Winning Essays for Berlin

One week, 1,000 years of history: how does the tumultuous history of the Czech lands resonate to NYU Prague students? At the beginning of the semester, every student was required to submit an essay, poem, or any creative piece to encapsulate what they had learned during Orientation Week about Czech history and culture. The first and second place winners received an NYU-sponsored trip to Berlin, which is coming up next weekend in April. Vanda Thorne, Academic Director of NYU Prague, said that the faculty was "impressed by the originality, depth of knowledge acquired in such a short period of time, your humor, observation talent and honesty". Take a look here at the originality and creativity of the first-place winners:

Ryan Anielski: A Gap in the Record

"In primary evidence of Czechoslovak history, in the physicality of the city,

and in the general attitudes and discussions that lie beyond the classroom, there

appears a gap. Not some black hole void of record, but a haze that obscures a

significant portion of the nation’s past. The horrors of the 1950’s were some of the

most significant tragedies to strike Czechoslovakia under the Communist regime;

however, compared to the record and veneration of later decades, including the

Prague Spring and the Velvet Revolution, the 1950’s appear a murmur in the

national historical discussion."

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Amelia Palmer: Milada

Refused to be broken

Bones shattered

Mind invaded

You stood


Starved and put to work

Threatened with death

Among the show camp

of Terezín

A zoo with caged animals

for the world to see

Placed in habitats filled with trees

that cover the horror underneath

Under the swastika

That you swore to euthanize

You stood

as bodies rained

from soot covered clouds

Skin stretched thin against bones

The light in their eyes extinguished

While yours still glimmered

with anger

You escaped

You started again

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Ellie Andrews: We Don't Want a Clean City

"On a much smaller scale, there is a domestic conflict within Prague that fascinates me, and also

seems to struggle with 'the past of culture, the past of the modern era', a modern type of artistic

expression. The question is debated in every urban area: is it vandalism, or is it art?

The scribbles follow you around the corner and greet you on the next street, and the

next street, and then the next street; it does not discriminate between the crumbling

canvas or the newly repainted; it is illegible, political, personal, and has no agenda of

profit except for a personal, emotional release of pressure through the release of a

pressure can. Like ivy vines, it spreads and disguises the grey concrete that

symbolizes the past while unifying history and culture with layers of unique


Or, this graffiti around Prague is recurring damage and an expression of

anarchy, not art..."

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Leah Lavigne: The Czech Road to Freedom: from Munich Agreement to Velvet Revolution

"After World War I the Czechosolovak state achieved independence in 1918. The state

was a stable democracy. Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk was the President liberator of the state, but

liberty did not last long. On September 30, 1938 the Munich Agreement was made. The West

turned their back on the Czech people, and in a meeting between Great Britain, France, Italy,

and Germany it was decided that the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia would be handed over to

Hitler. Why was this important decision about Czechoslovakia made without Czechoslovakia?

Although there is no concrete answer, one thing is sure, this was an act of betrayal on the part

of the UK and France. This was a failure of Western democracy."

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Camille Gasser: Ghosts, Choices, and Yellow Hats

"I hear them move through Prague like ghosts. Their twinkling, shadowy voices glide

through Old Town Square, and the hum of an old prayer – “baruch atah, Adonai”, “blessed are

you, Adonai our God” – whirls across the Charles Bridge. I see them too, in the same way fuzzy

pinpricks of light move across your eyes after glancing at the sun for too long.

Before World War II, there were over 100,000 Jews in Prague. Now, scarcely three or

four thousand remain, leaving behind a ghostly but beautiful memory in the form of architecture,

artifacts, and stories. I think about these numbers as I stand now in front of the Maisel

Synagogue, its numerous, small pinnacles stretching upwards, stark white against the blue sky. I

swear the golden Star of David is staring back at me, though I find my eyes stuck on the odd little shape in its center: a tiny, gold, triangular hat – an emblem of the derogatory piece of

clothing Jews were forced to wear in 17 th century Prague. It’s hard to imagine why such an

insulting symbol – which would later be warped into the inspiration for Hitler’s yellow badge –

would be displayed so proudly on the exterior of a picturesque synagogue."

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E.R. Pulgar: The Cobblestones Remember (A Song for Vaclav Havel)


the last sanguine eclipse before our squares flowed

pivo, vino, absinthe,

Czechman, Slovak, Roma,

tears, freedom, disbelief—

we will never forget scraping Red off our stones.

On December 10, we remembered the anatomy of hate

and vowed to not let it happen again

(if only he could see us now), and kindness reigned:

for a time, we were a rose garden.

We spent years, barbed wire around our hearts,

not looking at our neighbor,

and soon we were rocked once again

by a divorce gentle as crushed velvet—

how terrifying it was

to finally stand on our own!

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Amanda Morris: The Magic of Numbers

78,867 square kilometers,

10.5 million people.

What does it mean to be Czech?

They say that big nations create history and small nations survive it.

They describe themselves as small,

one of the largest nations to do so

You are not small.

You are 10.5 million strong.


Do not let Munich fool you

into thinking that you have shrunk

in size or heart.

Trauma does not confirm


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Mridula Rajagopal: Milan Kundera's Central Europe: Melting Pot of Cultures

"It is extremely easy to be ignorant in this world. It is astonishingly simple to turn

your head away from issues you think do not pertain to your life. But what I have

come to realize as a young, international, ‘third culture kid’ is that all of us, from the

most obscure to the most popular cultures are truly global citizens. Every event,

tragedy, celebration that takes place in our present or took place in the past

somehow affect our current lives—no matter how far removed we are from the


Milan Kundera’s Central Europe is one that I feel a strange, indirect familiarity with.

The East had, and has been my home for the entirety of my life, and yet, somehow, I

find myself relating to the ideology of Central Europe as described by Kundera. “The

greatest variety within the smallest space”—that, to me, is the definition of Central

Europe as defined by Kundera. This description goes far beyond its literal


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Have fun in Berlin, winners!

#berlin #writing #essay #academic #students

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