In the heart of Europe lies a city that embraces you. As Kafka once described it, Prague never lets you go… this dear little mother has sharp claws— a sentiment that encapsulates the complex dance between the writer and his beloved hometown.
Yet, for me, there’s no ambivalence in my feelings for Kafka. I am unabashedly in love with this man who can make me burst into laughter, shed tears, and send shivers down my spine with his words. It was for him that I set out on this journey, but Prague, with its sweet allure and exquisite charm, ensnared me from the very first moment.
Prague, the capital and the largest city of the Czech Republic is undeniably one of the most beautiful cities in the world. This is one of the few historic cities that have preserved their initial prototype until now. While wandering around Prague, I kept thinking that this was the most suitable city to shoot a movie set in the medieval ages.
Prague, the city of fairy-tale bridges and castle dreams, is a breeze for tourists to explore. All you need is a trusty guidebook. So, I got myself a guidebook, or at least I thought I did. Turns out, I accidentally picked up one written by an American author who seemed more interested in dissing the commies than spilling the tea on Prague’s hidden gems. Lesson learned: Don’t trust a guidebook from an American author when it comes to places with a communist past!
Legend has it that the clockmaker paid a heavy price for his masterpiece: he was blinded by town officials, ensuring he could never replicate this wonder. In an act of poetic justice, the sightless craftsman scaled the tower and silenced the clock, a silent protest that lasted for over half a century. Of course, historians might have a different take, which is not really interesting, so let’s skip it.
In the center of the old town square is a Jan Hus memorial. Jan Hus is one of the most influential figures in Czech history; he was burned alive in 1415 after being denounced as a heretic. He laid the foundations of the Hussite church, condemned the corruption of the Catholic Church, promoted local religious autonomy, and told people that Catholicism was not the only legitimate way to be Christian. Of course, according to the church, he deserved to be killed brutally. The teachings of Jan Hus are known to influence Martin Luther, who was more successful in his Reformation movement. Personally, I wouldn’t say I liked the monument. It was ugly and dirty.
The most captivating sight in Prague is the Charles Bridge, which dates back to the 13th century. Charles Bridge crosses the Vltava River in Prague. The view of the bridge and from the bridge are both breathtaking. The bridge is decked with sculptures, now primarily replicas of the originals.
The most important of statue of the national saint of the Czech Republic, John of Nepomuk. This guy was a 14th-century priest, and the queen confessed all her sins to him. Of course, the king wanted to know all of his wife’s secrets, especially whether she was more treacherous than he was himself. But John of Nepomuk refused to do so, naturally, that infuriated the king, and he asked his people to throw the errant priest into the Vltava River. When Nepomuk touched the waters miraculously, a golden halo appeared over the river; today, there is a ring of golden stars over his head on the statue. Touching the golden tablet beneath the figure is supposed to bring you good luck and ensure you will soon revisit Prague. A few meters in front of the actual statue on the left parapet of the bridge, there is a small crucifix marking the spot where he was thrown from the bridge. Touch it, and your wish will come true! Though this story is interesting, some historians say it is a made-up tale. They claim that it was fabricated to tone down the impact of the factual Jan Hus account, which was gaining popularity among the masses. That scared the hell out of the Catholic Church, and they had to come up with a fake hero.
Prague Castle is the largest ancient castle in the world, with a fairy-tale aura attached to it. It is not a single castle but a series of palaces and ecclesiastical buildings of various architectural styles.
Among different houses associated with Kafka, the most interesting one is in the Golden Lane in the Castle Quarter. It now houses a Kafka bookshop. Another writer, the Nobel Prize winner Jaroslav Seifert, also lived near the Golden Lane. Ironically, I never heard of this guy before going there. I went there for Kafka, who did not win a Nobel Prize or even get appreciation during his lifetime.