By Austin Clinkenbeard
Prague’s aesthetic is both the Disney princess and the wicked witch. She is her own twisted step-mother and she is the shining knight who comes to save her
There are two faces to Prague. She is light and grace and forgotten splendour. She is color and water and ancient jewels and armor. She changes, she flows like the tides of her ever-present river. She broods, she is dark. She is a dark labyrinth of spires and twisting stone streets. Of gargoyles, swords and chains. Of both the saved and the damned.
She is ancient and she is modern, Prague abounds with medieval memories to olde yet stroll a few streets away and you can see monuments to the peaceful fall of the iron grip and the removal of the communal yoke that forcefully bound peoples together.
Prague’s aesthetic is both the Disney princess and the wicked witch. She is her own twisted step-mother and she is the shining knight who comes to save her. Dark angels descend on this city, the statues come alive at night in hazy underground bars and open balcony windows that beckon you in. Someone plays an out of tune piano as we sipped on surreal libations. The notes would not have worked with any accompaniment but their off-key melody filtered through a lense of gin worked wonders on my soul. The older Danish gentleman seated next to us agreed. He even volunteered cocktail suggestions. “I come all the way from Denmark just for this bar” He proudly offered “This place will make any drink it has ever served” he added “as long as you remember it’s name”.
Prague too, in its own way, can serve you any memories you desire. Are you looking for secular humanism and the poets and thinkers of the great liberal and people’s movements? Do you seek the ancient torture techniques, bejerle queens and devoted monks of an older time? Do you want a Disney-esque tour town with trinkets and shiny armor and tourists hordes? Are you searching for a deeper darker passage that connects your soul with the struggles of those who have yearned for freedom and fought for independence? Wander her streets and discover this mysterious personality for yourself.
Reaching the top of the curved staircase leading up the Prague Castle I turned to look behind me at the city below. Two halves split by a river, sewn together with a bridge. I faced up towards the sun, a rare sweltering day in the European spring. Throngs of excited foreigners snapping photos contrasted with fidgety children wearing backpacks on school trips. Highly formal guards paced the grounds as we entered the perennial seat of Prague’s power. The hilltop has been occupied since time immemorial, Prague castle has gone through renovations and phases as centuries passed yet always draws on her deep history and connection to this land to remain steady through change
St. Vitus cathedral rises from the center of the castle, spires and towers twisting and connecting in classic Gothic form. Dark stones hold the moss of time in their cold hands, lifting them upwards towards the warm light of God. Buttresses hold firm, soldiers in their post, signifying the orderly lifting upwards of unworthy man towards the ethereal heavenly ideal.
Descending the opposite side of the hilltop fortress to view the saint from another angle we stepped into the shadows of her spires. Exploring the Golden Lane’s quaint hovels leads to troves of weapons and armor along with barbarous torture devices for whoever fell afoul of the castle’s occupants or medieval values.
Pondering this duality, of saints and sinners, we sat in a pub that had been operational since the crusades and ordered two beers, one dark one light. I cannot decide which I prefer but luckily in Prague you never have to choose. Both were impeccably crafted, the dark with notes of allspice and nutmeg yet easy to drink. The light was crisp, refreshing and mild yet somehow held more depth then any light American brand.
Elderly men and young women played beautiful Bach choruses on violins as we strolled on, arm in arm. The sun was setting and the light faded slowly to reveal the dark souls of the saints in the statues that guard the river crossing at night. A sea of faces from around the globe descends on this 14th century city each year, drawn to its fairytale feeling, its combination of dark and light, of human ingenuity and devotion to a medieval God.
Crossing the Charles Bridge was a surreal moment for us. Slowly sipping in the splendid sights sounds as day turned to night, angels turned to gargoyles but the mystique and ancient appeal did not once waver. Prague is as elegant in the light as she is entrancing in the evening, she is Apollo and she is Esther, She is the dual nature of lady Europa.
We visited Prague in Spring 2019 as part of our Honeymoon