Letter from Prague

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My Letter from Prague today cannot be about anything else than floods. As a culturally-minded person I was horrified about the damage caused to cultural monuments throughout the country. Afflicted were countless theatres, especially in Prague, including the National Theatre, one of the oldest and a real national treasure. Also flooded were numerous art galleries and art shops, and the whole nation seemed to be genuinely worried about the fate of Charles bridge in Prague - an architectural gem dating back to the 14th century, which is a 100 percent must when one visits Prague. One of the most affected buildings was the Troja chateau, a nice Baroque building in the outskirts of Prague - near the Prague ZOO - which is not so often visited but where they opened a long-term exhibition of 20th century Czech sculpture just two months ago. Two thirds of them have been destroyed as well as its large garden with all the trees, the entry gate and all the workshops. All employees have been working to put things back to normal now.

My Letter from Prague today cannot be about anything else than floods. As a culturally-minded person I was horrified about the damage caused to cultural monuments throughout the country. Afflicted were countless theatres, especially in Prague, including the National Theatre, one of the oldest and a real national treasure. Also flooded were numerous art galleries and art shops, and the whole nation seemed to be genuinely worried about the fate of Charles bridge in Prague - an architectural gem dating back to the 14th century, which is a 100 percent must when one visits Prague. One of the most affected buildings was the Troja chateau, a nice Baroque building in the outskirts of Prague - near the Prague ZOO - which is not so often visited but where they opened a long-term exhibition of 20th century Czech sculpture just two months ago. Two thirds of them have been destroyed as well as its large garden with all the trees, the entry gate and all the workshops. All employees have been working to put things back to normal now.

The damage is clearly visible. What is not, however, is damage done to archives owned by all kinds of institutions. It was for the first time I heard that old manuscripts and books, destroyed by water, can be put back to their original form by freezing. But each page must be restored independently, and the Czech Minister of Culture, Pavel Dostal, told journalists recently that this could really take a hundred years to recover everything that has been destroyed by last month's floods. A National Museum conservationist, for example, has made it clear that it will not be possible to save everything: she tried to count how long it would take to one person to restore all the 20,000 wet books her museum owns and came to the number of 5,000 years. At present it's hundreds of tons of frozen paper waiting for restoration at various Czech refrigerating plants. Although theoretically, the deeply frozen paper does not rot and might 'live' for dozens of years, Czech archive workers would certainly not be happy if restoring 'their' documents would take more than 30 years, as was the case after a big flood in the Polish capital of Warsaw.

This means that the Czech Republic at present cannot do without help from abroad. We'll need experienced conservationists as well as modern technology. The British Council has sent three special devices and the Scandinavian company Maersksealand provided refrigerating boxes and trucks for free. In the Czech Republic, precious archive materials travel to the refrigerating works in Mochov, the biggest one in the country, where a special conservation workshop will be established for this purpose.