Travel: American Nobility

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I have decided that Prague is seductive. It teases you with old medieval charm that whispers of knights in armor, damsels in distress, ancient architecture, and of course, unhygienic conditions, shorter life spans, and social hierarchies.

For obvious reasons, I ended up extending my stay by two days for the following destinations that spoke to me of family and tradition.

I ventured in to explore the private art and history collection of the Lobkowicz Family, who holds several estates in Prague, but far less than they did a mere century ago, and the loss of this land did not occur as you might think. (Once again, No picture policy)

The Lobkowicz name spans over seven centuries of nobility; it is one of the oldest and most distinguished surnames of Bohemia. Many have held high titles or been inducted into prestigious organizations (i.e. Princes of the Holy Roman Empire, High Chancellor, Dukes of Sagan/Roudnice, and Knights of the Order of the Golden Fleece.) Their adamant support of the arts resonates at a groundbreaking magnitude even today.

Fast-forward six centuries. At the end of WWI, the young Prince Maximilian Lobkowicz was a progressive; His political background allowed him to wholeheartedly provide support for the newly democratic Czech Republic. As such, he adamantly opposed the rise of Hitler in Nazi Germany; this resulted in his name being placed on an arrest list. Fortunately, due to the deviousness of his wife, who understood the Nazi Soldiers discussing military action in her train car (they believed she did not speak German), he was able to escape to London prior to arrest when the country was occupied in March 1939.

At the end of WWII, the properties and collections were returned to the family, but it was not to be permanent. In the onslaught of the Soviet Union, the Cold War, and the encroaching dominion of the Communist Regime, Maximilian and his family were once again forced into exile in 1948.

After the Velvet Revolution of 1989, and the dismantling of Western and Eastern Europe, which were formerly split by the Communist Regime, the Czech president began the issuing of legislative acts to return all confiscated property. At this point, the duty was left to Maximilian’s sons, who had been raised in America. William Lobkowicz, a Harvard grad, and his wife, Alexandra took on this burden, relocating his family to Prague to help maintain the restoration of their estates, and the opening of doors to provide the public with access to their large collection. Unfortunately, due to the decades, the properties were quite damaged due to neglect, so executive decisions were made as to what land could be sold, in the hopes that the money would go towards preserving some of the more historical holdings. These include the Lobkowicz Palace, Nelahozeves Castle and Strekov Castle.

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Theological Hall

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Philosophical Hall

I wrapped up my day by visiting the Strahov Monastery to check out the sprawling Philosophy and Theology Halls. My final wind-down involved drinking Strahov Beer that has been brewed from the same recipe that was used centuries ago.

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Despite the struggles that the Lobkowicz Family was subject too, one can help but feel whimsical about this fairy-tale dream of American Nobility. It did materialize a bit late for it to seem like a happily ever after however. In the challenges faced during the sequential confiscation and restitution of their priceless buildings and art, three main values have steadfastly kept them determined.

  1. Family and Friends
  2. Faith and Beliefs
  3. Education

What values do you hold on to as you traverse life? How do they keep you grounded as a wholesome human being? Have they aided you in the challenges and struggles we face everyday?

Travel: Cold War Remnants

It is hard to walk through Berlin without seeing the lasting impacts of the Cold War in its streets. In the aftermath of fall of Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union had already positioned itself in power over the nations it had annexed, laying a foundation for the Eastern Bloc.  They effectively became Soviet Socialist Republics.

Early on, Winston Churchill expressed concerns that the soviet leader, Joseph Stalin was unreliable. It is during this, that he delivered his famous “Iron Curtain” speech, encouraging an Anglo-American alliance for defense. Germany was in no position to fend for itself against the onslaught of Allied disagreements over the best method of reinstating democratic governance.

Coldwar

The primary nations involved all formed alliances amongst themselves, effectively snatching up zones of occupation to prevent the further encroachment of communism. This eventually culminated in the creation of the Berlin Wall. East Germany was losing many of its young and educated professionals to the West. Despite an ultimate to restrict this exodus, the allied forces refused to accede, and on August 13, 1961, a barrier was erected over night. The wall divided families that were a mere 2 km apart, and permission to cross was difficult to obtain and rarely granted.

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This is not to say that certain reforms were ineffective. In speaking with local Germans, certain chains in the East were considered beneficial. One example is the mandatory care and check-ups of children; If a mother failed to bring her offspring to medical practitioners within a certain period of time, it would be documented, and officials would go for a consult at their residence. I concede that this may seem overbearing, however as in present, many children still suffer due to malnutrition, and stringent religious beliefs that reject modern medicine. Note that I am citing but one example.

Despite this, many still sought to escape the oppression of soviet communism, and the limitations put on individual freedom. For example, the wall  divided families that were a mere 2 km apart, and permission to cross was difficult to obtain and rarely granted. Families were divided.

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I would have made the same choice. Some individuals were successful, coming up with inventive ideas such as secret compartments, flying contraptions, tunneling, or even fake identity papers. Some were not; an estimated 600 people died during their attempt, or after due to sustained injuries.

On 12 June 1987, Ronald Reagan challenged Mikhail Gorbachev, then the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, to tear down the wall as a symbol of increasing freedom. In late 1989, “Peaceful Revolution” a non-violent protest sparked. Since no one wanted to take responsibility for issuing violent action, the police stood by. Eventually, the Politburo voted to allow migration of Germans from East to West; On November 9, 1989 thousands of citizens began climbing over, and tearing down the wall.

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Today, the East Side Gallery is possibly one of the largest, and oldest, open-air galleries in the world.

It stands as an international memorial for freedom, rejecting the stigmas of oppression,  restrictions of rights, and emphasizing the expression of individualism.

It was some breathtaking artistry.

I particularly liked the statement expressed here.

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