Fyllis Hockman recalls a sobering visit to Austria’s Mauthausen concentration camp and why we should never forget.
by Laura Marriott
My journey to Prague did not get off to an auspicious start. I arrived at Vaclav Havel airport in a little bubble of anxiousness, fleeing the wreck of a disastrous year. Multiple bereavements and family illnesses had made my final year of University more of a trial than a pleasure. Then, I was offered the opportunity to spend a month in Prague, much of it on my own; hopefully giving me time to recover in peace. First I was to attend a political sciences summer school at Charles University in Prague and then I had several weeks of nothing but the heat of my own company. The accommodation that I was staying in was painted in the industrial yellows and greens that are more often than not to be found in hospitals and forever carry with them an air of sickness. It was the cheapest and the worst accommodation I have ever stayed in. I hoped to spend as little time in it as possible.
As I walked into town in a heat wave that made the future shimmer, I realised that I had never been more confused. Further, it soon became apparent that I did not have the language or map reading skills to navigate my way around the city tram system with ease. Eventually, it became easier to accept my status as permanently ‘lost’. All I had to do was set off on foot and try to remember the way back.
Prague is like a maze of ever decreasing circles, with the city becoming older the further into it you go. The outskirts are marred by the grey Communist architecture that can be found across much of Eastern Europe. The centre of Prague is still dominated by medieval architecture which survived the cities more recent Communist past. Sandwiched in between the gold plated orthodox churches are souvenir shops selling crystal beads, and English and Irish pubs broadcasting the premier league; intended the market Prague as the perfect destination for city breaks or stag weekends for the (marginally) more affluent West. The further into the centre you go, water begins to out price beer, and restaurants selling goulash and absinth stay open all night to catch the drunken footfall as people make their way home.
I walked every road, alley, and cobbled street in the city, stamping out my frustrations and confusions on the ground; using them to propel me further.