Karel Gott

The legendary Czech singer Karel Gott turns 70, justice ministry employees are shocked by some unexpected cost-cutting measures and belly-dancers take over Bouzov Castle this weekend. Find out more in Magazine with Daniela Lazarova.

Cycling through three countries in the course of three weeks – it may sound like a fun holiday for students, but for forty-four year old Heřman Volf it’s one of life’s challenges. Friends and family turned up to see him off on his 1,500 kilometer journey across the Czech Republic, through Germany to Paris last Saturday – a unique journey on a specially constructed hand-operated bicycle which is to boost his self-confidence and help raise funds for the disabled. Three years ago Heřman Volf lived a normal life – a happily married man with two kids who enjoyed sports. A skiing accident left him in a wheelchair, facing the challenge of readjusting to a new life. Now, as a sign of gratitude to civic associations which helped him survive he has launched a project aimed at raising money for people like himself. The Road to a Dream, as the cycling project is called, fulfills an old dream of his – ever since he was 15 he’s dreamed of cycling to Paris and raising his hands in victory under the Arc de Triomphe. He left Prague from a parking lot on the suburbs and hit the famous pan-Europa Redweg, after six months of daily training. Herman and his team of supporters are planning to cover approximately 100 kilometers a day, taking a 24 hour break to recover their strength once in four days. They will go through Plzen, Nuremberg, Heidelberg, Nancy, Champagne and if all goes according to plan they should reach Paris in three weeks time – where Heřman Volf can raise his arms in victory under the Arc de Triomphe.

The legendary Czech singer Karel Gott is getting more than his usual share of publicity this week. The Czech pop idol turned 70 and threw a birthday bash for 1,000 people. The stars and starlets of the Czech music scene gave a concert in his honour –singing some of his own hits over the past fifty years – and politicians and leading cultural figures wished him a happy birthday. Editors joked that there is only one certainty in these troubled times and that is the country’s “Golden Nightingale” who looks like he will be around and singing forever. In neighbouring Austria however the singer did not appear in the best possible light. A group of atheists launched a billboard campaign in Vienna intended to provoke the largely Catholic city. Playing on the fact that Gott means God in German, the slogan read - There is no God, the only “God” around is a harmless Czech singer.

In the past people dining out would go for a steak and a glass of fine wine. Now they are more likely to order goulash and beer. The economic crisis is making itself felt and one thing Czechs appear to be saving on is food. At the supermarket you’ll see them comparing price tags and buying salami instead of ham, cheap sweets instead of quality chocolates and brandy instead of whisky. Restaurants say their profit is down by a third and things are expected to get worse before they get better. A fifth of Prague restaurants may not survive because while their profits have plummeted their rents have stayed the same. Some have revised their menus in an effort to stay afloat – offering cheap simple and filling dishes for the price of 55-60 crowns. Even the Prague Culinary Institute, which organizes gourmet food classes, has announced a special offer – classes in which clients will learn the art of cooking delicious food cheap – a meal for no more than 55 crowns, that’s approximately two dollars. Try and think what kind of dinner you’d get for that.

Saving is the name of the game during the economic crisis and Justice Minister Daniela Kovářová is leading the way. Employees at the ministry were shocked to find half of the buildings’ light switches taped-over when they came to work on Monday morning. Clearly the minister felt her employees could work equally well in semi-darkness – and save money in the process. The taped-over lights instantly became the butt of jokes and were leaked to the press. The ministry’s spokesperson explained that the idea was not the ministers own– she had merely requested the economics department to come up with various means of cutting costs– and this was one of them. It is not clear for how long the measure is expected to remain in place, but it is clearly doing more harm than good –at least to the minister’s reputation.

Bouzov Castle, photo: Miloš Miličevič / PD
Bouzov Castle in Moravia is preparing an Orient-themed weekend for visitors under the heading A thousand and one nights. There’s to be a Persian market in the main courtyard, selling Oriental dresses scarves and spices, a small minaret, belly-dancers, and of course, Scheherazade. The tour guides and castle employees will be wearing Oriental costumes. The event is expected to be all the more impressive in the evening when the place will be lit up by wooden torches. Now you may be wondering why a castle in central Europe is being dressed up in Oriental garb – the answer is that most of its summer visitors are Czech, they have seen it before but can be enticed to come again to see something exotic.

Temperatures are in the thirties but in one part of the country there is still snow on the ground. It is high up in the Krkonoše or Giant Mountains in a protected area that is off limits to tourists. Still hundreds of them flock to see it through binoculars from afar. Because the patch of snow that usually makes it from one winter to the next is special - in the spring its shape resembles that of the former Czechoslovakia, by early summer - the eastern part - Slovakia has disappeared leaving a map of the Czech Republic and in the autumn all that is left is Prague.