This week's topics: The Prague Golem. Routes for cyclists in Prgaue. Photos of heads of state in classrooms. The Czech Republic's population. Radio listeners' clubs. Listeners mentioned: Richard, Dan Andersen, Joan Goldstein, Younis Atta.

We start with an e-mail from somewhere in cyberspace. It's from Richard - his first name is all he tells us about himself, but he does mention he visited Prague:

"During my visit I found this statue in an alley. Unfortunately there was nothing to indicate what it was. I would be very grateful if you could reply with some information about it for me."

Richard does send a picture of the statue, but no other information whatsoever. Not even in which part of Prague the alley is located., how big the statue is, etc.

We've had a look at the photo, and nobody remembers seeing it. Statues located in alleys are not as common as one might expect.

But the statue, quite obviously, is Golem, the legendary clay statue, made, according to legend, by the famous Prague rabbi, Rabbi Loew, who lived from 1512 to 1609. Many miracles and wonderful deeds are attributed to Rabbi Loew, but the most famous of all is the creation of Golem, the clay figure he could bring to life by putting a written message in his mouth.

The original Golem disappeared centuries ago, but you can buy a small replica of it in all the Prague souvenir shops, so you can take one home when you come and visit.

They come in all sizes, so you can always find room for it in your luggage.

We just talked about tourists being able to by a replica of the Golem. Well, I don't know how much extra weight Dan Andersen will be able to take, because he intends to visit and tour the country on bike.

"I plan a tour of a number of countries in Europe on bike this summer, starting from my native Denmark and coming back to Copenhagen in about six or seven weeks. I have found some cyclist routes leading across the Czech Republic on a special map, but no information about the possibility of touring Prague on bicycle. Could you please help?"

I'm afraid Prague has a lot of catching up to do as far as bike routes are concerned. At the moment there are 180 kilometres of them in the Czech capital.

This may not sound too bad, until you find out that the bulk of these routes are in the city outskirts, they're intended to get the people out of the city into the woods and countryside surrounding the capital.

Which of course, is much healthier than cycling along the car polluted and crowded streets of the inner town. And the town fathers are stressing this aspect for the future, as well. The plans are to increase the routes from the existing 180 kilometres to 440 within a couple of years time.

Those who live in Prague are looking forward to it, but it doesn't help visitors like Dan Andersen. But the situation in the inner city is improving. There already are some routes connecting historic sites of Prague, and their number is increasing fast. Any tourist board centre will give you the information.

Stands for leaving one's bike locked, and safe, have been set up recently, and their number, too, is growing. Although, there really is nothing like walking if you want to enjoy a city like Prague.

Now, on to a very different topic, brought up by Joan Goldstein from Seattle, Washington, USA:

"My mother, who went to school in Czechoslovakia, was surprised to see the American flag in the front of our classroom when she first came to the class I used to go to. She said that in their school there had always been the photograph of the president up on the front wall. Does that mean that all the Czech schools have been changing the photos in the classes after president Klaus took up office?"

No, not this time, and it's been quite a change and surprise in the old tradition. Vaclav Klaus announced, soon after he was elected, that he did not consider it to be necessary for his photo to be placed in every classroom, it was the school's decision, whether they wanted it to be there, or not.

And in many schools they decided it was time to end the old tradition, and put up either state insignias, or other state symbols instead.

In fact, President Klaus wasn't the first head of state to make such an announcement. His predecessor, Vaclav Havel said the same in 1990. But at that time the general euphoria at having got rid of the old regime was such, that everybody took it for granted and was proud to have the dissident president in the classrooms.

We mentioned this photo of the head of state in every classroom was an old tradition. It dates back 150 years, when the Austro-Hungarian Emperor, Franz Joseph I issued the order that his picture should be in every classroom throughout the empire.

After the empire fell apart and Czechoslovakia was created in 1918, first Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, the first president, and then those who followed him took his place in schools.

And it seems it's going to stay that way - if for nothing else, then for financial reasons. The school itself has to pay for whatever it hangs on the class walls. A framed photograph of the president costs around 400 crowns, and multiplied by the number of classes, you come to quite a sum of money. The state emblems are much cheaper, and, as a teacher friend of mine said - they don't have to be changed so often.

Let's move on to an e-mail from Younis Atta, who lives in Jatoi District, Pakistan. He has two questions, first:

"What is the total population of your country?"

It's just over 10 million, but with the birth rate being what it is, I wonder whether that figure won't change one of these days

Yes, it's a fact that the Czech Republic has probably the lowest birth rate not only in Europe, but in the world. According to the Council of Europe statistics for the year 2000, Czech women had an average of just slightly over one child each, l.14 children, to be exact. Just for comparison, the average number of children a British women had that year, was l.65.

So, in the year 2000 Czech women had, on average, just one child each, but 15 years ago they had, on average, two children. And while the birth rate has been increasing throughout Europe since then, not so in the Czech Republic. The decrease in the number of children continues since 1993 and doesn't show any trends of changing.

At this rate, one out of two Czech women will be childless in 15 years' time.

Towards the end of the 1980s only one out of ten women had no child.

So, that's why we say that the population - at this point - is somewhat over 10 million.

Now, on to Younis Atta's second question:

"Do you not register any club?"

No, I'm afraid that nowadays Radio Prague does not register any listeners' clubs. Old timers, who remember the old days, sometimes express their regrets over this. But, I'm afraid that at this point we just don't have the funds nor capacity to register and organise the activities of listeners' clubs. During the Communist regime, when Radio was a part of the country's official state propaganda, the situation was different. But then, so were many of our programs and listeners who used to tune in to Radio Prague in those days often write us that they much prefer the contemporary situation.

And, of course, so do we. And on this note we end today's Mailbox. With just one reminder: even though we don't register listeners' clubs, we are always glad to hear about their activities. So, whether you're a club member, or just a listener, do drop us a line.