Sunday, April 17, 2011

Kutna Hora

On Saturday April 16, I took an impromptu trip to Kutna Hora.  I got up at 5 am to catch the 6 am train. Kutna Hora is about 3 hours away from Tabor and about an hour from Prague.  It is an easy day trip from Prague and a popular one.

I arrived at 9 am and set off to explore before I met up with Calan at 10.  At first impressions, Kutna Hora is not any place I would want to go to...but after the 30 minute walk from the train station, you arrive to the heart of the city and into the amazing medieval world everyone brags about.

There are many churches in Kutna Hora.  Kutna Hora was established in 1142 as a mining town.  Unfortunately the Thirty Year War devastated much of the town, otherwise it would have been the second Prague.  There are four prominent churches in the town.  This is Monastic Church of the Assumption of Our Lady.  It was built in 1142 and it is the largest building in Gothic style in Bohemia.

As you walk into town further, you come upon one of the most beautiful churches.  This is St. Barbara's Church and was built in 1388.  It resembles the church in Prague.

The church is soooo detailed with its Gothic Style.  The stained glass windows illuminate the brilliant colors, especially with the sun light shinning through them.  I have to recommend going early in the morning to see the sights because you are able to appreciate the architecture without all the tourists around. They are working on the landscape around the church and I can only imagine how beautiful it will be when all the flowers are in bloom.

As with almost every medieval city, there is a statue remembering those who lost their lives due to the Plague.  This statue stands in the middle of the town surrounded by restaurants and shops.

One of the main churches in Kutna Hora is the Bone Church.  The bone church is out of the main town, near the train station.  Calan and I met up with some of our friends from Olomouc to explore this infamous church.
It is called the Kotnice Sedlec Ossuary and it has an interesting history.  In 1278 a man named Henry took a pilgrimage to Palestine.  He brought back with him some dirt and he said that it was Holy Soil.  He poured the soil over the cemetery and it became known as sacred ground.

Entrance to the Bone Church

Many people during that time wanted to be buried there so many bodies accumulated, especially during the time of the plague.  People believed you would reach heaven faster if you were buried here since it was sacred ground.

By 1318 over 30,000 bodies were buried here.

Chandelier of actual bones

In 1511 a half bind monk was given the task to gather all the bones from the abolished graves and put them in the crypt to make room for new "customers".

In 1870 a local woodcarver was hired to decorate the inside of the church with the bones.  There were over 40,000 sets of human bones inside the church that the woodcarver had to use in his decoration.

You would think that it would be eerie and creepy being inside the Bone Church but it actually wasn't.  It had a peaceful feel.  As creepy as it may sound, these people volunteered to be buried here and as a Christian I believe that their souls are in heaven and yet their bones are left behind as art.

Now, I am not saying that I would like my own bones to be used as a art display when I die but during this time, what else was the artist going to do with the bones.  He turned them into art.

This is not the type of art I would buy and place in my house but the bones are inside a church, not in a house or museum.

The Chandelier, hangs in middle of the church.  There are full body sets of bones used in the chandelier.

This hangs over the staircase to the entrance of the Bone church.

The artist created a shield of arms in remembrance to the leaders of the time...completely made of bones.  Behind the shield is one of 4 "boxes" piled high with human bones.

I think this is the most interesting place I have taken a self portrait.

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Friday, April 15, 2011


  After the Synagogue, we went to the Square of the Republic.  This was the largest Gothic square in Bohemia.  The church sat in the middle with the large watch tower.  We could have climbed it but my knee was hurting and I didn't think climbing a bunch of stairs would do it much good.

Me outside the brewery center
After we toured the city (and I hurt my shin pretty bad on a park toy) we took a tour of the Pilsner Brewery.  Pilsner Beer is what the Czech Republic is famous for.

We got to tour inside the actual working brewery and tour the old brewery that is no longer in use.  It was very interesting to see how the process actually works.

We bought ourselves some souvenirs...and of course we always like to look like twins.

 The arches, the entrance gate, is the symbol for Pilsner Beer.  This gate is on every bottle of Pilsner.  The first brew master created Pilsner around 1890's sometime.

After our tour, we had a FABULOUS lunch at Na Spilce which is the restaurant inside the brewery compound.  Calan and I both had goulash and it was soooo good.  Of course, I had to wash it down with a glass of Pilsner....mmmmm....goood.
This picture was taken in the cellars of the brewery.  We got to taste some of the fresh made beer during our tour.  I like it but as you can see, Calan is not a fan of beer.

Around 3pm we took the train back to Prague to finish up our day with a little shopping.  I can never turn down an afternoon of shopping.  We took a break during our window shopping to have some cake for Calan's birthday and then I took the 8pm train home.  It was a wonderful day.

 On Sunday I had a cooking lesson with one of my 4D students, Lenka.  She was sooo sweet to bring over the necessary ingredients so that she could teach me how to make these small Czech "cakes".  She did a great job being a teacher and the proof was in the pudding, since the cakes turned out deliciously!!!

She taught me how to make the dough from scratch, roll it out and cut into small rectangles.  Inside you put a small dollop of poppy seed, custard, or plum marmalade.  You pull up the opposite corners and pinch together until you have a small little basket.

You cook them in the oven for about 3 minutes or so and then paint them with a little butter and sprinkle with powder sugar.  This definitely has to be my best lesson yet.  I took a bunch of the cookies to school the next day and I got rave compliments from my co-workers.  I am glad that I took most of them to school because if I had kept them at home, I would have definitely ate them all myself and that would not have been good for my diet :)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Terezin and Lidice

     I am a nerd.  As I explained to my Czech students, I am like Sheldon and Leonard from The Big Bang Theory, when it comes to history, reading, and writing...basically when it comes to anything that involves learning.  I am a learning nerd and I love learning about history.  For me, to actually be in Europe and visit places where WW2 and other historical events took place, is such a learning opportunity for me.
     I didn´t even realize how involved the Czech Republic was in WW2.  As a previous junior high history teacher, I have never taught about the Czechś involvment.  I didn´t even learn myself until I went to the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C., and saw all the information regarding WW2 and the Czech Republic.
     On Monday April 4th, when I was offered the chance to go to Terezin adn Lidice, I quickly said yes.  I feel weird being "excited" about going to a concentration camp and "excited" definitely is not the right word, unless you think of it as being "excited" to learn and "see" history.  The history nerd inside was eager to emerge.
     I strongly believe God (universe) knew I was going to a depressing place because the weather absolutely reflected the mood of the trip.  It rained (as Czechś say:  it rained wheel barrows) all morning while we were at Terezin.  Terezin is a concentration camp which is about one hour outside of Prague.  The camp was a transition camp where prisoners waited to be sent to death camps.  Also very interesting and quite morbid was that the Nazis created propaganda videos showing Terezin as a "resort" location and filmed Nazis, pretending to be jews, as having fun, watching movies, eating dinner together, etc.  The Nazis showed these films to the Red Cross so that they could "see what great places concentration camps are."  Obviously we know that was extremely farther from the truth.
     We toured the fortress that was built in the 18th century during the fortification period then used as a concentration camp.  Since I was with a group of French students/teachers, our tour guide spoke in French.  Luckily my friend Mirek (French teacher) could speak English so he would translate.  There was also an English speaking tour behind us, so I would sometimes separate from our group to hang back and listen to the English group.  This was probably the first time in my life I have spoken three languages in one day.  I spoke my high school level forgetting French to the students, Czech to my colleagues, and obviously English whenever I could.
     In the first section of the camp we toured,  we entered the infamous Arbeit Macht Frei went into a sleeping area.  On the left and right there was each a room that 100 Russians slept in on bunks.  In the middle was a very small room with no bunks and that is where the Jews were put.  Next, we were taken to the disinfection area where all the clothes were "washed" and the prisoners showered.  We saw the shooting gallery area and the execution wall.  Farther into the camp we camp to the "nice area" where the videos were created.  This area of camp was for the soldiers and their families and no jews were allowed to go in.  Some prisoners were kept there and if they were, they were lucky (as horrible as it is to say that).  There was a movie theater, mess hall, swimming pool... Finally we came to the sleeping area that housed the most prisoners.  In one huge room, there were about 600 prisoners that slept together and had one small box of a closet for a bathroom.  Across from there was more sleeping areas.  This area had to be built later because there was not enough places to put people.  As you can see in the picture that the building was not very high...just about 6 feet high.  Inside there were many rooms with a single wooden bed.
Execution wall
shooting gallery
where 600 people slept.  There are bunks on both sides of the room
the one bathroom for 600 people. There is no toilet inside that closet FYI
the single dorms
single dorms

a room in the single dorms

The "nice" area.  There is a swimming pool and movie theater on the left of the picture
The graveyard

       After Terezin we went to the small town, Lidice, except Lidice does not really exist anymore.  The original town does not exist anymore, but they have created a new town with the same name.  In 1942 the Germans completely destroyed the town.  Before going here, sadly I had never even heard of the name or of the events that happened in this small place.  The town has such a sad story and, for me, this place is probably one of the places that I will remember the most from all the places I have visited while in Europe.
       In May 1942, SS Leader, Reinhard Heydrich was put in charge in Prague.  He announced his plans to erase everything "Czech" and make everything German.    He wanted to ship all Czechs out or to make them slaves and make Moravia and Bohemia completely German.  In June, shortly after coming to power, two Czech resistance fighters parachuted into Prague and assisinated Heydrich.
       Immediately Nazis began searching for the two men, but with no luck.  They searched village after village and no one had any information.  For some reason (some believe because of the location) they decided to eradicate a small town called Lidice.  This small town is about an hour outside of Prague and they wanted every reminder, including the name of the town to be forgotten.  This retaliation for the assisination of Heydrich was to be a lesson to all those thinking of performing future attempts.  No one in the town had any connection to the two parachuters, but yet they were used as the example.  The Germans used explosives to destroy every building, house, farm, etc and even dug up all coffins so that NOTHING was left from this town.  When they arrived, the rounded all the women and children under 15 and shot every man that lived in the town.  The 184 women were sent to Ravensbruck and 82 children were executed.  Seven children were selected to be "Germanized" and were sold to German families or sent to orphanges. Of the 17 suriving children, 9 were found and returned to Lidice.  The women spent 3 years at Ravensbruck and then returned home.  They were told that their children would be at the camp, but when they arrived the children were not there so they spent 3 years at the camp searching for their children and when they returned home.  Like I said, only 9 survied and many of the surviving childrenś parents didn´t survive.

    These were the German orders:   concerning any village found to have harboured Heydrich's killers

                            Execute all adult men
                            Transport all women to a concentration camp
                            Gather the children suitable for Germanization, then place them in SS families
                            Burn down the village and level it entirely    

1st house in original town
     After the people were killed or sent away, the town was destroyed.  The story reached a small town in Illinois and this small town changed their name to Lidice.  Soon after, towns in Mexico, Brazil, UK changed their names to Lidice as well.  Streets were named Lidice, even girls were given the name Lidice.  The Nazis plan to erase all memories of Lidice back fired and the name was never forgotten.  It is such an example of solidarity and compassion against evil for those towns to change their names, but I am so disappointed that our history books don´t talk about it.  My own country was the first country to show support and I didn´t even know about it until I actually visited the real Lidice, Czech Republic.
      The museum in Lidic is absolutely moving.  You can see pictures, movie clips, and even read letters from children to their parents.  After the museum, we toured the area where the town use to be.  You can see part of the foundation of the ----------------- farm and the foundation of St. Martinś church.  There are many sculptures made in memory, but the one that touched me the most was the sculpture of the school children.

It is an absolute atrosity for such innocent lives to be just destroyed.  All the people in the town were innocent and had no knowledge of the assassination.

Horak's Farm
      The two parachuters were eventually identified after the destruction of the town...even though there were fake letters documenting that the parachuters were hiding in Lidice and that is why they destroyed it.  Someone had snitched on the parachuters and they were found in Prague.  Before the Nazis could capture them, the two parachuters commited suicide at a church in Prague so as to not die at the hands of the Nazis.

             Statistics:    192 men over 16 killed in Lidice
                               105 children total:  81 were executed, 6 died in orphanges and 17 returned home
                               60 women were killed in camps

St. Martin's Church (the foundation shows the location)

      It was a long day and very draining, not only physically, but mentally as well.  The faces of the victims (especially the precious childrens) stay with you and their sad story remains always in the fore front of your thoughts.  I am so glad that I went and that I had the opportunity to learn about these events and places.  I know I am going to be a better teacher because of what I saw and what I learned.  I am going to be able to teach from a personal place that I would never had been able to do before.  There is just so much to learn and appreciate about the Czech Republicś struggles and history.  I am honored to be able to tell their stories.

Here is a link to find more information on Lidice:

Here is a link to find out more information about Terezin: