By Dalia Hamilton
In the fourteen days we’ve spent in the Czech Republic, I have taken 1,785 pictures.
Now, this is new for me. Usually, I’m the one on trips who a) doesn’t want to be in pictures, and b) would much rather just relish in experiencing things than be the one photographing them. But for this trip especially, I wanted to be able to remember every single second. Even more, I wanted to be able to flip through the “GOCzech” photo album on my phone and show my friends and family all the beautiful and amazing things I saw in the Czech Republic.
Today, I knew, would be a little bit different. We visited one of two remaining Baroque Theaters in the world, complete with forced perspective scenery and pole-and-chariot scene-change system, and the Český Krumlov Castle, both of which had a strict no-photos policy. Thus, I had to get my picture-taking in before and after the tours and then trust my memory and my notes to help me remember the theater and castle themselves.
Our day began bright and early as we gathered outside the Pension Gardena and waited to be led to the Castle where we would begin our tour. While we waited, Ed made a bet that our tour guide in the castle would make a joke comparing the bearskins in the castle to the live bear in the Castle Moat. (Spoiler Alert: He lost the bet. Because “light-hearted moments” are not the same as jokes, as much as Ed and Anna might wish.) This led to Lukáš getting a little sassy and making the first pun of the day, claiming that Ed’s bets were “unBEARable.”
From the hotel, we took a winding trek through the town, taking a route that ended up being shorter than the one we took on our city-wide tour, but contained quite a few more twists, turns, and cobblestoned hills. Finally, we arrived at the Castle and were blessed with the opportunity to see the Castle’s resident bear, Maria Theresa, as she waddled around her habitat.
After watching Maria Theresa for a bit, we continued into the castle courtyard, where Anna took an ominous “pre-climb” group photo, leaving us to fear what the “post-climb” photo might look like. Luckily, we didn’t end up going as high up as Anna had thought, because the climb wasn’t bad, although a small group of us went all the way up to the gardens after the tours and took our own “post-climb photo.”
As soon as we entered the Castle Theater, phones went away and I had to rely on my limited powers of description to record the beautiful sight before us. The stage was like an optical illusion, like you were looking through a portal into another world. I could swear the painted statues on each flat turned their heads to look at us as soon as we entered. The candles danced in their candelabras on each corner, making it feel like we’d really walked into an 18th century performance.
We watched a short video explaining the history of the Baroque theater and allowing us to see the famed pole-and-chariot scene changes in action. It was way cooler than I could have imagined, even after Anna raved about it in Western Theatre History. Our tour guide then showed us some of the sound effect machinery that have been replicated, including a large spinning drum that makes rain sounds, one that makes the sound of loud winds and creaking windows, and a wooden board with ridged wheels that, when rolled across the floor, makes the sound of thunder. He explained how, as cool as these sounds were up close, they were even more realistic backstage during a performance, when the audience couldn’t see what was making them. These sound effects, paired with flash bang lightning that covered the 10-12 second scene changes, terrified commoner audiences but also make the theatre experience an exciting and realistic one.
Our tour guide explained, to our surprise, that the theatre only held about 20 performances in the 100 years it was originally active, which is one of the reasons why it never burned down, despite being entirely lighted by candles. Now, however, the restored theater hosts two performances a year, in June and September, although the tickets are always sold out way in advance. From there, the tour guide took us below the stage to see the intricate pulley system that controlled the stage’s scene changes, known as a pole-and-chariot system. Rowen rightfully lost her mind at the sight of the system and the trap doors that the tour guide demonstrated for us. It was also a great surprise to us that the stage only went about 15 meters deep, relying on the forced perspective scenery, the lowered ceiling and raised floor at the back of the stage, and clever tricks (for example, a man on a horse at the front of the stage going into the wings and reappearing at the back played by a child on a pony) to make the stage look much deeper than it actually was.
We reluctantly left the theater less than an hour later, grabbing last looks at the beautiful stage that we could only take pictures of with our minds before we moved on to the Castle itself, starting with the Castle Chapel.
Our tour guide reminded me of a mixture between Eli from Degrassi, JD from Heathers, and the guy from the Matrix (see below).
He began our tour by explaining that we were sitting in the part of the chapel where the servants would sit, while the nobles sat above in the balconies where it would be warmer during the winter. We saw a statue of St. George killing a dragon at the back of the chapel and the tour guide explained that St. George’s great deed symbolizes justice prevailing over evil. The guide then led us on an intricate and comprehensive tour of the castle, complete with detailed history, dramatic legends, and even a ghost story. (But again, no bear jokes. Sorry, Ed.)
Both of these tours today were interesting experiences for me because, unlike most of the other things we saw and experienced in the last two weeks, I couldn’t take pictures, requiring me to pay even more attention than normal and try to keep everything I saw in my mind and in my notebook because I couldn’t capture it on my phone. Reflecting back on it now, I still wish I could’ve taken pictures so that I could carry the experience with me in a more concrete way, but I also kind of liked the opportunity to just experience something again without trying to do so through the eyes of a camera. Plus, this makes me much more likely to come back with my friends and family someday.
(Although, of course, as soon as we left the castle, I started taking pictures again.)