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UNESCO World Heritage Site: Historic Centre of Prague

Prague

Update from April 2021: It turns out that the statue was of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, the co-founder and first President of Czechoslovakia, and 7th March was his birthday. That explains the military ceremony I saw in front of his statue...

Time for a wander through the Old and New Towns to Prague Castle!

It was cloudy to begin with but the sun started to come out as I crossed the Vltava River via the famous 14th-century Charles Bridge.

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I took my time crossing, taking in the views and admiring some of the statues along each side.

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The latter included the 17th-century statue of St John of Nepomuk, who is said to bring good luck to those who touch him. Parts of the metal plinth decoration were shiny from years of people's touches.

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On the New Town end of the bridge I crossed a small canal.

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From there I passed through the archway of the Lesser Town Bridge Tower and made my way gradually up the hill to the castle. The architecture was just as impressive as in the Old Town. It was exhilarating to wander up the cobbled streets in the cold sunshine, trams passing by, colour on all sides.

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Eventually I reached the foot of the castle complex. A violinist serenaded passers-by as I stopped for a little rest and had a look at a little war memorial set into the wall.

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Before reaching the castle entrance at the very top of the hill, there was a terrace with some stunning views over the city.

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A little further up, in the big square in front of the complex, I unexpectedly caught a small military ceremony in front of a statue. I'm not sure what the occasion was... it's not a public holiday today.

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Immediately after that I unexpectedly caught another military ceremony... the Changing of the Guard. I stood near Matthias Gate (the entrance to the courtyard) - I saw soldiers marching in, couldn't see much of what subsequently happened within the courtyard, but did get a good view of when the guards came back out to change positions within their pillboxes by the Gate. (No pictures of the ceremony, unfortunately, as I only took videos and I can't load them here without them already being on YouTube or Vimeo.)

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My first stop within the castle complex was the magnificent Gothic and Neo-Gothic St Vitus Cathedral.

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Work began on the present-day cathedral in 1344, but it wasn't finished and consecrated until 1929! The more modern blends seamlessly into the old; examples of the new include some of the many stained glass windows, such as the Creation Rose Window (Frantisek Kysela: 1925) and those within a series of chapels in the Neo-Gothic part of the cathedral. The New Archbishop Chapel contains one designed by the Art Nouveau decorative artist Alphonse Mucha in 1930, which shows Christianity being introduced to the Slavic peoples via Saints Cyril & Methodius (I remember these two from my time in Bulgaria).

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My other favourite stained glass windows, both old and new, include the following:

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I spent quite a while just wandering around, taking in the beauty and the atmospheric nature of my surroundings.

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Special mention to the stunning St Wenceslas Chapel, focal point and cult centre of the cathedral; I admired the 14th-century wall paintings of the Passion Cycle, amongst other magnificent decoration.

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On my exit from the cathedral I had a good look at the decoration of the chapel's exterior entrance.

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My ticket allowed me entrance to four attractions within Prague Castle. With St Vitus Cathedral being the first, the Old Royal Palace next door took my fancy next. Of special interest to me was the room in which the most famous Defenestration of Prague took place, in 1618 (the spark which ignited the Thirty Years' War). I was interested to find out that the victims actually survived - I'd always assumed that they'd died in the fall. We weren't allowed to take photos here or in the adjoining rooms, but we were in the nearby Vladislav Hall.

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My next stop was St George's Basilica; founded in 920, enlarged in 973 and then rebuilt after a fire in 1147, it's one of the oldest buildings in the castle complex.

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After that I moved on to the Golden Lane, which is a street of small historic houses first built for castle guards in the 16th century. Craftsmen moved into the houses after about half a century - including goldsmiths, who gave the street its name. These craftsmen in turn left, however, and in the 19th century the street became a slum, inhabited by poor workers and artists. The houses were lived in right up to 1939 - the writer Franz Kafka lived in one of them for a couple of years during the First World War. Most of them are souvenir shops now, but there were a couple of museum houses too, set up to look how they did when craftsmen or notable inhabitants were living in them over the last couple of hundred years.

Before I had a look at any of the houses, however, I looked round the medieval armoury museum and a former dungeon, both of which are contained within 14th-century fortifications accessed through Golden Lane.

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In one of the long underground corridors in the fortifications I got to try out a crossbow!

Once back up at ground level I walked down the Golden Lane, peering in at the museum houses.

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Before I left the castle grounds I managed some photos of an amazing view over the castle gardens and the city beyond.

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A cat kept tabs on me from a first floor window as I retraced my steps down the hill to the river and Old Town.

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I was knackered by now, and hungry because I hadn't had any lunch, so although it was only about 4pm I decided to have a very early dinner at a restaurant there and then, with the plan to subsequently get a sandwich or other bakery item from a supermarket to have at the hostel later. I decided on Czech goulash with dumplings and red onion - I was surprised at the dumplings, as they were more like slices of bread than the dumplings I've had elsewhere, but it was all very tasty anyway.

I passed through the Old Town Square on my way back to the hostel. Street performers were there in giant fluffy panda and gorilla suits, playing around with members of the public who wanted photos with them. They were very amusing, but I didn't hang around for long as I was so keen to get back and flop at the hostel. The famous astronomical clock is to one side of the square, but I decided to leave that until the next day.

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Posted by 3Traveller 09:25 Archived in Czech Republic Tagged bridges churches prague museum czech_republic explorations fortifications changing_of_the_guard unesco_world_heritage_site czech_cuisine Comments (0)

Medical history, UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Berlin Wall

Berlin


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First up for me today was the fascinating Berlin Museum of Medical History at the Charité.

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This is not one of the most well-known museums in Berlin but is extremely interesting for anyone with an interest in the history of medicine; not just due to the artifacts and specimens in the display rooms, but also to the human stories brought to life in the historical patient's ward and to the history of the Charité itself. It was founded as a plague hospital in 1710 and is now one of the largest university hospitals in Europe.

The first thing I saw was a Cabinet of Curiosities from the Enlightenment, which contained such intriguing objects as a puffed-up porcupine fish, a cow bezoar (used as an antidote for various ailments in the past), polished turquoise abalone, a chicken head with chickenpox, the upper jaw bone of a walrus with tusks, a juvenile land tortoise, a mummy of a juvenile turtle and the mouth of a quillfish.

Other fascinating objects in the room included a human skeleton with scoliosis, another with severe syphilitic bone malformations, and a special moulage collection from 1900 - wax casts of diseased faces, with an emphasis on diseased eyes - very gruesome.

There was also a very interesting yet sobering display on the terrible aberrations of German medicine under National Socialism, such as human experimentation in concentration camps.

The specimen room next door was also fascinating. The specimens included deformed human foetuses, a human skeleton damaged by plasmacytoma, and skulls showing microcephaly (underdevelopment of the brain, causing a shorter-than-usual head) and anencephaly (absence of the brain). It was good to see the great lengths the museum have gone to acknowledge with respect the people behind the specimens over the last 200 years.

In addition to the historical patients' ward, which in an informative and touching manner told the case histories and the hospital treatment of several patients at the Charité over the last 300 years, I looked round the preserved ruin of a historic lecture hall which was bombed during the war.

From the medical museum I took the U-Bahn to a UNESCO World Heritage Site - one of the Berlin Modernism Housing Estates. Although I don't know much about Modernism I enjoyed wandering round.

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From there it was another U-Bahn trip to the East Side Gallery, a stretch of the Berlin Wall covered in a graffiti project from street artists.

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The sun was starting to get low as I left the East Side Gallery and made my way back to my hostel via the U-Bahn and a supermarket.

Posted by 3Traveller 09:36 Archived in Germany Tagged art buildings germany museum berlin berlin_wall unesco_world_heritage_site Comments (0)

German Historical Museum and the DDR Museum

Berlin


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I had two main destinations planned for today - the German Historical Museum and the DDR Museum, which lie on each side of Museum Island - but on my way there I stopped at the St Marienkirche, a redbrick Gothic church which dates back to the 13th century but was heavily damaged by Allied bombing in WWII and was therefore restored in the 1950s by East Germany.

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Then I crossed the Spree and Museum Island, passing the Dom and the Lustgarten.

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The German Historical Museum was absolutely excellent; I highly recommend it. It spans a total of 1500 years of German history up until soon after German reunification. My favourite artifacts were:

A full suit of medieval plate armour, brandishing a sword while seated on a horse wearing a full suit of horse armour.

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Medieval painted shields made of wood, leather and metal (there was a full row of cases of them; my photo is of only one section.)

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An oliphant, an ivory hunting horn used by the high nobility during a hunt. The ornamentation suggests that it was manufactured in an Islamic country and imported to the West. Dates from 1000 AD.

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A medieval abacus from Northern Italy.

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The 'Grüninger Hand', a 15th century prosthetic arm probably made for a high-ranking knight who had lost his right lower arm in battle. Its age and relative sophistication makes it very rare; it allowed the wearer to bring his artificial elbow into six different positions and move his fingers together by pressing a button.

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Woodcuts from a book of traditional women's costumes published in Nuremberg in 1586, meant to complement a book on craftsmen's trades.

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A birdlike plague-doctor's mask and gown. Although this is the famous image most people have in mind when they think of the plague in early modern Europe, there are apparently only three or four surviving examples of what the plague-doctors wore.

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A 1740 map of North and South America with 30 scenes of the discovery of the Americas.

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Paintings of a court dwarf and the composer Georg Friedrich Handel, from 1680 and 1733 respectively.

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An 18th century gaming table with three games: billiards, Japanese billiards (a precursor of modern pinball) and cannons.

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Napoleon Buonaparte's bicorne hat and sword from the Battle of Waterloo.

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While I was in the museum the clouds had cleared up and it was nice and sunny as I walked back past the Lustgarten and Dom to the DDR Museum. I had a great view of the famous Berlin television tower.

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The DDR Museum took me in an entertaining and fascinating journey through daily life within socialist East Germany during the Cold War. I learned about what kindergarten, school and university was like, common jobs and how much you could earn for each one, and what kind of holidays people took (nudist ones appear to have been especially popular.) I got to look at an original, iconic Trabant P601 car (children can go on simulated drives) and walk round a reconstructed, fully furnished tower block flat. In the latter's living room I saw the TV programme for this day in 1984.

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Something still fascinating, but sobering and sinister rather than entertaining, was the information and exhibits relating to the surveillance citizens were placed under by the Stasi (secret police).

After leaving the museum I stopped at a supermarket to pick up a couple of savoury bakery items and a tub of creme caramel to have for dinner later, and spent the rest of the afternoon and evening relaxing at the hostel.

Posted by 3Traveller 03:40 Archived in Germany Tagged churches germany museum berlin cathedral Comments (0)

Arrival in Berlin

Rostock and Berlin


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I arrived in Berlin yesterday afternoon after a fantastic hotel breakfast and a completely uneventful 3.5-hour Flixbus journey from Rostock. I relaxed for the rest of the day, intending to begin some sightseeing the next morning.

Potsdamer Platz and the Holocaust Memorial were my first stops. Potsdamer Platz was bisected by the Berlin Wall during the Cold War and during this time became an area of utter desolation. It looks completely different now, but as I walked round and looked at part of the Wall which remains, I got quite emotional.

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This feeling continued as I wandered round the concrete stelae within the site of the Holocaust Memorial. According to the architect, the stelae were designed to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere, though the number of stelae and the monument's overall design has no symbolic significance other than it represents a a supposedly ordered system that has lost touch with human reason.

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From there it was just a little bit further to the Brandenburg Gate.

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The Tiergarten, Berlin's most popular inner city park, lies across the road from the Brandenburg Gate. It started to rain just as I got there, so I didn't linger too long. I was on my way to a really interesting destination anyway, so I didn't really mind...

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...the Musical Instruments Museum!

Amazing - I definitely recommend it. It included a fascinating collection of crumhorns, shawms, dulcians (the predecessor of the bassoon), recorders, cornets, trombones and trumpets which were left to the Church in 1657 in the will of the choirmaster of St Wenzel's Church in Naumberg.

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Amongst a good range of other instruments going up until the first electronic guitars and keyboards, it also had such interesting things as Early Modern Flemish and Italian virginals and spinets, a Stradivarius violin, a serpent, a collection of pochettes (pocket fiddles, used by dancing masters and street musicians until the 18th century) and a 'giraffenklavier' (guess which one of my photos is if that...).

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My last stop before heading back to my hostel was Checkpoint Charlie (the best-known Berlin Wall border crossing, and now a tourist trap with no original buildings left; worth only a brief look).

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On my way back I passed through the Museuminsel, an area with lots of museums in it (a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its importance), and beyond. I found a small art market next to one side of the river and bought a lovely colourful little picture of an 'Indies Peafowl'. Also got some good views of the Fernsehturm and St Mary's Church, though I didn't go in.

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Posted by 3Traveller 03:36 Archived in Germany Tagged germany museum berlin hostel buses berlin_wall rostock brandenburg_gate unesco_world_heritage_site potsdamer_platz Comments (0)

A Moment of Time

Rostock


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Before transferring to Hotel Sportforum I went for another, longer walk round town.

My first destination was the Kröpeliner Tor, the tallest city gate, but to get there I walked through a park with a stream which followed the path of the old city fortifications.

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I also passed an old Franciscan monastery, now a museum - I didn't have time to go in, unfortunately, but was able to have a quick look at the courtyard.

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After looking at the Kröpeliner Tor I walked down the main pedestrianised street, passing part of Rostock University (the oldest university in continental northern Europe and the Baltic Sea area) on my way.

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My next destination was the Marienkirche, which contains Rostock's pride and joy; a 12-metre high astrological clock, which is the only one in the world still with its original mechanisms. It was built in 1472 by Hans Düringer and is a sight to behold! Carved wooden signs of the zodiac lie around the centre, and at the top, when the clock strikes midnight and midday wooden figures of six of the apostles come out of a row of doors and parade round Jesus. I got to see this as I timed my visit specially on Sunday morning to coincide.

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Underneath the main part of the clock was a fantastically detailed disc which tells people the exact date on which Easter falls in any given year. Each disc has space for 130 years and the last disc expired and was replaced in 2017. I tried to find out when Easter will be next year, but it was so incredibly complicated I couldn't!

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It lies behind the main altar and had handily-placed seats in front. As I took a seat and gazed at it, enveloped in silence save for the low, slow but audible tick-tock of the clock, I was overcome with the sense of history. I could almost see the woodcarver who had carved the signs of the zodiac. Time hung around me, suspending me in the moment. I felt a great sense of calm and peace.

The rest of the church was interesting too. There were more model ships hanging from the ceiling (like at the Petrikirche), an impressively massive (almost) floor-to-ceiling Baroque organ, an embroidery dating from the 16th century and a large gilded triptych of which I unfortunately forgot to note the date and artist.

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The only downside to the who place was that it was freezing cold!

After getting some lunch from a bakery I admired the Town Hall in the Neuer Markt before returning to the hostel to pick up my bags.

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My walk to Hotel Sportforum took a lot longer than it should have done, firstly because another wheel on my big case broke so it became slower and more difficult to get it about, and secondly because I took a wrong turn. Still, although I was knackered by the time I arrived, there was some lovely scenery on the way. These crocuses were the first sign of spring that I noticed on this Central European trip.

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View from my window, Hotel Sportforum.

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Posted by 3Traveller 13:42 Archived in Germany Tagged churches art buildings hotel germany museum monastery rostock fortifications Comments (0)

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