Magazine

Photo: Archive of Ivan Křivánek
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Among the stories in Magazine this week: a Moravian man visits five Slavkovs in three days on a wooden, pedal-less precursor to the bicycle; a museum dedicated to a film character who never was draws Czechs and Slovaks but confuses foreign visitors; the country's most famous bus is saved from the scrapheap; and an unusual hobby - renovating an old military fortress.

Slavkov is the Czech name for Austerlitz, scene of the Battle of the Three Emperors, in which Napoleon scored a famous victory over the Austrian and Russian armies on December 2, 1805. But that is just one of a number of Slavkovs in Moravia and Silesia. Last weekend cycling enthusiast Ivan Krivanek visited five Slavkovs in the two provinces, setting off from Slavkov by Opava on Friday morning and arriving at his home at Slavkov by Brno on Sunday evening. He had covered 250 kilometres. That may not seem all that remarkable, until you learn that Mr Krivanek made the journey on a copy of a contraption known as a Draisine, hobby horse or pushbike; it preceded the modern bicycle and even the penny farthing and is notable for not having pedals. To operate a Draisine you sit astride a wooden frame supported by two in-line wheels and push the vehicle along with your feet while steering the front wheel. Which makes Ivan Krivanek's 250-kilometre journey through five Slavkovs remarkable indeed.


Marecku, podejte mi pero
A key element of Czech humour is "recese", which dictionaries rather unhelpfully translate as mischief-making or practical joking. In reality it usually involves the absurd - specifically doing absurd things. A good example of this was the opening of a museum in the town of Humpolec which is dedicated not only to somebody who never existed, but to a character in a film who is never seen.
Hlinikarium, photo: Lasy, CC BY-SA 3.0 Unportee
The 1976 movie "Marecku, podejte mi pero" ("Marecek, Hand me a Pen") is one of the most popular Czech comedies. And one of its best loved lines is "Hlinik se odstehoval do Humpolce" ("Hlinik has moved to Humpolec"), explaining his absence. Last September the town opened a Hlinikarium - a museum dedicated to Hlinik - which has so far been visited by 3,000 Czechs and Slovaks. Indeed, Slovak TV has made a special programme about it. But officials say foreign tourists don't seem to get the concept, even when it is explained to them. They just don't understand Czech "recese". (By the way the writers of "Marecku, podejte mi pero" have plenty of experience of this kind of humour: Zdenek Sverak and Ladislav Smoljak also created the popular Zelig-like character Jara Cimrman).


Bretschneider's Ear, photo: Jarda 75, public domain
Humpolec is in Vysocina, an area which straddles the border between Bohemia and Moravia. And it is not the only town in Vysocina which can boast curiosities. Pelhrimov, as regular listeners may know, is home to a museum of records and curiosities. It even calls itself the town of records and hosts a festival on that theme every June - last year it was attended by over 15,000 people. Meanwhile, Tri Studne (Three Wells), with a population of only a hundred, says it has the smallest square in the European Union. Elsewhere in Vysocina, Frysava pod Zakovou horou has a plaque to a local postman called Rudolf Smolek. He is said to have covered almost 200,000 kilometres delivering the post by foot, by bike and even on skis in a 42-year career which began in 1933. And Lipnice nad Sazavou has a monument to spying or bugging. It is an unusual monument - carved onto the walls of a former granite quarry. So far it features Bretschneider's Ear (after the secret policeman who listened in on the Good Soldier Svejk in a Prague pub) and the Mouth of Truth. There are plans to add Golden Eyes.


Today former prime minister Milos Zeman is in retirement (and living in the country near Nove Veseli in Vysocina, as it happens). But a decade ago, before he reached the top of the political heap, Mr Zeman was busy building the Social Democratic Party into one of the major forces in Czech politics. One way he did this was by criss-crossing the country canvassing on a bus whose nickname Zemak was based on his surname. The coach itself was close to the scrapheap recently, until a farmers co-operative in Hostice u Volyne decided to turn it into an attraction. The village is famous as the setting for a series of broad comedy movies entitled "Slunce, seno..." ("Sun, hay...") and the farmers have renamed the bus Film Zemak and sent it around the region to promote their locality. The Zemak, which is over 20 years old, has been fitted with loudspeakers once again, though instead of Social Democrat slogans, those who it passes will hear melodies from the popular film series. The bus is covered in images from the films and bears the slogan "JZD Hostice is the best co-operative in the region".


Illustrative photo: Archive of Radio Prague
One popular image of fire fighters in the UK is of them taking a cat down from a tree, giving huge relief to the moggy's elderly owner. But Czech fire officers recently had a rather different non-fire operation, when they were called to remove four stork eggs from a nest in a 30-metre high chimney at a disused distillery in Stahlavy near Plzen. While fending off an attack from another stork, the nest's original male occupant fell and was badly injured, breaking his beak. His female partner would not have been able to protect and feed her offspring alone, so the fire brigade were called in.


Photo: CTK
Monday, April 30, was carodejnice (witch-burning night) here in the Czech Republic, with bonfires lit in towns and villages around the country. Most of those bonfires were of the common or garden variety (and some would even have been in people's gardens). But local people in Kozojedy on the outskirts of Prague are a bit more ambitious. They built a 20-metre high "burning man" style bonfire on Monday, carrying on a tradition of 40 years. Preparations for the giant bonfire took 10 days and even involved the use of a crane.


Krelov fort, photo: Lehotsky, CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported
Not satisfied with regular hobbies like collecting or gardening, 37-year-old Martin Daniel from Krelov near Olomouc decided to take on a somewhat bigger project. After being impressed by old military fortifications during a holiday in France, Daniel decided to buy the ruins of a fort in his hometown from the Czech Army and set about renovating it. Work hasn't been completed yet, but when it is the fortifications are set to get a permanent exhibition, and a roadside pub. And after all that work Martin Daniel will certainly deserve a nice cold beer.