Crowds gather before the Clock every hour on the hour from 9am – 9pm in preparation of the show. Some, rather enthusiastic, stake out a position twenty minutes earlier; I’m not convinced that this is worthwhile given that as the hordes arrive fifteen minutes later they inevitably get pushed and shoved out of their prime location. As the hour draws closer the crowd quiets and everyone pulls out their cameras in preparation. Kids are hoisted onto Dad’s shoulders and everyone is on tiptoes trying to see over the tall people in front of them. Arms are in the air, cameras and video cameras outstretched, as the clock ticks over and Death begins to ring in the dead.
I’d heard from people who had been in Prague before me that the clock was a total disappointment. The guide for the free walking tour had described it as ‘Prague’s Most Disappointing Tourist Attraction’. And as the ‘show’ drew to a close with the cock crowing, the crowd before me in creepy unison lowered their cameras and looked to their friends, eyebrows raised, in confusion and disappointment. Was that it? they silently questioned.
For me, it was the crowd that was disappointing [and at the same time entertaining, like a flash mob in slow motion]. Personally, I thought that the clock was brilliant. I found it fantastic and was disappointed that no one ever seemed to share my appreciation.
So what happens is this. On the hour, it begins with Death – a skeleton – ringing the bell. Now there’s actually two clocks, and on the sides of each is four figures. As Death’s bell tolls, these figures turn from side to side. Above the clocks are two windows, and while the bell rings the figures of the Twelve Apostles rotate through the windows. They don’t come right out of the windows but are easily seen. Once the Apostles have passed by, and the bell stops, a golden cockerel above the windows begins to crow. Now this is kind of funny – it sounds like one of those kid’s party whistles, the kind with the paper thing that unrolls [we called them by the very creative name of ‘Doo-de-doo’s’ in my family].
Apparently Prague doesn’t find this impressive enough; following the cock’s crow, a man appears from the top of the tower and blows his trumpet for a few seconds. Then it’s really over, and the crowd disperses.
I realise that this doesn’t sound overly impressive so let me explain a little bit about the clock. It’s SIX HUNDRED years old and the people who find it a lame little local joke should keep that in mind. It was constructed in 1410, when people didn’t have Hollywood special effects and the level of technology that we’re both accustomed and addicted to today. So cut the damn clock some slack, people, and when you’re watching the Twelve Apostles parade through the windows and turn towards you, think how you would have felt watching this six hundred years ago. A little historical consideration wouldn’t go astray, tourists!
I remember watching Jurassic Park as a kid and thinking that the dinosaurs were so real, and that there was no way that special effects could get any better than that. Anyone seen that recently? We’ve come a long way since then. So if you’re heading to Prague and are looking forward to seeing the clock, do yourself a favour – watch it thinking about just how old it is, and you’ll feel the magic. If all else fails, chances are that you were taught to respect your elders and that’s one old damn clock.
And it’s worth going to see the clock a second time…to watch the disappointed crowd.
One more thing – if you need to check the time, try the ‘normal’ clock at the top of the tower unless you want to read the manual. You have to give those crazy medieval guys credit for building a clock that we can’t figure out!