Absolutely beautiful photos of a country restored

Back in 1987, before the fall of Communism, I went to Czechoslovakia.  It was awful, something I would have realized then if I hadn’t been so hopelessly naive about the horrors of Communism.  Everything was shabby and dirty.  The food was vile.  The lodging was so primitive we stayed in one room with a dirt floor.  The people were incredibly hostile.  The trains ran on time, but that was scant consolation for three days of the worst traveling I’d ever had.  All the while, my mother, with whom I traveled, kept saying that her father, who traveled to Czechoslovakia in the late 20s and early 30s, always referred to it as the Crown Jewel of Eastern Europe.  She was even more disappointed than I, because her expectations had been so high.  If only we had waited a few years to go….

Fast forward 20 years, have more than a decade free of Communist control, and you get the really lovely Czechoslovakia that Gail (who blogs at Crossing the Rubicon) visited.  Gail’s photos are especially beautiful because she combines the area’s natural beauty with her own artistic eye. 

Anyway, here is what you’ll see if you visit Gail:

The oldest surviving Jewish cemetery in Europe.  Because Prague capitulated so quickly, the Nazis elected to preserve the Jewish quarter, not out of respect, of course, but as a museum to who the lives of the Jewish vermin the Nazis so confidently expected to destroy completely.  What’s amazing about the cemetery — and what even Gail’s fine pictures can’t convey — is how packed it was.  Since the Jews were confined for centuries to a minute area of land, they crowded the dead to make more room for the living.  Colma this isn’t.

Medieval Prague.  Gail’s pictures highlight how beautiful it is.  I’m sure it was beautiful in 1987, too, because, just as the Nazis wanted the Jewish quarter as a sort of museum, so too did the Communists want all of Prague, unspoiled by WWII bombs, to be a sort of museum.  The atmosphere back then was just so grim, though, that it was hard to enjoy.

Theresienstadt, the starting point for so many deaths. This, of course,was the Nazis’ “model” concentration camp, the one where they took credulous Red Cross representatives to prove how “well” they treated the Jews. They liked to boast about the prison orchestra. They didn’t boast about the fact that, without exception, the inmates where shipped to the death camps, where they were almost all murdered.

Beautiful pictures of Budapest, a place I haven’t yet been.  Frankly, I hadn’t realized so much survived the war.  In the 1980s, when Mom and I were planning our trip, because we’re old building fanatics, we chose Prague over Budapest, because we’d heard that the latter had mostly been leveled.  We regretted this later because, in contrast to how grim Communist Prague was, we heard that Budapest was a very enjoyable place to visit.  If Gail’s pictures are any indication, it’s beautiful too.

And one post which jumbles together lovely pictures of both Prague and Budapest, including a Holocaust memorial wall that most certainly did not exist 20 years ago.

It  might be time for me to start thinking about traveling again….

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  • Marguerite

    BW – Thank you for linking to these hauntingly beautiful – and terrible – scenes! My family (distaff side) has traced our roots back to a small village called Ujezdec, Czechoslovakia going back to the 13th century. The lady painting Easter eggs is very dear because I recall my Grandma in bandanas, or babushkas.

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  • http://northernva.typepad.com Gail

    Bookworm, thank you very much for the link and extremely kind description of my photos. I found your observations on the way things have changed in Eastern Europe since your visit there to be very interesting.

    The differences between Budapest and Prague were striking. Our tour guide in Budapest remarked with envy that Prague was so much more popular as a tourist destination. Prague is greatly ahead of Budapest economically due to what I have heard is its more wholehearted embrace of Capitalism and politicians who support it. The people have more money to spend, the shops are more upscale, and it is much more crowded. I found myself torn – on the one hand I almost preferred Budapest’s quiet dignity and less commercialized sights. I certainly preferred the fact that it was less crowded – in Prague you could barely walk down the street without bumping into someone. There were zillions of tourists clogging up every sight. But on the other hand, I suspect the people may be happier in Prague and appreciate Western goods, conveniences and most importantly, $$$$$$$$$$$$$.

    Budapest received a great deal of damage during WW2, and Prague was spared. Prague has hints and signs of its violent medieval past all over the place, the likes of which one does not see in Budapest nor in the US either, for that matter. I was particularly struck by the very violent statues in front of the Czech royal palace. What a welcome! (There are pictures of them on my blog, if anyone is interested)Rightly or wrongly, I found myself glad that I was able to grow up free of having to be around such sights. Maybe being Jewish, and realizing that my ancestors bore a good deal of the brunt of the violence of Europe through the ages had something to do with that. In any event, it simply underlined for me the difference between the Old World and the New One, and what people left behind/escaped when they came to the US.

    Many don’t like/agree with the way I see things. I see history as being much more alive than some. I can’t look at the present without thinking about what came before – maybe too much so. My feelings on Europe are extremely complicated – it’s a love/hate relationship.

  • http://bookwormroom.wordpress.com/ Bookworm

    It was my pleasure to share your photos with others, Gail. They are lovely. There was one thing in your comment that was just right as far as I’m concerned: “My feelings on Europe are extremely complicated – it’s a love/hate relationship.” Bingo. I don’t like the way they behaved in the mid-20th Century, and I sure don’t like what’s happening in the beginning of the 21st Century. But that does not negate what they created. So, I go and swoon in the museums, and am amazed at the buildings. And I look at all the old people and think “Where you a Nazi or friend of the Nazis?” and I look at the younger people and wonder “How much do you hate me now because I’m American and Jewish?”