That’s a line of German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s “Faust”, from the “Easter Stroll” where he praises the end of winter: “From the ice they are freed, the stream and brook, By the Spring’s enlivening, lovely look…” and so on.
That’s what came to my mind when I walked my dog yesterday morning, rainy, grey, but mild. We walked through the park around the corner, a few steps from our little hotel, wonderfully romantic, melancholic, no people, just some technician relaunched the little waterfall that had been closed during the cold season. The pond below had still been covered with ice just about two weeks ago, and now one could see the goldfish again and the ducks, so accustomed to dogs walking past that they don’t bother.
I have been walking about, and crossed, the park innumerable times – it’s our usual route to the nearest supermarket where we buy the non perishable goods for the hotel breakfast – müsli, toast, and the remarkably good bread. But every time I enter that park I am amazed about its beauty, the variety of bushes and trees, and it’s kitschy-romantic “furniture”.
It was the private garden of a German-Jewish railway millionaire, a typical example for the upcoming Jewish bourgeoisie of the second half of the 19th century, particularly in Prague. They were the pillars of German culture here, and it was not without purpose that I started with a quotation of Germany’s most famous poet – the Jews in Prague saw themselves so German that the Czechs considered them as nationalistic and arrogant. Several of the later on famous writers that met in café Arco – not our hotel but the once famous café in Prague’s downtown – tried to mediate, translate from and to both languages, were often bilingual, yet the goodwill of intellectuals passed the average population. The Jews saw themselves Germans until 1938 when Hitler invaded the country and the Jews had to admit that their Germanness had been a useless effort to assimilate. A few saw the danger in time, a few didn’t believe in what was to come, and most perished in concentration camps.
The millionaire’s, Moritz Gröbe’s, villa, still stands majestically in the middle of the park.
Colloquially people call the park “Gröbovka”. The villa now hosts some international law organisation. If one crosses the Belle Epoque neighbourhood around the park in direction to Vyšehrad, one comes to a slope at whose foot three large tunnels spit out the trains coming from the central station. Gröbe had them built, and the excavated material became the base for the platform on which the villa is standing. Past times with a clearly visible testimony, like almost everywhere in Prague if one knows the background.
We usually walk around the pond, my dog expresses his admiration in a different way, and we walk back along the beautiful paths, through the wrought-iron gate, past a row of 19th century villas, back home.