I welcomed a brief break from my writing duties when fellow traveler Amy Tooley Radachi offered to be a guest blogger for Monday’s events. I concentrated on photography Thank you, Amy! Here are her experiences from Day 10 of our tour:
After a whirlwind immersion in Prague, it was time to hit the road for Berlin. We said farewell to tour-mates Elliot and Bonnie Elfner as they went back to the states for not one, not two, but THREE graduations of grandchildren. We boarded the bus for Strahov and the Doksany convent.
The convent was founded as Sisters of Strahov by Princess Gertrude in 1144. The Sisters of Doksany took care of Norbert’s remains from the time they left Magdeburg until the first of May of 1627, when they were taken to the Abbey of Strahov. The convent was continuously inhabited until 1782 when it was abolished by order of Emperor Joseph II. At that time, there were 49 sisters in the community. It served as an army hospital for a short time, but it was eventually sold to a noble family who rebuilt it into a castle. Thanks to the Communists, the property was completely devastated. Freedom came to the church in 1989 in the form of the fall of Communism, and it was chosen as a residence for the first sisters. In 1997, Strahov Monastery bought the north part of the convent; two sisters from Poland and two from the Czech Republic began their community life in January 1998.
As we approached, it looked abandoned and extremely neglected. We quickly found out that the portion that looked like time forgot belongs to the Czech government and is used for filming the BBC series “The Musketeers.” The church-owned portion was lovely and peaceful.
Sister Augustina was so pleased to meet us and share the story of the church. The sisters sew liturgical vestments and produce herbs for teas and liqueurs. There are currently 8 nuns living there, but we only met Augustina as the rest are cloistered. Interesting memory trick – Nuns – N stands for NO as in they can’t leave. Sisters – S stands for SOCIAL as in they can communicate with society. Cloistered nuns are focused on contemplative life and liturgical prayer. They pray especially for expectant mothers and those trying to conceive. A quick poll of the group indicated no one was interested in receiving any blessings from them today…
We paused for a group photo under the gingko tree that was allegedly planted when Norbert’s remains were brought there 400 years ago. We enjoyed hanging out in the cool air of the crypt, which may have been used as a treasure hall for relics. The church was destroyed by fire several times, so there are no writings on the history.
I was struck by the contrasts in the convents and the monasteries. Where the monasteries are home to amazing art collections, libraries and jewels, convents appeared to be much more simple in design and ornamentation. Originally, priests and nuns were housed together. They worshipped, ate and recreated together until the nuns decided they wanted their own space.
Of course, we hadn’t eaten in a few hours, so it was time to enjoy lunch at a local restaurant. We had delicious soup, followed by pork medallions, salad and fries, much to the joy of Fr. Jay.
Next, we headed to nearby Terezin, which served as a former police prison of the Gestapo. It was originally a holiday resort reserved for Czech nobility. The famed fortress was created by Emperor Joseph II of Austria in the late 18th century and named for his mother, Empress Maria Theresa. The town was the Ghetto where thousands of people were housed during World War II. We had an excellent guide who lost family in the Holocaust. Although Terezin was not an extermination camp, about 33,000 died in the ghetto due to appalling conditions and rampant disease. About 88,000 inhabitants were deported to Auschwitz and other extermination camps.
Several Danish citizens were held at Terezin, so the International Red Cross demanded a visit to ensure their well-being, known as “Operation Embellishment.” With advance notice, the authorities had time to create an elaborate ruse by crafting facades to represent a “park-like” setting. They moved prisoners to make it appear there were only 3-4 people per room, instead of the 100 that had been forced to inhabit the same space. The prisoners formed a band to perform for the visitors, and playgrounds were created for the children. Meanwhile, the Gestapo and their families enjoyed a swimming pool and movie theatre, mere yards from death and disease.
We passed the cemetery as we entered and left the property. It was a reflective group who boarded the bus. It was hard to completely comprehend the atrocities that were imposed upon millions of people.
The ride to Berlin took a little over three hours, so there was plenty of time to nap and prepare for our last hotel. When we arrived at Arcotel JFK around 7:00, everyone checked in and went off to dinner on their own. Tom and I enjoyed a nice Italian restaurant a few blocks from the hotel.
Quote of the Day – “I don’t want to sit under a coelacanth!” – Mike