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Good life Travel with Mark Footer

T
he Church of Saints Cyril and
Methodius may not be included in
most city tours of Prague but it is
only a hand grenades throw from Charles
Square, the centre of Pragues New Town
founded in 1348. (A kilometre upriver is
the Old Town, which dates back to the
9th century.) Above ground, the baroque
church is one of the Czech capitals many
cream-cake facades but below, a moving
exhibition is dedicated to the events of
May and June 1942.
Following their attack on SS security
chief Reinhard Heydrich, Czechoslovak
paratroopers Jozef Gabcik and Jan Kubis
sought refuge where they may have been
least expected to: here in the heart of
German Nazi-occupied Prague. The para-
troopers entered the churchs crypt now
open to the public from a hidden stair-
case under the altar. A blacked-out win-
dow high in the crypt was all that separa-
ted Nazi jackboots on the pavement from
the paratroopers hideout. I have been
here before, but only in my mind: its a
setting Ive imagined many times while
researching my novel.
Their failure to kill German leader
Adolf Hitlers likely successor must have
weighed heavily on the paratroopers as
they tried to sleep in the four-by-four
grid of cold stone recesses, built to
hold coffins.
Down the hill from the church is the
River Vltava, and across it, on the west
bank, is the beautiful Mala Strana the
Little Side of town. Mala Strana, a maze
of cobbled streets, cosy restaurants and
sandy spots by the river, bows at the feet
of Pragues hilltop castle. Spanning the
Vltava is a series of bridges although
youd be forgiven for thinking theres
only one: the Charles Bridge.
At more than 500 metres long and
10 metres wide, and bookended by
Gothic towers, this 14th-century bridge
was built to hold jousting contests.
Centuries later, baroque statues of
knights and saints were added to
plinths along the bridges walls.
During the warmer months the
throng on this pedestrian thorough-
fare can make Mong Kok feel
uncrowded, but visit
early in the morning or late at night and
you can enjoy its full splendour unjostled.
A 20-minute walk along the tree-lined
riverbank from the Charles Bridge leads
to a quiet but steep climb to Letna Park.
Magnificent views back over the bridges
and spires of Prague follow you up the
path and are best seen from inside the
rambling hillside venue. Here locals pic-
nic, play frisbee or drink in what may
be the worlds best beer garden: under
a vibrant green canopy, portable kiosks
offer inexpensive draft pilsner and a
lesser-seen (at least by tourists) view
over the mighty river to a beautiful city.
Now the presidents official residence
and a tourist attraction, Hradcany Castle,
a gentle stroll from Letna Park, was once
the seat of power for kings
and emperors
and Heydrich. A
vast complex of
palaces and
churches, it is the largest ancient castle in
the world. On display are the Bohemian
Crown Jewels, including the Crown of
St Wenceslas.
A legend passed down through the
centuries avows that any usurper who
placed the crown upon his head would
be dead within a year. Heydrich, the
reichsprotektor of Bohemia-Moravia
(the regions that constitute more than
90 per cent of the Czech Republic today),
is said to have tried on the crown
sometime in 1941.
Summoned by Hitler, Heydrich was
due to fly from Prague to Berlin on the
afternoon of May 27, 1942. He had earned
the epithet The Hangman of Europe by
quashing dissent in Austria, Poland and
now Bohemia-Moravia with brutal effi-
ciency. The fuhrer was poised to further
promote Heydrich and extend the geo-
graphical reach of his powers. But Gabcik,
aged 30, and Kubis, 28, had other ideas.
On the morning of May 27, as
Heydrichs open-top Mercedes
slowed at a hairpin bend in a
(now redeveloped) Prague
Soul searching
The consequences of an assassination attempt against a senior Nazi in May 1942
still haunt parts of Prague and its surroundings, writes Paul Letters.
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