Czechs, who are the world's biggest beer drinkers, will soon be able to avail themselves of the services of a beer spa! The biggest nightmare of Czech train drivers -and why some women want to change their names. Find out more in Magazine with Daniela Lazarova.

Spas have a long tradition in the Czech Republic and there are dozens of them around the country -each catering to a different form of wellbeing -or rather to a different ailment: heart problems, lung problems, stomach ailments or obesity - there's always a spa tailored to your needs with bracing air, beneficial mineral water, regenerating mud baths or endless jogging trails and merciless trainers to help melt that extra weight. In the communist years spas were financed by the state health system and people sent there by their GP had to adhere to a strict set of house rules and doctors orders. Nevertheless spa rules were there to be broken and spa stays were widely seen as an opportunity to escape the grey reality of everyday life -do something for oneself and to flirt. Spa romances were frequent and were the central theme of many a Czech comedy. Now the rules have changed. There are very many paying guests and spas do their best to pamper clients. New spas and wellbeing clinics are being established providing all round care. And suitably enough for a country which consumes the most beer in the world - we are now to have a beer spa, no less! The owners of a brewery in west Bohemia which boasts a 200 year history are planning to build an adjoining spa based on the curative powers of the golden brew. "Our beer contains lots of vitamins and minerals and Czech women are well aware of the powers of beer as a beauty product," the owner said announcing his plans to the press. "Beer has been used for centuries as a hair conditioner and there is nothing better for the complexion that a beer-yeast mask" he added. The brewery is to open this autumn and judging by the response there's likely to be a long waiting list. For lots of Czech men the idea of a beer fountain as their daily medicine is simply irresistible.

However beer is not always one's best friend. A thirty seven year old Czech man had a few beers too many at the Jilemnice pub last week before heading home in the early hours of the morning. Unfortunately he got tired along the way and made his bed on a nearby rail track, settling down neatly between the rails. His guardian angel must have been working overtime that night because he survived certain death - a train passed over him, inflicting only a number of bruises. The train driver said he saw the man at the last minute and there was no way to stop the train in time. Czech Railways say their drivers have been exposed to this on previous occasions. "It's a heart attack situation - a spokesman said -they see a body and know there's nothing they can do." In the town of Jablonec nad Nisou a certain group of people have made a habit of settling down on the tracks and going to sleep. Luckily it is near the station where trains are already grinding to a halt so nobody has been killed yet. The last hair raising incident in the Liberec region happened 14 days ago - a man had made his bed in the middle of the rail track and was actually leaning his head on one of the rails -using it as a pillow. The train's brakes screeched and witnesses watched in disbelief as the wheels of the locomotive stopped just twenty centimetres from the sleeping man's head.

The Czech Republic has a fresh entry in the Guinness Book of Records. The record is a meeting of the biggest number of test tube babies - 579 of them. The event is annually organized by the Prague ISCARE centre for artificial reproduction. The test tube babies - aged 3 months to 8 years - recently met for an afternoon of fun and games in the clinic's park. The first ever test tube baby was entered into the Guinness Book of Records in 1978 as a miracle of science. In the present day around 2,000 test tube babies are born in the Czech Republic each year. Doctors say that every fifth Czech couple has some sort of fertility problems.

Photo: European Commission
As the Czech Republic prepares to join the EU in May of this year and more Czechs will avail themselves of the opportunity to live and work abroad there is growing pressure on the authorities to enable women to scrap the -ova suffix to their names. According to current legislation Czech women have to have this suffix in their documents even if they are married to a foreigner. "I get tired of explaining to people why my name is different from my husbands and sons," one of the petitioners complained. "I am tired of explaining that I am not Russian," said another. " The -ova suffix immediately brands me as a foreigner from the east and this damages my work opportunities in some firms" says a third. The series of complaints is endless. And the main argument is - why should the state dictate my name? Here's how one Czech woman feels about it:

"I find it extremely discriminatory. You probably know the history of this suffix. Basically what it meant in the past was that the woman belonged to somebody: first to her father and later to her husband. Although it is not really perceived as such any more we still feel that women should have a choice: either to take it or to refuse it. I also believe that a name is a very important part of a person's identity and they shouldn't be forced to take a name or a certain form of a name if they do not like it. I don't understand why it is such a problem, why stereotypes and let us say conservativeness should play such an important role in this. Obviously one of the problems is that the people who are sitting in Parliament are mainly men and this problem doesn't really bother them."

You yourself have an American boyfriend, I understand?

"Yes, I do."

So this may concern you at some point in the future...

"Obviously I have thought about it and I do have a problem with it because if I want to change my name it would not only be because of my future husband but because of my children. If I have a baby boy my name would be different from that of my child. It may not be perceived so in the Czech Republic but if you go abroad this can present problems. There are actually some funny stories going around - for example if a Czech couple - a married couple goes to China they cannot be accommodated in the same hotel because as the Chinese see it -they have different names in their passports. So there is the practical aspect to consider as well."

Although this particular battle has been fought for long now, parliament deputies are finally ready to take action. They will be debating the issue within a matter of days and there are indications that the proposed amendment will win approval, allowing Czech women who are married to foreigners or living abroad to scrap the ova suffix to their names.