I was working on an animated film in Los Angeles in 1982 when I was ordered back to Prague by the communist Czech government. I wanted to finish my film and was tired of the government telling me what to do, so I decided not to return even though I knew this meant I might not see my family again. Then, in 1989, I became a U.S. citizen, and a few months later the Berlin Wall fell. I could once again go home. Whenever I visit, I try to swim against time, not to recall the oppressive fortress that used to be Prague but to reconnect with the favorite places of my childhood.
Our family home is located on the main route through historic Prague, on Nerudova Street in the Hradcany Castle District. It had been the gatehouse for the Prague Castle and goes back to the 14th century. My first walk in Prague is usually up the street to the castle—the seat of kings, emperors, dictators, and presidents. I like to go there in the evening. A quiet alley behind the castle, Nov5? Svet, is where the Danish Renaissance astronomer Tycho Brahe lived. He came to Prague as a guest of Emperor Rudolf II, a patron of the arts and sciences.
Brahe was just one of the many astronomers, mystics, and alchemists that the emperor invited to his Prague court. Across from Brahe’s house, a discreet entrance leads to the lush charms of Deer Moat, a park with meadows, benches, winding paths, and the remains of the emperor’s greenhouse, called Fig House. You can almost see the shadows of the deer, bears, even lions that Emperor Rudolf II kept here. He was told that when his favorite lion died he would too, and that’s what happened. Prague Castle looms above Deer Moat, and I enter it through the East Gate. With the crowds gone, I feel like a time traveler walking along the Golden Lane— a street of colorful small houses.