1. Read a book by Kafka
If in your lifetime, you wouldn’t succeed in checking of Prague from your bucketlist, you’ll at least have had the pleasure of reading one of the Great Works of Modern Day Literature. Get in a Kafkaesque mood and find out what the adverb really means … For those amongst you, lacking creative thought and proper mental agility, preferring pre-chewed movies over books; even you can find Kafkaesque bliss. Sharing a certain sense of surreal distortion and impending danger with Kafka, George Orwell put ‘the Trial’ on the white screen in 1962. A more recent version of ‘The Trial’ (1993) was scripted by Harold Pinter, starring Kyle MacLachlan and Anthony Hopkins. That same year Peter Capaldi’s Academy Award-winning short film ‘Franz Kafka’s ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’’ depicted Kafka attempting to write another his famous stories, The Metamorphosis (into a giant insect that is…). So, no excuse not to read up on this both mentally as physically disrupted author and his works.
If it turns out you do make it to Prague, you’ll find it has anything but the senseless, disorienting, often menacing complex atmosphere that oozes out of the Kafka writings. That’s really just the author’s messed-up yet brilliant mind’s eye. And the reason why the city where Franz Kafka was born and now buried, is proudly honoring him with his own museum and very peculiar statue suiting his sense of absurdity.
You might want to do this in advance. And as a visit to the old town of Prague should be on everyone’s bucketlist, start reading now! (That is off course, after you’ve finished this blogpost.)
2. Put some contraband in the airplane wheels
Back in the USSR, Czechoslovakia’s isolation from the outside world was a fundamental part in the Communist regime’s system of repression. Therefor travels were only for the lucky few. And even those lucky few who got a travel passport filled with rubber stamps, only got allowed to take a limited sum of money with them. This hitch was meant to restrict both the duration of a stay outside the country as well as the ability to bring back goods like souvenirs and clothes.
However, these people are no pudding hearted cissy’s. Avid travelers as they are, hard times called for drastic measures. Money got smuggled out and there were many tricks for smuggling things back into the country. One of the most popular being, hiding goods in spare-tires. Now this took place only a couple of decades ago. Remember the fall of the Berlin wall and the dropping of the Iron Curtain? If you do, you’ll realize that still a lot of the locals experienced the absurd restrictions of the Communist regime first hand. Empathize with these people, share their sorrow and do what they did … Heart sink into your boots?
3. Figure out the difference between a TRDLO and a TRDELNIK
Definitely my biggest challenge and red lining during my visit to the Bohemian City. Next to the many stalls vending delicious, sweet hot wine, you’ll also find confectionary stands dealing in a kind of pastry cone, filled with a creamy substance. However, the local merchants can’t seem to agree on what the little bugger is called; TRDLO or TRDELNIK.
Confront them with it! The obvious thing to do, so it seemed to me. So I did! Around closing time, I asked a woman, already frantically tidying up her stall, to enlighten me. As she was egging on my travelling companion to pay for the hot wine we bought, she snarled at me that the meaning of both words was ever so obvious. The ‘TRDLNIK’ was the pastry roll. The ‘TRDLO’ was the wooden rod around which the pastry roll got baked over a charcoal fire. And I thought to myself : Well, Ain’t that a bitch … Judging from her blunt attitude, she’s probably just pulling our tourist leg. Anyway, I think I figured it out myself in the next days. Captiously observing the different stands, banners and placards, I noticed that one category of pastry had a top- and bottomless, cylindrical shape. These were getting paired up with a signboard with TRDLO written on it. The other category consisted of the identical cream-filled pastry but in a cone shape. These were getting paired up with signboards, calling it the TRDLNIK. One cunning c(r)ook, found a way to avoid the dilemmatic appellation: he featured the CHIMNEY CAKE.
Despite my very thorough investigation, the Chimney Cake didn’t instill a lot of confidence to me. If the so-called artificer is not even sure on what it’s called, will he be sure how to properly procreate the damn thing? Just to be on the safe side, I chose drinks over bites. The hot wine vendors made a fortune on me. Back home, I couldn’t help myself, checking my hypothesis. That cold hard bitch might have been right after all…
4. Rubb a Statue
Who doesn’t want their portion of good luck now and again? Plenty of cities have their own wish-granting statue. Rub it and your deepest wishes will come true. It will ensure your return to the spot one day. Good-luck will be bestowed upon thou and so on and so forth …
Prague is no different. A plaque depicting St. John of Nepomuk, the court priest of King Wenceslas IV, is said to have all of these ritually compelled characteristics. Ironically, the faith of the dear priest itself was that of martyrdom. Refusing to reveal the queen’s confessions to King Wenceslas, who suspected her of adultery, the poor bastard was brutally dragged over the old town bridge (Karlsbrigde) until he succumbed from his injuries. He sure could have used a good-luck charm himself… At the exact point where the tortured body was thrown into the water, stands the plaque.
On the Karlsbridge however, you’ll find only a few steps further up, another depiction of St John of Nepomuk. You’ll also clearly notice confusion taking over the tourists one by one … Eventually, most of these sightseers will not risk leaving their good-luck up to chance. Those are the ones you’ll see rabidly buffing both plaques. And just to play it safe, why limit yourself to the depictions of St John? These ‘rabid buffers’ will polish about anything in the old City; plaques, statues, knobs … Can’t blame them for trying. At least it keeps a bunch of the local monuments nice and shiny.
5. Give someone a free hug at het Lennon-wall
Affirmative, the war is over! (Happy Xmas, if you want it to be.) However many grievances are still very much alive. That’s exactly what drove a movement of young students in the late eighties to fill up a wall belonging to the Knights of Malta, with John Lennon-inspired graffiti and pieces of lyrics from Beatles’ songs. Expressing their resentment, denouncing injustice and it has been ever so, despite the many coats of white wash. So, give Peace A Chance, make love not war … I say don’t just write, paint or spray-can it but incorporate the feeling and spread the love. Put the first stone, … Every change starts with a small gesture. And doing so maybe we can make common sense a bit more common again …
6. Buy your bottle of Becherovka
Out in the cold, this is just what you need to get warmed up. This Schnapps-like herbal liquor was originally distilled as a digestive and gastric medicine. However I can guarantee you, it does wonders for a nasty cold aswell. And provided the right quantity, it has the ability to serve as a (temporary) placebo for whatever ails you… You might want to take advantage of this while you’re in the Czech Republic. This firewater barely gets distributed outside the country. Don’t panic, there’s plenty for all. In about any warehouse, tourist or liquor shop. You’ll find it on the shelf next to the exact amount of absinth-bottles needed to have an entire Sovjet bataljon farting rainbows. And left up from the cannabis-cookies who bear more similarity to a slice of dried up puke rather than to a piece of pastry.
7. Throw your shoes over the Metronome
Yes, that’s correct, a giant Metronome. Lord knows why, but something had to replace the colossal statue of comrad Stalin that once stood his ground here. My advice is, leave this until your last day of your stay in Prague. Take the steps that lead you up to Letna Park, trip and stumble flat out on your knees, like I did and after the mandatory swearing, enjoy a nice walk through the park that overlooks the entire city of Prague.