So I’ve been in Prague and Dresden for a week, pardon the lack of posting. I haven’t really had internet access, and it was a really long week to travel. I saw lots of things I love and am glad to have seen though, so it was definitely worth it.
While in the Czech Republic we (my program) went to Theresienstadt – the concentration camp just outside the Czech city Terezín. Definitely a shock to the system. Seeing something like that is disturbing in any circumstances, but I think it good to visit sites like this, so people can see what has happened in the past. But, it was shocking.
Because my family is from the Czech Republic…and theoretically some of my family could have been held as political prisoners, if not in Theresienstadt then perhaps in another prison. Because if my family in that time is anything like my family today – they would have been outspoken and would have been unwilling to go along with the regime. That’s speculation of course, and it’s very likely that no one in my grandparents’ extended families was there, but just the very thought that it could have happened is a bit unnerving. Not to mention – the site is just creepy to begin with. There’s this quiet intensity there, like energy that has never gone away. So seeing that was something of a shock.
Also, I suppose there’s something to the fact that I am the first person in my family in 3 generations to go back ‘home’ and seeing something like that does really strike at the heart and soul. Not that I would wish to not have seen it…but I think there’s something to be said for me seeing Theresienstadt long before I see any of the more traditional sites that people visit. I’ve never been to a concentration camp before, but I don’t know if I could see another. The energy is sad, depressing. I would like to know what has happened, accept it, remember it…but move on to the future. Because I think that the spirit of a people is far more what they are in the present, what they’ve made of themselves, than in past events.
For me seeing Prague, alive and full of people, was more of what the Czech people are. It’s a huge city…full of life and the atmosphere is amazing. I think I have a thing for food and beliefs….because I always seem to be most comfortable where I find good food and a city that is bustling. Czech food is delicious. Even as a vegetarian I had no problems. Actually, for all that the Czechs usually have a far more meat-heavy diet than even Germans, I had less trouble finding food in Prague than I’ve had in the 6 months I’ve been living in Germany. But, I like food and it makes me feel more at home in a city with good food and good atmosphere. So Prague was warm, inviting…absolutely stunning. I got to wander the Old City, see the astronomical clock, visit museums and go shopping. I bought some Bohemian crystal, nothing fancy but they are quite nice and I just felt at peace in buying them. So I have a lion, a globe and a dragon sitting on top of a crystal ball. Those three are nice, because they kind of called to me. I have a thing for all feline creatures, and I’ve always liked dragons. The globe was for travel, so I think I’d gotten a little push to buy these things.
I loved seeing the Czech Republic though. It was warm and inviting, the people are nice and friendly. A lot of the kids in the program had complaints about how the Czechs were “cold, stand-offish, reserved, unfriendly”, or about how they would just walk right past the kids if they were standing on a sidewalk. I had not noticed any of this, or seen anything strange about how the people were. I thought that they reminded me a lot of my family. Well, not so surprising, when my family is partly Czech. But…I don’t think the people are any of that. Reservation I understand – it makes sense with the history.
But I found them all nice, polite, perhaps not the most verbose and immediately talkative like an US citizen would expect, though they were quite friendly if you were patient and were willing to listen. I had one woman, when I was buying some of my crystal, ask me why I was speaking to her in English. She had thought I was a native Czech and had been confused about why I didn’t just speak Czech. That was perhaps the highlight of my week. I was surprised she’d thought it, but it was also pleasant to realize that people thought I was just another one of the natives. So perhaps I’m far more like my Czech family than I had thought before. And while most of the students had problems with the “cold” Czech people, I think it more an inherent difference in attitudes and expectations. US citizens talk too much in public sometimes, they’re very forward and intrusive at times…all part of US culture. Not part of Czech culture. So the discomfort from most of my classmates I think stemmed from laying artificial expectations over a people that they would be “American”, when that’s clearly impossible.
Ah, but this isn’t completely just related to my beliefs. It is quite personal, I am aware. I think though….getting to go back to where my family comes from is helpful. I learned a lot about myself, and about how I see things. Seeing Theresienstadt was hard, but it was also something that I’m glad I saw. Going to Prague was also something I’m grateful for. I know more about myself and about my family than before. I also saw more of myself in the area around Prague…and in it’s people, so it was a bit of self-discovery for me. I’m sure I’ll be able to put this into better words eventually, when I’ve been home longer than 24 hours with not too much sleep. But I wanted to write something, because seeing Prague was perhaps one of the best decisions I’ve made.∗