Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Czech Judaica and a hidden chocolate museum

We woke up bright and early this morning with the intention of visiting a chocolate art museum Natasha had heard about and visiting the centuries-old synagogues in Josefov, the Jewish Quarter. So, armed with a map, we wandered around winding, cobblestone streets in search of the museum. We eventually gave up and asked for directions; upon doing so, we discovered that our map (which we got for free from the hostel) was wrong, and that we were some distance away from the museum. We were, however, quite close to the synagogues of the Jewish quarter, so we decided to leave the museum for later.

The Jewish Quarter contains five synagogues, a graveyard and a Holocaust exhibit which, collectively, are referred to as the "Jewish Museum". Indeed, the syngagogues have been converted into museums, each with a different focus. One had displays about Jewish holidays and rituals; another focused on lifecycle events (birth, marriage, etc.) in Judaism, while a third focused on the Holocaust. In this one, the walls of the sanctuary were completely covered with the names of Jews from Prague (and surrounding towns) who had died in the Holocaust, while the upper level contained an exhibit of art by children at Terezin, a concentration camp near Prague.

One thing that Dave found interesting about the Holocaust exhibit was that it focused on the history of Prague and surrounding towns during the Holocaust, and the stories of Jews who lived there. Finally, the graveyard was *very* old (dating back to the mid-15th century) and, due to the number of people buried there, many of the gravestones were slanted sharply and others were hardly visible at all.

Another interesting aspect of the Jewish Quarter was its "tourist-y" feel. The Jewish museum occupies perhaps five square blocks, and the streets in this area were packed with souvenir shops and booths selling menorahs, mezuzot, kippot and various other items of Judaica. This was particularly strange for Dave, who had not thought of these items as "souvenirs". It was, more generally, strange to see Jewish religion, history and culture "on display", but since the Jewish community in the Czech Republic is dwindling rapidly (a few thousand people with an average age of 75) it seems that this is the form in which a Jewish presence in Prague will survive.

During our exploration of the Jewish Quarter, we had lunch (appropriately enough) at the Franz Kafka Cafe. After finishing the Jewish Quarter, we set off once more to find the chocolate museum. We eventually found the right twisty side-street, and even found the right place, but they were closed for some reason. Temporarily stuck, but undefeated, we resolved to try again tomorrow.

We then swung by the clock tower (which we visited yesterday) for a second look, and thanks to a fellow tourist, we looked at the right part of the tower, and saw twelve apostles parade past, each one turning as he passed to face the town square. Our difficulty yesterday was that we assumed they paraded around *outside* the clock, but they actually stay inside the clock and windows open so you can see them. From our vantage point yesterday, we couldn't see the windows.

Our curiosity about the clock satisfied, we headed over to the Charles Bridge for a view of the Vltava River (which runs through Prague) before catching a classical music concert at the St. Nicholas Church. The concert was made up of a smattering of Baroque and Classical music (Purcell, Handel, Bach, Mozart, etc.) for organ, french horn and an alto singer. The music was quite enjoyable, but the combination of the audience (made up of seemingly non-musically-inclined tourists) and the venue (we were seated facing away from the musicians, who played in the organ loft) created a less-than-ideal atmosphere.

We finished our day out in Prague with dinner at a restaurant that served both traditional Czech food (goulash for Dave) and not-so-traditional fare (pizza for Natasha). We got another chance to practice our Czech, and both enjoyed our meals.

Tomorrow we are looking forward to seeing the castle, the chocolate museum, and a giant metronome. Stay tuned for further details!

Dave and Natasha

*To read about Day 18, go here 
*To see pictures of Prague, go here.

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