Czech Republic's new address in New York

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The Czech Republic will in the coming years be showcased at a new location in one of the world's most important cities - New York. As I discovered on a recent trip there, the Czech consulate general and the Czech Center will move from Madison Avenue to the historic Bohemian National Hall on the Upper East Side, which is currently being renovated.

In New York City big things stand out, so promoting a small country like the Czech Republic can be more of a challenge here than in many other places. But by 2005 the Czech Republic plans to dress itself up in Manhattan in a big way. The Czech government is currently renovating the Bohemian National Hall on the city's elegant Upper East Side, and the building will become the number one showcase for the Czech Republic in the United States, housing the Czech consulate general, the Czech Center and Czech-American foundations. Premysl Pela is the director of the Czech Center in New York:

"It should really be the centre of Czech social and cultural life, a shop window of the Czech Republic here. And we really would like to see it is a point of focus not only for the Czech American community, of course, but for Americans, because the Czech Center is here for the American public."

The Bohemian National Hall was constructed between 1895 to 1897 in a part of Manhattan that became known as Little Bohemia, after the Czech community that lived there. Until recently the building was owned by the Bohemian Benevolent and Literary Association, but in 2001 ownership was transferred to the Czech Republic for the symbolic fee of one dollar. The Czech government has, in return, committed itself to spending some eight million dollars to renovate the building, which will house not only the Czech consulate general but many other things, too. Premysl Pela again:

"It will not be, and it should not serve, as a government building, as an embassy. It should be a very open building. It should have a movie theatre, a multipurpose hall for balls and conferences, and we hope to have a restaurant, a cafe. So it should be a very lively place, and it should offer the best that the Czech Republic has."

Renovations on the Bohemian National Hall began early in March, and it is expected that the building will be opened to the public in the spring of 2005. And while the area known as Little Bohemia no longer has the lively Czech community that it used to, the historic Bohemian National Hall will once again make it a vibrant centre for Czech life in New York City.