Note: This is part of a series. Read the first part here.
The next morning, we got out of bed a bit earlier than we had the previous day, nothing terribly difficult given that we had actually gone to bed at a reasonable hour the night before. Today we had a specific agenda, one thing we wanted to do that would take up most of the day, and something we needed to get a jump-start on: the concentration camp Theresienstadt, Terezin in Czech, about an hour by bus from Prague. I was particularly pleased by this as it had previously been looking like I would leave Germany after having been here for six months without having seen a concentration camp, something I wasn’t too happy about.
We set out for the bus station and after some minor navigational issues, found it and got our tickets. While waiting for the bus we entertained ourselves by looking at all the people hawking cheap, touristy, counterfeit merchandise. We soon got on the bus and rode the easy hour through the frozen Czech countryside to the camp.
Upon disembarking the bus, it was immediately clear where we were. In front of us lay a field, filled with endless rows of small gravestones, many without names, and with a massive cross and star of David in the middle. It was a sobering start to a sobering visit, but one that I’m immensely glad to have made. The whole camp is perversely situated inside a massive brick fortress, so massive that it has an actual town inside its walls that, originally meant to keep people out, gained their infamy from keeping people in. We walked through the massive gates and immediately got a feel for the deolation that people must have felt there, with the holding dormitories all lines up and the obvious feel of being locked in a prison.
Walking beneath a twisted “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign (though not the Arbeit Macht Frei sign at Dachau that is so infamous), we entered into an even more disparate part of the camp, and had the luck to join up with a tour group going through so that we could get some insight into what all the buildings were used for, other than my crude German reading the signs above doors–”Wash Room,” “Commandant’s Office,” and the non-descript but equally, if not more, disturbing simple numbers above many of the doors.
We followed this tour to its completion, seeing the site of the one successful escape attempt, several holding cells, the tunnels that ran under the whole fortress, and the execution grounds where the walls still bear the holes left by the bullets 60 years ago. Once we finished the tour, we headed into town, intending to see the ghetto musuem, but running out time, necessitating our catching the bus back to Prague.
That evening, we ate dinner at Lemon Leaf, an excellent asian fusion restaurant. I had an appetizer, a main course of duck, a beer, a dessert, and I split a bottle of wine with someone, and my bill was a grand total of… $20. Incredible. From there we headed out onto the town for a night out.
The next morning we were a bit slow getting up. Once we did, we headed into town to walk around the Old Quarter. While beautiful, I must admit that I was a bit underwhelmed–much of it seemed nothing more than trinket shops. However, we didn’t get much time to spend there, so I can’t really judge that. We soon went to the Communist Museum, a small private museum detailing the communist history of the Czech Republic, including it’s occupation by the Soviets. It was an interesting and, like Theresienstadt, a sobering experience. Filled with photographs, recreations, statues, and old items like posters, cans of food, magazines, and military hardware from communist Czechoslovakia.
That night we ate an unfortunately subpar dinner and then wandered for about an hour looking for a bar–who would have thought it would have been that hard? I don’t know what it was, though I suspect it was just because of the section of town we were in–but even so, I’ve never seen such a dearth of watering holes. We finally found an excellent place, a local place, and sat down for a few beers and good, cheap gin and tonics.
The next morning, I caught a lazy breakfast, and then headed off to the airport. I was happy to be leaving the bitter fifteen degree cold, but wouldn’t have minded staying in Prague for another night, especially considering the guys I’d met there were still there for another night. But such are the sacrifices you have to make for a cheap ticket on a budget airline.
As always, there are more photos in the Photo Gallery.