Out of all the place we visited in Poland, this was a sobering one. You buy a ticket, put on a hard hat, and then enter the bowels of a mountain where Polish laborers were forced to dig a vast tunnel system during WWII. A tour guide takes you through the tunnel system in an hour-long tour, telling you about the operation that went on there, life in the tunnels, the dangers involved in working there, and many other things. At one point these tunnels housed 15,000 labor prisoners, of which the vast majority either died from malnutrition or exhaustion. When the Allies were getting close, the Germans blasted away all the entrances to the system, leaving the prisoners to die.
They still aren’t sure exactly what these tunnel systems were being built for, whether it be a military arms industrial complex, weapons development, scientific experiments, etc.
Jacob: I am personally fascinated by the events of WWII, as my grandfather was at Normandy two days after D-Day. I’ve watched copious amounts of documentaries on the subject, and I love to read articles and books about the war. To actually be in such a place, to have the opportunity to immerse myself in this history by visiting these tunnels, made me completely speechless. The second you walked into the mountainside you felt this sense of palpable dread and the reality of the events that took place there. I’m speechless about the trip, but if I can say this, visiting this place has made my want of visiting a concentration camp all the more desirable, if anything to come to terms with this conflicted sense of fascination I have with WWII. I’m thankful for the opportunity that Szymon gave us by bringing us here and telling us his view of the history of his country. It’s important that we got to see a place like this, and to experience this history. I urge others to do the same, to pay attention, and learn from what humanity has been through…we can’t afford to repeat those events.
Terence: This year we were lucky enough to go to Poland for a day to see some cultural and historical sites and one of the most intense places we visited was Project Riese. A huge series of tunnels make up an underground network known as Project Riese. The area is currently a historical site where visitors can come and take tours. During the Nazi occupation of Poland these tunnels were used for unknown reasons and were host to numerous prisoners. When the allies were liberating Europe, the Nazis abandoned the site, blowing the entrances and leaving the prisoners inside to die. As we were walking in these tunnels and we were learning about their history, a great sense of grief washed over the group. It was very sad to be in a place where such inhumane crimes took place. After the tour, our Polish colleague told us that it’s important to learn about this so that we are not doomed to repeat history and so that we have a greater appreciation for what we have. This experience was very emotional and impactful for our entire team.
Sindy: When first walking into these tunnels my sense of excitement to learn about another piece of Europe’s history suddenly changed to feel frightened and at one point even panicked by the atmosphere that I felt just a few steps after walking in. I always read about the brutality of WWII but never did I imagine standing in the same place where men, women and children were forced to create these tunnels in poor conditions. I really appreciated how the tour guides had sectional audio/visual structure performances that allowed us to witness first-hand how things occurred back then. I also cherished the memorial service through the intercom as we walked out. Experiencing these tunnels and learning more of the history really opened my eyes when it comes to hiking around and researching these areas of study that we are at in the Czech Republic. I’ve realized that though these are breathtaking places, one needs to look back and remember what occurred a few years ago and be thankful for each time they foot into this country. It holds much more respect than I would have ever imagined and for that I am thankful.
Luke: Riese Project in Poland was a site that gives a perspective of what the European countries went through during the Second World War. It was a very emotional place that will stick with anyone who visits.
The NaFilm museum was a small, student-built museum in Prague. Graduate students built this museum exhibit for their master’s project, and still operate the museum. It’s a self-guided tour through the history of film. You get to see some the earlier conceptions of moving imagery through a zoetrope and some of the earlier film projectors. You can experience and record yourself adding sounds you create to some old black and white films. You get to keep the recording. They have a section dedicated to stop motion animation…you can even use cut-out images to create your own stop motion animation of a person working out at the gym, export it, and have the museum send you a copy of your animation. They even have some alternative examples of moving images, such as flat cut outs surrounding a track where a train with a light on the end zooms past and throws shadows on the wall around you and an area where you’re surrounded by curtains to give you some personal space and get entranced by an audio story. They even have a section in the museum solely dedicated to VR (virtual reality), the latest offering in the realm of cinematic experiences.
Jacob: The coolest thing about this exhibit was learning that it was built by graduate students, as that’s exactly what I’m aiming to do with my field project. To see how they laid it all out, to see the progression of the story, interactive and static elements of the museum, and how it all came together to form a whole, really amazed me and gave me some ideas for my own exhibit.
Terence: Being a film student, it was very cool for me to visit a museum dedicated to the technologies of filmmaking. The museum displayed all types of cameras from newer cameras and filmmaking equipment, to the very old and original tools that were used to create motion pictures. The museum was also very interactive and encouraged visitors to experience what it was like to use the tools of the trade. One of the most impressive things of this museum was the fact that it was put together by graduate students working on their master's project. The museum isn’t only fun and educational, it’s also located in a very busy section of downtown. A graduate project that resulted in a museum as successful and interesting as this one is quite an accomplishment.
Sindy: For me, the NaFilm museum was one of a kind. The multiple, fun interactive exhibits they had were so exciting because we saw first hand how films were made all throughout the generations of film history. I was able to make my own stop motion animation movie, taking multiple photos and creating a heavy weight-lifting film. For me this was the most exciting because I never once thought of how fun and simple some filming techniques are.
Museum of Technology - Prague
The Museum of Senses is a small museum in the heart of Prague that flips the way our brain understands the world upside down (literally, try the Inverted Room exhibit). From color theory and how we perceive the world to film tricks and other sensory mediums such as sound, smell and touch…this museum is a fun place to experience the world in different ways.
By offering over 50 different exhibits, you are taken on a fantastic journey that explores your senses and awakens new ones that you didn’t know you had.
Some of the exhibits featured include:
The Infinity Room: A room with mirrors that turn one of you into an infinite amount of you. Have a dance party with yourself and all your clones.
The Vortex Tunnel: The bridge stands still while the walls rotate. Try walking a straight line without falling sideways and losing your balance.
The AMES Room: There are two illusions associated with the Ames Room. First the room appears cubic when viewed with one eye from a special viewing point (the true shape of the room is trapezoidal). Secondly, within an AMES Room people or objects can appear to grow or shrink when moving from one corner to the other.
Different approaches to smell: 1.) Boxes containing different smells and asking people to guess which smell is in what box. 2.) Long hoses attached to boxes containing a wad of cotton balls with a certain smell. 3.) Rotating trapdoor mirror boxes containing smells and information about the smell when interacted with.
Jacob: I really enjoyed interacting with all of the smell exhibits, they really benefited me with research in designing the scent portion of my field project exhibition. Even if I don’t plan on incorporating these methods into my exhibition, it was still great to explore some of these ideas.
Terence: I really enjoyed the Ames room. An Ames room is a distorted room that creates an optical illusion. I felt that this room was really cool for a filmmaker because as a filmmaker I’m always looking for ways to change people’s perceptions through the use of practical effects and this room showed me that its easier than it looks and can be done on a low budget.
Sindy: I have never experienced the vortex tunnel, so that was very cool! This place really made me realize that my mind is as strong as I think it is.
Museum of Senses - Prague
(Photos #48 - #51)
One other place we visited that was directly connected to the castle was the Palmiarnia house. This building was built by Princess Daisy’s husband, Prince Hans Heinrich XV, as a gift…costing an astronomical amount of money at the time, 7 million gold German marks, which in US money today, would be $4,052,549.
The 1900 square meter property saw the erection of the Palm House, as well as the addition of a green house, a Japanese garden, a rose garden, a fruit and vegetable garden, and an area for shrub cultivation. The whole property was surrounded by green houses filled with orange trees. The palm house’s most remarkable feature however, was the building material lining the interior; solidified lava from Mt. Etna, which the prince had brought from Sicily in seven train wagons.
Today, over 250 species of plants grow on the Palm House grounds, representing a vast biodiversity from around the globe. For example, some of the species at this place are the Asian bamboo plants, ficus trees and bushes; the Australian eucalyptus, spruce and pine trees; the African perennial flowers; the Central American cacti and agaves; and the Mediterranean citrus plants.
Jacob: Now this place was a labor of love...from the Prince of Pless to his Princess. I'm a fan of greenhouses, I like how efficient they are and how they can pretty much grow and thrive year around. The amount of plants and fauna within this place was insane, I swear they had plants from all over the world. They even had plants that reminded me of home...namely, the cacti. It's a pretty large property, the majority of it being winding greenhouse passages. The path is nice, but other than that, it's like a mini, enclosed jungle.
Terence: No Comment!
Sindy: I don’t think I have ever seen anything so beautiful walking through the Palm house in Poland of the Książ Castle. Witnessing how preserved the plants were and how caring they are with each plant species from all over the world. The architecture they used around the green houses including the outdoor pieces all along the garden’s walkway were just as beautiful all around. What I found most attractive about this garden was the loving expression it was made with. Knowing a young prince built it all for his loving wife, Princess Daisy, made me fall head over heels for a breathtaking place like this one. My favorite part was walking into this palm house and seeing how much love and care the people have for this place.
One of the running themes during our visit to the Czech Republic has been the idea that everything was invented in the Czech Republic. Our visit to the Museum of Technology not only hammered that idea home, but developed it by giving examples of what was invented, innovated or improved upon by the Czechs. Even though music was not a central theme of this museum, one our colleagues even told us a story about how Mariachi music was inspired by Czech royalty.
This museum had a little of everything – from medieval metallurgy and mining, to devoting a whole five-story open space room dedicated to the advancement of many forms of transportation. The stories and rooms were curated to cover a vast array of technology; it was as if the progression of all of mankind of was stuffed into this five-story building.
Do you like time keeping?
This museum has a whole room dedicated to different types of timepieces, from pocket watches to grandfather clocks and then some.
What about astronomy?
It has armillary spheres, measuring devices, globes, sundials, telescopes and other objects. It even offers glimpses into the worlds of surveyors, cartographers, ship navigators and astronomers.
Are you interested in the world of printing?
Well, this museum has that as well, by offering many different types of printing presses as well as a small library. Film? They have a fully decked out news studio, even fitted with a green screen.
Of course, there are giant scale models of sugar processing plants so you can get a glimpse into the sugar industry.
We've barely scratched the surface of what they have to offer there…there’s so much!
Jacob: After visiting this museum, I agree that the Czechs truly did invent everything. The sheer number of objects and information in this museum definitely blew my mind. I enjoyed the stereographic photography section of the museum as I had no idea that there were that many different kinds of 3-D cameras…If you plan on visiting this museum, one hour won’t cut it and nor will one day, take a few days and really get into what all is there.
Sindy: That was a very time-consuming museum, not only because of all the things they had, but there was a lot of history that was very interesting to read about. Definitely take your time because it really tells a story of what is there if you take the time to not only look at everything, but to read about everything.
Wałbrzych Palm House - Poland
(Photos #118 - #128)
Museums in the Czech Republic
Książ Castle - Poland
(Photos #79 - #98)
On this trip we had a day where we were able to go into Poland and visit a few places. One of those places was the Książ Castle in Wałbrzych, Poland. This castle is not only an interesting place to visit, but it’s affordable, steeped in history, and most importantly of all, it is a great base for exploring the surrounding areas. You can tour this castle, see many of the different extravagant rooms, hallways, ballrooms, and other places. In my opinion, the building is kind of like a maze, but it’s curated very well with numbered signs telling people how to navigate through it.
This castle also contains many manicured lawns, beautiful gardens and terraces, extravagant castle walls, and elaborately decorated rooms that reminded me a bit of the architecture in Vienna that we got to experience last year.
Well known figures occupied this castle over the years, the most notable family that lived there was the Prince and Princess of Pless, who raised their four children in the castle. Princess Daisy, whose many portraits decorate a lot of the walls within the castle, was the most highlighted of figureheads throughout the castle's history. She was a progressive woman who supported the local populace and not only divorced the prince at age 50, but also wrote an expose about living life as a princess. Fun fact, she was also the step-aunt to Winston Churchill. One thing that was really unique about this Castle was its involvement in World War II. Construction on the castle was halted with the advancement of the Red Army, and some examples of this can be seen when walking around the castle grounds. Toward the end of the war, the castle was utilized as a main base of operations for Hitler, with parts of it also used as his apartment residence. During the occupation, a vast array of tunnel systems was painstakingly dug out with forced labor, including prison cells and other such rooms.
During our tour of the castle, we were told about a legend where during the war, many national treasures where stored in these tunnel systems…which are still lost to this day, presumably still down in the tunnels somewhere. Why can’t they find them? Well, these tunnels stretch at least some 20-plus kilometers. Fortunately, since then the castle has been restored. There were parts of the castle that remained completely untouched by the war, and some parts of it were permanently altered to suit Hitler’s needs.
If history is your thing, this castle is rich with it. If architecture is your thing, you need to visit here. If you’re an avid WWII researcher or fascinated by it, you can take a guided tour of the tunnel system. This place has a little bit to offer for everyone.
Jacob: This was a pretty awesome visit, as I'm always up for visiting castles. While the grounds were indeed beautiful and the history contained within the castle was enormous, what I think I enjoyed most about my time here was learning that this castle played a big role in WWII. I'm fascinated by that war, and I was excited to come explore this place. Unfortunately, we didn't get to take a guided tour into the prison labor tunnels below the castle...but our time spent here was well worth it, both educationally and personally.
Terence: Whenever I think of Europe I think of old castles. Luckily, we were able to visit one of the biggest castles in Poland this year. Książ Castle is one of the most beautiful and largest castles I’ve ever seen. The castle also has a very rich history. Generations of royalty called the castle home until the 1940s when the Nazis basically stripped it of all its riches. Luckily the castle has been restored and is now a historical site. As we walked through the halls of the castle, the scale of the entire structure became very clear. My favorite part of the visit was just being able to be in a building that had been there far longer than many of the cities in the United States.
Sindy: We were able to see the Książ Castle in Wałbrzych, Poland. This graceful castle was so stunning with one-of-a-kind architecture and such a historical past that held so much respect. During World War II the castle was seized by the Nazis and they destroyed most of the castle's most beautiful artifacts. My most favorite thing about the tour was the great amount of respect they had for the past. We experienced the reconstruction they did all around, but also the pictures they displayed trying their best to show the beautiful architecture that was inspired by princess Daisy’s ideas.
Luke: Aside from learning the ins and outs of field geology, my most enjoyable moments are those of which I found walking down a cobble street, unsure of what sort of adventure lay ahead. For example, finding myself walking up to the gates of a 16th-century castle that had been through two world wars and nearly been destroyed by the Nazis, was something I never thought I would do.
Riese Project, WWII - Poland
(Photos #27 - #38)
We were based in Slaný, Czech Republic, for the majority of our trip. Being that we stayed here, we decided to check out the museum in Slaný, to see what was there. This museum was really cheap, 40 Czech crowns (little under $2 US). The layout of the museum was well put together, with each room showcasing something different about Czech life. There were rooms dedicated to miniature models, paintings, architecture, sculpture, and more. The guide in the museum even led us into the attached chapel, which was really pretty. It was awesome to learn that the pipe organ in the chapel still worked, despite being as old as it was. The halls were lined with more artifacts, everything from miniature scale model mining vehicles to dried-up, dead insects and other life-forms.
Jacob:Definitely one of my least favorite museums, however I still enjoyed my time there. I was really enamored by the fact that the pipe organ in the chapel still worked and you could play it. I also enjoyed the archeology room, which showcased artifacts found around the area. I think my disappointment came from having experience in making and engaging with interactive museum exhibits, which led me to have higher expectations of a museum. Again, however, that’s not to say that this wasn’t a good museum…for the price and the amount of history contained within, I’d say it was time well spent to learn about the local area.
Terence: The museum in Slaný was one of the more interesting museums we visited in the Czech Republic. The museum covers local history, wildlife and art; since Slaný is such a small town the museum itself was somewhat small. It hosted a variety of historical items from bedroom sets from the 1800s to insects from the area. In most of the small museums I’ve seen, the history only goes back a couple hundred years or so; the history of Slaný goes back several hundred years. There was even a section of the museum on the top floor that was dedicated to experimental artists. I think the most impressive part of this museum is the fact that it covers a broad range of subjects from history, sciences and the arts. As we were walking through the museum it became clear that the country and the communities within it take great pride in their history.
Sindy: While staying in Slaný, we had the opportunity to visit their museum of film history and cameras, including their town’s small history pertaining to the ancient medieval times. I think what my favorite thing about all of the museums and churches we were able to see will always be the spectacular architecture and historical artifacts that are cared for within every small town or city we went to. I will always take and cherish the respect they had for the history and pride of their country.
Museum of Communism - Prague
The Karel Zeman Museum presents the life’s work of the world-renowned film maker Karel Zeman and his cinematic special effects, which made Czech cinematography world famous in the 20th century. The museum maps his life and work from its beginnings – from his first animations and puppet films in the 1940s to work from his last creative period. A substantial part of the museum is dedicated to his most significant films – Journey to the Beginning of Time, The Fabulous World of Jules Verne and The Fabulous Baron Munchausen. The museum’s playful approach to the exhibition is unique. It allows visitors to participate directly – to try out with their own photo and video cameras selected special-effect techniques that Zeman used in his films.
The individual rooms of the museum are conceived as movie studios, and there are small stages with backdrops which visitors can step into and shoot their scenes. They can take a ride on a flying machine, or walk around the moon like Baron Munchausen, or take the controls of the famous submarine from The Fabulous World of Jules Verne. Also, part of the exhibition features previously unpublished photographs, original puppets, and other documentary materials from the life and work of this visionary filmmaker. The museum is an interactive and playful place focused on families with children from the Czech Republic and abroad. In the long term, the museum will become an institute preserving and promoting Zeman's legacy, offering a wide range of activities for the general public and for specialists from the Czech Republic and abroad.
Jacob: As a Media Arts major, I thought it was awesome to go through this exhibit. Karel Zeman was quite the pioneer when it came to special effects and practical uses to achieve depth perception. To see how his work was the inspiration for future works of cinematic art was breathtaking and I really learned a lot from this museum; from his use of miniatures and robotics to layered matte paintings to create depth, it was all fascinating and still has applicable uses today.
Terence: Karel Zeman was a Czech filmmaker who revolutionized special effects in the early 1900s with his creative and innovate use of forced perspective and animation. Some of the films that these techniques were demonstrated in are The Fabulous World of Jules Verne, Journey to the Beginning of Time and The Stolen Airship. Although the modern film goer may find these effects to be dated, at the time they came out they were spectacular and succeeded in transporting audiences into another world. The most successful films today are usually big action films with lots of spectacle and special effects; Zeman was one of the first filmmakers to make films with such a high level of special effects. Although the technologies have changed over the years, the ideas and techniques developed by Zeman are still influencing major filmmakers today.
Sindy: This was the first museum we visited in the Czech Republic, and still one of my top five. I enjoyed walking through the work of someone with such enormous vision. Not only did I enjoy the artistic skills of this filmmaker but mostly the passion I saw Jake and especially Terrence have while walking through Zemen’s work. They covered all the history of this man without even having to read the descriptions around the museum, that only grew more respect for these students because of the passion they carry for their work. This was my favorite museum because I had the opportunity to make my own cinematic special effects video in front of a green screen. For me, this was one of my most enjoyed exhibit.
Museums & Architecture, Czech Republic 2019
Slaný Museum - Slaný
(Photos #17 - #26)
As a visitor to the Czech Republic, one notices the homogenous agricultural areas and the apartment buildings scattered throughout the landscape. These fields and structures are remnants of the Communist regime that was present in Czechoslovakia pre-1989. The freedom and democracy of the Czech Republic is relatively new considering the occupation of the Communist Regime, and so this lends itself to the people being welcoming and homely, but also exhibiting some reservations with interacting with people outside of their immediate social circles.
Laid out in a very linear fashion, The Museum of Communism provides a historical and true-to-life view of numerous aspects of life in Communist-era Czechoslovakia from start to finish, such as daily life, politics, history, sports, economics, education, art, media propaganda, the People’s Militia, the army, the police (including the secret police, the StB “state security”) and censorship. It also highlights various institutes of repression including courts, show trials, and political labor camps present during the Stalinist era.
In particular, this museum focused on the totalitarian regime that ruled the country from the February Coup d’état in 1948 until the Velvet Revolution in 1989.
The knowledge one gains through experiencing this museum has the potential to make someone view their stay in this country through a different lens. You literally couldn’t come to this country, let alone leave it, 30 some years ago…unless you wanted to wade through landmines, dodge automatic-firing weapons, and sneak by 230-plus guard towers along the border of the country. It’s a privilege to be here today, and this museum drives home that privilege.
The Museum of Communism is located in the center of Prague in the Old Customs House (Stará Celnice).
Jacob: The Museum of Communism was incredibly enlightening. As you walk the museum, you're taken through a journey of the Czech Republic's history, its turmoil and troubles. You see how people used to live in this country and you hear them deliver their first-hand accounts of life during the Communist Era. Coming out of the museum, you have a whole new feeling about just being in the country. You feel a sense of privilege...a sense of freedom, you definitely don't feel the same being in the country before going through that museum. I held onto this feeling the remainder of the trip as I felt it made my stay in the country more unique. My experience here definitely made me ponder my current existence within their borders, because thirty years ago you couldn't be there.
Terence: Another museum we visited that brought out a lot of emotion was the Museum of Communism. We were all aware that this region of Europe was under Communist rule for many years, but we didn’t understand the extent of Communism in the Czech Republic. After walking through the museum, we realized that we were extremely lucky to be in the Czech Republic because it would have not been possible a few decades ago. We also had a better understanding of what these people were subjected to and why they appreciate what they have now. I think the most important take away from this museum was the realization that every country has its own history and it’s important to learn about their histories so that we can understand how they got to where they are now. In the case of the Czech Republic, they were once an oppressed country only a few decades ago that is now free.
Sindy: I never thought I would be able to feel so many emotions while visiting a museum like I did in the Museum of Communism. I felt so much emotion when I began reading the panels about the daily life of someone during the Communist era. I remember returning from that trip and personally giving my gratitude to my good friend Jacob Helesic, for coming from such an empowering country. It hasn’t been long that they rose to the beautiful country it has become after so much pain and suffering. This made me have so much more respect for his heritage and made me feel more grateful for these types of experiences NMHU has to offer for students.
NaFilm Museum - Prague
(#129 - #132)
Karel Zemen Museum - Prague
(Photos #109 - #117)