Shows shows and more shows

When we faced the looming steps of the metro with a bit of uneasiness we were unaware of the fun that would follow. No, I don’t mean the metro but hey if things like that are fun for you then so be it. Set with perpetual tram faces we headed to the workshops of The National Theatre.

This tour was huge. We began in thier costume facilities in which we got to see the incredible individuals putting immense amounts of work. The work done there is incredible, where we have one costume shop they have floors and floors of people doing specific things. Everything from making fabric cuts to creating brand new shoes for particular actors. An interesting fact is there they will make a specific mannequin if an actor is in multiple shows with them. This way measurements will not need to be retaken. Once we got over the utter disbelief of the size of the facilities, we were wowed once more. We were allowed the opportunity to see the set design shops. Y’all I was so excited I could’ve cried. They were breath taking. Multiple shops like the costume department including carpentry, metal working, sculpture, paint, and props. Every production student’s dream. It was amazing to see the time and details that went into all of the shows that graced the stage of The National Theatre.

Following all this excitement we got a chance to create our own revolutionary costumes, fitting with the theme of our trip. It was an oppurtunity to be creative, a good break for the mind. Some wonderful costumes sprang fort has well as some pretty cool accessories. For example, my group trusted me to create a crown from plastic bottles. It completed our look as did so many accessories on the other works.

Following a brief pause for lunch we toured The National Theatre. An incredible building full of history. Multiple floors rebuilt after fires. The picture inside depict a colorful history of decades past.

Later we were privileged enough to see Rusalka. A beautiful opera basically telling the story of beloved Little Mermaid. Although it ends with a much darker “tail.” All in all yesterday was a pleasure in which much was learned. This city is so amazing and proves it to us everyday. Thank you to everyone who helped us get here and thank you to those with are on the journey with us.

A Harsh Reminder

A photo on the bus, in which Dalia and Brande try very hard not to be in the picture

In contrast to yesterday’s merriment, today was a serious look back on the history of Czechoslovakia. First, we walked over to Charles University, and climbed several sets of stairs. Our legs were aching after yesterday, so this was done with extreme difficulty. After reaching a classroom at the top of the building, we discussed the pre-WWII history in preparation to watch a film.

Prior to WWII, Germany demanded the ‘Sudetenland’, a region of Czechoslovakia that had a significant German population. France, Britain, Italy, and Germany met, and decided to give away this region to Germany in the Munich agreement. Czechoslovakia was not invited to the meeting discussing its own borders.

This, of course, did not stop Hitler’s warmongering, as 6 months later Slovak was a separate collaborating republic and Germany occupied the Czech regions. Hitler placed his third in command, Reinhard Heydrich, in Prague. Heydrich soon earned the name ‘the butcher of Prague’ for ordering the execution of 5000 czechs.

As a result of being occupied before the war began, the Czech exiled government in London found it difficult to get recognition. The exiled government thus sent in various Czech and Slovak paratroopers into the country to aid the resistance. Eventually, two paratroopers were dropped near Prague with one mission: Assassinate Heydrich.

The film we watched, Anthropoid, followed the paratroopers and their assassination attempt. We saw them prepare, strike Heydrich’s car, and make their final stand in a church.

The paratroopers held the church for 6 hours. Gas and water was pumped in through this window, which is full of bullet holes.

The most frightful part was the Nazi’s disregard for innocent lives. Their most effective counter-resistance tactic was slaughtering entire families. Their torture methods were absurdly brutal, meaning death was a better option than being captured.

A memorial to those involved in Operation Anthropoid.

The Germans retaliated so brutally after Heydrich’s death that it changed international outlook on Nazi Germany as a whole. Countries started to recognize it as an unusual entity unlike anything that had been fought before.

Following the movie, we took a bus to the town of Lidice and visited the memorial. It was one of the most devastating historical sights I have ever seen. Lidice had a population of almost 500 before the war, but was completely razed as a scapegoat for Heydrich’s assassination. Buildings were bombed until only rubble remained.

The memorial, where Lidice used to stand.

The town’s 173 men over 15 were immediately separated and executed. The women and children were separated from each other and sent to camps. Overall, 340 people were killed.

I’ll never forget the expressions of my peers as we left the museum. We sat on a bench waiting, a group of 16 in complete silence. Seeing these normally loud (sorry) but endearing people in uncharacteristic quiet was disconcerting.

A recreation of Lidice’s graveyard, which was destroyed as well. The Nazis did not even respect the dead.

I think Lidice asks us what you do when facing a regime that casually commits massacre as punishment. It’s not an easy answer. In Anthropoid, the troopers discuss the possibility of German retaliation against innocents. One states “I fear Czechoslovakia will be wiped from the map.” In the end, they choose to continue – to hold a war criminal accountable for his actions and show Czechoslovakia will fight.

In America, we take for granted the safety we have due to our nations size and surrounding oceans. We thus often forget the horrors of occupation – which in recent memory Czechoslovakia suffered twice! Perhaps that is why we still have neo-nazi fools traipsing around.

Following Operation Anthropoid and Lidice, the Munich agreement was considered dead, leading to the return of the Sudetenland after the war.

A Revolution Under The Big Top


After an incredible breakfast and heated debate over the presence of pulp in orange juice,  we traveled by tram to Cirqueon, a contemporary circus in Prauge. Cirqueon prides itself on flawlessly blending playfulness with political consciousness, and after workshopping with them, I can certainly say that Cirqueon has achieved its goal. When we first arrived, I was a little overwhelmed by the amount of equipment in the workshop room. There were multiple silks hanging from the ceiling, beanbags and pins to juggle with, and giant hula hoops littering the wall next to us. Immediately on the left were tightropes of varying heights to walk across. And it was in this moment I had suddenly realized that tightrope was a misnomer. Stretched across the room was what looked like a telephone wire about the thickness of my thumb with sharp metallic ridges spiraled the whole length. I immediately understood the amount of practice and dedication one must have to walk across that telephone cable for fun.

We first were introduced to group calisthenics by individually coming up with a motion and vocalization. Then, we went around the circle trying to remember each person’s motion and adding our own. Our instructors showed us incredible footage of some communist mass calisthenic performances from 1985. The first video depicted a stadium just outside of Prague (which we later found out was nine football fields in size) filled with what seemed like high school girls. They all wore the same shiny pink and white uniform, and moved in sharp synchronization. The second was a mass of male soldiers in white shorts and white canvas shoes. Their choreography was much more acrobatic, featuring lifts and rolls throughout. Since the men were rehearsing on real grass, the places where their shorts and bodies made impact with the ground were stained brown. Our instructors informed us that schools in the Czech Republic would receive a pre-recorded government sanctioned video to teach the students with. After rehearsing in their own separate schools, participants met together once a year, for four years, in the stadium to rehearse all together. In watching the videos, I recognized movements that my peers created too. It was so wonderful to see history in front of you and not only watch it, but to manifest it in our physical self.

As we talked about what life was like under communist rule, our instructors reminded us that most of the revolutionary thinkers and activists of the time were people our age. Through our conversations, it was clear that communist-occupied countries were fearful of the western pest that threatened them. It was also clear that subscribing to western media and learning was incredibly dangerous. Not only were you at risk of being found out by the law, but you were also at risk by the secret police and any friends who might rat you out as a free-thinker to the wrong people.  We were then given materials to construct our own college revolutionary friend out of cardboard and crafting materials. After we named them and gave them college majors and life stories, we then had to “”expose”” our friends to the secret police by burning them. We started a small blaze which was challenged by the wind. We watched our new revolutionary friends catch fire and turn to ash in front of us. Our instructor who had been playing Czech revolution songs on his guitar, now sang softly:

“Now he’s gone, I don’t know why

And ’till this day, sometimes I cry

He didn’t even say goodbye

He didn’t take the time to lie

Bang bang, he shot me down

Bang bang, I hit the ground

Bang bang, that awful sound

Bang bang, my baby shot me down”

After lunch we started the circus workshop. Now that I had been in the space for a while and had spoken to the instructors in Cirqueon, I felt so much more comfortable with the idea of stepping farther outside of my comfort zone than usual. We started with a few games where we traveled across the room as certain animals, each trek became more and more complex. Then, we started tumbling. Rolling around on mats on the floor and allowing myself to be playful reminded me so much of elementary school gym class. We learned a few different front rolls, a back roll and a cartwheel. We then moved on to the pyramids and learned how to safely stack upon one another. I was a little scared at first, but, like I had witnessed with my growing comfort around circus equipment, it became enjoyable the longer we worked together.

At the end of the day, the group’s split up between silks and balance beams/the tightrope. I stole one more look at the tightrope. The curved edges in the wire still frightened me. The fear of falling terrified me much more. But, instead of pushing myself even further out of my comfort zone, I realized that it’s okay to not want to do things. I was scared of walking that tightrope, and that was okay. So, instead, I placed myself on the silks and reacquainted myself with silk dancing after 3 years. It was just as hard as I remember, if not more. But, as I was standing on top of the silk knot, I looked down to see all of my friends laughing at their silly mistakes, learning new things about themselves and having fun. It was the greatest view in all of Prague.

A Realization Period

Today we had the privilege of going on an extensive tour of Old Town Prague.   We absorbed a lot of information about the place we will loosely call “home” for the next two weeks.  As I was going through this tour I was so wrapped up in it all. Learning about how the astronomical clock works and the rebellious architecture. I was fully enthralled until I came across a thought in my head. “Oh my gosh! Everyone should be learning this!”. This took me into a sort of spiral.  My thought changed to “Well, why can’t everyone learn this?”.  The truth is that, sadly, with most public education the history lessons are so restricted and rushed that there are so many histories that are unknown to the common American.  In a university setting classes go more in depth with the material but it is unlikely for someone who is not a history major to voluntarily take an intensive history class about a country when they don’t have the time in their schedule. So then I thought, “Okay well people can and SHOULD take it upon themselves to travel and become educated to enrich their lives and gain perspective!” I then realized a huge factor in why many can not do that: Privilege. The truth is, we are all in a place of privilege to be able to attend a liberal arts university that gives us the opportunity to go abroad and better ourselves. We are privileged to have the time to do this trip.  Sadly, this is the reality. This is not a lecture or to make anyone feel guilty for having a good time. It is simply my hope that we all take moments and feel fully grateful for our lives at this moment. So I say it again: Today we had the privilege of going on an extensive tour of Old Town Prague.

The Waiting Game

by madison niness
A picture of us WAITING in line at customs getting into the Czech Republic

Getting to where you’re going can be the hardest part…

For all of the glory and beauty the Czech Republic is praised for, what ‘they’ don’t tell you is what a headache it can be to get there. I’m calling this blog post “The Waiting Game” because that’s what it has felt like I’ve been doing for the past 24 hours/ 48 hours/ somewhere-in-between hours (I’m not quite sure how you account for the time jump).

Everywhere we’ve been I feel like I’ve been told to “hurry up” just to be told to “wait” the next second. We waited for everyone to get to Newark then we waited in line to check in and then we moved to the the upper level just to stand in line again for security. Now, I know this is often just the nature of travel, especially of airports.

But even as we left the Václav Havel Airport, there was much more waiting in our future. We waited on the bus which took us (on the right side of the road, not the left anymore as we’d seen at the Heathrow Airport in London) from the airport to Charles University, where we will be staying in dorms while we’re in Prague. Then, we were told to wait in the lobby as Lukáš (Lou•kash), our Czech liaison, led us five at a time into a tiny room with not much other than a wood table pressed up against the wall and five chairs huddled around the remaining exposed three sides.

There were rules, papers, maps and Tram passes dealt out, agreements signed and room keys picked up. Then and only then, after what I could only calculate as far too many hours spent in the same clothes, were we allowed to trudge up into our dorms, exhausted and told, yet again, to wait. At least we could wait laying down this time!

All the waiting truly was paid off, though, when we were led to a cute Italian restaurant where we had pastas and pizzas (and french fries?) galore. The night was topped off with a quick tram ride to the square or “náměstí” where we walked to the Charles Bridge, just as the sun was setting. A totally breathtaking view.

View from the Charles Bridge at sunset