Photo: Stepanka Budkova

In this week’s Magazine: Prague officials respond to The Times calling Wenceslas Square one of the sleaziest tourist streets in Europe; the authorities in a small Czech town adopt a novel approach to combating vandalism; a Czech illusionist sets new records in escaping from handcuffs while underwater; a couple exchange wedding vows beneath the surface of a reservoir; and a Czech literary award goes to a young member of the Vietnamese community.

Wenceslas Square
Prague’s best known thoroughfare Wenceslas Square is one of the sleaziest tourist streets in Europe. So wrote British newspaper The Times recently, adding that it was a haunt of pickpockets and – at night – prostitutes and drug dealers. Locals, The Times said, prefer to give Wenceslas Square a wide berth. Prague officials have been responding to such accusations, Právo reported, with councillor Miloš Gregar, for instance, telling the Czech newspaper that he too avoided the place after dark. Nevertheless, Mr Gregar said he was looking forward to the completion of a major renovation of the square in a few years’ time. Meanwhile, the spokesperson for Prague 1, Alexandr Koráb, said the homeless people and dodgy types who populate the upper part of what the Czechs call Václavák should disappear once a park near the main train station is also given a makeover.

Photo: Hospodářské noviny, 9. 9. 2009
The local authorities in the small town of Bystřice nad Pernštejnem near Brno have come up with a novel way to try to fight vandalism, the news website reported this week. At three different locations they have set up two-metre high wooden posts with faces carved into them. Attached to the posts is a baseball bat that locals wishing to let off steam can beat the posts with. It’s better than if they smash up park benches or bus stops, the mayor told reporters. Bystřice nad Pernštejnem made the news a few years ago when the previous mayor banned cigarettes in the town’s pubs and announced plans for a monument to the victims of smoking. Soon afterwards he was voted out of office.

Zdeněk Bradáč, photo: CTK
A Czech man named Zdeněk Bradáč has just broken two world records in the rather unusual pursuit of escaping from handcuffs while underwater. Bradáč, a 22-year-old illusionist and escapologist, managed to get out of a pair of handcuffs in just 10.66 seconds at a swimming pool in Jablonec nad Nisou on Wednesday. The previous record of 11.12 seconds had been set by an American magician, Matt the Knife (described on his own website as a ‘mentalist’, I kid you not!). Zdeněk Bradáč also beat Matt the Knife’s record for getting out of three sets of handcuffs in one go, in a time of 38.96 seconds. The Czech’s feats have yet to be confirmed by the Guinness Book of Records.

Staying in the water, Michaela Loudová and Tomáš Sládek chose an unusual venue to exchange wedding vows last weekend: beneath the surface of a reservoir at Harcov near Liberec in north Bohemia. Bride and groom carried waterproof signs with them reading “I do”, “I don’t”, “I don’t know” and “I’m drowning”, while a witness joined them in the depths bearing their rings inside a scallop. However, the signs were essentially props: the couple and the officiator actually communicated via a walkie-talkie system. The latter, a game representative of the local town hall, said he had gone on a diving course earlier in the summer in preparation for the ceremony.

A well-known Czech literary award for hitherto unpublished work – the Knižní klub, or Book Club prize – has just gone to the 19-year-old writer of Bílej kůň, žlutej drak, or White Horse, Golden Dragon. It is by a first time author named Lan Pham Thi, who is a member of the Czech Republic’s large Vietnamese community. She was born in Sokolov, west Bohemia but set the novel in Písek, south Bohemia, where she graduated from secondary school. In fact, Lan says she wrote White Horse, Golden Dragon – which is about a young Vietnamese girl and her family living in the Czech Republic – in just two months, while waiting to hear if she had been accepted at a university overseas. She was, and prior to the publication of her novel as part of her prize, had moved to Kuala Lumpur, where she is studying environmental management and IT.