Posted by: LM | May 16, 2008

The Dancing House

I have one of those nifty “Stumble Upon” icons in the top left of my internet browser and it’s an admitted addiction of mine to click away at it on a slow afternoon. My stumble button has led me to many interesting things. Since one of the interests I selected when programming my “stumble button” (which is what I will be referring to the icon as from here on out, so you know) was architecture I get lots of funky buildings that pop up. I always enjoy looking at them, but I haven’t seen one that’s made my eyebrows raise as much as “The Dancing House” in Prague did when I first saw it. I think it was in a postcard. Either way, I know the first time I saw it wasn’t in person. I remember looking at the picture thinking “why?” and when I head the explanation I was even more baffled.

So this building may not boggle your mind as much as it does mine. You’re probably looking at it thinking “Oh, common. It’s not that weird looking. I’ve certainly seen stranger.” True, this is no Guggenheim or anything like that, but wait until you hear what that building up there is supposed to look like. Ever heard of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers? If you haven’t, they’re a 50s movie duo. You may have seen them in movies like . In any case, they’re a pretty big deal. Such a big deal, in fact, that some dude used them as inspiration for his building. You don’t see it, right? I didn’t either. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s still a stretch to look at this building and see Fred & Ginger dancing together. It was explained to me that the glass portion of the building is Ginger (notice her full skirt and curvy waist?) and the tall and straight portion is Fred. In other words, he’s the one with the hat (and that hat is a restaurant, by the way). I know this is a little bit odd. Yes, I’m fully aware. But don’t shoot the messenger.

The building was designed by a Czech architect who was actually born in Croatia. His name is Vlado Milunic. He worked with a Canadian architect who I’m sure at least some of you have heard of: Frank Gehry. (If you’re drawing a blank… he’s the guy who actually DID design the Guggenheim in Spain as well as the Disney Concert Hall in LA. Thank you ARTA 205). You’ll be surprised, I’m sure to find out that this building is nothing but glorified office space. Sure it’s for multinational firms, but still, would you expect a building like THAT to be nothing but an office building?

You won’t see this building on any of your romps through Prague. In fact, I’m willing to bet money that if you’re a normal visitor, you won’t see “The Dancing House” at all during your stay unless you take a taxi to and from the airport (but don’t waist your money, the bus is the way to go in that case). If you rent a car or have friends or are particularly prone to wandering off the beaten path maybe you’ll see it. If you seek it out you can find it, but it’s nowhere of interest. More in the residential, non-touristy part of town. Oh, and fun fact. The illustrious Vaclav Havel (first President of the Czech Republic after the fall of Communism in 1989) was raised in a little apartment in the building next to “The Dancing House”. At least that’s the information I was given by my boss on a particularly dull drive to the US Embassy to fill out paperwork

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Posted by: LM | May 12, 2008

Wallenstein Gardens

If any of you have seen the movie Amadeus, the picture above should look a little bit familiar to you. Amadeus was filmed mostly in the Czech Republic, which is the home of the director of the film, Milos Foreman. Yes, Milos Foreman IS Czech. Oh, and if you’re unsure of who exactly Milos Foreman is… he’s the guy who directed movies like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest with Jack Nicholson and that movie about Andy Kaufman with Jim Carrey, Man on the Moon. Anyway, I’m digressing. Although Amadeus and Milos Foreman and all that are very interesting topics, the topic on the agenda for today has to do with the Wallenstein Gardens in Prague.

The Wallenstein Gardens make up the grounds of the Wallenstein Palace which was built for the Wallenstein family back in 1630. The Czechs call this place Valdstejnska zahrada. Today it serves as the seat of the Czech senate. Both the palace and the garden were modeled after the Baroque style. It was built by Albrecht von Wallenstein, a Czech nobleman of the time whose intention was to outshine even Prague Castle by creating the most glorious building in the entire country. The palace has a great location right on the Vltava River near the top of Mala Strana (the “lesser town”). Although Wallenstein’s palace was built in Prague, it’s architecture is extremely Italian as it was designed by an Italian architect.

The Wallenstein Gardens was one of the first places I got to see in Prague. It was one of the many places my boss took us on our weekend rompings. I think I’d been in Prague for about two weeks when I first saw it. I remember standing in the gardens just marveling at the fact that this was somebody’s house once. Someone actually lived in this fabulous buildings and got to walk in these beautiful gardens every day. I didn’t recognize the setting as being from Amadeus until much later. I knew that much of the film had been shot in Prague, but it wasn’t until about six months after my first venture into the gardens that I happened to watch Amadeus and recognize the location. It’s always fun to me to say to people, “Have you seen the movie Amadeus? Do you remember the scene of the concert being played in a garden? I’ve been there.”

I took my parents there when they came to visit and I’d definitely recommend stopping by even if you’re only in Prague for a short time. The entrance to the gardens is right outside of the Hradcany metro stop on the red line and if you’re on your way up to the castle (which requires hopping onto a tram to take you up the hill because I would definitely NOT recommend doing it on foot) it’s a worth-while stop. There are lots of interesting statues to look at (ya, like that one up there) and if you’re there in the spring or summer the plants and flowers are gorgeous. An added bonus is that there are actually peacocks waddling around. My friends and I had a good time chasing those around the grounds.

This post might make me sound like a snooty world-traveler. Let me just point out that sounding snootish is not my intention. I’ll try to avoid it whenever possible. That said, I’ve realized something tragic about people who’ve never been to Europe (rocky start for not sounding snootish, huh?). It’s something that’s taken me a while to identify. See, there have been multiple times since my return to the States where I’ve noticed that I’m just not the same as I was when I left. For example, I feel a little sad having to eat bread that was made by a machine and chalk full of preservatives. I ate world-class fresh bread for a year. I’ve been ruined for all other breads after that. Wonder Bread just can’t compete. I’ve also realized more substantial things have changed, like my attitude. I suppose attitude is the wrong word. What I really mean is my outlook on life. I can’t say whether I would totally attribute this to living in Prague or if it has more to do with my brief venture into total independence. Either way, it’s something I feel everyone should encounter. If you’re not persuaded by pictures, history and my running commentary… maybe a dandy little list will convince you. So here are my top 5 reasons (in no particular order) why everyone should visit Prague:

  • Reason #1: HISTORY

You learn so much just walking around the city. There’s so much to see and do and learn about on every street. As an American, it really hit me that I was walking through the same streets that people I’d read about and studied had walked down. You don’t get to experience that very much in Southern California where the oldest building is 150 years old, tops. Buildings older than our entire country are everywhere and it’s so easy to let yourself fall back into that time in your mind.

  • Reason #2: CULTURE

It’s nearly impossible to separate the culture of the Czech people from their history. Every holiday and tradition dates back to the Stone Age, it seems. These people are driven by tradition and are more in touch with their culture than most others are today. If you’re in Prague during one of their holidays or festivals (which I highly recommend you do everything in your power to do) you’re surrounded by people in costumes and traditional foods and crafts and music. It only makes the magic of the city that much more real.

    • Reason #3: PEOPLE

    Although rather suspicious and untrustworthy at times, the Czech people are incredibly friendly and (for the most part) very welcoming of guests. I can’t tell you how many times I watched teenage boys give up their seats in the metro to an elderly woman or was happily given directions by a flashy business man. As far as the suspicion goes, you can hardly blame them. Living under the proverbial thumb of the Soviet Union for so many years had to have done a number on their culture. Honestly, unless you’re there for a significant amount of time or become really close to a Czech person, you’ll probably never encounter this character trait

    • Reason #4: CHEAP

    The Euro hasn’t made its way into the Czech Republic yet. Come 2010 all the prices will sky-rocket and the poor Czech economy will be a little rocky, but for now a dollar goes a long way in Prague. Souvenirs, food and hotels are all much cheaper than you can imagine. I could live off of about $100 a month while living there and having to buy all my own food. And that wasn’t even the cheapest I could’ve lived. If you want an opportunity to see as many cities as possible for as cheap as possible, Prague’s a city to put on your list that won’t put a dent in your budge

    • Reason #5: NEW WORLD VIEW

    By far, the most important thing I came home with was a changed outlook on the world. Realizing that America wasn’t the be all, end all that we like to think it is was tough for me to grasp. I had to come to terms with the fact that maybe people do have a point when they call Americans arrogant and pushy. It’s true. We really can be. Without realizing it, we step on a lot of toes and don’t take time to really enjoy people and places. I learned to live my life more slowly while I was in Prague. My stop and smell the roses mentality has served me well since I’ve been back, I think. For the reason of global awareness alone, a trip to Prague (or anywhere in Europe) is well worth it.

    Posted by: LM | May 9, 2008

    Kutna Hora

    I talk a lot about how much I love the Czech Republic and how being there was such a great experience. The truth is that although I lived there for a year, I didn’t get to see nearly as much of the country as I would’ve liked to. I taught classes five days a week, had to run church activities every Saturday, and Sundays were spent catching up on the grading (and sleep) that was neglected during the week. There were plenty of instances where I didn’t see the light of day for 60+ hours in a row. Granted, that’s because the sun goes down earlier and comes up later there during the winger. But the point is, I worked. I worked hard. Still, getting out and seeing the countryside was an aspect of my time there which never dulled and if you’re going to be in the country long enough, getting out of Prague and taking a day trip wouldn’t be a bad idea. If you’re going to take this day trip, might I recommend a favorite of mine? It’s a little town about an hour away from Prague via train called Kutna Hora (koot-naw hor-ah). The trip is cheap, quick, historical, and just plain fun.

    I’ve been to Kutna Hora twice and both times I had a blast. The first time I went it was at the suggestion of one of my flatmates who insisted on getting us off our keisters and out into the world. She pointed out a section in her Rick Steves’ guide to the Czech Republic which talked about a church filled with the bones of 40,000 people. This peeked our sadistic interests right off the bat. We checked train schedules and ticket prices on our way to work the next day and the following Sunday we found ourselves in our own private train car (SO cool) on our own private adventure. This was our first excursion outside of the city by ourselves. Talk about liberating. We spoke our broken Czech and found our way to the location we affectionately designated as “the bone church”. Rick Steves wasn’t lying. This place was CRAZY. You have to pay to get in (a discount if you’re a student) and a bit more to be allowed to take pictures (Totally worth it though. You NEED pictures of this place). The chandelier in the picture above claims to use every bone in the human body. I’m still trying to decide whether to say “ew” or “oooh” on that one, but it’s interesting.

    After wandering through the bone church we made our way into the center of the actual town. It was a long walk, but those with a larger budget may choose to hail a taxi. We hoofed it into town and found a place to eat. It was mid-November so there were Christmas decorations everywhere and a huge tree in the town square. There’s a GIANT cathedral there (the name escapes me) that I was very sorry to see under construction BOTH times I was there. I could tell even through the scaffolding that it was really gorgeous though. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to take a picture of it, apparently, so you’ll have to take my word for it. Once you finally get to the top of the mountain (“hora” means mountain in Czech, and you realize why when after walking uphill ALL DAY) there’s a great view. It was cloudy and ugly outside when I was there, so the pictures don’t do it justice. Again, you’ll have to take my word for it. The picture above is just one of many that I have of that great view.

    All things considered, Kutna Hora is a great escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. It was important for my friends and I to let off some steam and be kids again and outings such as this one let us do just that. By the end of the day our feet were aching and we were half-starved, but getting out of the city for the first time on our own was something that we considered to be a feat. I loved it so much that I went again about six months later, forcing those of my friends who hadn’t been the first time to come along. Oh, and just fyi, Kutna Hora is where Philip Morris chose to set up its Czech Republic headquarters. We took a picture displaying our feelings on smoking. I just thought it was a fun fact.

    … At least mine never told me. Actually, they probably did, I just don’t remember. You’ve heard of the Hussites, I’m sure, and for most of us the name “John Huss” does ring at least a couple of bells. You might not be able to tell me who the guy is or why he had followers bearing his name, but don’t feel too bad. This isn’t one of those questions you’d find on an episode of “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader”.

    My parents came to visit me twice during the 10 months that I was in Prague. My dad’s big (and I mean BIG) into history and literature and all that jazz, so all I heard about for months was how excited he was about his first venture into Europe. I couldn’t blame him. It’s an exciting thing. The thing I heard about the most from my pastor-father, though, was the name Jan Hus (or as we Americans like to say… John Huss). I knew the little things about the dude. He’s a big name in Czech history. All you have to do is walk through Old Town Square once to know that this man was larger than life. His memorial statue stands right in the center of the square. I’m no genius, but that’s enough for me to know that this person was someone I should learn a thing or two about. To teach me a thing or two, I assigned my students to do oral reports. Their topics were fairly broad, but I was pretty proud of the idea. I simply wanted them to teach me something about the Czech Republic. They could do something historical, something about music, fashion, places to visit, a grammar lesson. I didn’t care. All I wanted was for my students to speak English for 15 straight minutes and for me to learn something I could take back to the states with me. It worked. One of my students chose Jan Hus as his topic. Listening to the life of this man being dictated to me, I realized why his statue was so huge and his name was so familiar. This guy was a very big deal.

    He was born in Bohemia (most of which now falls into the boundaries of the Czech Republic) in the 14th century. What we largely protestant Americans have heard about him deals mostly with the Protestant movement and his popularization of the teachings of John Wycliff. However, it’s much more detailed than that. An abridged version of the story is that King Richard II of England came to Bohemia with his Bohemian queen and brought Wycliff’s ideas with him. Hus took them to heart and began to spread them around the countryside asking for reform within the church. Most of his followers went by the name of Hussites, but the most radical of the group called themselves the Taborites. Hus is mostly known for his writings which strongly influenced Martin Luther and led to the Protestant Reformation years later, however he was a large contributer to the Czech language as well. In fact, he’s the guy that came up with the hacek (that hook we talked about in earlier posts).

    After lots of fighting, lots of pleading and other nonsense, Jan Hus was excommunicated from the Church and all his followers with him. In 1415 he was sentenced to be executed by being burnt alive (painting above by Chronik from 1485). Some of Hus’ last words were utterances of a prophecy about Martin Luther and his 95 thesis. I don’t remember the exact words, but it was something about a man from God coming in the next 100 years who would not be able to be silenced. Unfortunately, Hus was silenced, though he died refusing to recant his teachings. One hundred years later, Luther did indeed have a message the church could not ignore and Hus’s teachings were the driving force of his thesis that he nailed on the door of the church in Wittenberg. After hearing the story, it’s no wonder the Czechs are so proud of Hus and his influence on today’s world.

    Posted by: LM | May 4, 2008

    Angels and Demons

    I suppose when really examined, all cultures have their odd traditions that outsiders raise an eyebrow at. The fact that we sit children on a giant rabbit’s lap every Spring is pretty strange, I’ll admit. Still, it seems to me that Czech holidays are bizarre even by normal “weird tradition” standards. I mean really bizarre. I’ll elaborate. I was walking home one night from work and as I stood outside waiting for the number 22 tram to come my way I came face to face with a man dressed in what I assessed to be Papal garb. This confused me. I was confounded further when I took into view the other oddly-dressed characters on either side of him. Two grown men stood next to this foe clergymen: one dressed as an angel (halo, white robe, wings… the whole get-up) and the other dressed as a devil (complete with face paint, horns and a pitch fork). At first I thought these strange men were in a class of their own. My ride home proved this to be false. I had given the Czech people the benefit of the doubt, assuming that they found these dudes just as nuts as I did. I was mistaken. To them, it was just another St. Nicolas Day.

    Every December 5th the Czechs have a tradition that I can only describe as an odd blend of Christmas and Halloween. Adults dress in the manner mentioned above and parade around the city asking small children if they’ve been good for the past 12 months. If the children answer yes, they get a pat on the head and a sweet from the angel. If they’re honest little boogers and says they’ve been bad… they get a one-way ticket to hell. No, I’m not kidding. I mean of course they don’t really GO to hell. The dude dresses as a devil carries a bag with him. Apparently if the kids are bad, he throws them into his bag and carts them off to meet with satan himself. Again, let me assure you that I am NOT kidding. haha.

    I kicked myself over and over again my entire ride home for not having my camera with me. The city was overrun by these crazies. When I got into my classroom the next morning, I immediately asked my students what on earth had been in the water the night before to make all the weirdos come out to play? They excitedly told me all about “Mikuláš, anděl a čert” (Nicholas, the angel & the devil). The “pope” I’d seen wasn’t a Pope at all, but a Bishop (shows how much I know about Catholic clergy, huh?). He’s the same guy we talk about as being Santa. Saint Nick? Yup, that’s him. They went on to tell me about the candy and the sack and the going to hell story. I was a complete 50-50 blend of tickled and horrified. In the end, tickled won out. It’s just another one of those things that makes Prague and the Czech people so wonderfully insane. 🙂

    Posted by: LM | May 1, 2008

    Karlův Most: Charles Bridge

    You’re probably sick of hearing the name Charles by now. I understand. The fact that everything of substance in this city is named after the same dude sometimes got to me too. I’ve often thought to myself that it’s amazing the country is still called the Czech Republic instead of “Charlesland”. And I’m willing to bet there’s an argument that “Czech” is really a parody on “Chuck”… a nickname for Charles. Honestly though, if I picture Prague in my mind’s eye right now, the first thing I see is the Charles Bridge. It’s by far the most impressive, fun, famous, and populated area of the entire city. If you’ve been to Italy you know all about the emphasis Europe has on bridges. The Charles Bridge is truly an example of this culture. At any given time of the year, whether it’s blazing hot or frigidly cold, there are vendors lining the sides of the bridge. There are tourists rubbing the sculptures for good luck. There are lovers walking hand in hand from one end of the Vltava River to the other. If you go to Prague and miss the bridge you’re either blind, stupid or on your honeymoon. It’s really that big of a deal.

    The Bridge is a treat for the senses. There so much to smell and several regular bands assemble themselves along the way. Lots of people stop and listen, some throw a 25 Kc piece or two into their hats. My favorite band was this little jazz band (above) that was there everyday, without fail, that I stepped onto that bridge. It is literally these men’s JOB to stand outside and play their instruments all day long for the passersby. I don’t know about you, but it made me a little jealous. I bought some of my favorite from vendors on the bridge. From artwork to jewelry to clothing, it’s all there. Something I never excelled in, though, was bargaining. If you’re someone who can haggle your way from 50 bucks to 30, you’ll love it. Even if you’re not, top dollar isn’t all that bad for a tourist district.

    What’s the best part of the Bridge? The view. Hands down. It’s priceless. It’s breath-taking. It defies all logic and reason. I’m being dramatic so that you’ll understand the shear amazingness of what it’s like to see that castle towering over the city. There may not be actual time machines in existence, but who needs them when you’re walking on a 600-year-old bridge staring up at a 600-year-old castle. Walking across that bridge is like walking into another world. Though it’s really not so different when you think about it, the side of Prague where the castle stands has a feel to it all its own. I’ve rambled about the castle in a post all its own, so I’ll shut up, but i want you to know … I just can’t say enough. GO to Prague. SEE these things. UNDERSTAND why all it took was one glance to throw me head-over-heels in love with this too-often overlooked city.

    Posted by: LM | April 30, 2008

    “The Nature”

    So you’re all forewarned, this blog has nothing to do with tips or places to visit, but there was no way I could create an entire blog site about the Czech Republic without mentioning this. Consider this your disclaimer. 🙂

    My boss at the school I worked at was big on the idea of integrating us fully into the Czech culture. I was all for this idea of hers. A lot of my favorite memories were made on the trips she’d take us into the countryside. There we were, 12 very American 20-somethings and our middle-aged Czech boss, traipsing all   over the place as she prattled on educating us about the history and various tid-bits about each place we visited. It wasn’t the learning of new things that made this so neat, though that was a bonus, it was the time I got to spend with the other teachers away from work. It was the time we got to act our age instead of being the ones in charge of a group of students. It was jumping onto each other and screaming and acting stupid. As our year went on, those trips were the glue that bonded us all together. The made us more than colleagues. They made us a family.

    I’ll answer the question I’m hoping you all have on your mind. Why on earth did I call this blog “the nature”? Well, if you’ve ever talked to a person who doesn’t speak English as a native language, you’ve probably heard their humorous little take on our language. The Czechs main short-coming is in their use of articles. There are so many other funny things they say that I could list. Really, I could make another blog completely about that topic, but I won’t bore you. “The nature” was the first one we heard. When our boss came into our office one day and announced that, if we’d like, she’d take us to “the nature” on Sunday afternoon, we all snickered to ourselves. It was such a common occurrence that soon all of us were calling it “the nature”. What does the term “the nature” refer to? Anything outside, quite simply. The nature could be the castle gardens or a mountain trail. It could involve a 10 mile hike or a trip to a Renaissance-themed city.”The nature” is all-inclusive. 🙂

    I’ll never forget our first trip into “the nature”. After being in Prague for only two weeks and having seen only a handful of trees collectively, my friends and I couldn’t imagine what “the nature” would look like. We joked that we’d probably have to take the metro there and get out of the train only to see trees and, well… nature for miles around. Not for one moment did we think this was what would actually happen, but we actually were herded onto the metro and then herded off a few stops later only to emerge from the station in the middle of… nature. Trees, mountains, grass, fields. It was something out of a picture book. I couldn’t believe it was real. Somehow that magical metro had transported us from the definition of city living into the middle of nowhere.

    To close, I will just leave you with this one little tip. Prague is stupendous. The buildings are old and wonderful, the people are friendly and warm, the festivals and movement of the city is overwhelming… but “the nature” is where the real magic is. Somehow I didn’t appreciate trees and fresh air and mountains and the like until I felt the freedom that wide open spaces can offer. It was a freedom to let loose and be me with people I loved. It was a chance to get out of my stuffy, tight, itchy, “professional” clothes and put on my ratty jeans and baggy t-shirts. The days in “the nature” were invaluable to me. I loved every minute, even the freezing cold ones.

    I’m including a video of one of our trips to “the nature” so that you can see just what I mean when I say that we “let loose”. Tell me that you can imagine YOUR teachers behaving like THIS…

    Posted by: LM | April 27, 2008

    Bagelicious

    In a land where history and mystery are everywhere but the comforts of home are few and far between, there was one place my flat-mates and I could continually find comfort in: Bohemia Bagel. It is what it sounds like. A hip, bohemian-style bagel joint. So what makes this place different from the other hot spots of Prague? Three words: cheap & English menus. The coffee was 23 Kc (about $1 USD) with free refills. You can get a dozen bagels for about $10 and if you aren’t picky (which starving college students never are, trust me) there are always yesterday’s bagels for sale at a discounted price. Not only that, but this place had FOOD. Real food that you can find in the states. Real food that you can find in the states that’s NOT McDonald’s or KFC. Rare. We treasured it.

    There are two Bohemia Bagel locations THAT I KNOW OF in Prague in addition to one bagel cart at the I.P. Pavlova metro stop. I’m sure there are more, but the ones I frequented were found at the Ujzed stop for trams 22 & 23 and another around the corner from Old Town Square. Just say the words “Bohemia Bagel” to any local and they’ll point you in the right direction and explain in their broken English. Chances are you’ll get a friendly Czech who jumps at the change to practice English and will walk you right up to the front door. Even if you have to ask 20 people, it’s worth it when you get there. Their soup is phenomenal and the caprese sandwich is to die for. I dare you to disagree.

    My best memories of Bohemia Bagel, though, have nothing to do with the food. The people who work there are first rate and the atmosphere had something so homey about it that I could never get enough. I wish I had actual pictures of this place because we had some great times there after wandering the streets of Prague. On a particularly frigid winter day a friend and I escaped the snow and sat in Bohemia Bagel just sipping our $1 coffee, thawing our limbs and talking. It’s one of my favorite memories just because of the company and the atmosphere. [Just a note, the Old Town Square location also has an internet cafe. Added bonus.] Recommendations? Aside from the things I’ve already mentioned, I’m a big fan of their onion bagels. The chocolate chip bagels are surprisingly out of this world also.

    Posted by: LM | April 24, 2008

    Franz Kafka

    Since the Czech Republic is such a small and easily forgotten country, the Czech people are extremely proud of their celebrities. Probably one of the most famous Czechs of all time is the writer, Franz Kafka, whose most famous book is The Metamorphosis. Kafka was born in Prague, but at the time of his birth Prague was in Austria. The Czech Republic didn’t exist. By today’s boundary lines, however, Kafka is most certainly a Czech. Although he was born in Prague, Kafka spoke German, so The Metamorphosis was originally written in German. It’s interesting to note that many of Kafka’s themes have to do with dehumanization and isolation. This is probably has a lot to do with the fact that Kafka was raised as a member of Prague’s Jewish minority during let turn of the century.

    In one of the tucked away corners of Prague, very near to the school I taught at while I was living in Prague, is a bronze statue of Kafka. In my opinion, the artist did a perfect job of capturing all the weirdness of Kafka’s personality and work. As you can see in the picture above, Kafka is portrayed as riding on the shoulders of a headless, handless man. I wish I’d brought my camera to school with me more often so that I could have caught a picture during the day, but this is the only one I’ve got. Still, I think you get the picture. To me, this is a portrayal of Kafka being carried away by his imagination. If you’ve read his work, I’m sure you can understand why I feel this way.

    The Metamorphosis is about a young man named Gregor Samsa who works to support his family. One morning, however, Gregor wakes up to discover that his body has changed overnight and he is no longer a human, he’s a giant cockroach. The book follows the days of Gregor’s life as a bug and chronicles his family’s reaction to his change. His father is cruel and locks him in his room, but his mother and sister take care of him by bringing him food and cleaning his room when he knocks things over. After the food stops coming, Gregor begins to starve to death. He gets weaker and weaker until finally, he dies. Only he doesn’t really die. Gregor wakes up after dying as a bug to discover that he’s a man again. No worries, if you think this story sounds weird, you’re right. It really is. But that’s just Kafka.

    Being the self-proclaming book geek that I am, I was so proud that I’d saved The Metamorphosis (one of the books on a fairly long reading list I’ve made for myself) to read while I was in Kafka’s homeland. It’s a short book, so it only took me a few rides on the metro to have the entire thing finished, but the thrill of knowing that I was getting the full Kafka experience was unbeatable. I can’t expect that any of you readers will be as overwhelmingly nerd prone as I am, but I will recommend highly that you pick up a copy of The Metamorphosis and read it during the breaks life throws your way. You won’t need many. An average speed reader could have this book finished in one sitting, definitely. Even if you don’t have the opportunity to read Kafka while strolling his native streets, I still think every one would enjoy reading his work.

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