“No Euros.You are in Czech Republic. Must have Koruna.” Eva Vondrusová, guide extraordinare, was annoyed that we assumed Euros could be used in her country. The ticket to enter the Strahov Monastary Library was only 100 Koruna (about $4.00). No credit cards, no dollars and especially no Euros. Eva opened her wallet and floated us a loan.
It was not unreasonable to presume Euros were the currency as Czech Republic which is part of the European Community (EC). Eva wandered ahead muttering in Czech. National pride was at stake along with a whole day of multiple ticket purchases. The reaction seemed disproportionate to our rookie first-time visitor mistake.
Euro anxiety seems an infectious condition these days. Greece was about to default on its loans and might vote to return to the dracma. Traveler friend Angela currently in Greece reports long lines at ATM’s but big discounts in restaurants to tourists paying in cash. No doubt every sensible Greek will need a large cash stash.
This is a scenario the Czechs with a relatively stable economy hope to avoid. Eva said,”Czech Republic planned to have Euro after they joined EC in 2004. They postponed conversion–maybe five years now.” The Czech Central Bank projected the new date no earlier than 2019 to adopt the Euro. The value of being a EC partner continues to diminish.
A cloud of irony loomed over our visit to these libraries started by St. Norbert’s order in 1120. The place survived fires, Hussites, Swedes, the Thirty Years War, Protestants, World Wars, Nazi occupation, and Communist confiscations.The European debt crisis seems an insignificant opponent with little historical heft.
Hand-transcribed tomes with illuminated paintings and significant scientific archives continue to find a home here. Cabinets contain preserved sea creatures and shells never seen in this inland place. Single species of trees where seeds, leaves, pods, and flowers are carefully stored in boxes bound like books with bark and lichen from the subject tree. Journals brought back by explorers who went off into the world changed the globes that stand proudly on the floor.
Gratitude goes to the abbots with the philosophy that science and religion were not mutually exclusive, a unique point of view in pre-Enlightenment times. Evidence of the monks’ dedication to advancing understanding of worldly topics can be found on every shelf.
The library survived the leadership of Abbott Hirnhaim (1671-1679) who believed that fear of God was the way to truth. He put the translations of Norbert’s works on the banned list and locked them away. But he did not destroy them.
The Communists also assaulted this knowledge temple and removed the archives to the National Library where librarians and curators understood this new upheaval as yet another pause in their 800 year history pursuing truth and protecting the treasures. Happily they were right. The post-Communist government of the new Czech Republic returned 200,000 volumes and continues to restore more materials to their historic home every year.
A 17th century desk, where volumes can remain open on a balanced rotating wheel, a sort of Google precursor, sits ready for an inquiring mind to explore questions of the day. Contemporary scholars, advisors, and experts can have a seat and find their way to answers about the Euro and other challenges that this region will face. History offers a familiar chair and the comforting notion that study will lead to answers.
We found our own answer to our debt problem when we spotted a currency exchange in the village near the monastery. Eva pointed out the rate was not favourable. Sometimes expedient payment is a higher priority than the terms.