25 March 2011

Celebrating St. Mathew athiest style.

There's always something new to see when wandering around Prague. This weekend my stroll around town led me to the Prague Exhibition grounds- only because I was wondering where the thumping music was coming from. What I found was the annual St Mathew's Fair. According to the Prague Experience website, it is one of the most popular fairs in the Czech Republic.

Photos of the neon-colored rides don't do justice to the sensory overload. Blaring electronic music from each attraction competed with the blaring electronic music from the neighboring attraction. Spray-painted images of half-naked females were the backdrop of most rides. People of all ages were enjoying the questionable and overpriced roller coasters. I was swept away by the moment and even enjoyed one myself. But one was enough and I'm glad to still be intact after that experience. Needless to say, it is one of the most interesting ways I've ever "celebrated" the life of a Christian saint.

22 March 2011

Central Europe Reading List

It's become a habit of mine to read a couple books at a time. I don't recommend it, but I can recommend some great books especially on the topic of Central Europe. There are great authors from Central Europe and luckily many of their books have been translated into English. I've already mentioned the one of the most obvious authors from Prague- Franz Kafka in an earlier post about the Franz Kafka Museum

Another excellent author is Milan Kundera, He is of Czech origin but he calls France home after leaving Czechoslovakia in exile. His original work is translated from French. His books, like The Unbearable Lightness of Being, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, and The Joke (my favorite) give excruciating detail into the minds of Czechs during communism. Although he is considered less than a saint by many Czechs, he nevertheless is a brilliant and internationally renowned author. Why do Czechs disapprove? That's a great question for our next author.

Do you want to get into the mind of a Czech? Get all the answers in one place with Terje B. Englund's book called The Czechs in a Nutshell. He reviews everything alphebetically from the history of Jan Hus, to little Czech quirks like "Socks and Sandals". I've read books like this before but nothing as all-encompassing and fun to read as this one.

For a non-traditional architectural and historical view of Prague I recommend a book by Hilary A. James and Jiří P. Musil. This book, called Prague, My Love: An unusual guide book to the hidden corners of Prague, is great for it's cute illustrations and little facts about buildings that locals pass everyday without acknowledging. Included is a map to help readers find each building or site that is mentioned in the book. A side note about this book: I recommend this book only for its historical content. The story line pretty terrible and the (lack of) editing might do your head in.

For a powerful and heavy read, try Night by Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel. In this novel, the Nobel Peace Prize winning author describes his life leading up to and during his imprisonment and the dehumanizing effect of Nazi concentration camps during the Holocaust.

My most recent paperback companion is Flights of Love by Bernard Schlink (also the author of The Reader). It was recommended by one of Schlink's students (a friend of mine who's a law student at Humboldt University in Berlin). It's so captivating that I read at least 50 pages each time I crack it open. Beautiful stories of love, desire, betrayal, and guilt. All with a touch of Central European history and culture. Guaranteed page turner.

Don't worry there's more to come...

20 March 2011

Czechs Generalizing Czechs

The assignment for my class: Write some tips for a foreign visitor to your country.

 It was meant to be a lesson about ESL generalizations and social behavior but turned out to be more of a "what not to do" for me as the foreigner. I jotted down a few of the most interesting ones. Again these are straight from Czech students and I don't know if they are always applicable. Feel free to comment on their accuracy. 

  • "It is not acceptable for women to pour alcohol at the dinner table." (Whoops!)
  • "In general men shouldn't drink beer on a first date."
  • "It's normal for young people not to tip at restaurants" (Hence the terrible customer service.)
  • "You should never give two flowers as a gift unless it is for a funeral.
  • "It is important put down a drink coaster before the waiter brings your beer." (Seriously, they will give you the stink eye if you forget.)
  • "It is impolite to drink your beer before saying 'Na Zdraví'."
  • "People expect you to give your seat up for children or old people on the bus" (I noticed this immediately.)
Of course there were other interesting tips but not necessarily appropriate to post on the internet-- especially because I don't know if they're true.

14 March 2011

One World. One life.

If you follow me, you probably know that I love film festivals.  When I heard about one in Prague I literally jumped at the chance to participate in this year's Jeden Svět One World International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival. First allow me to catch your attention with the hilarious festival trailer. The festival slogan this year is "Your energy is needed elsewhere" which hits home when you witness the efforts of young people who are competing in Czech drinking games.

More seriously, now. There's is a brilliant selection of eye-opening films with over 200 screenings for 9 days straight. The passionate film-makers, who call attention to human right crimes around the world, are present at the films to share their experiences and enlighten the audience with their experiences. Festivals like these remind me what journalism is all about and prove that there still are good people in who want to make the world a better place. The ultimate message is that of hope- that things can change and to do so you need will power and a voice. I wish I could screen them all, but the two I've seen so far have been outstanding and come with my recommendation.
The first is Rainmakers:

and Blood in Mobile

Films are 80 CZK and are all available with Czech and English subtitles. Check out the schedule, there's still a few days left!

06 March 2011

České Budějovice and the original Budweiser

Another sunny weekend in the ČR made for a great day trip two hours south of Prague to a smaller city called České Budějovice. It's quite the mouthful, pronounced Chess-kay Boo-day-yo-vitz-say. It is actually quite a large town, bigger than I expected but still easily navigable. It's claim to fame is, you guessed it, the original Budweiser brewery and (completely unrelated) one of Europe's largest market squares named Naměsti Přemysla Otakara II. 

A brief self-guided walking tour revealed the city's many historical treasures that would normally go unnoticed. The key to finding them is to look up. Boroque, Art Nouveau, and Gothic-Renaissance architecture literally towers over the streets simply overlooked by the daily passer-bys. The city is seamed together by the Vltava and Malše Rivers, which are lined with benches and pedestrians- a great place to eat lunch and people-watch. Of all the places I've traveled in the Czech Republic, České Budějovice definitely was the most bike-friendly. At first it took me by surprise. What are those mechanical wheely-things propelling humans forward? Oh yeah: bicycles. It's been far too long since I've seen bicycles in a city setting, not to mention the weather has not allowed cycling for the past few months. Needless to say it was a refreshing day-trip out of the big city and the brewery was just an added bonus.

You might be wondering if Budějovický/Budweiser Budvar is the same as the Anheuser-Busch Budwieser and the answer is a simple no. There's no question that the Czech Budweiser (sold as Czechvar in the states) is the original and, in my opinion, much tastier. I was interesting to visit this brewery, especially after a grand tour of it's Czech rival, Pilsner Urquell. The two breweries and their tours are very different and in their own ways are equally impressive. I think the biggest differences lie in the fact that Pilsner is owned by SABMiller while Budvar remains state-owned since the days of communism. I was absolutely mesmerized by the Bottling Plant and took some video which you can see below.  The tour, tasting, and overall experience was a 10 and was followed up with a delicious brew straight from the tanks at the renowned Masné Krámy Restaurant in the city center.