houska

Houska: The Racial Wallpaper of Slavery and Genocide


The last few weeks have been filled with complex issues of race, identity, and all of the things America just doesn’t like talking about. A 14-year-old black teenaged girl was slammed to the ground at a pool party by a white police officer, a white woman was exposed for claiming to be black, a white male massacred nine black parishioners at a South Carolina church.

Day Trip: Jestřebí, Bezděz, Houska

April 5

Earlier in the semester CIEE sent out a list of day trips to surrounding area in the Czech Republic, all centered around some educational theme. Because we weren’t really permitted to travel outside of the country once April started (because we had to be in town to help with filming, and then editing meetings etc.) I chose a day trip for the first weekend of April, right before we started our film work. 

One of the other CIEE subgroups (I am in the Film Studies group), Central European Studies, is the biggest and the students have an entirely different curriculum, which includes frequent required day trips with classes. The trip today to the ruins of Jestřebí and Bezděz and Houska castles was for a literature class, and was centered around the writings of a Czech romantic poet, Karel Hynek Mácha, who lived in the early 1800s and only to age 26. 

Like all romantic poets, he adored nature. He often hiked to these castle locations, and set many of his poems at these locations. The literature class that made up most of the trip (there were some random people, like myself, in other CIEE or Erasmus programs) read excerpts of his writing from their books. 

Our first stop: the ruins of Jestřebí.

This tall rocky formation is all that’s left, including the flat top of grass we stand on next to it. We had to climb up some pretty narrow, precarious stairs to reach up here. 

Next, we made a stop at Macha’s Lake, another frequented stop of the writer in the town of Doksy (which, the lit teacher said was the childhood home of Milos Forman, the oft-mentioned Czech filmmaker).

Today was a bit overcast, but I bet this lake would be really fun in the summer. They had several water slides.

****

After that, we drove on towards Bezděz Castle, the main feature of our day. We had a long hike up around a hill ahead of us:

Here we were just a little bit closer, walking past a few houses (with some chickens and a GIGANTIC dog), but you can see through the branches the castle at the top of the hill. 

We stopped in a cemetery on our way up, one with a lot of old German graves as well because of it’s residing in one of the areas of the Czech Republic that used to hold a lot of Germans (before most of the German cultures were expelled after WWII). 

Czech cemeteries are always beautiful, though, as you can see:

The old German graves are on the left-hand side. 

***

Walking up the hill was a little rough sometimes, because some of the stones were a little precarious, but overall enjoyable. 

Finally after 30-45 minutes, we arrived!

And made our way to the top - with a few hundred steps to get us there. 

The view!

The hill opposite Bezděz. (We could also see Macha’s Lake in the distance from up here)

We also stepped inside a small chapel, where there was a above-the-door decoration to one of the exits, which supposedly will predict the pregnancy of the walker within the year. One of the CIEE staf members, Martina, walked under the door and then came out with her sweater stuffed under her shirt: “It happened so fast!”

Because Easter is celebrated and lead up to for all of April, the little tree in the chapel had eggs hanging from it. 

***

Finally, after a hearty lunch and a stop in  a small Macha museum (which wasn’t too helpful to us, as the signs were all in Czech, but the lit professor explained a lot), we drove to Houska Castle.

This castle was the most modern of the three, and is still used for events. 

We stepped inside another small church, with faded frescoes. 

Once inside the castle, a lot of the rooms were decorated like this, overflowing with items to mark family pride or high status. Including…

A room with the most animal heads I had ever seen (and probably will ever see). 

Some more painted walls. 

There was also the rumored “gate to Hell" which this light was near. It was a dark, small cave-type place, with stairs leading down into another cave with an Iron Throne-esque centerpiece in the middle.