This past weekend, partially due to the somewhat bad weather, I finally found the time to sort through my vacation pictures. Even though today everyone uses digital images and saves or presents their vacation shots on DVDs or by playing those in computer presentations, I still make prints out of my favorite photographs. I do still buy and use photo albums, as I find nothing can really replace the feeling one gets from looking at a print.
Making a short jump back to the days I spend in Prague recently, some of the pictures depict a house that is most likely the most famous one in the whole city. It is so called "Faust House", or in Czech "Faustův Dům".
According to the city legends, doctor Faust or Faustus once lived here. He made a pact with the Devil in exchange for knowledge and disappeared without a trace. All that was left was a big hole in the roof of the house library.
The house stood empty for a long time, decaying, considered haunted, until a poor student decided to move in, when he found himself cold, hungry and without a shelter. "The house" treated the student well and every day he found a silver coin on the table. His fear of the house library room slowly diminished. He covered the hole in the roof and started to read all the books, which were filled with mystical text and magical spells. Very soon he felt at ease and brave enough to invite over friends and live a life where the silver coin was not enough anymore. The greed took over the student, upon which he turned to black magic spells described in the books and then one day, he too vanished without a trace. All he left behind was a big, blackened hole in the roof of the library, just like Faust did before him.
I remember reading this story in my favorite book of Prague tales as a child. The house has most likely never had doctor Faust as an occupant (or did it?), but it remains shrouded in mystery due to the variety of its eccentric inhabitants.
In the 14th century this baroque mansion was owned by Prince Vaclav of Opava, who was the first to give rise to the association of the Faustian legend due to his avid interest in alchemy.
Among other odd occupants of the Faust house was the famous alchemists Edward Kelley, Court Alchemist to Rudolph II, who was believed to use the philosopher's stone in his pursuit to turn common metal into gold.
Ferdinand Antonin Mladota of Solopysk lived in the Faust house in the 18th century. His experiments sometimes led to big explosions, which made holes in the roof and scared everyone in the neighborhood. His son was believed to be a superb engineer and he was said to entertain his guests with gadgets installed all over the house, such as a door which would open by itself, a flying staircase and electric shocks administered upon touching a door handle.
Probably the most eccentric of them all was Karl Jaenig who lived there in the 19th century. He painted the walls with funeral texts, had a functional gallows at home and slept in a wooden coffin.
Today the Faust House is unfortunately not opened to the public and is solely used by the Faculty of Medicine at Charles University, housing among other things a pharmacy.
On our latest visit to Prague I had my picture taken in front of this beautiful building, which I remember passing as a child on walks taken with my grandfather, while he would tell me the story of doctor Faustus. Although it looks much smaller and less menacing than I recall, standing in front of it still makes all the legends I remember come alive.