“What was the highlight?” I’m frequently asked this question about my recent trip to Europe with my daughter C.
A good question, and a completely reasonable one too, even its built-in hint for the Coles Notes version, please, not the Complete Works Of… And I do love to answer it. But honestly, it’s difficult, because once again I realized–more forcibly than ever this time–that travel accrues intensely and steadily in a long series of experiences, moments not huge in and of themselves perhaps, but memorable in their combination.
In this case it’s the combination of the beautiful cities of Prague and Nuremberg and the Bohemian Switzerland hinterland and the person I was with (intrepid and quite like-minded in terms of how we “do tourist”) and the fine weather and all the obvious parts (museums, architecture, history, churches) and also the anxious moments (complete with “angels” who helped, for example, when we had no idea how to reach Krasna Lipa from Litomerice or how we were going to get to that hike we were determined to do when the buses that the internet said are always circling around the National Park do not in fact circle until July). Delicious and not-so-delicious meals. The insider jokes that develop between people together 24-7 (such as BBC television news and Albrecht Durer’s rabbit which I liked and C. found grotesque). Stopping and listening to Leonard Cohen’s “Halleluja” sung by K.D. Lang on C.’s I-Phone in the middle of cathedral-like forest. The stunning stained glass windows of the St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague, lilac bushes and chestnut trees in fulsome bloom, walking and walking like crazies to find another of David Cerny’s sculptures which was supposed to be right here on the map. Four days taken up with going to and being in and coming from the Ceske Svycarsko (Bohemian Switzerland area) with its rocks and gorgeous green and picturesque villages, and a full day’s sober immersion in the Nazi Docu Centre and the Nuremberg Trials.
It’s the whole unique bunching-together of possible factors that elevates as highlight a pocket of time like travel, lifts it out of proportion against regular or ordinary time.
So I’ve mentioned some of the items in the series, but I was also struck on this trip with how powerful, and interesting, public sculpture or memorial can be. Here, a few photos about some of those.
Left, the Memorial to the Victims of Communism by Olbram Zoubek in Prague. We saw this, perhaps appropriately, in the only drizzle weather of the two weeks, so the photo may reflect that, but this is wrenching– a “whole man” deteriorating step by step backwards under totalitarianism.
Right, the religious reformer John Huss towering over Old Town Prague, with the reminder how much of Czech history concerns the see-saw wars between Catholics and Protestants. (My lovely travelling companion in matching tones in front.)
We had a lot of fun looking for David Cerny sculptures and managed to score six. He’s a famous, witty, and controversial Czech artist. This one, “Hanging Out” (left), hangs over the street, supposedly the likeness of Freud. Right is “Quo Vadis” which we viewed through the fence around the German embassy, a tribute to East German asylum seekers in 1989, granted asylum into (West) Germany but leaving their Trabants behind.
Tourists to Prague always view the dignified St. Wenceslas on his horse overlooking Wenceslas Square, and Cerny has had his fun with that too: here the venerable saint rides a dead horse. (According to legend, Wenceslas and his knights are sleeping beneath the mountain Blanik, but will wake and come to the nation’s rescue in its darkest hour. Apparently Czech citizens, having gone through decades of occupation by the Germans and then by the Soviets, joke in a grumble about how much worse it has to get before they finally wake up. Perhaps this is Cerny’s version of that joke?)
More seriously, the statue (right) called “Nameless” by Ladislav Chochole, at the Fortress Terezin, near the Terezin Ghetto, an emotional reminder of the horrors of the Holocaust. The long row of marble pillars (below) in Nuremberg, commemorating the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights, with specific statements chiselled into them in various languages, speaks strongly of commitments made post the terrible time of the Second World War. (Below, right, I’m standing under the “Equality before the law” pillar.)
And one more piece I want to share with you. It’s a side door at the St. Sebaldus Church (Nuremberg). I wish I knew more about it. In the next photo, please look closely at the handle. One often sees the Death figure in old art, but here’s a contemporary rendering, one that visitors and parishioners have to grab to enter the truths inside. Memento Mori.