Monday, June 19, 2006


I have first been to Prague in 1992. I was doing an inter-rail with some friends and visited a lot of European cities over the month of August. Prague was the one that impressed me the most and I always wanted to go back. I had to wait almost 14 years until I did so… I’ve spent the weekend there, attending another meeting of the European Youth Forum. In the same way I changed, Prague has also changed over these 14 years. I don’t know who changed the most, if me or Prague, but the result of the combination is anyway different. I still enjoyed it a lot, especially the Old Town, the Charles Bridge, the Lesser Quarter and the Castle with its Cathedral, but it didn’t impress me as much as it did when I was there for the first time. Even though I haven’t been back to Prague over these last 14 years, I kept my interest and read a lot (both fiction and reality) about the city and its history. The most interesting aspect of Prague is that for most of its history, it has been a multiethnic city with important Czech, German and Jewish populations. In the 17th century, the Jewish community of Prague numbered some 15,000 souls, making it, at that time, the largest Ashkenazic community in the world and the second largest Jewish community in Europe, after Thessaloniki. This flourishing community suffered a severe blow when Maria Theresa of Austria decided the expulsion of Jews from Prague in 1745 and, an even more important one, from 1939, when Czechoslovakia was occupied by Nazi Germany. During World War II, most Jews either fled the city or were killed in the Holocaust. Most of the survivors emigrated in the years of Communism, particularly after the establishment of Israel in 1948 and the Soviet invasion twenty years after. In the early 1990s, the Jewish community in Prague numbered only 800 people compared to nearly 50,000 before the World War II. Equally, the German population, which had formed the majority of the city’s inhabitants until the 19th century, was expelled or fled in the aftermath of the war. Today, Prague is the capital and largest city of the Czech Republic and it is home to approximately 1.2 million people. Since 1992, its historic centre has been included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites and Prague has become one of Europe’s (and the world’s) most popular tourist destinations. For many people, the city is impossible to separate from Kafka, who was born there in 1883, from a middle-class, German-speaking Jewish family. For me, it is much more related to the Golem, who, according to many people, still lies in the attic where the genizah of the Old-New Synagogue in Prague is kept.