Slav Epic

This week in Mailbox: Czech ice hockey player Jaromir Jagr; the origin of the name Hybernska Street; 'Slav Epic' by Alfons Mucha; street crime in Prague. Listeners quoted: Constantin Liviu Viorel, Romania; Stuart Paterson, UK; Steve Scott; Nicole Buckler, Ireland.

Hello and welcome to Mailbox.

Officially, spring has started here in the Northern Hemisphere but there are few signs of it to be seen here in the Czech Republic. So I guess, we can have one more look back at the Winter Olympics as our regular listener from Romania, Constantin Liviu Viorel, has sent us this question.

"The ice-hockey player Jagr was fantastic. He wears the number 68 and I have information that this number is related to the events from 1968, the Prague Spring and the Russian invasion. Is it true? Please speak about this thing in one of your programmes because I believe that ice hockey fans will be interested."

The male half of the English department told me it is common knowledge that Jagr indeed wears the number 68 on his jersey to honour his countrymen who died during the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Jaromir Jagr also told reporters that 1968 was the year in which his grandfather died.

Our listener Stuart Paterson from Lancashire had the following question:

"Who named Hybernska Street in Prague? Was it on the basis of what they found when they were digging the foundations for the buildings that are there today?"

Hybernska Street in Prague was named after the Franciscan monks who were invited to come to Prague in the mid-17th century to take part in the re-catholicisation process of the Czech lands. They built their monastery in the centre of Prague. Ireland was then known in these parts by the name of Hibernia and therefore the monks were called "hyberni", hence the name Hybernska Street. By the way the monastery had a large garden and the monks grew such exotic plants as potatoes and tobacco in it.

Last Monday, Steve Scott from somewhere in cyberspace sent us this question.

"Is there a place where one can view Mucha's 'Slav Epic'?"

Before I could answer the question in Mailbox, there was some new development in the matter and the query was answered on Wednesday in a report by Jan Velinger who also explains what the 'Slav Epic' is.

"Back in 1928 the American weekly 'Time' noted its monumental completion: The Epic of Slavic History, or Slav Epic as it is known now. Twenty paintings so enormous, the weekly described Mucha as working on step-ladders to get them done. The series took the great Czech painter 18 years to complete, and when it was finished he donated it to the Czech capital. He even designed a building for the collection in Prague, which was never built. The series, though for a time displayed at Prague's famous Veletrzni Palace, was later moved to the small Moravian town of Moravsky Krumlov - where it can be seen to this day."

But now the latest news is that on Tuesday, Prague city councillors officially approved plans for a new pavilion to be built in Prague's Stromovka Park which will house the Slav Epic. Completed in 1928, the series celebrates the mythical beginnings and legendary milestones in Slav history. Until now the series has lacked a 'permanent' home, which is now due to change.

And staying with the city of Prague, this is what Nicole Buckler from Ireland wrote to us in her long e-mail.

"Within the space of four days, we were pickpocketed to the tune of 1000 euro between us, ripped off in a taxi, nearly hurt when a fight between locals broke out next to us, consistently ripped off in restaurants, treated rudely and with contempt and disdain, and even witnessed a robbery in front of us. Nearly every tourist we had spoken to had been pickpocketed. One old man at our hotel had even had his insulin stolen. Prague is a beautiful city with an amazing history and fantastic monuments. However this does not mean anything if you do not assume your duty of care towards tourists."

In her e-mail Nicole suggested that the Czech authorities introduce a separate tourist police force and also an information campaign. Well, all we can say that Nicole must have experienced an awful lot of bad luck and we are very sorry to hear that. Tourists in every capital city need to be on their guard. In Prague, tourists are regularly warned by announcements on trams, and now there are also signs in the metro and on the trams, urging tourists to beware of pickpockets - many of whom actually converge on Prague in the main tourist season from other Eastern European countries.

We are just about out of time, so before I say good bye, let me repeat Radio Prague's competition question for March.

"Which person who was born and lived in what is now the Czech Republic has been dubbed the 'father of genetics'?"

You still have until next Friday to send us the answer to [email protected] or Radio Prague, 12099, Prague, Czech Republic. Thank you for all your letters and comments and please keep them coming.