Hi, I’m Rick Steves, back with more of
the best of Europe. As always, we’re sampling
the local culture, and around here,
that means great beer. We’re in Prague,
in the Czech Republic. Thanks for joining us. Prague, which escaped the bombs
of last century’s wars, is one of Europe’s
best-preserved cities. Its nickname: “the Golden City
of a Hundred Spires.” And, beyond its striking
facades, it’s an accessible city, with a story to tell
and plenty to experience. We’ll explore Prague, filled with
exuberant architecture and slinky,
sensuous Art Nouveau. With music spilling
into the streets… And colorful pubs serving up
some of the best beer in Europe, it’s a city thriving
with visitors. We’ll take in sights
ranging from Europe’s most interesting
Jewish Quarter to Prague’s in-love-with-life
Charles Bridge. Buried in the center of Europe
is the Czech Republic and its capital
and dominant city, Prague. Prague, straddling
the Vltava River, is easy on foot,
with highlights like Wenceslas Square,
the Old Town Square, Charles Bridge,
and the cathedral up in the castle all
within about an hour’s walk. The 14th century
was Prague’s Golden Age — the Holy Roman Emperor
ruled from here. Back then,
this was one of Europe’s largest and most
highly cultured cities. Until about 1800, Prague was four separate
and fortified towns: The Castle Town,
for a thousand years the home of the Czech ruler. The Little Town,
where nobles would live to be close to the king. The Old Town, with its
magnificent market square. And the New Town,
with the grand Wenceslas Square providing a stage
for this country’s tumultuous 20th century history. Prague’s four gloomy decades
of Communist control feels like a distant memory, as the city is bursting with
pent-up entrepreneurial energy. Everything, from the buildings
like the Dancing House — nicknamed Fred and Ginger — to the vibrant crowds
in the streets, seem to celebrate
Czech freedom. Charles Bridge was commissioned
in the 14th century by the Holy Roman Emperor
Charles IV. It offers one of the most
pleasant strolls in Europe. This bridge is part of
the historic coronation route called the Royal Way. Coronation processions started
above at the cathedral, where the king was crowned. From there they
crossed this bridge and headed for
the Old Town Square. Today the final stretch
of the Royal Way is a commercial gauntlet lined with Prague’s
most playful diversions. Like main drags
throughout Europe, this walk mesmerizes visitors. Use it as a spine, but make a point
to venture beyond. Prague is flourishing
with inviting lanes and vibrant markets. Today, as they have
since medieval times, Prague’s farmers markets keep both hungry locals
and visitors well-fed. Every time I come to Prague,
my tour guide friend, Lida, keeps trying to teach me
a little more Czech. Can you teach me four
important words in Czech? LIDA: Don’t you remember them? After so many years. I’m completely beginning. Okay. You are my friend. -Yes.
-Ahoj,very good.Ahoj,okay. More formal.
Dobry den.Dobry den,
dobry den.Sodobryis good,
denis day, good day.Dobry den.Magic word: Please.Prosím.-Prosím.
-Be careful to pronounce the M in the end, because the Czech is
very perfect, exact language.Prosím.Prosím. Prosím.-Very good.
-Okay. And another magic word:
Thank you.Dekuji.-Dekuji.
-A little bit softer.Dekuji.-Dekuji.
-Very well.Dekuji.Thank you. Nice. Thank you,dekuji.Okay, so,dobry den,
dekuji,prosím, ahoj.-Ahoj.-And how do you
say good-bye?Ahoj!It’s the same.-Ahoj,like hello.
-Yes, exactly. Hello, good-bye.
Ahoj, ahoj.It’s either. STEVES: I’ll test my
new language skills for the price of
some local fruit. Okay, let’s practice
what you’ve taught me. Yeah. Oh, look,
plums are in season. Good.Dobry den.-Dobry den.
-Dobry den.How do you say “plums”?-Svestky.
-And five?-Pet.
-Pet svestky prosím.Prosím?LIDA:Prosím,yeah. And thendobro,
very good.Dobro.Good.
This okay?-Dekuji.
-Ahoj. These will be great,
that worked. Prague’s Old Town Square, once just another
farmers market, is now the heart of the city,
but today, the commerce is
clearly tourism. The fanciful Gothic Tyn Church
soars over everything as if to remind tourists lots of religious history
took place right here. Back in the 15th century, some Christians were beginning
to struggle against Roman Catholic dominance. This was Prague’s leading
Hussite church. Hussites were followers
of Jan Hus, whose statue graces the square. He was a local preacher
who got in trouble with the Vatican
a hundred years before Martin Luther
and the Reformation. The chalice is a symbol of Hus
and his followers, who believed everyone,
not just priests, should be able to partake
in the Eucharist, or the Holy Communion. These days,
the biggest crowds gather at the 15th century
Astronomical Clock back on the Old Town Square. The two dials
seem to tell you everything you could
possibly want to know. It tells the phases of the moon,
sunset, current signs of the Zodiac, each day’s special saint,
and, somehow,
it even tells the time. And of course,
500 years ago, everything revolved
around the earth. At the top of the hour,
Death tips his hourglass and pulls the cord. The windows open as
the twelve apostles parade by, acknowledging
the gang of onlookers. The rooster crows… And finally,
the bell rings. But my favorite part of the show
is watching the crowd gawk. Prague has long been
a mecca for musicians. Mozart loved the place. His operaDon Giovanni
debuted just around the corner. Antonín Dvorák lived
and composed right here. And today, that enthusiasm
for music lives on. Box offices around town
give you all the options — theater, opera, jazz,
and classical. Tickets are cheap, about half what
you’d pay in Vienna. Racks of fliers
show what’s on, and with this wall of photos, you can choose
just the right venue. There’s chamber music
all over town. We’re enjoying
a string quartet. It’s Vivaldi in
the Chapel of Mirrors. Enjoying Baroque music
in a Baroque space like this, the music takes on
an extra dimension. Prague Castle,
towering above the town, dominates the west side
of the Vltava River, also known as the Moldau. It’s a complex of
churches and palaces encircled by mighty walls. For a thousand years,
Prague has been ruled from here. Even today, the Czech president
works within its gates. The changing of the guard
adds a dose of formality. And for some entertaining
informality, a quartet called
the Prague Castle Orchestra is playing just outside. Their forte? Songs that resonate
with the Czech people. I’m meeting another friend,
Honza Vihan, who helps me guide tours
and research guidebooks. He’s joining us for a sweep through
Prague’s history. This piece just brings out
emotion, doesn’t it? Yeah, the song is very important
to the Czech people. It’s “The Moldau,”
or Vltava, by Smetana. So that’s the river here. It’s named after the river. It’s like the blood
of the Czech people, and wherever you go
in the world, you can just
think of this tune and it’s like being back home. STEVES: The castle complex is…
complex, and vast as well, with noble palaces, ancient churches,
and grand banqueting halls. While you could easily spend
all day within its walls, the one essential stop
is St. Vitus Cathedral. The church is Gothic,
started in the 1300s, but not finished
for centuries. Inside, the clean,
high Gothic lines and vast windows create a space
that’s quintessentially Gothic, full of light and uplifting. Visitors are
dwarfed by the scale and wowed by the beauty. A stunning Art Nouveau window
created by Alphonse Mucha in 1931 graces the nave. But the importance
of the cathedral, both religious and cultural,
is best felt in its intimate, sumptuously decorated
Wenceslas Chapel. This place feels very sacred. VIHAN: Yeah,
a church in this place has been the holiest place
in the country for 1,100 years. St. Wenceslas is buried here. So that’s Wenceslas’ tomb. VIHAN: Yeah.
He’s the first Slavic saint, so the time when we had
all this French and Italian saints,
this was the first Slav to attain sainthood, and he’s the patron
of the Czech people, and the kings have been
coronated here for those 1,100 years, and they’d always be just lent
the crown of St. Wenceslas, who otherwise rules
eternally up in heaven. STEVES: Just up the hill,
the Strahov Monastery overlooks the Prague Castle
and the rest of the city. The monastery was
a center of learning. As the Age of Enlightenment swept into Prague
in the 18th century, it brought with it
an enthusiasm for the study
of natural sciences. Cases highlight oddities
from around the globe and wonders of the day. Could this be a baby dodo bird? The monastery is most noted
for its library. Libraries were
the Google of the day. It’s hard to overestimate the importance of
these books back then. The halls are decorated
with paintings that celebrated philosophy,
theology, and the quest for knowledge, Knowledge is power, and in Europe
until modern times, the Church was
the keeper of knowledge. This gave the Church
extraordinary power. For example,
some of these books dealt with particularly
challenging ideas. The locked case above the door
was forlibri prohibiti —the prohibited books. Only the abbot had the key,
and to read these books, like the works of Copernicus
and Jan Hus, you had to get his permission. As the Age of Enlightenment
took hold in Europe, the Church struggled to maintain
its control of knowledge. Pondering these treasured books for more information age
perspective, I’m reminded both how
abundant information is today and of the importance
of free access. Prague is well-served
by its tram system. You can tame any big city by taking advantage of
its public transportation. Trams slither up and down the cobbled streets
every few minutes. The service is
so good and cheap, many locals never get around
to learning to drive. We’re heading across town to
the top of Wenceslas Square. St. Wenceslas, commemorated by this statue, is the “good king”
of Christmas carol fame. The statue is
a popular meeting point. Locals says, “I’ll see ya
under the horse’s tail.” The “good king” was actually
an unusually educated and highly cultured
10th century Czech duke. Stories of his enlightened reign
caused Europeans to see Czechs as civilized
rather than barbaric. To this day, Wenceslas is
a symbol of Czech nationalism. Wenceslas square is the main
square of the country and a natural assembly point
when the Czech people need to raise their
collective voice for a change. In the 19th century,
the age of divine kings and ruling families
was coming to an end. Here as in much of Europe,
nationalism was on the rise. By the end of World War I,
the Habsburgs were history and the birth of
independent Czechoslovakia was celebrated
on this square. That independence lasted
barely 20 years. In 1939,
the Nazis rolled in. While Prague escaped
the bombs of World War II, it couldn’t avoid
the Communists who came next and stayed for 40 years. But with this square
as the stage, people power
ultimately prevailed. In the 20th century, my family lived history
in this square. In 1918, my grandma watched
the Habsburg eagles being pulled down
from the buildings. In 1939, my aunt saw
the Nazis pulling in. In 1968, my dad stood here
with his bare hands against the Soviet tanks. In 1989, it was
my generation’s turn. So you were here.
Tell me what happened. In November ’89,
a student march headed for this square, kicked off two weeks
of demonstrations. For 40 nights, this square
filled with 300,000 people. Each night,
300,000 people here. And on the last night,
Václav Havel, the playwright, who would become
our next president, announced from that balcony the resignation of
the Communist government. -Wow.
-Suddenly, we were free. STEVES: And without a shot,
the communist era had ended for
the Czech people. And today, a big part
of that newly-won freedom is the freedom to enjoy what many consider
Europe’s best beer. Prague’s beer halls,
both big and small, are an integral part of
the city and its social scene. Over the generations,
beer has evolved from a heavy, almost liquid bread beverage to a lighter, more refreshing
pilsner or lager. It seems Czechs
perfected lager, and they drink it with
a strong sense of ownership, and in a place like this,
even for a tourist, good conversation and quick
friendships go hand in hand, especially with your
second half-liter. Prague’s skyline of red roofs and towering spires
can hide the fact that the city
is home to one of the oldest Jewish
communities in Europe. Dispersed by the Romans
2,000 years ago, Jews and their culture
survived in enclaves throughout the Western world. Jewish traders settled here
in Prague in the tenth century. In the 13th century,
they built this synagogue, now the oldest
in Central Europe. Stepping into this venerable
place of worship, you’re marvelling at how
this could have survived the tumult of the ages. We feel eight centuries
of devotion. The old cemetery
reminds visitors that this Jewish community
was one of Europe’s largest. With limited space and tens
of thousands of graves, tombs were piled atop
each other many layers high. The Jewish word for cemetery
means “house of life.” Like Christians,
Jews believe that death is the gateway
to the next world. A walk through here affords
a contemplative moment in a serene setting. About a hundred years ago,
Prague’s ramshackle ghetto was torn down and rebuilt as the attractive neighborhood
we see today — fine mostly Art Nouveau
buildings. The few surviving
historic buildings are thought-provoking
and open to visitors. This synagogue
is now a museum, filled with historic
and precious Judaica. Even as Nazis were destroying Jewish communities
in the region, Czech Jews were
allowed to collect and archive
their treasures here. But even the curators
of this museum ultimately ended up
in concentration camps. Nearby, another synagogue
is now a poignant memorial to the victims of the Nazis. Of the 120,000 Jews living here
before the Nazis came, only 15,000 lived to see
liberation in 1945. These walls are covered with
the handwritten names of over 78,000 local Jews who were sent to
concentration camps. [Man speaking foreign language] STEVES: A voice reading
the names of the victims provides a moving soundtrack. [Woman speaking
foreign language] STEVES: Family names are read,
followed by first names, birth dates,
and the last date that person was known
to be alive. [Man reading names in Czech] Despite the horrors
of the Holocaust, the Jewish tradition endured,
and a small Jewish community survives in Prague
to this day. The Art Nouveau facades
gracing the Jewish Quarter in streets all over the city
seem to proclaim that life is precious
and to be celebrated. Prague is perhaps the best
Art Nouveau town in Europe. Art Nouveau was
an ethic of beauty. It celebrated creativity
and the notion that art, design, fine living —
it all flowed together. For a closer look at that
Art Nouveau aesthetic, visit the Mucha Museum. I find the art of
Prague’s Alfons Mucha, who worked around 1900,
incessantly likeable. With the help of an abundant
supply of gorgeous models and an ability to be
just provocative enough, Mucha was a founding father
of the Art Nouveau movement. His specialty?
Pretty women with flowers, portraits of rich wives, and slinky models
celebrating the good life. But he grew tired
of commercial art and redirected
his creative energy. A short tram ride away, the Czech National Gallery
of Modern Art is Mucha’s latest work,
his magnum opus. Mucha dedicated
the last half of his career, 18 years, to painting
the “Slav Epic.” It’s a series of
20 huge canvases designed to tell the story of
his people on a grand scale. In this self-portrait,
young Mucha is the seer — a conduit
determined to share wisdom of a sage Slav
with his fellow Czechs. Mucha paints a brotherhood
of Slavic people — Serbs, Russians,
Poles, and Czechs — who share a common heritage,
deep roots, and a hard-fought past. Through these illustrations
of epic events Czechs can trace
their ethnic roots. Mucha, with his romantic
nationalist vision, shows how through the ages,
Goths and Germanic people have brought terror
and destruction to the Slavs, whose pagan roots are woven deep
into their national character. With each panel, you get more caught up
in the story. The establishment of
the Orthodox Christian faith provided a common thread
for Slavic peoples. To maintain their identity,
they stood up to the Roman Church with courageous leaders boldly confronting
Vatican officials. The printing of the Bible
in the Czech language was a cultural milestone. Then they endured
three centuries of darkness during the time Czechs were
ruled by the Catholic Habsburgs. Mucha’s final canvas
shows the ultimate triumph of the Czech people
as in the 20th century, they joined
the family of nations with their
Czech ethnicity intact. The “Slav Epic.” While Prague is
packed with art, history, and a wealth
of unforgettable sights, the most lasting
impression I take from visiting this
magnificent city is the spirit of
the Czech people — a youthful spirit
that celebrates freedom and looks forward to a prosperous future. And that’s enough of
an excuse for one last party. The Prague Castle Orchestra is
playing back at my favorite pub and Lida and Honza
are saving me a seat. ♪♪ Whether you come to Prague
for its golden spires, its slinky art,
its incredible beer, or the Czech people,
it’s a great place to visit. I’m Rick Steves. Until next time,
keep on travelin’!Na zdraví!Whether you come to Prague
for the slinky music — Whether you come to Prague for
the golden arches — It’s a great place to visit. [Laugh] And beyond its striking facades, it’s one of Europe’s most… Da da da da da. ♪ Love me two times ♪ ♪ I’m going away ♪ Would you like more muscles
in my upper body?

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