So I just got back home from a little getaway to my very favourite city (sorry/not sorry London…you, um, don’t even place on the list.) And every time I visit, I’m just taken away by the stunning architecture. There’s always a new pocket of doors and spires and carved stone to explore.
Prague is a very special city, and there are no other capital cities in Europe as well preserved. Prague is unique in that her original buildings and features remain, authentic and stunning. Unlike her counterparts, Prague was kept largely intact during WWII and there was very little damage caused when she fell under Nazi rule. Hitler actually intended to keep Prague for himself as a gift. He wanted her as untouched as possible so that he could turn the city into the arts & culture capital of his Nazi empire.
The luxury quarter of Prague (where you can find Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Cartier etc) is actually the old Jewish quarter and birthplace of Franz Kafka. Ironically, it also now houses the flagship store of Hugo Boss, who was infamously involved in the design of SS uniforms.
If you’re wondering how the Jewish Quarter survived total destruction under Nazi rule, you’re right to wonder. Hitler intentionally kept the Jewish Quarter intact. His plan was to turn it into a museum of sorts.
Specifically; a museum of the extinct.
As his future Europe would contain no Jews, he wanted to keep a record of the race he intended to wipe out. So he didn’t touch the Jewish Quarter of Prague. That would be kept as a gem: a race gone, the quarter left to show what once existed. His greatest accomplishment.
Hitler of course failed. His plans to eradicate the Jewish population failed. His vision of a Europe united under his hateful rule failed. And when the Nazi empire fell, Prague was left as a prize to be tussled out of victorious jaws.
The Russians swept in, and the country was subjected to communist rule.
They too preserved Prague, although communist touches and flourishes can be found throughout- in the stark grey buildings standing alongside the baroque and gilt edging, in the giant metronome, in place of a fifty foot Stalin, slowly ticking away in Letna Park, and in the many nuclear bunkers hidden in civilian buildings strewn throughout the city.
And then, in 1989, The Velvet Revolution took place.
The Czech people had been quietly revolting for a long time. The younger generation- mainly students and political youth- wanted change and were less quiet about it. They forced the hands of those in charge. And after several violent clashes with the riot police- much of it widely televised and shared globally, The Velvet Revolution happened.
On November 17th, 1989, riot police suppressed a peaceful student protest with excessive force and violence.
As a direct result of that violence, on November 19th, demonstrations calling for the end of Communist rule and the resignation of their puppet president began.
By November 20th, half a million people gathered in front of parliament, and strikes were declared for the following week.
November 24th and the entire government resigned, including the president.
A period of transition followed, and by June 1990, Czechoslovakia held its first democratic election in 44 years.
So there we have it, a brief history of the city I love. I hope it serves as a quiet reminder, for now more than ever, that in numbers a whisper can become the loudest of voices.