It was midnight when I decided to visit the Krumlov castle. It was dark and cool. I only felt small twinges of fear as I ascended a curving stone staircase that lead from the medieval village toward the castle. There wasn’t a need for this fear because the castle grounds were safe. It is not a common experience, for me, to feel able to wander alone in the darkness safely. I stopped to look through the black bars of an iron fence that was on both sides of the small bridge that preceded the main doors to the castle. On either side of this bridge 6 to 7 meters down (roughly 20 feet) were the bear pits. The famous bear pits. Not just famous to the castle but famous to me personally. To myself and friends from Garmisch, famous to the memory of a lost friend. Alex had fallen into the bear cage over 16 year’s ago.
I had been living in Germany at the time. Alex and a few others from Garmisch had taken a trip to Cesky Krumlov. I’m not certain exactly what had happened, but what I had heard was that he had been climbing on the wall and slipped and fell into the pit. He had broken his back, and it was amazing that he had survived. As I stared down and tried to gage the distance of his fall, I thought about the the bears’ reactions to this young German man falling into their dens. I felt a sudden wave of sadness. He had survived that fall, but five year’s later he would die in an avalanche. Too many young people from Garmisch had already died. Alex, Carley, Stephano, Sue…my dear friend Sue. There had been others.
I left the pit and wandered aimlessly the length of the castle. I thought of ghosts and history. I had the castle to myself for most of the evening aside from one couple that had followed behind me. They had their arms wrapped around each other for warmth and affection. They passed me as if I were invisible. I was an apparition silently standing in a haunted the palace. While I walked the streets of Krumlov after midnight, I felt like I could lose my fight or flight awareness that I had to carry with me when walking at night alone. It was exhausting always thinking of an escape route. Here I could just be with myself in the peaceful evening. The night itself is not bad, many beautiful things live in the darkness, it is man that makes the night terrifying.
The streets were narrow and each pathway took me through a a sliver of history that I did not know. I reached a church and began to walk the steps. Fresh urine dripped down the top of the stairs, the scent pungent and the piss was still inching over a step. It could’ve been a dog, it could’ve been a man. I heard a noise. I had a eerie feeling. I was probably being paranoid, but I decided to save the church for the next day. Still, my nervousness did not ruin my midnight explorations. I stood on a bridge and took pictures of the castle under the lights. Two drunk musicians were laughing and singing. One held out a beer to me. “Ne” I said with a smile.
In Czech he said, “you speak Czech?”
“Ne?” I said.
“Come have a drink with us!” He sang joyfully in English.
“Ne.” I said with a smile.
They shrugged and continued to weave and sing down the street toward a hidden pub.
I took one last night photo of a saint with the full moon in the background.
Life was beautiful. It was time to sleep.