So, I’ve been indulging in my wanderlust and doing a few virtual tours here and there (Madison, Wisconsin… Lawrence, Kansas…). And it’s pretty cool to see how different places give virtual tours. One of the neater ones I recently did was a live sunset walking tour of Prague’s Jewish Quarter with Prague City Adventures. It was hosted by CzechTourism during my favorite Women In Travel Summit conference, and I was lucky enough to get to experience it. Keep reading for all the details, and for a 15% off promo code for you to attend your very own virtual tour in Prague. Much thanks to all three groups for having me along for the ride.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
From Czechoslovakia to the Czech Republic to Prague’s Jewish Quarter
There are these moments in one’s childhood when something happens and, at the time, you have no idea what the significance of that event actually is. Such is the case with my visit to the Czech Republic as a teenager. I grew up in Belgium and, around the age of fourteen or so, my family and I went on a trip to the Czech Republic. That was around… 1993 or -4. Yep. You read right. I referred to it specifically as “the Czech Republic.” And it was 1993 or ’94 that we visited, because we moved to the US from Belgium in ’95. …What does this mean?
It means my family visited literally only a year or so after the country’s peaceful split with Slovakia. And just a couple years after the Velvet Revolution. It should also be noted that, not so far away, the Yugoslavian disintegration was in full swing. Seems crazy now, doesn’t it? I remember Old Town and the Charles Bridge and the astronomical clock. But now I’d get to tour Prague’s Jewish Quarter as an adult. Virtually.
A Live Virtual Tour From Czech Republic
How does this all even work? Well, like I said, every place does it differently. And Prague City Adventures decided to take us on a walking tour of Prague’s Jewish Quarter on the phone, right as the sun was setting. We’d stop by a few different synagogues, a cemetery, and finish on one of Prague’s super picturesque bridges at sunset. We’d learn a brief history of the Jewish Quarter, and an overview of where it’s headed. Stories of heartache, and a few stories of hope, too. Along the way, we had the opportunity to chat and ask as many questions as we wanted.
A [Very] Brief History of Judaism in Prague
Prague is actually home to one of the oldest Jewish communities in all of Europe, dating all the way back to the 10th century. In fact, one of the synagogues we toured—the Old New Synagogue—was built in the 13th century and is the oldest of its kind on the continent, too. Prior to World War II, 120,000 Jews lived in Prague. …Only 15,000 would survive, however.
Ironically, it was Hitler himself who wanted to establish the “Museum of an Extinct Race” in Prague. It’s the city where Jewish valuables from all of Europe were collected and stored. And it would become one of the best preserved Jewish quarters in Europe.
The Six Synagogues of Prague’s Jewish Quarter
There are six different synagogues in Prague’s Jewish Quarter—the Old-New, Pinkas, Maisel, Spanish, Klausen, and High. Because this area is so incredibly compact, we were actually able to see the exteriors of all of them.
The previously mentioned Old-New Synagogue is not only Europe’s oldest, it’s also supposedly Golem’s resting place. The original Maisel Synagogue was destroyed in a fire, but was rebuilt in a Baroque style. And then renovated in a neo-Gothic style. And, the two-floored High Synagogue was actually financed by Mordechai Maisel.
Then, there’s the Spanish Synagogue, with its extraordinary golden Moorish interior. You’ll find the Pinkas Synagogue at the entrance of the Old Jewish Cemetery, holding the longest epitaph in the world—a listing of more than 77,000 Czechoslovakian Jews that were killed during the Holocaust. Last but not least is the Klausen Synagogue. Found near the exit of the cemetery, it holds a large collection of Hebrew texts.
Photo credits: CzechTourism
Prague’s Eerie Old Jewish Cemetery
The Jewish word for cemetery translates to “House of Life.” And that’s exactly what this cemetery does—it houses a lot of lives. A compact city space and a Jewish tradition of leaving the dead undisturbed meant the cemetery would simply… create another layer of graves on top of the existing ones. With over 12,000 tombstones and 100,000 graves, you’ll find up to twenty layers of graves in some areas.
Stories of Hope In Prague’s Jewish Quarter
In the midst of great horror, we were told stories of hope, too. Throughout the city, you’ll find brass plaques on the ground called stolpersteine, or “stumbling blocks.” This project was started by artist Gunter Demnig and commemorates lives lost by placing plaques in front of their last address. You can now find over 12,000 stolpersteine throughout Europe, and can even sponsor one yourself for €120.
Another incredible exhibit is what’s known as Friedl’s Cabinet at the Jewish Museum. Friedl Dicker-Brandeis was a Jewish art educator who was taken to the Terezín ghetto. She gave art lectures and organized secret art classes for the children there, but was eventually transported to Auschwitz. Not before she’d hand off some 4,500 children’s drawings, however. Which are now housed at the museum and called “Friedl’s Cabinet.”
And then there was Nicholas Winton. Winton was a British banker of German-Jewish heritage who, on the eve of World War II, would supervise the rescue of some 669 Czechoslovakian children. They were found homes and granted safe passage to the UK. Fifty years later, he’d be invited on the BBC show “That’s Life” for a surprise reunion with several of the rescued children.
Get 15% Off Your Very Own Virtual Prague Tour
The hour-long tour would come to a close with a serene sunset on one of Prague’s picturesque bridges. Of the many virtual tours I’ve done lately, I really appreciated this one. Our guide, Nikola, was friendly and knowledgable. And the live-stream from Prague itself really gave us that extra level of authenticity that was simply incredible. I highly recommend participating in one of these Prague City Adventures tours if you can. Get 15% off both their virtual and in-person walking tours with promo code WITS2021.