Cities / Towns Visited: 32
Countries Visited: 11
Steps Taken Today: 14,544
Steps Taken Around the World: 1,222,004
Today we would be leaving Prague, and making our way back into Germany, but first we had a quick trip out of town, to something that we had picked to put on our list of must dos since the very beginning of our planning. With this in mind, we rose early, inhaling breakfast, checking out, hauling our luggage to the station, and stowing it in the lockers, as we were looking to have a tight turn around with trains today, and didn’t want to miss our connection because we had to go and fetch our luggage from the hostel. We were ready to go with 15 minutes to spare; go us. But then we discovered the trains were, for the most part, running late across the board, including ours. After a delay of more that half an hour we finally departed, having to stop half way and change trains, which meant another half hour wait. In the end our early rise was essentially negated and we may as well have slept in and caught the later train as it was the one we were hopping onto now. Sigh. Trying to stay positive, we continued on our way.
Eventually we arrived in Sedlec and, speed walking past the other alighting tourists, we scurried forth towards our destination; the Sedlec Ossuary. I know what you’re thinking, surely they’ve seen enough skeletons already, but you see there is something special about this one; instead of being a simple collection of bones in underground tunnels as a means of storing the remains of large numbers of people, the bones are decoratively arranged within a church. For this reason it is unsurprisingly known as the Bone Church. Passing through the gates, and winding through the small cemetery outside the building, we headed inside. Now, as you walk in, even while you are buying your ticket, you can’t help but be stunned by it. The thought of a bone church conjures to the imagination a place of dark, macabre atmosphere, but here, once you mentally block out the plethora of tourists within, it puts your heart at ease. The sun streaming in through the windows lights the room with a quiet warmth, and the careful placement of these historic remains lends a sombre yet respectful feel.
As you step down into the semi-subterranean chapel, you are faced with a large square space, with a caged off area in each corner housing huge, and impressively stacked, vaults of skulls and femurs, which are hollow through the middle. Within the church’s walls sit the remains of more than 50,000 people, but they have not always been laid out as such. The current decorative positioning was the work of a Czech man in 1870, who took the deteriorating remains, bleached and treated the bones to sterilise and preserve them, before laying them to rest once more as they are now. In the centre of the crossed walkways which radiate out, hangs a massive chandelier, hung with a wealth of bones. Now in most ossuaries, you tend to only see the skull and larger leg and arm bones on display; the others I imagine are tucked away to the rear as they are less than stackable, and I am sure many turn to dust with time. This chandelier however, hangs with many identifiable pieces. The wires holding the ring stable is hung with jaw bones, many of which still have teeth clinging to them; hip bones fan out around the candle holders; slender finger and toe bones give detail to the central shaft, and coccyx bones give gentle curves and movement to this rather morbid work of art. Draping from the ceiling like gothic birthday banners, and running down the walls hang alternating skull and femurs. And on the front of one of the cages vaults proudly sits a stunning coat of arms made of, you guessed it, yet more bones. This piece had to be the most impressive, it even incorporates a bird skeleton in the design. As beautiful as this place is, it is important to remember that these were once humans just like us; and I have a bone to pick with more than a few of the visitors around us who seemed to disregard this fact as they touched the displays, and leant in close for their obligatory smiling selfie. To be honest it was the most horrifying thing to see, and that’s saying something considering we were standing in what would easily be one of the best horror movie backdrops ever. I really do weep for the world sometimes, if we can’t even have respect for the dead, how are we ever going to have any respect for the living.
With one last look at the incredible interior, and with the satisfaction of having realised a dream we had been talking about for, quite literally, years, we headed off. Stopping briefly outside the beautiful stone church just down the road to take a few photos, we meandered back to the train, arriving with more than enough time to catch the train back. Unlike the morning, the trip back to the nation’s capital went without a hitch. After taking our one final chance we bought just one more chimney cake / ice cream combo, justifying it to ourselves that we would be unlikely to find another until we arrived in Hungary later in the year. We fetched our bags and it was onto the train with us. Thus our five hour trip to Berlin began.
Mid way through our trip, our train stopped briefly at Dresden to pick up passengers, and I think that was when it first hit me that we were heading into parts of the country which were ravaged by the destruction of WWII. As I looked out of the train window it was hard to miss the fact that the city is almost completely bereft of the stunning old architecture you become accustomed to seeing around this historical continent. In their place there is nought but rather bleak looking concrete highrises, built fast and cheap in the financial aftermath of the fighting, in the communist side of the country. it was both chilling and hauntingly solemn to observe.
We arrived in Berlin in good time, and managed to make it to the hostel, after having changed to the suburban train service in order to get across into the east of the city, before dusk. As it seems to be a knack of ours to be in countries on the event of public holidays, we soon discovered it was Whit Sunday (and yes, being atheist we did actually have to google that to figure out what it was, but hey, at least we bothered to educate ourselves). The effect of this being that the only supermarkets that were open for us to purchase food to cook dinner with were at the train station. Not a problem, we thought, as we were only a short walk to such a location. But as soon as we arrived we realised it wouldn’t be quite that easy. Wandering through, it looked like the place had been pillaged in the wake of an apocalypse. The vegetable section was uncomfortably scant, which I’m going to put down to the fact that not only was it a public holiday, but this is only one of two supermarkets in the surrounding area which was actually open. After mentally playing a round of Cutthroat Kitchen, we managed to find enough ingredients to bumble together what you might be able to call a meal.
After showering, fixing dinner, and sitting around for a couple of hours while we ran a load of washing, it was with the sweet delight of people who don’t have to set an alarm that we collapsed into bed. Tomorrow we had set aside to both catch up on a little sleep, and generally do some life admin. As I relaxed into my bunk, I stopped to consider something else I had seen at the supermarket. Germany seems to have a recycling initiative within its grocery supply chains which allows people to bring in and deposit glass bottles in return for vouchers for purchasing products. Although the line of people waiting to use the depositing machine was snaking out the door, and consisted of people with anything from a small canvas bag, to an entire trolley full of bottles; it was inspiring to see the effect this can have. The people in this queue were the kind of people the government, and mainly anyone with any large measure of money, would call undesirable. Lower economic class people and families; and an offensively high number of homeless men (yeah, there’s a gender equality issue that also needs serious attention), who rummage through the municipal bins in order to gather enough; are given an opportunity to have access to cheaper, or if they have enough, even an entirely free shop. I’m sure the system probably has its flaws, but all I could see was how many problems this simply idea was helping. First and foremost it helps to feed people who struggle to make ends meet, it also encourages people to recycle, and lastly it helps to keep the streets clean as those who are unfortunate enough to have found themselves on the streets can eat without having to rely on charity, if they manage to pick up enough bottles. Its not going to fix everything but its a damn good place to start, and I really wish more countries were willing to proactively address real issues in this way, instead of just throwing money at them and achieving nothing, or simply hiding them and hoping the general population will continue to live in their fluffy puppy world of ignorance in regards to the damage we are doing to the planet, and the less fortunate who reside on it.