Art's fire is never extinguished
If, like Kafka, you live in dangerous intimacy with the world of dreams, Prague, the heart of Bohemia, is for you. It's asparkling, artistic, poetic destination, nestled along the shores of the Vltava River.
‘To write even one verse, one must have seen many cities, men, and things', wrote the great poet Rainer Maria Rilke, born in Prague, which was then in Austria-Hungary, in 1875. Of his birthplace, which he left at the age of 21, he also wrote: ‘The city of pinions and towers is strangely built: the great sound of History never dies down. The reverberating echo of days makes the faded walls vibrate. Brilliant names shine as secret light from silent palaces. God hides himself in the shadows of High Gothic churches. In silver tombs, the decomposed bodies of saints are like pollen between metallic petals.'
Prague is the old provincial capital of a hundred bell towers, peopled by the immortal beauty of Roman, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque art. It enchanted Descartes. Goethe spoke of Prague as ‘a precious stone embedded in the Earth's crown'.
Rilke was unable to witness, in the legendary Art Nouveau cafés, the famous arguments between the ‘Brentanist' philosophers from the German university or the ‘Pan-slavist' thinkers pushing for national renewal. It was too early to run into Kafka and Brodsky in the Louvre Café. Too early to see the Cubist masterpieces near the legendary Jewish quarter and its stunning catacombs. Breton spoke at that time of the ‘magical capital of Europe'. But it was too soon for Art Deco and Functionalism. Too early to ‘experience Communism and the market place rumours of Czechs without enough to eat' (Marc Hillman).
‘It was at 5 o'clock in Prague that the month of August darkened, comrade,' Jean Ferrat sang at the end of 1968. With the Velvet Revolution in 1989 bringing Václav Havel to the presidency of the Czech Republic agentle acceleration of the course of History Rilke was spoken of again: it was ‘like Rilke's revenge over Stalinism', ‘the victory of words over silence', ‘the triumph of the Universal Conscience over the dominant ideology' (philosopher Daniel Salvatore Schiffer).
Those feeling nostalgic for the Iron Curtain can always don their secret-agent garb to prowl along the palatial halls of the literary cafés and track the double agent from behind the thick smoke of a cigar.
Elsewhere, as the Prague Spring was also about music, you can search for Mozart's inspiration for Don Giovanni in the historic city centre, before crossing the Charles Bridge under a starry night to investigate the surprising, trendy addresses of the new city.