Photo: CzechTourism

Topics this week: hiking trails, national tree, open borders with EU membership, Benda brothers, pen pals. Listeners quoted: Malachi Doane, Masanori Misu, Morris Neiman, Joseph Waltzer, Julio Trenard.

Photo: CzechTourism
Our first letter comes from Malachi Doane in the midst of the Adirondack mountains in New York State USA He writes:

"Back in the fall of 2000, I was in Prague and hiking on the extensive trail network in the area, I even took photos of the tin signs pointing the way. How developed is this trail network? Here in NY state we've got a good network of trails, but nothing as well laid out as the trails I hiked around Prague. Could you comment on the Czech trails? I'm not sure how well know this trail system is and what a joy it was to walk them."

The comprehensive trail network in the Czech Republic is marked and maintained by the Czech Hiking Club. They have been doing this for more than one hundred years now, since 1889. Since 1997 they have also been marking trails for cross-county skiers and cyclists. The network of hiking paths in the Czech Republic is rated as being the best in Europe in view of its density, quality, and the fact that it covers the whole of the country. In 1998, there was a total of 37,682 kilometres of marked hiking paths in the Czech Republic.

And staying with nature, we have a question from one of our regular listeners, Masanori Misu from Tokyo, Japan:

"Does the Czech Republic have a national flower? If so, what is it and why?"

Linden tree, photo: Andrew Butko, Creative Commons 3.0
Well the Czech Republic does not have a national flower but it does have a national tree, the linden tree. Historically a linden tree is a symbol of freedom and independence. You can find the tree planted all over Prague and the Czech Republic, some are centuries old. However, linden trees are susceptible to damage in areas where salt is used on roads and were there is heavy air pollution.

You can find the leaf of the linden tree in many places here in the Czech Republic including on banknotes, uniforms, company logos, and even in most homes as the flowers from the tree make a delicious tea.

Morris Neiman sent us an e-mail from the UK asking:

"I am learning Czech and read on one of the numerous Czech internet sites that an EU official said that the open borders coming with EU membership will not result in a large influx of Romanies from the Czech Republic to its neighbouring western countries, especially the UK. Do you know about this? How will that be possible?"

What you're most probably referring to Mr Neiman is a comment made by the head of the EC delegation in Prague Ramiro Cibrian last Monday. He said that once the country becomes an EU member next year, Czechs will only need their Ids to travel through the European Union states. In reaction to fears of the Roma population, as well as businessmen from Asian countries such as China and Vietnam, coming in large numbers to live and work in the more western countries, he said it would be impossible.

Those Roma who are Czech will have the same rights and opportunities as any other Czech, meaning that they will be able to go to schools and work in other EU states if they meet the requirements. However, since asylum is not granted to citizens of EU states within the union, no one will be able to apply for it from the Czech Republic as it is considered a democratic state. As for the businessmen from Asia. Any permission to live and work in the Czech Republic will not be extended to the other EU countries.

Joseph Waltzer wrote to us from New Zealand with the following question:

Benatky nad Jizerou, photo: CzechTourism
"In one of your Spotlights you visited the town of Benatky nad Jizerou and said it was the birthplace of the Benda brothers. Is one of them the composer Frantisek Benda? That would be a coincidence because I had first learnt of him about a month before you broadcast the programme. But who is his brother? Can you tell us more on your Mailbox programme?"

Yes, we can. One of the Benda brothers we mentioned in Spotlight is indeed Frantisek Benda, who was born on November 22 1709 in Benatky nad Jizerou and died on March 3 1786 in Berlin. In his lifetime, Frantisek composed 17 symphonies, 17 violin concertos, hundreds of sonatas for various instruments (mainly violin), violin etudes, and several chamber music compositions. He worked as a violin performer and a teacher.

Frantisek's brother Jiri Antonin Benda was also born in Benatky nad Jizerou thirteen years later, on June 30 1722. He died in the German town of Bad Kostritz on November 6 1795. He became famous for his melodramas: such as "Medea" and "Romeo and Juliet". He also composed church and instrumental music - 30 symphonies, several harpsichord concertos, and more.

Julio Trenard from Venezuela has written to Radio Prague with a special request:

"I would like to form friendships by letter with people around the world. Please read this on the air."

Those of you interested in becoming Mr Trenard´s pen pal, his address is P.O. Box 41, Cumana 6101, Venezuela.