What I Learned From Prague

Prague is love.

New York City is famously for lovers, but Prague is for love. Lovers might fail love, but love never fails and so Prague is greater than New York City.

How can this be?

I love New York, but Prague is beyond judgment. To sit on a hill overlooking the city with your love and watch the sun on the city is good. The Communists built a hideous television tower and a giant statue of Stalin, perfect proofs that they were evil, but the statue is gone and the tower simply makes a good man laugh-out-loud. The communist buildings are the clowns of Prague, like all clowns a bit murderous and funny.

Good King Wenceslas made a legend, Arthur in space and time. King Charles created a university and even more beauty. Wenceslas still rests in peace in his beautiful bed and Charles University still educates.

Prague was tastefully neglected by the Hapsburg dynasty, who were always at their best when incompetent. Governments could do worse that waste money on art, palaces, dress uniforms, and public parades. Later we get to see the art, palaces, and marvel at it all. Elected leaders always feel compelled to do thing . . . and so do more harm.

The Hapsburg dynasty let Prague alone. I wish our government had done the same to West Virginia.

Prague was conquered by the Nazis and suffered the murder of many of her citizens. But because she was a first victim, betrayed by Chamberlain at Munich to Hitler to buy a dream of peace for a time, Prague was not destroyed like Dresden. She sat waiting out Hitler glowing in the sun, shiny in the rain.

Prague was assaulted by the Communists and they made havoc. They allowed the Old City to decay and built up a ring of utilitarian structures around it. The good news is that Prague was in the soul of the citizens and forty years was not enough time to purge the love and beauty.

Why was the revolt against tyranny so peaceful in Prague that it was called a Velvet Revolution?

Prague loved and dreamed through the middle of it all. She is best known, I think, through the stained glass images of Alphonse Mulcha in the castle cathedral. There was bloodshed, of course, and some epic defenestration, but Prague, like Mulcha’s window bathes even that history in light.

Tyrants always march in lines, but Prague makes the rigid lines curvaceous. Tyrants often feel they are acting for good and that they somehow (“reason” or “revelation”) know the truth others have missed. They stamp out art and artists, because the artists reflect their soul. They hate the ugliness the artists see.

It is no wonder the communists, ideologues without beauty, could never count Prague safe. The beauty of Prague was a constant rebuke to their imbalance. They should have seen their evil, perhaps some did when Prague socialists tried to give communism a more human face. But communists far from Prague’s beauty crushed them in the name of secular purity.

The good news is that capitalists know not to ruin the beauty and so have made commercial and viable the new parts of town. McDonalds for a KGB office is an improvement and a redemption. Prague lives like a free market city, but looks monarchical.

Prague keeps dreaming and standing and loving and rebuking any attempt at goodness and truth that missed beauty . All things in this life will pass away, but love endures and so Prague herself will endure. She is not all thing, but she is, at her best, a foretaste of the city of God.


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