Finding Peace, Love, and a Pub in Prague

Travel is the color of love. It’s the one event in our lives that is a tapestry of the sights, sounds, smells, foods, music, colors and local people. Every trip I take must be divinely inspired. At  the end of whatever the road, there is always a surprise to learn from, a joy to experience, or an unexpected moment that will last a lifetime. There is simply nothing else that takes the place of this complex and rich experience, that also evokes the passage of time.

I returned to Prague after over ten years with Overseas Adventure Travel, on their trip, Jewels of the Bohemia. This unique city – the Paris of Eastern Europe I called it after my first visit – has all the complex history, joy, unexpected experiences, and history which showcases the passage of time. Its not a city steeped in religion but does have two large cathedrals in the town square, as well as an historic and well-respected Jewish Quarter.  It was easy to get lost in the historic landscape of regional Bohemia. But getting lost in any city like this is a labor of love.

Prague is a city where I unexpectedly saw peace and love, dressed in a sea of color. We saw peaceful support for Ukraine proudly displayed in the blue and yellow colors of the Ukrainian flag. We saw peace demonstrators in the middle of the square carrying bright yellow signs. The many-colored crystal shops I recalled were still there, but some had been replaced with cannabis shops, sex shops, and colorful candy stores that were reminiscent of Disneyland. The multi-colored John Lennon Wall has become an institution for both protest and rebellion, with a pub close by called The Wall Pub – and part of the signage includes the wire rimmed glasses John Lennon was so famous for wearing. It sits alongside a scenic river. This rich, vibrant, colorful city also contains vestiges of its darker European past. I experienced this as well when I want inside the Communist Museum, as well as the Jewish Synagogues, the latter of which paid homage to the holocaust victims of Prague. As soon as we left the darkness of the Communism Museum, we were treated to an outdoor street festival with traditional Czech dress, music, dancing, and food.

I loved the back roads of Prague our local guide took us on. From Beethoven’s house when he was in Prague to the home of the influential Schoenberg family (not to be confused with famed composer Arnold Schoenberg), I can honestly say I saw whole sections of Prague I did not see before.  But the John Lennon Wall has a history of peace, love, and even rebellion that I was heretofore unfamiliar with.

The Wall is located near the French Embassy and has been decorated with messages and short poems protesting against the government since the 1960s.It became associated with John Lennon and the symbol for Western freedom after his assassination in December 1980 when people started to write John Lennon’s lyrics on the wall. In 1988, still under Communist rule, protesters wrote their grievances on the Wall. The desire for freedom became known as “Lennonism”. Authorities tried to paint over the protests on the Wall, but the new paint was quickly covered over once again with calls for peace , love and freedom. The Wall was frequently used to convey messages of protest from both sides during the time of the Velvet Revolution.

John Lennon’s spirit lives on in this wall after all these years. One attempt to eradicate the use of the wall for protest purposes was to have it painted all white, with the words  “Wall is Over”(which of course evoked another John Lennon song, and ultimately the words “War  is Over”  were painted over that on a newly repainted mural on the Wall). Although Czech authorities disallowed this “graffiti,” it eventually became part pf the landscape of Prague as a recognized form of street art and a tourist destination. Once the government realized they had lost the battle, professional artists added to the wall, and graffiti spraying was no longer allowed. I didn’t get to see the new Wall Museum close by which opened in 2021, but Beatles memorabilia can be found in the museum, which now tells the history of open expression in Prague. Images of John Lennon have been painted many times over, but that is what the wall us about: freedom of expression.

The history of free expression in this part of Europe as it was waking from the shackles of  Communism is severe. When we were in Bratislava, Slovakia, we met with a journalist and learned about the killing of one investigative journalist, Jan Kuciak and his fiancé Martina Kusnirova in February 2018. The oversized pen and quill monument we saw in his honor and those who chose to express freely was erected a few months before our trip.  It, and the John Lennon Wall in Prague, reminds us that an open society with peace and free expression is not necessarily a given. No matter how colorful it looks today, history’s darker side can always be lurking.

All photos Jann Segal


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