Magazine

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Slovaks living in the Czech Republic are returning home in their droves, a Czech artist has made it into the Guinness Book of Records for producing the world's smallest book of portraits, and what animal does Prague's mayor want to use as a mascot for the city's Olympic bid? Find out more in this week's Magazine.

Czechs and Slovaks have lived side by side and enjoyed a close relationship for centuries. For hundreds of years, there have always been tens of thousands of Slovaks living in the Czech Lands, most of whom were attracted by the prospect of work in their more industrially developed western neighbour. Even after Czechoslovakia split in a so-called Velvet Divorce not long after the Velvet Revolution, there were still around 200,000 Slovaks living in the Czech Republic in the 1990s, many of whom came here to get work while the Slovak economy floundered. Until very recently, it was totally normal to hear Slovak accents in places like shops, restaurants and building sites. Now, however, many of these migrants are packing their bags and heading home. The reason for this is that the Slovak economy is booming. Unemployment rates there have plummeted, taxes are lower and the Slovak crown is much stronger than it used to be. This means that Slovakia is now a more attractive place to live and Slovaks are returning home in their droves as a result. Some business sectors like the construction and service industries are experiencing labour shortages as a result. It seems that Slovaks no longer view the Czech Republic as a "home away from home" but as just another foreign country, which they'd only consider moving to if the pay they can get is better than what they have in Slovakia.


If you have ever been to Prague or towns in the Czech Republic, you'll probably have seen a number of "trafika" stores - the small little shops or huts on most street corners where Czechs buy their newspapers and cigarettes. Apparently the Czech Republic has more of these shops per capita than any other country in Europe, but that could be about to change. Last year 1200 trafikas closed down. Trafika owners say the low profit margins on newspapers, magazines and cigarettes means they are struggling to make ends meet. If this trend continues it seems the local trafika store could soon be a thing of the past and Czechs will have to buy their fags and papers in the supermarket along with their groceries.


Czech caricaturist Lubomir Vanek from Brno seems to have made a career out of setting unusual records. He is already listed in the Guinness Book of Records for painting 175 caricatures in one hour - the most anybody has managed up to now. For good measure he is also listed in the same publication for doing 382 caricatures in three hours. Now another of Mr Vanek's feats is to be entered in the Guinness Book of Records. After months of painstaking work, he has finally produced the smallest book of miniature portraits in the world.

Photo: www.lubomirvanek.cz
The book - which is just four millimetres long, three millimetres wide and one and a half millimetres thick - contains pictures of all ten Czechoslovak and Czech presidents. Mr Vanek had to use a special magnifying glass and a micro pen with superfine tip to draw the pictures. When he's not setting new world records, Mr Vanek spends a lot of his time doing stunts like drawing caricatures while playing the drums with his feet or painting while driving.


If you've been listening to our programme regularly this week, you'll have heard that the city of Prague has decided to lodge a bid to host the Olympic Games in 2016. The people behind the bid naturally have many tough decisions to make in the coming months such as where to locate the Olympic village and the track-and-field stadium. Perhaps one of the toughest calls the bidding committee will have to make is what to choose as the city's Olympic mascot along the lines of Seoul's tiger or Beijing's Panda. If Prague mayor Pavel Bem has his way, it will be a gopher. "What," you ask, "does a gopher have to do with Prague?" Well, surprisingly, one of the country's biggest gopher colonies lies near Prague airport, which is home to 600 of the animals. The gopher is actually an endangered species in Europe and the Prague colony is a protected area. Mayor Bem's suggestion has met with a very positive response although one councillor is afraid that any artist's impression of the gopher used for the Olympics might not be instantly recognisable as the cute little rodent. Apparently, he is worried people might mistake the gopher for a rat, an animal which also has a sizable population in the Czech capital!


You may remember the reports we ran in January on the havoc wreaked by the so-called Hurricane Kyril on Czech forests, which saw thousands of trees destroyed. Well, it has since transpired that a very special tree was also blown over on that fateful night. A 260-year-old spruce tree - known as the "king of the spruces" because of its age and size - was found lying on its side last week in the Sumava forest. Foresters believe it fell during Hurricane Kyril, but this fact was only discovered weeks later because it lies in a very remote area. The king of the spruces was thought to be the biggest spruce tree in the country. It was 164 feet (50 m) high with a girth of more than four feet (130 cm). The largest spruce ever recorded in the Czech lands was the tree known as the Wunderfichte or "miraculous spruce". This 200-foot-high spruce was felled in 1865 at 442 years of age.


Almost every city has a few underground clubs, which are frequented by lovers of alternative music and culture, but few can boast an underground club like the one that has recently opened in Prague. This new venue is quite literally underground. It is situated 60 feet below the surface of a hillside in Prague's Zizkov area in an old nuclear bomb shelter, which was built at the height of the Cold War in the 1950s. It was originally designed to hold two and a half thousand people and has its own separate electricity and water supply. The shelter also still has an emergency radio broadcast studio, which was last used by Czech radio to transmit reports abroad during the Russian invasion of 1968. Altogether Prague has 800 underground shelters, which were designed to hold around 400,000 people.