The New York Times, November 5, 1860, p.2:|
GOSSIP FROM PRAGUE.The Comparative Advantages of Dresden and Prague...
The Deserted Appearance of Prague at Night--
The Palaces--Habits of the People, &c.
From Our Own Correspondent.
PRAGUE, Sunday, Sept. 30, 1860
Why Americans, and even English, who swarm in Dresden, should rarely visit Prague, one of the most interesting capitals in this part of Europe, is a mystery which can only be explained by the circumstance that the former is decidedly preferable for all purposes of practical loafing. Not without justice has the Saxon capital been called the Florence of Germany. It is so full of museums and collections of historical knick-knacks that knowledge may be lapped up at almost every street corner. That species of sportsmanship called killing time can be pursued there with great success; the most careless eye can scarcely bag a fact or two...
The City of Prague lowers gloomily on the stranger who arrives at night; the streets, at that time, seem to be inordinately wide, and the side-walks being paved with little round pebbles, worked into a sort of tessalated pattern, are particularly exasperating to the temper and feet; the lamps are few, and badly supplied with something which comes through the pipes like gas, but don't burn like it; the Austrian officers more clanky and cigary than usual, and the hotels so modest and quiet in their appearance that they seem to have retired from business, and to sell wine and beer merely out of regard to one's feelings, and in accordance with the benevolent foundation of their institution. By the time the traveler reaches his bed-room he is generally in a condition to start again. It seems improbable that he will desire to stay an hour longer than absolute sleep requires.
When the morning comes, his astonishment is all the greater to find himself in the midst of a city of the cheeriest commercial activity; with stores in every direction, and people hurrying to and fro with that peculiar speed which the pursuit of money can alone impart. Most large cities appear to the greatest advantage in the early evening, when the streets are filled with people and the stores glitter with light. It is different, however, here, where the entire town seems to shut up at 7 o'clock, and to hide itself until early morning.
One reason for the gloominess of the streets is the prevalence of palaces--great dreary ranges of white-washed buildings, looking more like stables than human habitations, and often stretching their wearisome length through whole streets. Against such heavy odds the store-keeper would struggle in vain. His lights would be swallowed up in the blackness of neighboring dead walls, and serfve merely to make darkness visible.
Palaces abound in all German capitals, but here they literally infest the streets, and are, for the most part, commonplace in style and wearisome in detail. The porches and doorways, however, are generally adorned with handsomely chiseled statues--some of them possessing rare vigor--and the interiors are frequently enriched with invaluable art treasures, which those who are interested therein may freely inspect.
The Bohemian nobles are famous not only for their wealth, but for the excellent use they make of it. Statuary seems to have been a passion with them; works of great merit are scattered all over the town; the bridge alone possesses twenty-eight groups, some of them excellent both in design and treatment.
Prominent among the number is that of St. John NEPONNIC, a gentleman who earned distinction in the Calendar by refusing to divulge the secrets confided to him in the rite of confession by a royal lady, whose husband, rendered savage thereby, caused the reverend gentleman to be flung into the river. His body, discovered by citizens, was recovered by reason and with the aid of a halo of miraculous light which shone over a certain spot in the river where it lay.
St. John NEPONNIC is now the patron Saint of bridges in all Catholic countries, although, as he went over the wrong way, I cannot see that he added to their security. A magnificent monument is erected to his memory in the Church of the Headschin--where his remains are interred--built entirely of silver, and weighing nearly two tons. A piece of his constant bones is inserted in a sort of star, and placed at a convenient height from the pavement of the church, so that the devout may reach it with their lips.
On the bridge every one takes off his hat as he passes the Saint's statue, which, from a distance, creates the impression that at that spot a constant gust of wind prevails.
Inasmuch as there are many Bohemians in Bohemia, and a considerable proportion thereof in Prague, the shop signs are generally written in two languages--the German and the Bohemian--thereby adding another to the hardships which the traveler has to encounter. Extrinsically, the Bohemian alphabet looks as if it might mean a great deal more than the English; all the vowels seem to have a natural tendency to become dipthongs, and the consonants, beside starting out little legs and runner where least expected, appear to possess the valuable quality of serving backwards, forwards and upside down, resembling in that respect the queer inscriptions which one sees on apothecaries' bottles, and which always seem to me to have been conceived by an insane short-hand writer.
In the market places one has an opportunity of hearing the language in all its spoken force, for the market-women are not only loquacious, but critical, and unacquainted with any other dialect. If I may form an opinion from certain vigorous episodes which I experienced, it is a tongue rich in figurative Billingsgate, and capable of offensive and defensive application.
The markets themselves are both extensive and well supplied, and in the abundance of tomatoes, green corn, (it comes late here,) and pumpkins, reminds one of home emporiums. It will not interest your readers to know the price of butter, but it may amuse them to learn that half an egg may be purchased--either the white or the yellow. The peasants who attend to this branch of the business make a great display of their wares, exhibiting pots containing nothing but the whites, and half-shells, containing enormous yolks, floating temptingly in their natural basins. Lemons, also, are sold either whole or in portions. Lots of thrifty folks go to market for half a lemon, and are happy. Is it not ridiculous, the idea of a people being contented with a state of society that admits of half an egg and a fraction of a lemon! Some people, you see, are determined to be happy under any circumstances, and really don't know any better.
One of the most curious sights of the place is the Jew's quarter, with its myriad of Israelites, its old synagogue, and its older burial-place. Learned men who have inquired into the subject agree, I believe, that in Prague the earliest European settlement of the Hebrews was made, but have not quite satisfied themselves as to the date. Some enthusiasts affirm that its foundation can be traced to a period anterior to the fall of Jerusalem, when Jew slave-dealers were established here to supply the Eastern market with blonde maidens...
Literary men have been accustomed to regard the broom as the natural enemy of their kind, but the most crotchety Dryasdust would yearn for a besom in the old synagogue of Prague. For more than six hundred years the place has been unwashed, unswept, uncleansed; antique draperies of cobweb hang from the rafters and beams; and huge spiders, with heads of unnatural size, and eyes like lobsters, look down defiantly on the shuddering Christian, who would crush them with his heel if he dared.
Thousands of devout Israelites creep into this dingy temple daily--the women separated from the men by a prodigious wall, perforated to permit the sound reaching them only, but not thick enough to prevent black lustrous eyes flashing through the crevice, brighter with curiosity, it is to be feared, than the law permits...
There are many other synagogues, both in this part of the town and elsewhere, for the Jews are no longer restricted to the quarter which is named after them, as they were in olden time. The new synagogue, however, is close at hand, and being only two or three hundred years old, is comparatiively modern and elegant in all its appointments...
C. B. S.
The New York Times, May 8, 1891, p.9:|
THE KARLSBRÜCKE.PRAGUE'S HISTORIC BRIDGE SOON TO BE DEMOLISHED.
A short time ago the morning papers stated that the famous Karlsbrücke, or Charles Bridge, across the Moldau at Prague was doomed to destruction by the great floods which have been creating such havoc in Central Europe. The paragraphp was a brief one and probably attacted little attention, but no one who knew the pride with which for hundreds of years the Bohemians have regarded this bridge could read the few lines without a thrill of sympathy.
To write a history of the Karlsbrücke would be to write the history of Prague during the past five centuries. This indeed were well worth the doing, for though the old world is rich in historic cities, few are more interesting than this wonderful old town with its stately buildings, its quaint old houses and beautiful gardens, and its memories of illustrious men and women--of Huss and Wallenstein, of Maria Theresa and her implacable enemy, Frederick the Great. How many times these and others scarcely less famous have passed to and fro over the Karlsbrücke.
Prague was the favorite city of that splendid monarch, Charles IV., "the stepfather of the empire, but the father of Bohemia." He established her celebrated university and beautified the town in many ways, besides laying the foundation of the Karlsbrücke in 1357. For 150 years the work went on, and when finally completed, in 1507, it was justly regarded as a triumph of the engineering skill of the age.
Even to-day few bridges are worthy of more admiration than the old Karlsbrücke with its grand old Gothic tower and its sixteen noble arches spanning the beautiful Moldau. As time went on statues and groups of figures were placed on the buttresses of the bridge. The oldest of these, a large stone crucifix with images of the Virgin and St. John, was built with money wrung from the Jews. Short services were occasionally held before the crucifix.
Another curious group, showing the suffering souls in purgatory, commemorated the dreadful visitation of the plague. But the most interesting of the statues is that of St. John of Nepomuk, the patron of bridges and the saint whom all Prague delights to honor. St. John, so the legend tells us, was the confessor of the lovely Queen of Bohemia and refused to reveal the secrets of the confessional to her jealous husband. The cruel Wenzel commanded him to be tortured, and afterward he was thrown from the Karlsbrücke at night into the rushing Moldau. Whereupon the body of the good priest, instead of sinking, continued to float until taken from the water, while five brilliant stars hovered over it. The statue represents an ascetic figure holding a crucifix, and around the head are arranged the five miraculous stars.
One lingers near the fine old tower at the entrance to the bridge. If by some spell like that used in the Arabian tale we could unseal the lips of the sculptured figures who look down so calmly from their lofty station, what tragic tales they would tell of the many times the tide of battle has surged across this bridge.
During the stormy days of the Thirty Years' War it was the scene of many conflicts, and for ten years the heads of twelve of Bohemia's Protestant nobles swung in iron cages from the tower. Later, the citizens of Prague rallied to its defense against the Swedes and held it for three long months, till the peace of Westphalia ended the war.
When Frederick the Great invaded Bohemia it was the scene of a bloody struggle, and, as lately as the revolution of 1848, a famous barricade was built there by the students.
But the days of the Karlsbrücke are numbered. During September three of its arches were carried away by the swollen river, and the collapse of a fourth a little more than a week ago renders its destruction inevitable. Begun as the night of the Middle Ages was beginning to roll away, and finished in the dawning light of the Reformation, the old bridge falls just as the twentieth century opens before the world.
The Los Angeles Times, February 1, 1920, p.III36:|
OLD PRESSBURG NOW BRATISLAVARedeemed Slovakians Change Ancient City's Name.
Under Dominion of Hungary of Thousand Years.
Depend on Czechs for Their Official Direction.
[A. P. FOREIGN CORRESPONDENCE.]
BRATISLAVA (Slovakia) Jan. 11.--It is only on Czecho-Slovakian maps that this ancient Hungarian city of Pressburg can by located by its new name. Ruled by Hungary for a thousand years it passed under the control of the new Czecho-Slovakian republic by the decision of the Peace Conference and a large part of its inhabitants do not take kindly to the new order of things. Its people are dominantly Germanic or Hungarian.
The street signs are in German and Hungarian characters and now to them is added Czech. The old postal and telephone employees have been replaced by Czechs and Czech high officers installed in the government. Slovak regiments on duty here have been replaced by purely Czech soldiers. In a city as old and conservative and routine as this, drifting through the centuries undisturbed in its social customs, these things have made feeling run rather high in certain social strata.
Persons, regardless of sex, who have not acquired legal residence are being expelled. One man told the Associated Press he had lived and done business here for forty years and was expelled a few days ago. The list of those cited for expulsion is said to contain names of dead persons.
Some Hungarians do not hesitate to express their resentment over the employment of Czechs in government positions here formerly occupied by the Hungarians. Czechs and many Slovaks of the educated classes who hold office under the government say this feeling is due to Hungarian and German propoganda, and has no real strength or extent. Also they admit the necessity of Czech officialdom as Slovakia has little or no educated class from which to draw executives of ability.
It is hard to upset rudely the traditions of ten centuries and talks with many persons, both in offical and unofficial circles, would indicate that the antagonism displayed toward the Czechs is a natural condition of this period of transition and not deeply rooted. Probably it is stronger here in Pressburg than in the other parts of Slovakia, where the change is not so apparent.
ABOLISH TEUTON TONGUE.
The school question plays a very prominent part in the situation here. The government has abolished the German and Hungarian languages in the schools and this means a general ousting of teachers and a reaction in households.
Many Slovakians and Germans now speak ostentatiously in Hungarian, as do the peasants of this immediate vicinity, as a sign of their feelings. A political speaker alluding to this development said that the Czechs had accomplished in six months what Hungary had tried to do for fifty years.
Well-informed Slovaks, however, do not feel that the racial question will result in any serious developments. They say that Slovakia must hold to the republic and with new elections and an elected, instead of a nominated, National Assembly such as the present one, a more liberal Slovak representation in offices and the stabilization economic situation, conditions will improve. As a last argument they point out that Slovakia cannot exist as an independent state and there is no other country than the Czecho-Slovak republic to which she can ally herself.
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