Open air skating rink in the Old Town Square, photo: CTK

Our ancestors certainly knew how to enjoy life: in 1610 Emperor Rudolf II held an ice-skating ball on the Vltava river. What people make the best angels? And -the man who played dead for six years in order to avoid paying alimony. Find out more in this week's Magazine with Daniela Lazarova.

Open air skating rink in the Old Town Square, photo: CTK
This Xmas there are two open air skating rinks in the centre of Prague - one in the Old Town Square -another just 5 minutes walk away in Uhelny Trh street - and both of them are packed from morning till night. Although this tradition is just a year old - there was a time when the Vltava river in Prague was a skaters' paradise. Skating was an exceedingly popular winter sport. In 1610 Emperor Rudolf II held an ice-skating ball on the Vltava river. It was allegedly a gorgeous display of fashion and one of the few occasions on which the plebs could watch such an event from close up. The rich had proper metal skates, the poor had to make do with bone skates or just old knives tied to their shoes. Skating was the rage - despite the fact that the famous 16th century Czech philosopher Jan Amos Comenius attempted to dissuade people from skating by telling them it was an undignified and dangerous sport.

The first book about skating was published in 1887, the first skaters' club was established in 1889. Every winter the inhabitants of Prague would eagerly await for the Vltava river to freeze over - marking the beginning of several months of fun on the ice. Then in the mid-twentieth century everything changed. Due to the construction of the Orlik and Slapy dams the Vltava river now never freezes over - and the inhabitants of Prague must make do with a closed ice rink - or the open air ones which have become a special Xmas treat in recent years.

With the onset of cold weather many people head for the Vltava embankment in order to feed the swans. However vets are now raising their fingers in warning - telling people that they are doing more harm than good. Feeding the swans bread rolls has become so popular that the swans on the Vltava no longer bother to seek out what would be their natural feed. They are much too fat, they lack vitamins and their immunity is much weaker as a result, vets say. Feeding them white rolls is actually a major disservice - what they really need is bits of fruit and vegetables. Apple, salad or cauliflower leftovers from your kitchen are ideal, as are cooked potatoes. Also if you are going to feed the swans the food should not be thrown into the water but left on shore. And vets add - overfeeding any birds is pretty much like overfeeding oneself - so be it swans or sparrows, don't overdo it. Thanks to the long hot summer and warm autumn there is allegedly plenty of natural feed on trees and on the ground - and it is not good for wild animals to forget their natural habits and instincts -especially if we don't feed them with what they should be eating. So when you next head for the Vltava embankment please think healthy!

The Advent period in the Czech Republic is full of traditions, things to do and things to see. Of course some towns try to get an edge over others in putting on live Nativity scenes, plays and open air concerts. One of the most attention grabbing events recently took place in the town of Ustek where the town hall arranged an appearance of three live angels who scaled down from the church tower. The elements certainly helped the spectacle - there was rain, sleet a windstorm and then sunshine again in quick succession - so the angels descended with slightly damp and dishevelled wings - but the show was much appreciated nevertheless. The angels were all mountaineers from the local club and rather unused to the burden of big feather wings.

I don't know how many hours you spend doing your Xmas shopping - but waiting in line for 18 hours to get a present is really the limit. Nevertheless the Czech tabloid Blesk reports that 48 year old Jiri Adamec spent exactly that much time in order to be there first when the doors of the Ostrava Shopping Park opened. He wanted to get his daughter a washing machine at half price - within a limited Xmas offer. Standing in line all night is something that people did in the communist days - for things like cars or holidays abroad with the state travel agency. However standing in line for 18 hours today is something that very few people would be willing to do. The management of the shopping park is of course delighted - what excellent publicity for free!

Plzen, Nepomuk and Chlumcany - all towns in Western Bohemia - are developing a new tradition - a Xmas carol "link up" with as many people as possible singing carols on their respective town square. Pilsen has held these open air carol singing events for five years now with a record number of 8096 people joining in. This year Nepomuk and Chlumcany have decided to take part as well. Our goal is to link up the entire west Bohemian region with as many people as possible joining in this long-distance, huge Xmas choir, the organizers explained.

Photo: CTK
The Premonstratensian Order at the Pelhrimov monastery is in business! The monks have renewed a beer brewing tradition dating back to the 17th century. The tradition was broken off in 1907 when a fire damaged the monastery's brewery. However the flavoured beer recipes were preserved and will again see the light of day...The beer is to be made according to a special fermentation process used in the old days and individual brands will be named after the various abbots who served in the monastery over the years - for instance Gottschalk or Castulus. The first bottles of this special Pelhrimov brew should appear on the domestic market within a matter of weeks and eventually the monks hope to sell it abroad as well.

People do all sorts of things to avoid paying alimony but Mr. Dokulil from Znojmo has surpassed all others. He played dead for a period of six years and made the state pay his obligations instead in the form of widow and orphan benefits. Mr. Dokulil disappeared in 1993 and was pronounced dead by a local court 6 years ago. Unfortunately for him his papers looked suspicious to a traffic police officer during a routine check up and a lengthy investigation revealed his true identity. The respective court has been urged to start revival proceedings immediately and to officially bring Mr. Dokulil back to life. That done, he will be going straight to jail for fraud and unpaid alimony. Others are in hot water as well. The police have now turned their attention to Mr. Dokulil's employers during the years when he was officially dead.