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ROD'S DIARY - PRAGUE AUG 8
Flying in straight after the show in Warsaw we arrived at the hotel at about 1am after a few beers on the short flight only to find the hotel bar closed. Fortunately just around the corner was an open bar so we dropped off the bags and Tom and I and most of the band, along with of course Ian and Gaddsy, headed there. After a big show it's tough to just go to sleep as the adrenalin is still so very high! That's our excuse anyway. But I didn't stay too late as I had promised Tom to do some serious sightseeing of this most beautiful of cities in the time available prior to the show that night.
Similarly to Warsaw this is a place steeped in history and, with its population of about 1.1 million, is the capital of what is now the Czech Republic, formerly Czechoslovakia. Previously part of the Austo-Hungarian Empire, it took the name Czechoslovakia after the defeat of the Austrian Empire at the end of the first World War 1914-1918 and Prague was named the capital, with Prague Castle the seat of the President. The German army invaded in March 1939, however most of the city was left intact. The city was mainly inhabited by Czech, German and Jewish people, though most of the Jews either fled or killed in the Holocaust. Similarly to many other European cities, the horror of the time must have been unimaginable. Towards the end of the war parts of the city were destroyed by Allied bombing raids but not so much as places like Warsaw, so much of the magnificent buildings and architecture is still original. At the end of the war most of the German population fled and the Soviet troops rolled in and Communism took a firm hold. When that important figure Alexander Dubcek attempted to dilute the imposed Communist ethics with "socialism with a human face" the Soviet Union, in 1968, invaded suppressing this new idealism with some 7000 tanks.
I remember this well as I was working as Coffee Bar driver at Butlins Holiday Camp in Skegness prior to going to University. It was a marvellous job as most of the staff in these were delightful young girls from Sweden, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, so of course the affect on the latter was devastating as they did not know if they could go home. When I had to leave to go home I asked my mum if I could bring two of the Czech girls home with me as their future was so uncertain. My mum wasn't, it was NO. I am not sure whatever happened to all these Buntlins Czech girls but I do hope they got home safely and would assume they did.
Following the collapse of Communism in 1993 Prague became the capital of the new Czech Republic when Czechoslovakia was divided into this and Slovakia.
That's a very brief history with the help of Wiki to help fill in some gaps in my limited knowledge. I cover it here again in the hope that some of you may go and get a book covering this history in more detail. The rise of Dubcek and his efforts to moderate the Communist ideal is particularly interesting. In 1968 he allowed foreign newspapers to be sold, I think in Wenceslas Sq, and this was the first time they were available behind the Iron Curtain since before the war. As this awareness of the outside world grew -- a picture totally at odds to that painted by The Party -- so did the discomfort of this imposed system and the lack of basic freedoms. This led to local papers being printed and sold which I guess is partly why the tanks came in. l guess the tank is mightier than the pen!!
So many of the historic monuments and building survived and we tried to get to as many as we could. Besides the pics included here there are more in the gallery to show you how well worthwhile it is to visit this marvellous city one day. Wandering round Prague now you do feel a sense of the civilised in every walk of life. It is a major tourist attraction with all that entails in terms of bars, cafes and entertainment and most places you turn you will find live music of every kind.
Good way to sell CDs.
There is so much to see and we got to what we could but here are some of my favourites very briefly.
Wenceslas Square King Wenceslas
This came into existence in 1348 with the building of the original New Town and has been the scene of many important events in its history starting as a place for executions back them but has since been the place where Czechoslovakia was declared as a Republic, where a student burnt himself to death in 1969 in protest of the Warsaw Pact Occupation and, amongst many other historical events, was where the "Velvet Revolution" began in 1989. It pretty well ended the Communist regime in the former Czechoslovakia. About 250 000 people gathered there at the biggest demonstrations. As it is almost 800m wide and an average of 50m deep there was even room for everyone. It is huge and most impressive, especially with the trams and horse drawn carriages and magnificent building surrounding. And just round the corner from here is the astronomical clock...
Detail on the clock - if you look closely you can see the saints who appear on the hour.
Apparently running for some 150 years after being first introduced in the 15th century, apostles appear in the coves every hour on the hour and you can see the tourists starting to congregate for about a quarter to the hour.
The Strahov Library
Dating back to the twelfth century this holds tens of thousands of old prints, first prints and manuscripts dating back largely to the 16th to 18th century. The murals are magnificent and mahogany cases contain relics of journeys around the planet including all kinds of strange wild life -- including, my favourite, a DODO!!
The Charles Bridge
Built between the 14th and 15th century over the River Vltava, it has 16 piers and statues all along. I guess this is the signature view of Prague. It's great to walk across, trying to get through the tourists and listening to the bands sited on it. I particularly liked the ice breakers facing upstream -- it can get very cold here in the winter!!
This is just a small selection of what there is to see and savor in Prague. We also visited the Jewish Cemetery where the names of the multitude of Jews murdered in Prague are inscribed on the walls. Something like this really does bring you back to earth on a pleasant day but as I said before I feel it important to remember. We didn't get time to visit the Castle sadly but just walking around the city is a pleasure. In the morning I took a boat trip with Tom, Simon and Mike -- the latter two being mates from Hove who I have mentioned before, they come to a lot of shows but never buy a round!! (gotya in public!) They were over for the weekend with a gang from the UK and we met up with them all for lunch at an English Pub -- where they had the cricket on satellite which is always a plus (note how well England are doing with Pieterson as he new captain, played 5 won 5, will it last??)
Anyway enough of the history, but again, if you want to know more, get googling or BUY A BOOK!!! Its all fascinating stuff and well worth the effort.
We went back to the hotel at about 6 to find tragic news awaiting me. My Blackberry had for some reason packed up today which is both good and bad, good that you don't get sidetracked by emails, the bad being you may miss something important, and in this case it was. Checking my laptop as usual as soon as I got back, there was a message via the office from Polish TV News asking me to call as soon as possible about a major train crash involving many Maiden fans. Of course I called them immediately and was informed that the train from Krakow in Poland to Prague had crashed just after stopping at Ostrava. Apparently a bridge was under construction and had collapsed just before the train. Of course the train couldn't stop in the time available though the driver apparently survived by running backwards through the carriages exhorting the passengers to follow him presumably. The crash led to a number of fatalities (at that time not known but later believed to be6) and many injuries, eighty or so. The train was full -- 400 in all -- and included a number of Maiden fans coming in for the show from Poland but even more so from the region round Ostrava. We played in Ostrava a year or so ago to some 20,000 fans so we could see there would be a lot travelling in for this show from there. Of course it's tragic whether they are Maiden fans or not but possibly being fans of course does bring it home more. I found the whole show very difficult that night as you were aware that some people who would have been out there just may not have been due to this disaster. So very very sad. The Polish TV wanted a comment from me on behalf of the band -- what can you say in a situation like that. I did my best then headed off to the gig and of course let the band know immediately. Early in the show Bruce asked everyone to stand and when they were all standing Bruce explained what had occurred and dedicated the next song Revelations to all those hurt or killed in the crash. A small thing maybe but a sign of respect and the reaction was respectful so we think many understood and communicated to the non English speakers. It definitely affected the show from our point of view but what can you do. It's hard to give it everything at a time like that but on the other hand that is what everyone would want. We were informed later that none of the fans were among the fatalities although some were injured and did not make it to the show. If any of you read this we are very pleased you are ok and of course our thoughts go out to the families of those who did not survive this terrible incident.
No WE STAYED AND WENT TO THE BAR - eventful days.
And so to the show at the Slavia Football Stadium, home of SK Slavia Praha football team. Very good stadium, again sold out -- 35,000 this time and again a very good show with an immensely responsive audience despite everything. Bruce was flying back to England with BruceAir, though he wasn't actually flying as he had just finished a show. Tom went back with him after, I hope, having a fun and interesting couple of days. Apparently he and Bruce had a good chat about flying on the way back so he was well pleased!! We used to live next door to Bruce but Tom was only about 2 at the time so of course doesn't recall it but our kids have pretty well grown up together over the years so it is like an extended family to some extent and very comfortable.
The rest of us stayed in Prague and of course all of us went round to the nearby bar where we were well looked after. Joined by Mike and Simon and their mates and a number of fans, we had a very good night, the alcohol assisting in both forgetting and celebrating a good show. Mixed feelings to say the least. I think we needed it and a late night ensued. (sorry no pics of show and evening but just couldn't get my head round it.) More on Split soon.