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Places to See in Prague Part I: Have Fun Storming the Castle

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If you have made the decision to join the Prague Summer Program for your European study abroad, you’re in for a treat. PSP prides itself in offering excellent creative writing workshop experiences in a setting that provides easy access to centuries of accomplishment, tradition, and beauty. Our program affords creative writers the opportunity to explore Prague’s historic relationships, culture, and the surrounding physical structures within their writing. To get the most out of your time with our summer study abroad program, here are a few sights you won’t want to miss.

The Old Town Square

Located in the capital of the Czech Republic, the Old Town Square is just around the corner from Wenceslas Square and the Charles Bridge. Visiting this location will give you a chance to see some of the most impressive pieces of Prague’s architectural history, such as the medieval astronomical clock or the Gothic church of Our Lady before Týn. The astronomical clock, the third oldest in the world, is still fully functional; every hour, the mechanical figures of the apostles bow one by one at the top of the clock while the figure of a skeleton chimes a bell, counting down to each person’s death. If the architecture alone isn’t enough to inspire the creative writer in you, the Old Town Square is full of merchants, performers, locals, and visitors. It’s an excellent spot for people-watching and making new friends.

Find Freud

While you’re in Old Town Prague, keep your eyes open—and upward. You might just spot a man hanging from the side of a building. Not to worry, that’s just Sigmund Freud. The hanging statue of Freud is a darkly comical homage to the life and achievements of a man that dedicated his life to understanding fears and phobias. That is if you believe the statue intends to commemorate Freud’s achievements while acknowledging his phobias; some interpret the statue as a challenge of Freud’s works. Whatever interpretation you value, this interesting and well-traveled piece of art is worth finding.

Alchemists’ Alley

Otherwise known as Golden Lane, Alchemists’ Alley is a beautiful street within Prague Castle…that never actually housed Alchemists. Though the place does have a certain enchanted feel to it. As you pass the souvenir shops on a stroll down Alchemists’ Alley, be sure to stop at house number 22. Franz Kafka lived in this house for two years, exactly 100 years ago. You couldn’t ask for a better time to drop by.

What’s in a Name? (Prague History Lesson)

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Studying abroad is about more than just personal development and building experience. Very often, reasons include a particular investment in understanding a location, culture, or historic relationship. Other times, the program or location offers opportunities that are not as easily accessible through institutions at home. In the case of Prague, many of our students cite both reasons. This is no surprise when one teaches writers, because often historic relationships, culture, and the physical particulars of location are bound together in our work.

What About Prague?

Generally, it s believed that the city gets its name, as many do, from its physical location. The Czech name, Praha, is derived from the Slavic word práh. The meaning is something like “ford,” or in other contexts “river rapids,” and it is generally accepted that this is a reference to the city’s origin at the crossing point for the Vltava river. This means that its original naming was conducted in the same spirit as U.S. cities like Grand Rapids, Cedar Rapids, or Chagrin Falls. It also means that there are other, similarly named locations that derive their identities from the same etymological turn, such as the Praga district in Warsaw, Poland.

Alternative Theories

The word práh also exists in the Czech language, where it means threshold. Alongside the commonly accepted etymology, there exists an explanation that ties this meaning to princess Libuše, the legendary ancestor of the Czech people as a whole, who was said to have ordered the city “to be built where a man hews a threshold of his house.” Other theories tie the name Praha to the term “na prazě,” which refers the the shale upon which the castle and the surrounding city was built.

Wrap-Up

While there may never be a cut-and-dried answer to the origin of Prague’s name, the more familiar English version is easily traced back to French modifications to the original name as it became a common term in that language, and other common names or references to it have also called it “the heart of Europe” and “the mther of cities.” See you there!

Studies in Prague: Franz Kafka

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Chances are, if you’re looking into the PSP, you already know a bit about Kafka’s career and history as a writer. One of the reasons we use his quote on the front page of our site is to highlight the fact that so much of the mood and matter of his writing is entrenched in the time and place that gave birth to it, the city of Prague. In 1883 Prague was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, and as a result of social and economic pressures, his family encouraged their children to become proficient in High German, the language Kafka would later choose to write in.

Kafka’s personality was such that he constantly feared being found repulsive, as well as being considered a sexual failure. When these social fears and anxieties are combined with his cultural location as a middle-class, educated Jewish worker in a cosmopolitan city that was, nevertheless, prone to the prejudices and pressures of the age, it is easy to understand how the surreal and alienating elements in his more famous stories came to be. It’s also easy to understand how their application to byzantine bureaucracies and the inscrutable judgment of power came from a member of a minority population in a city that was being ruled by an outside power.

The influence of the focal lenses of culture, history, and social attitudes is clear at every point in Kafka’s work, making him an ideal writer to study if you are working to understand how literature interacts with the other elements of culture in its time. For writers, he also provides a unique example of the ways identity can be brought to bear in the craft, and by growing closer to the history that shaped his experience, students have the opportunity to find new layers of depth and richness when they return to their study of the words themselves.