families. Unfortunately, no photos were allowed so we can’t show you just what we experienced.

Upstairs was a memorial to an art teacher during the war. A concentration camp was set up near Prague, but not your typical one. It was a propaganda camp, used to create films to try and convince the Allies that the Germans weren’t doing anything inhumane to the Jews that we’re keeping locked up. In fact, Hitler envisioned the camp as a place where the last remaining vestiges of an otherwise extinct ethnic group could be kept for posterity. The living conditions were slightly better than other concentration camps and genocide wasn’t performed at the actual camp, but people were still living in inhumane conditions and we’re regularly shipped off to Auschwitz – essentially a death sentence. When it was time to create another propaganda film everyone who was frail and unhealthy looking would be shipped there and a batch if healthier looking Jews would be brought in from Prague or the surrounding communities. At any rate, when this teacher, Friedl Dicker-Brandeis, was shipped off she packed up her suitcase full of paper and pencils and crayons instead of clothes. While at the camp, she taught art and had the children draw their fears and hopes and dreams, and she kept much of what they did, meticulously labeled and saved in a pair of suitcases. Before she was shipped to Auschwitz, where she was gassed upon arrival, she hid the suitcases and they were found by the Soviet troops that freed the remaining prisoners. More than 4000 drawings were recovered, and the second floor of the synagogue had a display of some of them. It was incredibly sad to see the dark drawings of the trains taking them away from Prague. But the toughest thing to see was the drawings of their hopes for returning to the city with their families only to note in the label next to the painting that nearly every child who had artwork displayed was killed before the end of the war. Again, no pictures allowed, so you’ll have to look up Friedl Dicker-Brandeis if you’re interested.

Continuing on, we stretched further back in history. While the area was walled up, the Jewish quarter had one cemetery, and when it was full they approached the mayor and asked for additional land with which to create a second cemetery for their dead. They were quite promptly told no. So the inhabitants made do with what they had. They pulled out all of the headstones and laid down a new layer of dirt and placed all the headstones back in. Then they proceeded to bury another layer of the dead above the first, placing new tombstones in front of the old. When that layer was done they did it all again. And again. And again. By the time the walls of the Jewish ghetto were torn down, the cemetery held 40,000 bodies in 14 distinct layers, standing 8 meters (26 feet) taller than the surrounding community. This is how the cemetery looks today:

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<img src="https://bigandlittlebadgers.files.wordpress.com/2014/07/20140704-001047-647693.jpg" alt="20140704-001047-647693.jpg" class="alignnone size-full"

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In the final picture you see the headstones sticking up above he shops. The area where the shops are standing was raised 4 meters after the ghetto’s walls were knocked down, and that section of the cemetery still stands that far above the street (and it’s not even the highest point of the cemetery).

We looked through some additional artifacts and synagogues, but made quick work of them as we had another tour to join. This time we were headed to the castle on the hill.

We took kind of a roundabout way to the castle, giving our tour guide time to point out additional landmarks and important buildings nearby (and even giving us time to stop at a monastery where monks were brewing some of the oldest beer in the Czech Republic – it was tasty), but finally we rounded a corner and ran into this:

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It’s not so much of a castle these days as it is a small village of buildings. But you know you’re somewhere important when it’s guarded by these guys:

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Our tour guide yesterday noted that unlike the royal guard in London, these guys are allowed to respond to people getting up in their faces. And while they’re not allowed to hit women, there’s no rule barring them from smashing a guy’s nose into their face. And since every one is a special forces member, they all seem highly capable of kicking someone’s ass. Shockingly, no one was trying to get up close and personal for a picture with these guards.

After exploring a bit, we found what appeared to be a really old church on the castle grounds.

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Turns our it wasn’t finished until the 1920s (there was even a couple images of the final architects etched into the building, wearing suits and all) but it still looked awfully nice inside and out, and properly old.

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Outside we found one of many statues on the castle grounds dedicated to a particular saint who was both a priest and a lawyer, and who was killed by the king for not telling him what the queen was saying in her confessionals (while claiming it was religious discussion that wasn’t privy to any but the queen, priest, and God, he was actually helping her legally protect herself and her assets from the King if he turned on her as he had his previous wife) and who’s body was only found by the appearance of five stars in the sky (hence why he’s always depicted with 5 stars over his head). However, I’m really including this image to point out the angel/cherub with the foot fetish on the bottom right. Creepy little guy.

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We wrapped up the tour with a great view out over the city:

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On the way back across the river we stopped to get a picture of the Charles Bridge and then walked down along the river to use the Charles Bridge to cross back over. The Charles Bridge was was the first truly permanent bridge in the area, as previous wooden bridges and a hastily constructed stone bridge were all washed away in floods. King Charles had the bridge constructed and when it was finished he wanted to ensure everyone would use his bridge so he burned down every other bridge within 100km in either direction. It was the traffic over the bridge and through the surrounding city that helped Prague grow into the city it is today.

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The bridge was slowly decorated over the years with statues commissioned by various rulers, and today it’s dotted from end to end with them.

We found a spectacular Czech restaurant at the direction yesterday’s tour guide and I enjoyed a terrific goulash (ok, it’s not originally a Czech dish, but they’ve definitely adopted it) and Dawin enjoyed some Bohemian potato pancakes that also had sausage and pork shoulder cooked into them.

We then doubled down on the classy stuff, heading to the Municipal House to see members of the Prague Symphony Orchestra perform. The hall was gorgeous and the music was quite good. We managed to get box seats along the side, which was a unique experience.

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After the concert, we headed back to the hotel to grab a good night’s sleep before a long day of travel tomorrow: nearly 5 hours on a train to Berlin, a quick transfer followed by a short hop to Hamburg, some time to visit what should be an amazing miniature museum, and another 5 hours from there to Copenhagen.