An eerie silence enveloped the community. It was so quiet and serene that even a closing door radiated an echo. The passengers of the metro stood like crayons stuffed in a box as it ventured from the ever-crowded Prague 1 to Palmovka in Prague 8.
As the metro journeyed farther away from the center of the city, the passengers trickled off, enabling every remaining rider to have their own seat. The crisp, winter air above the metro station and the wide-streets distinguish the suburb of Palmovka from the city center. The old-fashioned red trams that travelled beneath the cable along the straight tracks were the main source of noise in this quaint neighborhood.
Palmovka is located on the outskirts of the city center containing minimal tourists and visitors despite its richness in history. The Jewish quarter of Libeň was once the second most significant Jewish settlement in Prague, and has since been eradicated. The original synagogue of the ghetto was established in 1592 following the relocation of Jews after expulsion, pogroms, epidemics, and regulations. The synagogue standing today was built in 1858 and remained functioning until the onset of the Second World War.
The first sight upon exit of the metro was a wall, not too high off the ground, which served to separate the road from the apartments. A text is repeatedly inscribed in the wall in what appears to be an illegible 3-letter word. Not even several minutes of attempted deciphering resolved what the text said. The wall stands perpendicular to an abandoned building. An intricate stained-glass emblem of a Star of David, clarified it was a religious building – the Libeň Synagogue. It is no longer used for Jewish worship. Several windows were smashed or cracked and graffiti lined the bottom corners.
“Some anti-Semitic graffiti was here twenty years ago, which was investigated by the police,” said Pavlína Kalandrová, a local resident interested in the Jewish history of Libeň. However, the graffiti visible today appeared meaningless. Standing alone in a grassy square, the unnerving silence makes curious, what Palmovka was like in the past. “The building is one of very few remaining buildings of the Jewish community in Libeň which used to be very big and important,” she says.
The barren synagogue symbolizes the loss of life in Libeň after the Jew deportations to the Terezin concentration camp. Activity in the synagogue ceased as the Nazis converted it into a warehouse of confiscated Jewish belongings. With increased anti-Semitism following World War II, the synagogue continued to deteriorate. Though bleak in its appearance and a reminder of a devastating history, it still gathers people on occasions. The Prague Jewish community rented the synagogue at a very low cost to Serpens, an art association. This organization maintains it and organizes different cultural events pertaining to art, music and theater.
Gatherings are rare and no Shabbat songs ever fill the square from the broken windows that tower above.
An unexpected pop of color encircled the naked winter trees of the synagogue’s yard. Four tree trunks were clothed by a colorful array of soft cloth. The contrast between the rough, cold tree bark and the brightly colored fabric makes up a work of art within the dreary square. Flowers and stripes decorated the cloth in colors of bright pink, neon yellow, purple and more to add beauty amongst the bleakness.
On the other side of the synagogue’s yard stands a small monument inscribed with the date “9.5.1945”. Though the short, bumpy, tree-like structure lacks a distinguishable design, the date commemorates the Prague Uprising. May 5, 1994. Morning. The assault on city radio buildings, which broadcasted messages of help, has begun. People asked for liberation of the city from German occupation. By May 9, the Red Army arrived and the Germans surrendered. Leaving memorials of the end of the Nazi rule in Czech Republic all over the city, including this particular one.
As the wind blew, the smell of baked breads and pastries wafted from a bakery located on the edge of the square. The smells were tempting, however, the taste of absence still was there. Palmovka lacks the billows of cigarette smoke that hover over the city center. Without such a mask of smoke, the smells of the various restaurants are more distinguishable and endearing. Nevertheless, people were not going to any stores or restaurants or leaving them. Passing people appeared to have no destination. They strolled casually along the paved sidewalks either alone or walking beyond the lonely square.
Buildings of blush pink, macaroni and cheese orange, and sandstone tan colors line the tram-filled streets. Although different in color, material, and architecture, each building has a graffiti tagged base. A perfect rectangle shapes of the buildings with symmetrical rectangular windows create the sense of modesty. In every direction from this strip lies a construction site for renovation of old or building of new houses. The contrast between the old, quiet, unattended square in Palmovka and the noisy construction zones exemplify this unique Prague’s ability to combine strives for history preservation and for modernization of the the city outlook.
Grey clouds were painted overhead these buildings and the smell of incoming rain permeated the air. When the streets were cleared of pedestrians, the feeling of loneliness returned. It was time to head home, back to the hustle bustle of the city center crowded with tourists and residents, buses and trams, busy stores and supermarkets.