Mailbox

Kanzelsberger auf dem Wenzelsplatz - Café Astra

Today's topics: Interest in short wave listening, Czech embassies abroad, Prague cafes, Czech pubs and breweries, Prague New Town Quotes from: Ian McCorquodale, James Thomson, Anne Hodson, Jesper Cederholm Johansen, Mary Clinton

Now, here's an e-mail well worth a longer quotation - you know, there has been all this talk whether short wave listening has a future with all the modern, easier technology. Well, Ian McCorquodale from Warwick, England is proof of the fact that it certainly does. He writes:

"I'm a 48 year old pharmacist living in Warwick, England. I have just recently re-started shortwave listening after a gap of nearly 30 years. I have a collection of QSL cards from my earlier days of shortwave 'DXing' dated from the early 1970's. I can remember having often listened to Radio and I have two QSL cards from you in my old collection (dated 29th March 1972 & 22nd January 1971). I've started listening again because my son looked at my old collection of QSL cards and asked about them. This prompted him to buy a small shortwave radio and enter the hobby of shortwave listening himself. His interest then rekindled my own interest and led me to persuade my wife to get me a suitable receiver as a Christmas present. This is not the first time I've listened to your station, just the first time that I've sat down to contact you. In these days when Europe (East, West and Central) is coming together it is interesting to hear what our neighbours 'are up to'. "

It is nice to see that so many people - including many young listeners - are interested in short wave radio and I'd like to stress, once more, that Radio Prague does not intend to end the service like some stations have done. We've said that a number of times, but we still do get a question on the topic every once in a while.

Now, let's have a look at some other questions. James Thomson from New Jersey, USA asks:

"How many Czech embassies are there throughout the world? And are they located in the biggest countries, or the ones most important for the Czech Republic's international contacts?"

Both. All together there are 89 Czech embassies in various countries throughout the world, that's five more than three years ago, so the number is increasing. The most recent addition is Luxembourg, one of the smallest countries in the world, and the embassy itself is our smallest. But it's very important, because Luxembourg is the site of a number of European institutions and organisations and with our country's coming membership in the European Union, it's a very important connection.

By the way, not all embassies are to countries, some of them represent us with international institutions. For example, Vlasta Stepova, the former Czech minister of trade and tourism, has just recently been appointed ambassador to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg.

With Spring arriving at long last, the number of visitors to the Czech Republic will be increasing, and in fact I've already noticed an increase in the number of letters from listeners who have been here recently. One of them is from Anne Hodson from Dublin, Ireland.

"I was in Prague, just for a brief visit last weekend, and one of the things I was looking forward to enjoying were the traditional Prague cafes. But with some that I remembered from previous visits I was really disappointed. What has happened to the old tradition, the atmosphere equalled only by the cafes in Vienna?"

You are right, Anne, there are only a very few traditional cafes left. Most of the owners seem to want to cater to foreign visitors and meet, what they think are their tastes.

As far as I'm concerned the worst example, but certainly not the only one, is the old Malostranska Kavarna, the Little Quarter/Lesser Town Cafe right next to the baroque St. Nicolas Church. It used to be the meeting place of Prague writers and artists, decorated, like most old cafes in brown wood, with little tables where you could drink your cup of coffee, and, if you were alone, browse through the papers. Those used to hang on the wall, in light bamboo frames, that made reading them very comfortable.

The cafe was closed for some time, obviously because the restitution ownership issues had to be solved, and old Pragites were happy when the news spread that it would be re-opened. But - as far as I'm concerned it would have been more merciful to leave it closed. It's all done up in glass and shiny metal, with a bar and bar stools. It's cold and has no atmosphere. It even has a new name - it is now called the Bar Restaurant Square and the prices - well, only foreigners can afford them, thanks to the exchange rate that makes things much cheaper for them than for Czechs.

The same has happened in a number of places - but if you look around, you can still find a friendly and cosy old style cafe - on the Old Town Square, for example, and in a number of other places. But I agree with Anne, it does take some looking around.

One thing that has not changed, and I doubt it ever will, are Czech pubs. You find the same atmosphere, the same kind of guests, and the same delicious beer wherever you go.

Which actually answers a request from Jesper Cederholm Johansen of Egl, Denmark.

"Please guide me to a map of the Czech Republic with marks of Czech breweries. I am planning a beer tour to your nice country."

I'm afraid that's a request that's impossible to fulfil, Jesper. Of course you know about the biggest breweries - Pilsner in the town of Pilsen, and Budvar in Ceske Budejovice. Prague has its biggest brewery in Smichov, where the Staropramen beer is brewed. But there you are - there are also a number of smaller breweries in Prague, and there are breweries practically in every town throughout the country. Local beers are very popular and even though competition has cut down their number over the past few years, there still are too many of them to fit into a normal size map.

And there is no such thing as including just the best of them. Every local beer drinker will tell you the locally brewed beverage is best. So, if you are planning, as you say, a beer tour, it doesn't matter which part of the country you choose, and don't count on seeing - and tasting - it all, unless you have weeks, and maybe months to do it.

And if you can, let us know how it worked out. It is, after all, an unusual kind of tour.

Mary Clinton from Melbourne, Australia has paid a visit to Prague, concentrating on historic sites, and with it being her first visit, she was, as she writes, surprised about a number of things.

"But what really came as the biggest surprise was Prague's New Town. What's new about it? It's full of beautiful historic buildings, one of the loveliest historic parts of Prague."

Well, in this part of the world, Mary, the word "New" doesn't always have the meaning you'd expect. Prague's Nove Mesto or New Town is just 655 years old this year. It was new at the time Emperor Charles IV had it built. He wanted the city to be the largest and loveliest in his empire and he was the author of most of the plans for its new part.

It was, for 1348, extremely modern, with most of the streets straight, `- branching out from the biggest square. No narrow, medieval type streets were permitted, they had to be between 18 and 27 meters wide. Wherever there were old buildings and important roads, they were kept there and the new sites built so they were included in the plans.

But above all, it was built with a speed that we, with all our modern technology, can only admire. Most of the New Town was standing within 8 years and there were all sorts of incentives for the people who built there. Just one example - they paid no taxes for 12 years after their houses were set up.

Charles IV really was an outstanding ruler. And I wonder how many listeners will choose him to write about in Radio Prague's new competition.

To be precise, the question is "Who is the most interesting figure in Czech history?" And the deadline is June 15th.

We are expecting just a brief entry, about a Czech - past or contemporary - who you feel has made an impact on the world and why.

The main prize will be a trip to the Czech Republic for two sponsored by the Podebrady Spa and Czech Airlines - at home in the skies...

...and there will also be, as usual, a number of runner up prizes.

I'll just add that the address to send your entry, and all your letters, is RP English section, 120 99, Prague 2, Czech Republic.

Or, if you prefer to e-mail us, send your electronic mail to english@radio.cz

Happy listening and good luck in the competition!