In August 1968 the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia to crush the reforms of Alexander Dubcek's government during what was known as the Prague Spring. The Prague born Jan Palach decided to make a sacrifice of himself in protest of the invasion. He set himself on fire, in Wenceslas Square on January 16, 1969. A month later (on February 25, 1969) another student, Jan Zajíc, burned himself to death in the same place. The memorial to these two men is very small and unassuming. If I had not been looking for the memorial I would have walked right past it without noticing it.
As I walked the streets of Prague I could not help but be amazed at the beauty and the history all around me. And I learned an important lesson from Prague. I was still a some what novice traveler and tourist in 2004. This was only my fourth time to travel abroad. I was still the wide eyed American walking around with his mouth open amazed at all that I could see. But Prague taught me to be aware of what I was looking at and try to understand what was being told to me.
The photograph on top of this blog is the Fred and Ginger Building in Prague. It is also known as the Dancing House. It does, at first glance, resemble Fred Astair and Ginger Rogers dancing.
As I continued walking along the water front past The Dancing House I saw this church with two very unusual steeples. I was very much fascinated with the unusual steeple with the two spires. It was unlike any other church I had seen in Prague. Prague has many beautiful churches and is known for it's skyline of spires. But this church just quietly sat in the background with no explanation. I took several photos of the church and unfortunately I did not take the time to find the name of the church. As I mentioned I was still a somewhat novice traveler. Unlike when I travel today with my digital camera and take hundreds of photos including street names and descriptive plaques on building, I was using film and had limited exposures. I took a bus out of Prague the following day to see an old castle in a neighboring town. I asked the guide on the bus about this church when we drove past it. He told me that a church sat in that location before World War II. It was destroyed by a bomb. He said when the church was rebuilt the steeples were designed to represent the point the bomb falling down to destroy the original building. When I walked back past the church the next day I could see the symbolism very clearly.
I learned a lot from my visit to Prague. I learned to look down for the small memorials on the ground that might be missed. I learned to look for meanings and memorials hidden in unusual architecture and church steeples. It really changed the way I travel and how I look at things in foreign locations. There is so much to see, so much to learn, and so much that can be easily missed if you don't take the time to ask questions and do some research.