Written by Elisabeth Amante Heys
for IWAP’s ‘The Bridge’ magazine
Prague isn´t as haunted as it used to be. Not that the ghosts have disappeared, rather, modern civilization refuses to acknowledge their existence. So, the dead gamblers, mad barbers and murdered nuns have given up on us.
Too bad! Most of these ghosts are harmless souls, desiring only to be freed from their sentence of eternal haunting.
Such is the case with the Young Turk at Ungelt 7 who haunts Tyn Court at the full moon. Facing the building, one can feel time open to the 16th century when merchants traded here, one of them a handsome, wealthy Turkish guard who fell in love with a blonde beauty at this very doorstep.
Being devout, the Turk returned to his native land to receive the Muslim blessing to marry the girl. He begged her to wait, and she did. But, after many months (some say even years), the girl began to hesitate. Jealousy, the killer of all love, made her suspect the handsome guard had fallen in love with someone else.
And so, on the very evening of the Turk´s return to Ungelt, the young girl married. In a rage, he grabbed her long blonde plaits and lopped off her head. Still, he loved her and immediately mourned this rash action. Now, the Turk haunts Tyn Court, ever sleepless in his attempt to find his lover´s body and reunite it with the severed head.
Such is the story, and many others like it, Kamila Kudlvasrova tells as she take visitors on the Prague Walks Ghost Tour through the back alleys of Old Town.
Outside the Karolinum, which, to this day, is used as a medical faculty office, one can hear the rattle of bones, the bones of the fabled Begging Skeleton, who, in life, stood more than two meters high. This poor chap tried to outwit a Charles University professor who wanted the young man´s skeleton for his collection. Thinking he would surely outlive the professor who was a good 40 years his senior, the young student sold his bones for 30 crowns, which he drank away that night. Sometime after midnight, the drunken student was killed in a brawl and his skeleton came into the professor´s collection.
To this day, his tall, bony shape appears in the vicinity of the Karolinum, stopping tipsy citizens to beg for money with which to buy back his skeleton.
Kudlvasrova, who calls herself an “actor, dancer and witch”, has many such stories. Some meld with Prague history, such as the much-told tale of the clockmaker who was blinded with a hot poker so he could not duplicate his masterpiece at Staromestska radnice. Some stories have their beginnings during times of pestilence and famine, such as the tale of the countess who danced in shoes made of bread. Other tales recount the days of alchemy, when science, magic and greed conspired to turn steel into gold.
There are Jewish ghosts and Catholic ones, Hussites and witches, pixies, headless monks and deceitful wives. Even an American Indian haunts Prague, a Comanche brought here by Buffalo Bill to perform in his Wild West Show. These stories can be found in a fine collection called Prague Ghosts, by Miloslav Svandrlik, first published in 1968.
The book´s author agrees Prague hauntings are not what they used to be and even tour guide Kudlvasrova admits the real thing are in such short supply she must employ her own ghosts to scare and bemuse Ghost Walk.
But, it may be another Prague tour guide who has the real answer about scrounging up a spectre or two. “You just need two shots of Absinthe,” says Praguemaster´s George Kulklik. “After that, you´ll be seeing a ghost on every corner.”
IF YOU GO
What: Prague Ghost Walk
When: Daily at 19:45 and 21:00
Where: Meet at the Astronomical Clock in Old Town Square
Cost: 300 kc/ adults and 250 kc children and students. Credit cards accepted; reservations not required
Mobile 608-339-099 or 605-253-494
This article first appeared in The Bridge magazine October 2006 produced by The International Women´s Association of Prague (IWAP), an organization whose purpose is to welcome women to the Czech Republic, promote friendship among them, and acquaint them with the local culture. For more information, visit the IWAP website, www.volny.cz/iwap.