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Plzen: A trolley-bus passes the newly-restored Jewish synagogue
My preconceptions about Plzen were based on the Rough Guide, which begins its entry on the town with: "Even the constant drizzle can't wash the dirt off the buildings of Plzen...parts of the city defy description, such is their dereliction, and the skyline is a symphony of smoke and steam." I was, therefore, quite unprepared for the sunshine as we neared the city on Wednesday morning.
My first impressions were of blocks and blocks of Soviet-style flats, orange in the sunshine and grubby at the edges like elderly, well-thumbed books. Nearer the centre of town the buildings grew older and grubbier, but my attention was drawn to the tramlines in the street, like photographs of Birmingham in 1940s, and overhead the web of wires, along which the trams scuttled like manic spiders. We bounced along the rutted roads seeking amongst the unintelligible signs, composed mainly of Js and Ks, the security of the one word most of us could recognise - the name of our destina tion. To me, Plzen seemed an alien, untidy, incomprehensible muddle - distant and stand-offish.
Next morning, before we had time to get cold feet, we were out on the street corners getting cold hands whilst giving out leaflets inviting people to the public talks we were to give in Plzen. Now the town began to come into focus. The main square is surrounded by lovely buildings in styles ranging from Gothic to Art Nouveau, and across this square walked well-dressed, 'up-together' people on their way to work. Through these people, who invariably took a leaflet, often with a smile and thanks, reading it as they walked away, the town began to reveal a friendly disposition. This was something quite new to me: large numbers of people who were glad to be offered information.
On the literature stall we soon ran down our stocks of the booklets After Death - What? and Israel - God's people, God's land. Quite a number of people requested further information and the correspondence course. Thirteen people came to listen to the public talk on 'After Death - What?' and they had many questions to ask. The real interest that these people showed made every mile we had travelled, every leaflet we had given out worthwhile.
One of the visitors, Anna, had come to our talks on the previous visit, and had been reading the Bible and our literature ever since. I will never for get the delight in her eyes as she came and shook our hands: she had the look of some one who has found a pearl of great price.
Another visitor, Jana took us on a tour of her town, including, of course, the fountain of the town's life-blood - the Pilsner brewery. She was a delightful guide and I felt that now I was beginning to know this town, to be truly fond of it and earnestly to wish it well.
|"Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation." (Mark 16:15)|