Prague – the Centre of EuropePosted: March 20, 2015
The energetic centre of Europe should be in the very middle of the Charles Bridge in Prague. It has for centuries been a sacred and spiritual place which has been linked to legend, religion and the heathen world.
And today Prague still feels like it is slap-bang in the middle of Europe. Huddled between Germany, Poland, Austria and Slovakia, it has a wonderful mix of cultural influences.
The Austrian / Alpine influence is evident in the colourful (and hugely calorific) cakes and the genuinely smooth coffee. Every street food stall sells at least two different kinds of sausages (the German influence) and German is heard on the streets and in cafes and restaurants. If you don’t speak Czech, just use any German you know – I was blessed by a passerby with “Gesundheit!” when I sneezed. Hungarian goulash regularly features on the menu too. All of this, points to Prague having been the capital of Bohemia, an important centre in the Holy Roman Empire and part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the First World War.
Interestingly Italian seems to be quite an important influence too. In the Prague Old Town I have seen a multi-lingual menu with items listed in Italian first and in Italian bold print – and most restaurants offer a variety of pasta and gnocchi dishes.
But of course, the Slavic influence is the most dominant as the Slavic tribes have been in Central Europe since the 6th Century.
In the twentieth century Czechoslovakia was created and Prague became its capital city. It was taken by the Nazis, bombed by the USA, liberated by the Red Army, became an important Soviet centre behind the Iron Curtain, it initiated the ‘Prague Spring’ which was hastily suppressed by the Warsaw Pact members, and the Velvet Revolution spoke out against Communist rule. The country spilt into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993 and today is has one foot in Europe and one in the Eastern Bloc. It seems like the European border is moving further and further east.
Architecture says so much about a city’s past and to me Prague feels more Austrian than Slavic – but there are Orthodox style chapels sprinkled around the city – in smaller, quieter side streets – a city with an eclectic mix.
So, does Prague suffer from an identity crisis?
No, I believe. The people seem firm in who they are – influenced yes, but not culturally dominated. The challenging twentieth century gave the Czechs reason to be bold, be strong and carve a Czech identity for themselves.
So what is Czech identity?
To answer that you would have to visit, not just Prague, but other areas of the Czech Republic, delve into history books to understand their complex journey from where their souls come, and actively engage with the Czech people. This is the only way one will ever understand what makes a Czech a Czech; and what it means to them to be Czech.
Travel does that!