My Wednesday and Thursday lessons take place in a town north of Karlovy Vary. This is a rather poor area due to the closure of factories and plants. Despite, this, there is a beautiful old town center and castle park. I was lucky enough to have a guided tour by no less than 15 tour guides. The co-teacher I work with in the Gymnasium (high school) had the wonderful idea to have the students research specific buildings in the old town center and take me on a tour. We postponed three times before the weather was appropriate for my tour.
We started at our school and walked through neighborhoods that were built during the 1950 coal mining boom. The houses are metal shingled siding semi-detached places. Some have been renovated nicely, others have kept their 50’s charm. All of them have spacious lots (on three sides that is).
Once through this neighborhood we made it to the Old Town Square and began the tour with the castle. The castle is from the fourteen huff mumble year hundreds and is currently under renovation. Since its original construction it was used as a palace for kings, a mini Nazi concentration camp, an agriculture trade school and will soon hold the city government offices. I believe it also survived a few fires. Beyond the castle and through the lions gate is the building called the princes palace and the castle park. The prince’s palace used to be just that, a palace for the prince. Now it is a library and exhibition hall.
In it’s heyday, the castle garden was considered one of the 7 wonders of the world. If my memory serves, the Ostrov castle garden was at its peak in the baroque period. There were fake ponds and rivers surrounded by hedges where the gentry could row a boat. In these hedges musicians and string quartets would hide and play music to effectually copy the atmosphere of a row down a natural river. The park today, looks nothing like the sketches and descriptions from its past, that’s what war will do.
Also in the castle park is the summer house. Guess what it was originally built for….that’s right- a summer house! It was the summer house for Germany nobility and was built with six chimneys- a sign of extravagance and wealth. It is now an exhibition hall. For awhile before it became an exhibition hall it was a menagerie- with the worlds one and only green giraffe….I have one student who studied in Michigan for a year so has excellent English, but says everything in a half-joking half-serious manner so I find it difficult to know when he is being serious. In the case of the green giraffe he was obviously joking, but when he mentioned that the current exhibition was from two students their age and that they died- I didn’t initially believe him. Turns out it was true and two of my students on the walk with us were good friends with one of the students. I felt horrible for not believing and then bad for their friends.
Anyway, we were supposed to next go to the cemetery and attached church, but my co-teacher forgot to take us there and the two students in charge of telling me about it decided to keep quite- no grade for them! It is rather unfortunate that they kept quite, because one of the students English is quite good and I am always interested to be reminded of what his partner sounds like.
So instead of a cemetery, we headed to what once was a monastery and three surrounding chapels. The monastery was built who knows when and then became a school where a few historically famous people supposedly studied (neither the students researching or my co teacher could remember these famous peoples names). During the wars, the monastery was convereted into barracks and nearly destroyed by misuse. Tanks and artillery were housed in the church and I am sure more people than the building was built for were crammed into the dormitory part. Now the monastery church is a little museum and the dormitory part is an apartment complex. COOL!
Right next to the monastery were three chapels. One chapel was built in thanks for the majority of the town surviving a fire and is dedicated to the patron saint of firemen. Another of the chapels is a replica of a chapel of the Lady Mary in Switzerland and was built when some noble woman’s son was cured. The third chapel was not explained to me or I completely blocked out whatever was said because I can’t remember anything about it.
All in all, I was pleased with what my tour guide students had to say and enjoyed the walk in the sun and the information about the town. Most of the students admitted to not knowing any of the presented information before either researching it or hearing their peers talk about it. I think that was cool for them, plus they got to be in the sun.
Something I noticed and found slightly amusing was that every time we paused to hear someone present, the students all crowded onto benches or sat on their heels. Lazy! They all seemed tired after the walk, which was probably only an hour or so and wasn’t strenuous in anyway. I jokingly told them they should try teaching for a day and see how their feet felt after that!