For centuries Prague has been culturally mixed. Czech is a West Slavic language and its spekers were self-confident members of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, although, as the name of the state betrays, they were always second in rank to the Germans and the Hungarians. Everybody else in the monarchy was third rank though 🙂
I have no hard number available, but, as far as I remember, about a third of the pre-WWI population of Prague spoke German, many of them Jews.
We know of a Jewish population in Prague from the first millenium on. Their “Golden Age” (like in so many places interrupted by pogromes once in a while) began in the early 16th century and lasted until 1939. Then it was all apocalypse.
In most of Austria and Germany the Nazis have destroyed all synagogues. Not so in Prague. It has a few of them, some still operative, all tourist attractions. I can’t remember which one it is, that is at the center of the old Jewish cemetery, but when you’re there you can’t fail it.
It’s always the same, regardless of being among hordes of tourists (like in Prague) or being almost alone (like in the extensive Jewish section of the central cemetery in Vienna): the feeling is always one of age and neglect.
In our own cemetries, the space is expensive and most graves are given up once the last paying relative has ceased to do so. Then the grave is sold to someone else. The result is, that almost no graves are neglected. It’s simply too expensive.
Those Jewish cemeteries are different. Nobody has been buried there since before WWII. Most of them have been vandalized by the Nazis. Much damage has been done and nobody was allowed to rapair it during the war. Most of the time nobody was left to care after the war. Other buildings would probably have been torn down or replaced, but those cemeteries, while not fulfilling their original purpose, are monuments.
When I’ve been in the Jewish section in Vienna for the first time, it was basically a jungle. Since then the city and private organizations have done a lot to cut back the growth, to clear the original paths and in many cases even to restore the graves. To a certain degreee this can be done. You can re-erect fallen stones, you can restore the inscriptions on a few graves of prominent citizens, but you don’t even want to restore everything. It’s a monument of a monstrous destruction after all. Taking away all the traces would help nobody and it would only cover the past. Thus most of the graves are left in this spooky, unnatural condition.
And that’s exactly what it looks like.
This is a scene of perfectly beautiful serenity. Basically it’s a place where one would like to rest. The only problem is, once you’re dead, you won’t be able to enjoy it.
It’s interesting. I’ve never really understood the Catholic church’s vision of an afterlife. It’s not consistent. There’s supposed to be a Judgement Day. At that day the dead will rise from their graves and be judged. At least that’s how it is frequently depicted. Some will go to Heaven, some to Hell, and there’s also something in between, a temporary Hell, the Purgatory.
Of course the latter is a late invention of the church (see “The Birth of Purgatory” by Jacques Le Goff), but it’s still confusing.
People ask their recently deceased to pray for them. Can they? People also pray for their dead in order to shorten their stay in Purgatory. Don’t the dead sleep until Judgement Day?
When do you go to Purgatory? You’re supposed to be there for a time proportional to the sum of your sins and it seems to happen immediately after death. Is the Judgement individual? Is everybody judged after death and then sorted into one of the three slots, Heaven, Purgatory and Hell? But then, isn’t there supposed to be a resurrection of the dead, all dead, and isn’t that supposed to be followed by a general Last Judgement for all?
It turns out that everything of that has been believed at different times or even at the same time, and that even Catholic doctrine has a hard time presenting a consistent story. But then, believes and logic never go along that well 🙂
Actually no, I won’t get philosophical. I only chose the title for the subject 🙂
Some people think it’s morbid to take photographs on a cemetery. I’m not one of them. Actually I like cemeteries and if you’ve followed this blog for some time, you’ve seen quite a few images taken there.
Often I go with the cliché and visit them on foggy autumn days or in cold winter, but there’s no reason not to do it on a sunny autumn day.
Ferrara almost automatically invokes the name Giorgio Bassani, and his book “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis” is what I read while we were there.
I hadn’t even known that he is buried in Ferrara, but the first thing the woman at the entrance of the Cimitero ebraico di Ferrara asked us was, whether we were there to see Bassani’s tomb. It came as a surprise to us but, yeah, that’s why we were there.
Here it is.
I won’t write about the Carthusian Order here.
Mike Michelsen has done so at length in a blog post and I can’t imagine anything I’d have to add to that 🙂
Most Carthusian monasteries have been closed during or around the Napoleonic wars. The “non-productive” life style of Carthusians had been associated with aristocracy and was seen as luxurious and frivolous. Not unreasonably so, I might say.
I had not made inquiries about monasteries in or around Ferrara, my trusty old travel guide for the Emilia Romagna didn’t mention a Certosa, and so I was pretty surprised actually finding one while looking on the map in search for the Jewish Cemetery.
The reason is, that the Certosa in Ferrara was closed around 1800 and converted to a municipal cemetery in 1813. Its full name is now “Cimitero monumentale della Certosa di Ferrara”. Big indeed, but tiny when compared to our Zentralfriedhof in Vienna 🙂
If you look at the frontal image of Ferrara’s certosa, you see a completely symmetric architecture, with the church San Cristoforo alla Certosa at the center. This is not what it originally was though. The southern wing (to the right) has the original Certosa at its core, with the big cloister behind the church. The northern wing was added in the same style in the 19th century.
The curch was closed when we were there. It’s only open on Sunday mornings. Needless to say that also the cloister is closed due to the earthquake. We had a nice chat with a worker though, who told us a lot about the monastery’s history.
This is the last image taken with my OM-D E-M1 before I sent it in for repair and it is the last image from my recent afternoon trip to Vienna’s Zentralfriedhof.
The Song of the Day is “There Must Be An Angel” by Eurythmics. Hear it on YouTube.
Recently I left work early and took the train down to Zentralfriedhof, Vienna’s gigantic central cemetery. I go there a few times a year, frequently in winter, and most of the time I keep to the Jewish part.
This time I went for the graves of the rich of the Fin de Siècle. You see, money can buy a lot, even for the dead, but nothing is for eternity. After a hundred years you see decay everywhere, but somehow that’s only fitting for a cemetery, isn’t it?
The Song of the Day is “Last Call For An Angel” by Viktor Lazlo. Hear it on YouTube.
While I write this blog post, I am on the train back to Vienna, I see an incredibly beautiful full moon and its reflection in Wörthersee, Carinthia’s largest lake, and although I know I can’t take an image of the scene, it doesn’t make me sad at all. It’s an image that can’t be taken with today’s technology.
I could strongly underexpose for the texture of the moon’s surface, and then perhaps merge that image with a second, longer exposure, overexposed for everything else. This would give me a hint of the moonlit landscape and maybe some clouds in the sky. That leaves us only with the problem of the multi-faceted reflections of the bright moon on the ever moving surface of the lake. Together those three targets, moon, landscape and water, pose a problem with no solution so far. The only solution would be a sensor with much higher sensitivity and – equally important – much higher dynamic range.
How much we would need? Well, I guess we’re talking about something like noise-free ISO 51,200, exposed at at least 1/60s and with a dynamic range of at least 16 bit. Starting from there we could talk about tone mapping strategies. Don’t forget: HDR is hard to get free of halo effects even if we disregard the problem of moving water 🙂
You see, even if I were not in a moving train with dirty windows, I couldn’t show you what I see. Maybe a lot more years need to pass, maybe I’ll live to see it, maybe this is left for future generations of photographers, at a time when I’ve long been dust n’bones.
The Song of the Day is “Dust N’ Bones” from the Guns N’ Roses album “Use Your Illusion I”. Hear it on YouTube.