This month in Mailbox we read from your letters of condolence on the death in December of the former president Václav Havel, we read from your feedback regarding Radio Prague's programmes and we quote from your answers to January's mystery Czech quiz question. Listeners/readers: Michael Fanderys, Jayanta Chakrabarty, Stephen Hrebenach, Steve Olear, Hans Verner Lollike, Mary Lou Krenek, Jaroslaw Jedrzejczak, Charles Konecny, Vladimir Gudzenko, Colin Law.

Václav Havel
Hello and welcome to Mailbox. Thank you very much for all your reception reports and comments. More than a month after the death of the former President Václav Havel, we are still receiving letters of condolence from our listeners and readers from around the world.

Michael & Cindy Fanderys wrote from the US state of Ohio:

“We were saddened to hear of Václav Havel's death. I never read any of his works before, so recently, we obtained the English versions of: The ‘Power of the Powerless’, ‘To the Castle and Back’ and a very interesting video film ‘Citizen Vaclav Havel Goes on Vacation’.

“We should all admire what ‘The Charter 77’ people did and went through. They should, especially now, meet and give talks to keep their efforts and ideas living on, to remind all people, not just Czechs and Slovaks that our freedoms are vital.”

Jayanta Chakrabarty wrote from India:

“The Czech Republic and the world at large have become poorer in the sad demise of one of its most illustrious sons, Václav Havel. Not only was he a great champion of the oppressed fighting for liberty and democracy but also a harbinger of peace, seeking universal freedom from the shackles of tyranny and misrule. Being an author and playwright par excellence he has proved to the world the invincible power of the freedom of speech and literature. Havel's essays and plays, mostly written underground during Czechoslovakia's dark days of communist rule, are the most incisive and eloquent analyses of the harm communism has done to the lives of individuals and society. His outstanding literary work ‘The Power and the Powerless’ composed in 1978 helped in the process of reshaping Europe's destiny. Havel is also credited with giving a helping hand to the Prague Spring reforms initiated by Alexander Dubcek. Havel is an epitome of the power of the people to overcome totalitarian rule. A dissident playwright, he took the mantle of an unlikely hero in Czechoslovakia's 1989 Velvet Revolution coming after forty decades of suffocating Soviet repression.

Photo: Kristýna Maková
“The world recognized his exceptional contribution through numerous awards and honours including the Olof Palme Prize and the US Presidential Medal of Freedom. Lech Walesa's parting remark that the outstanding voice of wisdom will be missed and heard no more is perhaps the most appropriate epitaph for this great Czech soul.”

Vladimir Gudzenko follows Radio Prague in Russia:

“Only a month ago, the great Czech politician, writer, the former dissident and human rights fighter, Václav Havel, passed away. Sorry I never had a chance to meet that great man, although Havel visited Russia several times, and went to my favorite place in Russia’s capital: the Andrei Sakharov Museum and Centre.

Stephen Hrebenach is our regular listener in Ohio:

“I just wanted to comment on some of your recent programs. You have started the New Year quite strong. I quite enjoyed today’s Panorama about tvarůžky. I have heard of this cheese before, and I must admit that I am quite curious. I would like to visit the Czech Republic again someday, and when I do, I hope that I have the courage to try this specialty. This program reminded me of the return of Magazine as a special at the end of 2011. I do miss that feature and wish that it could return more frequently, perhaps as part of the rotation of monthly programs on Saturday, like Science Journal. I also liked the Spotlight about the Letná water tunnels.

“Is the ABC of Czech on your web site? I searched for it, but I was not successful. I remember this series and it is nice to hear it again. Is it me, or does Pavla actually sound younger (which obviously she was)? I suppose it happens to all of us. But it is just more apparent when comparing old recordings to present day, which most of us do not have the opportunity to do.”

All Radio Prague’s Czech language series can be found in our archive, specifically at The older the series the further back you need to go and the younger I will sound, I suppose.

Steve Olear comments on the way he listens to Radio Prague:

“I have been a fan of your broadcast for years, it is entertaining and informative. I have an hour and a half drive to work every morning and the 5am broadcast on XM satellite radio relay helps the time go by. I am sorry to say that for about a month now that broadcast has been off the air. XM still lists Radio Prague as scheduled at that time and the display on the radio says Radio Prague, but the show that is on the air is from Africa. The other broadcasts in the afternoon are fine, but I don't always get to hear them. I have contacted XM over and over about this problem for over a month now, but have not been able to get an answer from them. SiriusXM radio are not representing your station with the respect that you deserve. I would love to have the 5 am broadcast back on, but if it is not I will have to cancel my subscription and get your radio show from another platform. Thank you for your years of fine broadcasting and I look forward to many more. The sounds of the old country relay help me start my day.”

Now onto our monthly listeners’ competition

Hans Verner Lollike wrote from Denmark:

“The name is Adolf Franz Karl Viktor Maria Loos (Adolf Loos), born in 1870 in Brno, and died close to Vienna 1933. He was born into a German-speaking family, had a turbulent life with 3 marriages, and as many men of genius he was on the border of insanity.”

Adolf Loos
Mary Lou Krenek from Texas wrote:

“He had an incredible life being educated at the Dresden Technical University before moving to Vienna, Austria. Adolf Loos spent three years in America attending the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, visiting St. Louis and doing odd jobs in New York. He also spent an extended time in Paris, France. On his return to Vienna in 1896 he was a man of taste and intellectual refinement which gained him entry into the Viennese upper classes. He quickly established himself as the preferred architect of Vienna's bourgeoisie. Loos was married three times and became sickly as he got older. By the time he was fifty, he was nearly deaf and died penniless. However, he was buried with the Viennese rich and famous.

“Adolf Loos opposed Art Nouveau and Beaux-Arts historicism. As early as 1898, he announced his intention to avoid the use of unnecessary ornament. He wrote his famous essay ‘Ornament and Crime.’ His Steiner House in Vienna in 1910 has been referred to by some architectural historians as the first completely modern structure. His best known large structure is the Goldman and Salatsch Building in Vienna.

“Adolf Loos, through his writings and projects in Vienna, Paris, and throughout the Czech Republic, was able to influence other architects and designers. His selection of materials and use of Raumplan, which is ordering and size of interior spaces based on function, are still remembered in architectural circles today.”

Jaroslaw Jedrzejczak listens to us in Poland:

“His major works in Vienna are Cafe Museum (1899); American Bar (1908); Steiner House (1910); Goldman and Salatsch Building (1910); Scheu House (1913 ); Rufer House (1922) and Villa Moller (1926). His works in Brno – Sugar mill, Hrušovany u Brna (1915) and House for sugar mill owner, Hrušovany u Brna (1917). His works in Prague are the Villa Mueller (1928) and Villa Winternitz (1932). In Paris he designed the house and studio for Tristan Tzara (1925).”

Charles Konecny from the US:

“Loos knew what he wanted on the outside of the buildings he designed, and it wasn't much. He believed in simplicity, and as far as he was concerned, ornamentation on a structure was criminal because of the cost of labor and materials. So, he wrote an essay, called ‘Ornament and Crime’, where he went into some deep thinking to make his point. And even though he did stick to his ‘no ornamentation’ theme, many of his buildings appear to be rather handsome, sleek and stylish. His interiors however were not so austere. So while one can admire and be inspired by ornate structures, I guess it is good to have the Loos ‘look’ in the mix. It makes me wonder what Adolf would think of the Paneláks?”

Vladimir Gudzenko from Russia writes:

“World famous architect, born in a German family, near the Moravian town of Brno. His father was a stonemason and died when Adolf was nine years old. Adolf Loos was also an essayist and a theorist of architecture, he published his own journal, and his architecture styles are considered as modernism and purism.”

Colin Law from New Zealand:

Müller Villa
“Loos was the only son of Adolf Loos who was a stonemason and sculptor. The family was ethnically German and apparently Adolf Loos did not learn any other language than German. That meant that he needed assistance from Czech architects in preparing official documentation for his building projects in Czech lands.

“Adolf attended schools in Brno until at the age of 13 he moved to the Benedictine school at Melk Abbey in southern Austria. At 17 he was studying at the construction department of the Technical School in Liberec from where he graduated in 1889. In 1890 at age 20 he briefly joined the Technical University in Dresden but in the same year he entered one year of compulsory military service.

“In 1893 Adolf Loos went to the USA where he initially earned a living by washing dishes and as a bricklayer and paver. His three years in USA greatly influenced his future career. He returned via Paris and London to Vienna he began working as an architect.

“In 1902 Loos married 21 year old actress Linda Obertimpfler but the marriage lasted only three years. In 1912 he established a private school which had to close in 1914 because of World War 1.

Claire Beck Loos
“Loos was diagnosed with cancer in 1918 which required several operations. Also in 1918 he was granted Czechoslovak citizenship by President Masaryk. In 1919, Adolf Loos married again, this time to 20-year-old Elsie Altman, a dancer and operetta star. They divorced seven years later.

“Loos married again in 1929. His third wife was Claire Beck a writer and photographer. The daughter of his clients Otto and Olga Beck, Claire was 35 years younger than Adolf. They were divorced on April 30, 1932.

“By the time he was fifty Adolf Loos was nearly deaf and required people to speak to him through an ear horn. In 1933 he died, penniless, in a nursing home in Kalksburg near Vienna, and was buried close by. Some months later the body of Adolf Loos was moved to Vienna’s Zentralfriedhof to rest there among great names such as Beethoven, Strauss, Brahms and Schubert.”

Jayanta Chakrabarty from India:

“Introduced to the art of building at a tender age while working in his father's stone masonry shop in Brno, Adolf Loos rose to be one of the most outstanding pioneers of contemporary architecture. His radical, innovative outlook on life was reflected in his works which were embodiments of austere beauty, then quite unknown outside Austria. His theories were incorporated in a short essay ‘Ornament And Crime’ wherein he emphasised that excessive ornamentation was a crime and morally incorrect in the light of wastage of materials and economics of labour. Loos experiment with the classical tradition, passion for all aspects of design, lifestyle and taste are elaborated in his literary work ‘Spoken Into The Void’.”

Müller Villa
Thank you very much again for your well-researched answers. This time our little prize goes to Vladimir Gudzenko from Russia. Congratulations and your parcel will be posted first thing on Monday.

I have a brand new question for those of you who would like to give it another shot this month:

Regular listeners to Radio Prague are probably aware of the fact that the word ‘robot” is of Czech origin. This month we’d like to know the name of the Czech author who first introduced it to the public even though he did not coin the word himself.

Please send us your answers by the end of February to [email protected]. This is also the address for your reception reports, comments and questions regarding our programmes. Please keep them coming. Until next time, take care.