Evening with Charlie
going to Prague?” asked Shakespeare Da, his eyes lighting
up. “Then you'll see the Charles Bridge!” I had never heard
of it. “The bridge, built by Charles the Fourth, a Holy
Roman Emperor,” he said, “You should know that if you're
going to Prague.”
Jolted into action by Shakespeare Da's lecture,
I finally decided to prepare for my encounter with this
historic town and clicked through some tourist websites
a few hours before my flight. Some old, stately buildings
came up on screen, the weather forecast promising sunshine
and mild temperatures. Ready to learn all about the regal
Charles and his namesake, it was somewhat of a surprise
to land at Prague airport.
Right out of the cavernous air-jetty, we
were greeted by Steffi Graff leaning on Andre Agassi, twice
their normal size and pasted on a billboard. Advertising
a certain mobile phone company. I couldn't remember off-hand
if either had any Czech connections, but Steffi could be
a symbol of home for the hoards of German tourists that
descend on Prague every other weekend. So our German trainer
Micz told us.
a West German and now living in East Berlin, Micz was also
our chance tour guide. We caught the tram down a steep hill
from the Centre for Advanced Media - Prague, where two colleagues
and I from Drik were receiving training in online publishing.
A gruelling first day had primed us all for an evening out,
and Micz promised us a good tour.
The journey into town on tram 26 went downhill,
crossing Prague's Vltava River and stopping just before
the Old Town. I caught a glimpse of the Prague Post, the
tabloid for Prague's anglophone business population, and
grabbed it at once. The cover story was about a Czech biker
living in New York, who had happened to forget about a priceless
9/11 video in his possession for the last two years, and
when his amnesia broke the tape was 'discovered' by the
New York Times for a tidy sum. (“Trust a Czech to do that,”
said Martin, a native of Prague, when we met up for dinner
later in a Serbian restaurant serving Italian food.)
Micz took us through several low archways,
past stone walls with gothic drama chiselled on it in relief,
the new Elizabeth Arden shop, and holes in the wall selling
a hotchpotch of souvenirs. At a narrow passageway going
towards the Old Town Square, Micz stopped and pointed above.
The two blackened towers of the Tyn church loomed above,
cut sharp into the dusk sky. Thin metal spikes on the towers'
spires glimmered with gold plated stars, and Micz explained
why it's also called the Walt Disney church.
In the Disney animated movie Snow White
and the Seven Dwarves, illustrators had apparently constructed
the Wicked Queen's castle using proportions of these forbidding
towers. Shadows creeping up closer and closer, the eerie
feeling only reminded me that I'd never liked the Seven
Dwarves cartoon as a child.
our way past the church, street vendors and visitors, the
passage almost threw us out on the famous Old Town Square.
Cobblestones underfoot adding to my touristy giddyness,
I looked around wide-eyed. High façades of the old
burgher buildings reminded me of Brussels and Amsterdam.
Micz agreed, saying Prague's glory from that period was
due in part to the artisans' guilds, similar reason behind
growth in the other two cities.
We left the crowds having a rare mid-September
drink outside on the square's many restaurants, and ambled
past shelves of hand-cut crystal dazzling in shop windows.
Past the corner shops selling bright enamelled mugs and
hand-painted ceramics, the sombre stone walls of banks and
apartments under renovation. The view ahead cleared up to
a long line of chestnut trees, and we were out on the Krizovnicka,
a wide thoroughfare along the river Vtlava.
Only a year ago, floodwaters had created
havoc in this part of town. On a visit from Berlin, said
Micz, he remembers this area was behind police lines, as
the floods had brought up sewage, and officials were afraid
of TB breaking out. Dodging cars and buses, we crossed over
to a wide bridge. Looking down from the railing, the Vltava
gazed back at us, now calm as a child asleep. Micz pointed
further down the river, “That's the Charles Bridge.”
It looked like quite an ordinary stone bridge.
Built on a series of arches, the bridge spans the river
between two sets of towers. Rows of dark, roundish shapes
moved in unison, up and down the bridge. Some of the shapes,
however, remained resolutely still. “It's strange how every
time I come here, this bridge is always empty, and down-river
on Charles Bridge, there's always a crowd,” said Micz.
found out the next evening why visitors to Prague pack on
to that bridge as they do. An outdoor gallery of dramatic
statues guards the edges of the bridge. The various saints
and their tales of struggle create a strange, hanging island
on the river. No cars are allowed, to not break their spell.
The crowd, looking so uniform the evening before, seemed
scattered up close, involved in their own thoughts, their
picture taking, their companions.
People zigzagged across the bridge, gathering
around a busker or street vendor - selling photographs,
handcrafted jewellery, guide books or souvenirs, and moving
on to the next. I stopped at a jewellery stall, enthralled
by the delicate enamel work on metal earrings and necklaces
shaped like the Eid moon.
Ester, the shop owner, smiled and told me
her aunt Anicka designs the pieces and she brings them here
to sell. I got two sets of earrings for my cousins, one
pink like the western sky, and another deep blue as the
eastern corner. Everywhere, digital cameras gleamed silver
in the twilight, people snapping away at pieces of the bridge
or skyline up on the hill across the water..
Snatches of different languages, diverse
accents floated by. Bangla, Canadian, Portuguese, Spanish,
German, English, Japanese, French and Swedish were possible
to distinguish. Czech and other Slavic languages I could
only guess at. The bridge wasn't very wide or long, but
it had managed to gather together people from a wide range
of nationalities. Looking across the bridge towards Prague's
castle on the western hill, I thought of Shakespeare Da.
You were right. This bridge is quite something to see.
Photos by Sameera Mahruba, Wahidur