Tuesday : Prague Jewish Museum, Craft Beer and Sausages

Another day in Prague and Richard and I set off in good spirits. I had acquired a new belt from Primark (they seem to be well represented in many European capitals) the day before due to damaging my other one and I was unnaturally excited about it as it’s one without holes. I’m sure that concept has been available for years, but it’s new to me and that was enough to surprise and delight me for the entire day, and indeed beyond that. We took the Metro into Muzeum to go on a little walk by the river.

The Botel Albatros, which is a combination of a boat and a hotel, something which seems something of a fun adventure to experience. It seems quite keenly priced, it’s somewhere that I might try and stay next time I’m in Prague. I know that it’s very different in terms of its size, but I enjoyed staying on The Queen Mary a few years ago at its now permanent home in Long Beach, California. I’m not sure why there’s a large Budweiser sign though, that was a little off-putting.

We decided that our cultural excursion of the day would be the Jewish Museum, which I’ve visited before, but have managed to mostly forget, something true of most of my entire previous visit to the city. The Jewish Museum consists of a number of different locations, although close to each other, and although it wasn’t cheap, it did provide enough to justify spending several hours across the sites. Richard had a marvellous idea that he’d buy the audio guide and then tell me the important parts of it, to save me paying for it. Richard is full of good ideas. I did wonder what the museum is spending all of its money on, it can’t just be the properties which it manages, but I assume they offer educational resources as well to schools and the like.

We started our visit, and bought our tickets, at the Spanish Synagogue which was built in 1868 for the Reform congregation, and it’s a beautifully decorated building.

The synagogue gets its name from its Moorish decoration, commonplace in Spain, with the interiors designed by Antonín Baum and Bedřich Münzberger. It was constructed on the site of the Old School synagogue, likely the oldest one in Prague. The building was closed and left to slowly decay under communist rule, but it was restored during the 1990s and reopened in 1998 as part of the Jewish Museum.

For lunch we popped next door to Pastacaffe which wasn’t the cheapest, but the surroundings were comfortable, there were plenty of power points and the service was polite. And I got a biscuit with my latte, so I was pleased.

I went for the Eggs Benedict which was a little odd in its presentation and the sauce looks too lumpy, but it did taste as I would have expected, with the egg being suitably runny. Even the excessive greenery didn’t damage my enjoyment of the dish.

And I needed a dessert since I hadn’t had breakfast, this pastry had a range of textures with all added positively to the taste.

Next was the Old-New Synagogue (or Staronová Synagoga) which has the somewhat amazing heritage that it’s the oldest synagogue in Europe which is still in usage, dating to 1270. Although if the Spanish Synagogue hadn’t led to the demolition of its predecessor, that would have been the oldest. It’s not entirely clear to me why the Nazis didn’t destroy this building during the Second World War given how much else was wrecked by the Germans across Europe during the conflict. Although most synagogues that existed in the country before the war have now been demolished or repurposed, it’s fitting that this one remains in use given its long heritage.

This is one of two strong-rooms where taxes were once collected. One of the museum staff came over to explain what there structures were, which was quite handy as Richard hadn’t located the information on his audio guide.

The exterior of the building, a remarkable survival.

The next part of the Jewish Museum we visited was the Pinkas Synagogue, the second oldest still standing in the city, which between 1955 and 1960 was turned into a memorial to those Jews who had died. This greatly annoyed the communist authorities who shut it in 1968 following the Soviet invasion, but it reopened and was restored in 1995 after freedom was restored to Prague. The names of those who died from Czech lands are carefully listed on the walls, a touching memorial which contains around 78,000 names.

These are some of the original inscriptions from 1959, left to show the remains from the original work which had been badly damaged in the 1960s and 1970s by excessive moisture. There was also damage done in the 2002 floods which required a major restoration of much of the building.

Although the Pinkas Synagogue has been much changed over the centuries, it has been here in some form since the fifteenth century.

Our tour of the site then moved onto the Jewish graveyard, where Richard spent most of the time picking his hat up.

Few Jewish cemeteries survived in the occupied territories of Europe, they were simply destroyed by the Nazis. This one, despite its prime city centre location, was saved as Hitler was going to use it as a museum of what he thought would be the destroyed Jewish community.

The graves are densely packed in and Jews were buried here between the early part of the fifteenth century and 1787, which was when Emperor Joseph II had banned burials within the city walls for health reasons. Graves were never removed and so other than for occasionally buying additional land, the only solution was to pile more earth on top to create more space for burials. When that was done, the gravestone which had stood in the spot was raised up, so there are bodies lying on top of bodies and gravestones crammed in.

This is very much a remarkable survival, this whole site could have so easily been levelled at numerous points in time for the land to be reused for commercial reasons. It’s easy to think that Hitler destroyed so much Jewish heritage, which of course he did, but actually substantial damage was done to graveyards in the communist period. This is an interesting article about how the communists used Jewish headstones when they were repaving Wenceslas Square in the city in the 1980s.

The Ceremonial Hall, which is located on the other side of the graveyard and this was constructed between 1911 and 1912 to be used as a ceremonial hall and mortuary. As with the other sites of the Jewish Museum, there were displays about the life of the community, including in this building how they dealt with death. It’s a reminder also of how important the Jewish community was before the advent of the Second World War, with this once being a bustling part of the Old Town. There were around 120,000 Jews in the Czech lands before 1939, but only around 18,000 following the end of the war and the Holocaust. The number continued to fall, partly as some of the community moved to Israel, and the Jewish population today in the Czech lands is likely under 10,000.

Located next door to the Ceremonial Hall is the Klausen Synagogue, a site used by the Jewish community since the late sixteenth century. The current building dates to between 1883 and 1884, but hasn’t been used for religious purposes since the Second World War, but instead has become part of the museum.

The final part of the Jewish Museum that we visited was the Maisel Synagogue, originally built in the late sixteenth century and named after its primary benefactor, Mordecai Maisel.

It’s a big and bright space, recently restored to look as it would have done at the beginning of the twentieth century. During the Second World War, the building was used to store stolen Jewish Property which had been seized by the Nazis, which is likely what ensured that the synagogue wasn’t entirely demolished. It was opened as a museum after the Second World War, but struggled under communist rule, so was only reopened in 1996.

After some walking around the various sites of the Jewish Museum, we thought it would be a marvellous idea to go to U Kunštátů, one of the few craft beer bars in Prague.

I liked the informality of the signage.

There were three beers on draft available, but tens of bottles and cans, with every main beer style being represented. This was my favourite, the Nectar of Happiness 17, a really rather lovely NEIPA with a refreshing fruity flavour, with hints of pineapple coming through.

The bar also offered some sausage meals, and Richard went for some venison sausage option (which was visually rather less appealing than my meal), whereas I went for the local artisan options. And they were really rather lovely, although I’m unsure if many people go through all of the horseradish that they provide.

And the scientific argument that “dinosaurs didn’t drink beer and now they’re extinct”, which is perhaps something that should be taught in schools. Anyway, this is a really decent bar, definitely recommended for anyone wanting craft beer in the Old Town part of Prague.

Back in Old Town Market Square.

This is the Church of Our Lady before Týn, realistically one of the most important churches in the country. And, if I may take this opportunity to be negative, it was being operated to be deliberately unwelcoming and I got the impression that this was considered more a commercial venture for the church in terms of holding paid concerts. There are no photos permitted, which I think is a questionable policy in itself as some people like to share inspirations that they get in religious buildings. But they had also roped off all the pews so that visitors could only find the odd space in a dark corner of the building and they certainly weren’t engaged in offering any inspiration to visitors in terms of their communications. What they had produced was a series of rules which must be followed, this is how they greet visitors on their web-site:

“It is forbidden in the church: to photograph, eat, drink, talk, film, touch and manipulate the church furniture in any way. Strict ban on entering the church interior with animals.”

This is the danger of having a building which generates so much money for the church authorities, it breeds contempt for visitors. They did have some boards up at the back about the history of the church, but photographing those information boards was also prohibited. Anyway, I’ve digressed, but if the church isn’t much bothered by its building, I can’t say that I can muster up much enthusiasm either. They did manage to make clear that they expected a donation though.

We didn’t go in this sweet shop, but I was transfixed at just how large the bananas were here, just one would fill an entire pick and mix bag.

I can see why children would be excited by this little arrangement, but I was able to show restraint and not go in, simply taking this photo through the window.

A slightly random photo, but I fancied popping into the Marks & Spencer shop on Wenceslas Square, just to see what food and drink options they had in common with the UK. It seems that they’ve brought over the same frozen foods and canned foods, but there’s very little fresh, although that makes sense given the transportation issues. It is a little taste of Britain though for ex-pats and it seemed relatively busy.

We went a little further along Line C on the Metro to get to Prosek station, which opened in 2008, in order to get provisions for the evening before returning to the hotel.

The apples were very shiny, I can’t imagine how much wax they’ve put on them. I do quite like ambling around supermarkets overseas, there’s usually something of interest that I haven’t seen before.

The beer selection was bordering on appalling, just generic piffle dotted around, I’ve realised how much better Polish supermarkets are in this regard. I spent a few pounds on some snacks and then walked the 20 minutes back to the hotel, whereas Richard purchased half the shop and needed the assistance of the Metro to get him and his six bags back. The local residents were likely furious to see all the empty shelves that Richard had stripped bare with his shopping.

I’ve mentioned how slightly obsessed I am about Müllermilch before, I always get this when I see it in supermarkets. I’m digressing again though.

And my really rather healthy evening snack, as I was feeling quite tired and seemed to have the beginnings of a cold. I didn’t mention this much to Richard though, although I think he was impressed at how brave I was with the whole thing.

There was then a scandal which rocked the entirety of Prague, which was that Richard discovered that the hotel cleaning staff had seized the excess tea bags he had secured from the hotel reception the previous evening. I was of course shocked and only slightly humoured at this grand theft by the hotel of what was technically its own property originally. Richard ensured that his tea bags were secured in the hotel’s safe for the rest of his stay and I’m pleased to note that there was no reocurrence of the incident.