After spending some time in Prague, I decided to head out to a castle that I remembered from my childhood: Karlstejn. This massive fortress towers over the surrounding countryside, perched high on a hill. It is named after Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor, one of the Czech Republic's most famous historical figures. The castle is an imposing sight, with tall white walls and a blue stone roof that challenges all who see it. While parts of the castle were taken during different sieges over the years (a siege is when one army surrounds another and tries to defeat it through both fighting and starvation), the tall keep never fell to an invader.
While some castles are filled with beautiful decorations, they are all built with battle in mind. Karlstejn Castle has walls that are 30 feet thick in some places to keep out invaders. Its highest tower stretches up over 175 feet into the sky. Meanwhile, the well is over 200 feet deep. A watch was kept around-the-clock to make sure that no one surprised the castle garrison with an attack. Living in a castle was not fun, but it was very safe. Walking through Karlstejn, I imagined what it might have been like to live there. The stone walls must get very cold in winter.
The castle is now almost 700 years old. It was first built in 1348 in order to protect the crown jewels of the Holy Roman Empire and the Bohemian kingdom. Over the years, more and more fortifications were added to the castle. Inside, the king and his retinue lived in safety. Beautiful decorations filled a good deal of the rooms. Charles IV was a devout Catholic, and like many rulers at the time, he spent huge amounts of money on the castle's chapels. His own private chapel area is filled with gold, silver, an jewels, as well as incredible paintings of great saints.
More on Karlstejn
I've been traveling in the Czech Republic for the last two weeks. This country is filled with forests, castles, cathedrals, rivers, and a very interesting culture. Prague, the capital, sits along the Rive Vltava. There are many legends about this place, some old, and some new. Next time I might write about some of the legends surrounding Prague. This time, I want to tell you about a real-life hero that walked the streets of Prague more than 70 years ago. His name was Sir Nicholas Winston.
Sir Nicholas Winston was a British clerk who came to Prague in 1938 to help his friend, who worked with Jewish refugees. Refugees are people running away from a disaster. The disaster that thousands of Czech and German Jews were running from was Nazi Germany. Nazis believed that they were better than all other people, and that some people, like Jews, should be killed. They did many terrible things, and started the Second World War.
Sir Nicholas Winston knew that the Nazis would come to Prague soon, and he started trying to help save Jewish children in the city. He set up an office where parents could come in with their stories. Then, he organized families in Britain, making sure that the children he saved would have a home. Raising money for hundreds of children, getting planes and trains figured out, and working with slow government offices was hard work, but Sir Winston knew that he had to do it.
By the end of a year, Sir Winston had saved 669 children. Many children and families who stayed behind died during the war. Sir Nicholas was a humble man, and he never spoke about what he did. It was only when his wife discovered lists of children and their families that people found out. Today, many of' Winston's children' are grandparents. They owe their lives to him.
On July 1, 2015, Sir Nicholas Winston passed away. He was 105 years old! Memorials were held all over the world. I attended one in Prague, where people spoke of his example, and how we might learn from his bravery, dedication, and humility even today.
In 1988, Sir Nicholas Winston met some of the people he saved on a BBC program. Here is a brief excerpt:
Adam De Gree
I am a senior in college, studying philosophy, and am visiting family in the Czech Republic and travelling and studying in Europe and Asia.