Mailbox

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Today's Mailbox includes Topics: Listeners' competition. Execution of 27 Czech noblemen in 162. Summer holidays in Czech schools. Is cycling popular in the Czech Republic? Listeners mentioned and quoted: George Kletecka, Ann Bergman, Jonathan Smith, Yusuke Kamimura.

Yes, here it is, the Mailbox all listeners who took part in our competition have been waiting for - the Mailbox in which we announce the winners, as chosen by the special committee set up for the event.

And not to prolong the suspense too much, here is the official announcement. The most original answer to our question What comes to my mind when I hear the word Prague, is From Nikolaj Loginov from Russia - sent to the Russian section. The most interesting answer from the English section entries came from Amela Omerspahic from Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. And we will be reading some of the entries, definitely the two we just mentioned in our programme - most probably next week in Letter from Prague.

Sorry, there is only one main prize, so, for the rest, better luck next time.

And of course, there are runner up prizes for a number of other entries, and all of you who took part in the competition will be getting souvenirs.

You know, I'm terribly glad not to have been a member of the team that did the official evaluating, because there were so many very nice entries, I just couldn't have decided.

Yes, to name just one example, there's the one from George Kletecka from Fairview Park, Ohio, USA whose father was Czech and from him George, as a young boy, came to know and love his Czech heritage. Among other things, his father told him that the first human cadaver was dissected at Charles University in Prague in the Middle Ages.

"A little research into this revealed the event was attributed to Dr. Jan Jesenius, who was an Anatomy professor at Charles University. He performed the first public dissection of a convict in 1600."

That quotation from George Kletecka's competition entry coincides with a question from Ann Bergman, who lives in Cardiff, Wales, in Great Britain

"We visited Prague earlier this year and I noticed the crosses made of white cobblestones in the grey pavement on the Old Town Square. What do they represent?"

There are 27 of them, one for each of the 27 Czech noblemen who were executed there in June 1621.

Not only Czech noblemen, Jan Jessenius, who did the first dissection George Kletecka wrote about was actually from Slovakia, but he lived in Prague and lectured at Charles University.

And he was one of the leaders of the Czech revolt against the Habsburgs and the forced re-catolisation of the population. For the first time since the Hussite movement in the 15th Century the power of the Catholic Church was being restored. The Czech protestant revolt which triggered off the 30 year war. The leaders were publicly executed in the Old Town Square, and the crosses are now. Many others had their property seized. The nobility that refused to turn to the Catholic Church, had to leave the country and the rest of the population were forced to accept the Catholic faith.

Let's turn to something more cheerful. After all, this is the best weekend of the year as far as school children and students are concerned. It's the beginning of the summer holiday, no school for two months - all of July and August.

Which actually answers a question from one of our listeners in Australia - Jonathan Smith who lives in Melbourne:

"I hope you are having a nice Summer while we here are having a rather nasty Winter. Do Czech children have long Summer Holidays so they can really enjoy the warm weather?"

Well, I don't know whether you'd call them long - the children, and their teachers, for that matter, would, I'd say gladly accept even a longer period away from school. Actually, when Summer Holidays were first officially introduced in what was then Austro-Hungary, in 1854, they were longer, from the 16th of June to the 15th of September -

That's three months. Maybe they let students off for that long because many of them, especially the older ones had to help with the seasonal work on their parents' farms and many of them would have skipped school anyway.

That's possible, but three months off from school it was, and not only that, in those days there were extra days off whenever the weather got really hot, that was introduced in 1875 and since there were obviously many discussions whether it was hot enough to warrant a day off, in 1886 it was stipulated that school would be closed whenever the temperature at 10 am reached 22.2 degrees Centigrade.

Too bad that doesn't apply any more - most of this year's June would have been off.

Hopefully, the two months ahead will bring nice weather, so the youngsters can really enjoy themselves.

And in that connection, here is a question from Yusuke Kamimura from Yokohama City, Japan:

"Is cycling popular in the Czech Republic?"

Yes, Yusuke, it is, and I'd say its popularity is constantly growing. So much so that local authorities have finally started building special routes for cyclists, something that has been badly missing, especially in our cities.

Even Prague itself is catching up. Stands. Where you can leave your bike are now being put up in 14 various places in inner Prague, and according to an official report there are now 180 kilometres of cycling routes on the territory of Prague.

Which sounds wonderful, but the fact is that only about a third of those 180 kilometres are away from roads used by cars, the rest are just marked off streams on roads where traffic goes on as usual. Not a healthy place for cycling.

I guess you're right, but they are opening new routes, and they're planning a network of them that will make it possible to get out of town and into the country on special roads for cyclists. It's going to take some time, though, even though Prague is spending ten million crowns a year on opening new and maintaining old cycling routes.

The situation is better in smaller towns and in the country and above all, it's finally considered important. I was looking at some of the adds for Summer resorts and tourist places, and whenever possible they stress you can get there on bike. For example towns along the Sazava River stress that a new route along the river was built last year, and that it's a part of the international Prague-Vienna Greenway.

If I remember correctly, Peter Smith went to the opening of a part of that route, didn't you, Peter?

Mikulov, photo: Jan Richter
"In the spring of 2001 I went down to South Moravia, very close to the Austrian border, to the town of Mikulov and that was the starting point of the opening of the wine trails, which is part of a broader initiative called the green ways initiative, which internationally helps to try and rejuvenate areas where the industries have closed and there is high unemployment through tourism and helps to create new jobs and new wealth and investment that way. Now opening up the wine trails and linking towns such as Mikulov and Lednice, they were hoping to attract people definitely of course from Austrian and Germany to rent out the bikes and cycle around the area and visit the wine cellars and drink the local produce - I did it myself. I should say that after the third or fourth town it's sometimes a little dangerous staying on your bike because you've consumed so much of the excellent wine by that time."

Well, thank you, Peter, but the question dealt with cycling, not the wonderful South Moravian wine, which is excellent. But I'm afraid we don't have time to talk about it in today's Mailbox, maybe in some future program. For today we'll do the best we can by playing a song from that region - a typical folk song from Southern Moravia.

Authors: Dita Asiedu , Olga Szantová
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