Ceremony marks the closing of historic Czech Radio building for refurbishment

Photo: S. Budkova

The Czech Radio building has stood on Vinohradska Street for the last 75 years, and witnessed the rise and fall of the First Republic, the Nazi occupation, and then communism. The building itself has featured heavily in recent Czech history, with vicious battles being fought in its vicinity at the end of World War II, and Russian tanks and civilians clashing there again in 1968. But in all of these 75 eventful years of operation, the building has not been renovated once, and now it is in need of a 500 million CZK facelift. On Friday, the building was officially closed for the refit. Rosie Johnston was amongst the crowds of Czechs who turned out for the ceremony:

Photo: S. Budkova
The ceremony marking the close of the Czech Radio building on Vinohradska street felt a bit like a state funeral. One of the trumpeters from the Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra played a last salute to the building while the imposing iron gates were locked.

But the building is only being closed for renovations. It is due to be up and running, and shiny-new, in two years' time.

Photo: S. Budkova
After the ceremony, I talked to Czech Radio's Director General Vaclav Kasik, he allayed fears that renovation would damage all the history residing within the building:

"It won't affect it in a negative way, I would say it might even affect the building in a positive way. This is a listed building, and its contents will be protected, but I would go as far as saying that post-reconstruction, the building will be more faithful to the original than it is now. This is because, over the years, people have done this and that, and the historic content of the building has not always been protected."

One of the precious historical artefacts inside the building is the non-stop open-doored elevator, or paternoster. Earlier on, I went for a ride with Radio Prague's editor in chief, Gerald Schubert. I asked him whether the renovation would be able to preserve the spirit of the building:

"This building has experienced a lot of important historical moments. It has experienced, for instance, the end of the German occupation in 1945, when battles fought around the building played an important role around the end of the Second World War. The building has experienced the invasion of the Warsaw pact troops in August 1968. So I think the spirit is in the building anyway, and of course renovation can ruin the spirit of a building, but I hope this won't happen."

Photo: S. Budkova
This paternoster is apparently very safe, but at first glance doesn't necessarily look like it; will it be usable again, when the building reopens?

"Yes, I hope so. That is the plan. This paternoster which we are currently in is the oldest in the Czech Republic, and it is already a kind of monument of Czech history. So the plan is to make it work again after the renovation."

So there you are, for the listeners and readers who have written in about the paternoster's future. And you don't need to worry about any change of address either, please keep writing to us at good old Vinohradska 12, 12099 Prague 2, The Czech Republic.