Mozart played here.
Or, to be more precise, Mozart played on this organ. Built by the Jesuit Thomas Scwharz (1745-1747), the organ has over 4,000 pipes.
Mozart’s connection with Prague came about through his friendship with composer Frantisek Dusek and his wife Josefina. They first met in Salzburg, when the Duseks were on their honeymoon.
In January 1787, Mozart arrived for his first extended stay in the Paris of the East, conducting The Marriage of Figaro in the Nostic Theatre.
He returned in August, staying at the Dusek’s villa Betramka. There in the peace of the countryside – and in the ripe ground of the local pubs – he polished off the overture for Don Giovanni. According to legend, he wrote part of the score in between turns playing skittles in the garden.
Don Giovanni premiered on the 29th of October, 1787 in the Estates Theatre and was a roaring success. Though he never again achieved that level of accolade, Mozart is still remembered with great fondness by the city.
Check out this article for more on Mozart’s time in Prague.
Marionettes popped up in Prague around the time of the Thirty Years’ War (the one that began with an unfortunate defenestration).
Popped up and never left. If you walk through the streets of the city, you will be leered at by a grotesque series of monks, witches, doctors and peasants. Every tourist and toy shop offers you a chance to purchase your very own nightmare.
But if you want to see these characters in their true habitat, visit the National Marionette Theatre in Old Town. There you’ll be treated to a performance of Don Giovanni unlike any other.
You’ll first meet the (human) ticket collector, a man who might have had his strings clipped off yesterday. It’s not only the pointed chin and a bald head that does it, but the owlish eyes magnified by round glasses and impossibly arched eyebrows.
Then you’ll enter the theatre, where the stage is small and the smell distinctly subterranean. Into the orchestra pit marches an anemic, bewigged figure who bears a remarkable resemblance to – no, wait, is – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
And it’s all inspired chaos from there.
There is smoke, rain, mold (but no fire). Water, limbs and scores are hurled with abandon. Giant hands and velvet cuffs waltz above the scenery. Mozart gets boozed. Marionettes sing and sing and sing until they won’t shut up. A hulking figure with a broom appears to shoo them away.
And in the end, Don Giovanni goes off to hell and the performers go back in their boxes.
If you have time, you can linger in the lobby to read more about the history and traditions. Prague’s puppeteers were acutely aware of the outside world, and their performances often echoed developments in art such as surrealism, the Bauhaus movement and Cubism, as well as being a platform for protest and national pride.
Their sly satires often went unnoticed by the ruling regimes (Habsburg, Nazis, Soviets). They were puppets, for goodness sake.
But they didn’t get away scot free. During World War II, a visitor to Josef Skupa’s show noticed that a puppet on stage bore a remarkable resemblance to a mustachioed figure in Berlin. What’s more, the Hitler stand-in did not exactly have much in his wooden head.
The puppeteer – and the puppets – were arrested.
The sign in this photo is for UNIMA (Union Internationale de la Marionette), aka the World Puppetry Organization. UNIMA was founded in Prague in 1929; Jim Henson established the U.S. arm in 1966.
Each figure in this sign represents a puppet of national character. I believe Pierrot (France) is second from the left, Punch (Britain) is third.
Informally known as Prague’s Little Venice, Certovka (“Devil’s Stream”) is located in Malá Strana, Prague’s “Lesser Quarter.” In the 16th century, it was called Rosenberg’s ditch/race.
Certovka gained its current moniker from the nearby House of the Seven Devils, which romantic guides will tell you is named after a jilted spinster who lived in the Straka of Nedabylice Palace. An esthetic by nature, she demanded two conditions from anyone who rented the free rooms:
- The furniture must be placed at least half a meter from the walls
- No pictures were to be hung on the wall
One tenant was unlucky enough to be caught violating these rules and was thrown out on his ear. He retaliated by painting six devils on the arcade. And the seventh? That would be his landlady.
The artificial channel runs parallel to the river, near the headquarters of the Knights of Malta, and it’s thought that the Knights began construction on it in the 12th century. There were, and still are, a number of medieval mills on its banks.
Love padlocks began cropping up (or being locked down) in Europe in the early 2000s, particularly at Rome’s Ponte Milvio.
Federico Moccia, author of Ho Volgia Di Te (“I Want You”), may be to blame. In the novel, his Italian hero woos a woman by telling her a tall tale. If they wrap a chain around the third lamppost on the northern side of the Ponte Milvio, lock it and toss the key into the Tiber, they will be tied together forever.
They can now be seen in Paris, Florence, Dublin, Cologne, Seoul, Serbia…
In the early 1980s, soon after John Lennon’s assassination, an image of him suddenly appeared on a wall opposite the French Embassy in Prague. This was Communist Czechoslovakia, where Western music was banned, pacifist heroes were out of favor and graffiti was not to be tolerated.
The image was whitewashed. It reappeared. It was whitewashed again. It reappeared. Over the years, Beatles’ lyrics and political statements joined it. By the time the Berlin Wall fell, the wall had become an institution.
Despite attempts by the Knights of Malta to paint it over, it endures, now embellished with notes from passing tourists.