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Prague: The Mystical City by Joseph Wechsberg (65,000 words)

There is a strange triality in Prague’s history — Czechs, Germans, Jews; Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism; rulers, nobles, peasants; Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque. Joseph Wechsberg penetrates Prague’s world to recapture an extraordinary cultural, spiritual, political, artistic and embattled past. Prague was the home of Kafka, Rilke, Neruda and Werfel, of “heretic” Jan Hus, of “Good King (and later Saint) Wenceslas”; the inspiration of Mozart; the mecca of alchemists, astronomers and adventurers; it gave birth to folklore, fantasy and bizarre facts, such as the Golem, a manlike figure of clay that was brought to life by its alleged creator, “High Rabbi” Loew, in the 16th century. She was the first town in Central Europe with paved streets that were regularly cleaned (1340). The Thirty Years’ War began and ended in Prague. And it was here that the Counter-Reformation reached its brutal climax.

The city comes alive, from its founder Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor who made Prague the cultural center of Europe; the Hussite Era; the 300 years of Habsburg domination that followed; to the great Republic of humanist-philosopher
Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, the horrors of Nazi occupation and, finally, the gray realities of communism, and the 1968 “Prague Spring” which began with Dubček, ended with the invasion by the Warsaw Pact troops and Jan Palach‘s self-immolation on January 16, 1969.

“Nothing is clear and simple in Prague; everything is enigmatic and complex. The city’s thousand-year-old history is constant flux and reflux, love and hatred, struggle and synthesis, contrast and symbiosis. Princes fight tribal leaders, kings fight the Estates, feudal rulers fight the upcoming bourgeoisie, the city fights the countryside, haves fight the have-nots. More recently, Czechs have fought Czechs. The social struggles have ended with the conversion of former have-nots into haves, and vice versa — but for how long? There are religious struggles throughout the centuries: pagans against Christians, Christians against “heretic” Christians, Utraquists against Jesuits, Christians against Jews... Today Prague is a Czech city but it would be wrong to write the story of Prague as a Czech city, or as a German city, or as a Jewish city. Prague is all three... Prague always was either battlefield or symbiosis... Tolerance was never widespread in this city of cruel passions where the bizarre nomenclature reflects history... The story of Prague depends on who writes it.” —
Joseph Wechsberg, Prague: The Mystical City

“Joseph Wechsberg... wrote compellingly of [Prague,] this compelling city.” — Henry Kamm, The New York Times

“[G]raceful and immaculately styled.” —