Gas lamps are back in Celetna street - making it spooky, mysterious and romantic. The boy who got beaten up by the devil! And, a nativity scene with Czech VIPs. Find out more in Magazine with Daniela Lazarova.
Take a lazy student, an educated pensioner and the Internet - the combination of these three factors has given rise to a most unusual trend at Czech universities. University students are paying pensioners -who have a lot of free time on their hands and are happy to make some extra cash - to write their essays and reports for them. Professors and lecturers say there's plenty of this going on and most of the time they can tell by the way that essays are written. Pensioners use very literary Czech, they take never copy whole sections from the Internet the way students do but they re-write the information in their own style and make very few grammatical mistakes if any, says Jana Semberova, vice-dean of a south Bohemian university. Semberova also teaches seniors at a university for the elderly and she says she recognizes their style of work instantly because it is so different from that of today's generation brought up on the Internet and e-mails. Many of these pensioners are former research workers and scientists and not only are their pensions very low but they actually miss working. Many of them are willing to research and write about subjects that are far from their own field of knowledge. One seventy seven year old pensioner says this activity has given his life a new impetus. He says he can handle around five in-depth reports a month on very different topics - and he gets 1,000 to 1,500 crowns apiece - which practically allows him to double his pension while keeping busy. The only thing is - are Czech universities educating pensioners instead of young people? And if so where's that going to lead us. Fortunately, students still have to turn up for exams and a group of seventy year olds would really look suspicious.
Many Czech craftsmen take pride in making their own nativity scenes. Some are made of wood, others ceramics, paper or wool. And many are made in view of being handed down from generation to generation. One woodcarver has put his entire village in his nativity scene with miniature copies of the real people living there. He adds a few every Christmas when newcomers arrive. Josef Kejda from Velkomericko has decided to put Czech statesmen in his nativity scene. And so people from across the centuries rub shoulders around the cradle of baby Jesus - among them: Emperor Charles IV, Jan Amos Comenius, Czechoslovakia's first president T.G. Masaryk and the country's post revolution president Vaclav Havel.
The new SMS service that informs drivers who have had a few drinks when they can safely get behind the wheel of their car has really caught on in the Czech Republic. Since it went into operation in the second half of September over ten thousand drivers have used it to avoid paying fines on the road. "The calls came from six thousand different callers - some use it repeatedly," says Best Communication Group which introduced the service. Drivers usually make use of it in the morning when they are still hung-over from the night before. An SMS message stating their sex, age, weight and the alcohol consumed is enough for the SMS service to let them know how long it will take for them to be in a state fit to drive. 82 percent callers are allegedly men, the majority are aged between 18 and 29.
St. Nicholas -celebrated on the eve of December 5th - marks the start of the Christmas festivities in the Czech Republic. Children are visited by St. Nicolas, who arrives in the company of an angel and devil. This colourful trio commands plenty of respect among toddlers and young children who are asked to recite a poem and say whether they've been good in the past year. Those who have receive chocolates, nuts, fruit and small presents, the naughty ones get black coal and a lot of finger-wagging from the devil who threatens to carry them off to hell if they continue to misbehave. Although this start to the Christmas season is an age-old tradition in recent years child psychologists have been stressing the need to lighten up and protect overly sensitive children from being excessively traumatized by the sight of the devil. Most parents therefore stand right next to their children, helping them through the ordeal, declaring that they have indeed been very good and coaxing them along to recite their poem or sing their song. However there are plenty of St.
Nicolas-angel-and-devil trios running around town on December 4th - and sometimes things get so badly out of hand that not even the presence of an angel is any help. This year a twelve year old boy in the town of Mlade Vozice was attacked by a drunken devil. The masked devil pushed him to the ground beat him and kicked him repeatedly before others came on the scene to help. The terrified child was taken to hospital in a bad state. Physically he suffered lumps and bruises, but psychologically it is not an experience he's likely to forget in a hurry. In another part of the Czech Republic a fifteen year old boy accidentally set on fire the angel wings his classmate was wearing. The girl suffered some burns and was saved by her friends' presence of mind. They pushed her to the ground and rolled her around in the snow to put out the fire. In short, there's too much alcohol being taken on St. Nicolas Day and the celebrations seem to get a bit wilder every year.
The next time you come to Prague don't forget to take a late evening walk in order to admire the city in a new light. The Prague town hall has decided to bring back gas lamps to some parts of town to re-create the atmosphere of days gone by. The plan to highlight the town's historic character is both expensive and long term, but you can already admire the gas lamps in Celetna street for instance. This old fashioned lighting - a cold yellow blurry light with overtones of blue and green - is much more romantic than the electric lighting elsewhere but if you are on your own it can also be a lot more spooky, so you will have no trouble at all believing all the blood-curling legends about headless riders and other late night apparitions said to roam about town on dark nights. The gas lights are switched on automatically at dusk but on very special occasions you may get to see an old fashioned lamp lighter, slowly going down the street, lighting one gas lamp after another with a long bamboos stick. Then you'll really feel you are back in 1847 when gas lamps first appeared in the streets of Prague.