Prague, Glorious Prague–Old Town

Until the end of the cold war in 1991, Iron Curtain countries, including Czechoslavakia, were essentially closed to U.S. tourists.  It was more than fifteen years later that we traveled to Prague, the largest city in the Czech Republic. A major European economic and cultural center for more than 1000 years, the city resonates with the power that is its history.  In recent weeks I have learned a bit about Prague and the trauma it’s resident’s have endured through the  last 100 years. I am in awe of what I see and learn.

Totally inconsistent with my expectations, Prague is a vibrant, bustling community.  The old town looks like it is straight from a movie set.  It is colorful, dramatic and gothic. Outdoor cafes make visitors feel welcome and tourists can, for a price, enjoy a carriage ride through the city center.

The hustle and bustle of the city surrounds us.  The mood is happy and upbeat.  The tourist trade significantly impacts the economy and seems to be welcomed by all.  The Powder Gate sits next to the palace in Old Town.  It is of ornamental, not military value.  King Vladislav II placed the foundation stone in 1475.
Everywhere you walk in Old Town you see buildings that appear to be, and often are, the work of centuries. Individual buildings, churches and sculptures date from as early as the 1300s and have survived, against all odds, despite wars and other calamities.  The Old Town Hall gives us a sense of the history of the city that is about more than the expenditure of wealth.  It is the creation of elegance.
The Old Town Hall Tower’s Astronomical Clock is a big tourist draw.  It’s intricate design includes a variety of characters. Images of Death, The Turk  and the twelve Apostles all make their appearance on the hour.
The current home of Prague’s city government is the “Nova Radnice” or New City Hall.  It is situated in Marianski Square.
Perhaps not as colorful as it’s predecessor, it is, nonetheless, a stately center of power.
The Church of Our Lady Before Tyn dominates the Old Town Square. Built in 1365 its unique twin spires and gothic appearance make it popular to tourists and travel magazines. Occupied for a time by the Hussites, it later came under the control of Catholic Jesuits.
Construction on St. Vitus’s Cathedral began in 1344.  It was finally completed in the early 1900s.  Its beauty dominates the skyline.  The tomb of Prince/St. Wenceslas, murdered in 929 A.D., is located in the cathedral.  He is best known to Christians from the Christmas Carol, “Good King Wenceslas” for his acts of charity. The intricate design of the exterior is consistent with the elegance of the cathedral’s interior.
Masterpieces of religious art cover the interiors of churches throughout the city evidencing, yet again, the power and great wealth with which Prague has been graced. The craftsmanship evidenced everywhere around us is second to none.
There is no way to capture the essence of Prague’s majestic art and architecture in a single post, nor in a hundred.  But we hope that these photographs give you a sense of the glory of its past, present and future.
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What do Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice have in Common? Czech Mentors!

Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice are dynamic women whose influences on U.S. and world events had a significant impact on foreign policy decisions.  Both served as U.S. Secretaries of State.

Albright is a Democrat, politically a moderate.  Rice is a Republican, politically a conservative. They are of different faiths, with different philosophic perspectives. Two powerful, but very different personalities, styles and beliefs. Since reading Madeleine Albright’s book, The Mighty and the Almighty, I have enjoyed discovering her world views, her life experiences and her views of the development of the U.S. as a nation and an international power. But I was still surprised when I learned of the political interconnections between Albright and Rice. It is all about mentors.

In her book,  U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, the 64th U.S. Secretary of State under President Bill Clinton, describes her values and beliefs.  She describes being influenced by her father, Josef Korbel, a Czechoslovakian diplomat, and by Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, the first President of Czechoslovakia, in whose government Korbel served. Rice also identifies Josef Korbel as a major figure in her life. So, who are these men? And how did they influence two such brilliant and unique individuals?

Tomas Garrigue Masaryk (1850-1937) was born in Hodonin, Moravia. He was a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Prague and a visiting professor at the University of London.  He served in the Austrian Parliament from 1891 to 1893 and 1907 to 1914.  He went into exile in 1914 and organized Czechs and Slovaks living outside Austria-Hungary. He developed a network of exiles who passed intelligence to the Allies while helping to establish the Czechoslovak Legions who fought with the Allies in World War I. He traveled throughout Europe and the United States from 1916 to 1918, encouraging allied leaders to force the “disintegration” of Austria-Hungary. When Austria-Hungary fell at the end of WWI, Masaryk became head of the provisional Czech Federation.  He was elected President by the National Assembly in 1918, 1920, 1927 and 1934.  He died before the Munich Agreement was signed in September 1938. Korbel briefly served in Masaryk’s government.

Masaryk was raised Catholic and, as an adult, converted to the Unitarian faith.  He married a U.S. citizen, also Unitarian.  Albright describes him as an intellect who did not consider belief in God necessary to be moral, but did believe “religious faith, properly understood, did much to encourage and strengthen right behavior.” Masaryk considered humanism and religion to be intertwined, with religion ultimately being about showing respect for every person and helping others.

Josef Korbel was born in what is now the Czech Republic.  He was a young diplomat when he was forced to flee his homeland due to his Jewish heritage when the Nazis occupied Czechoslovakia. He would also have been at risk of arrest due to his diplomatic ties to President Edvard Benes, President of Czechoslovakia after Masaryk’s. He returned to his homeland after World War II, served as ambassador to Luxembourg, and fled again when the communists assumed power in 1948. Sentenced to death in absentia, he was given political asylum in the United States.  It is little wonder he had a keen interest in democracy and a love for this country.   Korbel ultimately moved to the University of Denver where he founded the school bearing his name, the Josef Korbel School of International Studies. Even though he was Jewish by birth, Korbel appears to have espoused no religious faith in his youth, and raised his children in the Catholic faith.

Josef Korbel may be best known as Madeleine Albright’s father, but he was also a mentor to Condoleezza Rice, the National Security Advisor and 66th U.S. Secretary of State under President George W. Bush.  She studied under him at the University of Denver and describes him as a central figure in her life.  Her PhD dissertation dealt with politics and policy under communism in his homeland, Czechoslovakia.

Both Albright and Rice credit Korbel with the belief that “democratic values are at the heart of peace and stability in the world.” Both women have reflected that Korbel considered the United States the “Indispensable Nation” because of its pivotal role in world affairs. They, too, share that belief.

In understanding Secretary Albright, it is helpful to understand her admiration of Masaryk, her father, and the impact both had on her world view. In understanding her father, it is important to recognize that his beliefs were broad enough to nurture two women with such diverse points of view.  It also gives us insight into the values that influence the beliefs of both women and their perspectives of faith and politics in interacting with world and national leaders. We journey on!