Charles Bridge repairs postponed

By Pavla Horakova

Every day, thousands of tourists and locals cross Prague's Charles Bridge, the oldest bridge in the city, and it seems now, they will be able to walk across it freely for at least a few months to come as the planned repairs have been postponed. A short stretch of the bridge was supposed to be closed off this spring for a first stage of a long planned reconstruction. As we mentioned in one of our programmes earlier this year, the reconstruction of the bridge was proving to be a controversial matter with experts arguing about its extent or necessity. Charles Bridge underwent a thorough reconstruction nearly 30 years ago during which new hydro-insulation was laid underneath the paving. However, that layer appears to be leaking, causing damage to the bridge's insides. The expert team, led by the rector of the Czech Technical University Jiri Witzany, says that a profound reconstruction is needed to prevent the ongoing degradation of the stone bridge construction. Not everyone agrees - some say that the repairs can wait for a while because the bridge is not going to fall down. It is enough to replace the leaking insulation and leave the rest to future generations who may come up with more sophisticated means and less invasive methods. Both sides of the argument have political supporters and opponents and some say the debate is no longer about the bridge itself but about politics at the capital's Town Hall. On top of that, the city of Prague began a collection last year after the government made it clear they would not provide any money at the moment. Many people criticised the collection as embarrassing, abusing people's good will and only serving political ends. Following the controversy, all repairs have been postponed and a public tender for the repair works has been cancelled. Critics of the reconstruction say new tests and measurements need to be carried out before another public tender is announced. On the other hand, Prague's mayor Jan Kasl who is a strong supporter of the repairs, says any postponement is inexcusable. It has been agreed that the first stage of repairs is to start in the second half of 2002 and last for 2 or 3 months. But that will also be the time of the elections to the Prague council, so nothing is certain and the future of Charles Bridge may depend on new councillors.