Let me explain why I’m on this trip! I’ve been funded with a generous grant from the Fisher Traveling Scholarship from the American Institute of Architects, the AIA to most of you, AIA Colorado specifically, to come to Central and Eastern Europe to travel, write, photograph, and blog about the culture and architecture. It’s in preparation for and supported by the University of Colorado Denver Study Abroad program, http://studyabroad.colorado.edu/ and the College of Architecture and Planning, preparing for a study abroad course I hope to offer in the Summer of 2014, studying the architecture of a number of great Central and Eastern European cities, Prague, Krakow, Lviv and Kiev. My thanks to AIA Colorado, the Fisher Traveling Scholarship, the Study Abroad Program and CAP at UCD!
Prague the International Crossroads!
Prague has become the international destination of most of Europe! For sure! The place is packed! The entire city is like a carnival with that party atmosphere. With good reason, everything from the food to the art, music, poetry, history, food, BEER!!!!, culture and of course the reason for my visit, the architecture is candy for the senses. I’d characterize the place as “eclectic”. Yep, that’s a good word. Their geography as a crossroads between East and West, between the varying religions and powers to the East vs. the West have dramatically influenced the culture and politics over the past millennium. Such famed composers, performers, writers as Dvorak and Kafka worked and lived here defining the culture of the turbulent 20th Century. Such influential rulers a King Charles IV in the mid 14th Century built on a scale never before seen, building churches, bridges, castles, cathedrals, libraries, universities, defining a new era right at the shift from the Gothic to the Renaissance era and styles.
Prague is a living museum. Thankfully the evil powers of the mid 20th Century, and there were a plenty, recognized this and kept it in tact. It’s for our benefit today. I think the most direct revelation for me is that the styles of Europe, for art, music, and mostly architecture are not clean and concise. They are an evolution through time. They morph from one to the next. You get to see buildings that started in the Renaissance style and morphed into the Baroque. Or the Neo-Classical era of Karl Friedrich Schinkel slathered with Art Deco elements. It creates a unique visual specific to any single region, representing their influences and power politic. After all, it is power and money that makes the arts and culture thrive…and thrive it did here in Czech for centuries.
Most of my time growing up, the Iron Curtain kept Czech in the dark for us, leaving the impression of oppression and darkness…gray and cold. I grew up learning it was a secretive and scary place. But the culture survived through it all. A story on a tour from yesterday, yes…called “Free Tours” http://extravaganzafreetour.com and Prague Free Tours was about the largest statue of Stalin ever erected. It was to be prominently erected in the Old Town Square of Prague, the central spot of the city. The 3rd largest statue in all of Europe and it took many years to finish. By the time it was finished, Stalin was dead. Yes things took forever under the Soviet Union’s domination. It was only when the statue was finally finished did everyone find out his murderous ways. The communist’s put it up anyway and so it became the object of ridicule and disdain for all the locals, dressing it up and throwing things like eggs and other less pleasant objects. It became such fuel for the fire of independence that the authorities finally had to tear it down.
While walking along the River Vltava last night along what the locals call the Venice of Prague, I turned the corner to a throng of musicians and locals. There were up-right basses, guitars, trumpets, trombones, clarinets, banjos, you name it with about a dozen and a half musicians. The crowd was singing and drinking old Czech folk songs, at the top of their lungs! Glasses in the air, red faced, sweat pouring down their faces. Here, the locals have a fervent pride in all things Czech. When Slovakia decided to split from Czechoslovakia in 1995, they simply asked, and the Czech people said…”OK. Good luck.” It’s a different mind set, one that’s steeped in pride and belief in their autonomy and resilience through the thousand years of outside influences on their nation. Czech, the crossroad of culture and politics. Creating a new genera for the new EU, one full of pride and open hands, one that welcomes everyone and yet still holds their own culture close.
Today I’m off to Dresden, the “Florence on the Elbe” that was leveled in WWII by our British allies at the very end of the war. I was there in the late 1980’s before the “Wall” came down. The best way to describe the place is a city that looked like the base of the Flatirons with huge SUV sized stones strewn in huge piles many stories tall and burned out shells. The Zwinger Zwinger Palace was still in complete ruin. I hear it’s beautiful now, I’ll let you know tonight! Cheers!