Sunday, February 15, 2015

Czech Republic

Part of the Soviet Union until 1990, and famously rebellious for its Prague Spring of 1968, which the Soviets overthrew by invasion, it started life in freedom as Czechoslovakia restored, but under a new name: the Czechoslovak Federative Republic, though some preferred the Czecho-Slovak FR and others the Czech and Slovak FR; surprisingly no one offered to reverse Czech and Slovak altogether. Clearly separation was not far away however. The “velvet divorce” took place in 1993, with the Czech Republic forming on one side of the stupid divide, and the Slovak Republic on the other, and the Russians sniggering under their beards as they planned their new Russian Federation and dreamed of remaking the former Soviet Union under a new name. The playwright and first president Vaclav Havel stepped down in 2002, having taken the country into NATO and to the verge of joining the EU; the latter was almost completed by Vaclav Kraus, the new President; almost, because the Czechs have wisely stayed out of that other name for the Deutschmark, the Euro.

The list of famous Czechs is long and significant, extending well beyond the celebrity list of sports stars and actors (a celebrity is a nobody one has heard of; a famous person is a somebody who has achieved something of significance), and including writers Jaroslav Hašek, author of "The Good Soldier Švejk", Franz Kafka, Tom Stoppard and Milan Kundera, composers Gustav Mahler, Antonín Dvořák and Leoš Janáček, and Gregor Mendel, the founder of the science of genetics.

Alongside the spurious distinction of being the only major city in Europe to survive the 2nd World War virtually undamaged (Hitler protected it because he intended to transform it into a museum to the expired race of the Jews; the allies found no obvious strategic reason to bomb it), Prague bears the very distinct distinction of hosting the world's oldest astronomical clock that is still in working order. The Orloj, as it is properly called, was installed in 1410, on the southern wall of the Town Hall in the Old Town (the new town, the Hradčany which is Franz Kafka's "Castle", only became part of Prague in the 18th century); it includes an astronomical dial representing the sun and moon, a calendar dial whose parts represent the months, hour-hands depicting saints and demons, and several more layers of both clock and icon beyond these.

Marks For: 9

Marks Against: 1 (Prague as the sex capital of Europe; not that I'm against sex, but how sad that this is what a once-great city has come to - man metamorphosed into cockroach, you might say, just as K predicted).

Copyright © 2015 David Prashker
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The Argaman Press

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