Bambini di Praga

This week we talk about Czech Christmas carols, the honey cake and graffiti in Prague. We quote from letters sent by: Paul Goeltz, US; Jonathan Ryshpan, US; Steve Ashton, UK; Ben Vreke, Australia.

Otto Wichterle chemist,  patented 150 inventions,  the most famous of which is hydrogel,  used to make the first soft contact lenses in the world. This card depicts his machine for making lenses from 1961. | Photo: National Technical Museum
Welcome to Mailbox, Radio Prague's letters programme.

First of all, let me remind all shortwave enthusiasts among our listeners that a new edition of Radio Prague's QSL cards is out and ready to be sent out in exchange for your reception reports. This year the cards feature all those remarkable inventors and scientists who contributed to the development of international science and technology, such as the inventor of soft contact lenses, Otto Wichterle, and the doctor who discovered the four basic blood groups, Jan Jansky. You can have a look at the cards, as well as cards from ten previous years on our website

Now, on to your letters. First one last brief look back at Christmas. Paul Goelz from the US has sent us this e-mail.

"Dear Radio Prague, I cannot thank you enough for introducing me to Czech Christmas carols and to [the children's quire] Bambini di Praga in particular! I think it was an evening. I was sitting on the couch listening to short wave using a new antenna that Santa brought me. I was half asleep when I happened on Radio Prague and the Christmas program. The music was so beautiful I woke up. And then I remembered that my radio could record, so I pressed record and captured the last portion of the last tune you played.... 'Jak jsi krasne, Jezulatko'.

"I could not get it out of my head! My girlfriend Cindy and I are both musicians, so we learned the tune and played along with it on cello and violin and we love it. I then discovered that I could download the whole program and listen to it without the static but I have to say that I prefer the scratchy recording I made from shortwave... there is some magic in it I think. I looked up Bambini di Praga on the internet and found a place in Europe somewhere that has the CDs. Through the miracle of the internet, a couple weeks later I have the whole CD and I am very happy!"

Thank you very much, Paul, for that lovely letter - I must say that Bambini di Praga's rendering of Christmas carols is my favourite, too.

A couple of years ago we broadcast a feature about a special type of cake, now ubiquitous in the Czech Republic. It is the honey cake or medovnik. But it is not Czech - the cake is baked here by a Russian family. Opinions differ as to where the recipe comes from, some say Ukraine, others as far as the Caucasus. Listeners or readers often write in to ask for the recipe - which we don't have, of course, because it's top secret. But Jonathan Ryshpan from California sent us a different e-mail.

"My grandmother's maiden name was Medovnik, but the family story is that her family ran a bar which served mead. She was Jewish, and her family came from Lithuania. But maybe they were bakers in Prague, who knows?"

Well, in those days no one in Prague knew about medovnik, as it is a very recent appearance, but mead or medovina has been produced in this part of the world since time immemorial.

Steve Ashton, from the UK recently visited the Czech Republic and wanted to share his experiences.

"You have a great city and lovely beer. Clean streets, great food and restaurants, the old town area and the Gothic architecture have amazed me. Just one concern. Graffiti. What a shame it is on all the walls, main roads to the tourist centre. Even on the historical buildings. I work in Birmingham and a success over the last year has been to remove graffiti as it appears. A team is employed to tackle the graffiti. Trying to catch the offenders was unsuccessful. However, cleaning it as it appears seems to have worked well. How about a graffiti removal event every year? Get people from all over Europe to participate."

Graffiti is a concern for most if not all Prague municipalities. Prague 6 recently launched an anti-graffiti programme, removing it as soon as it appears. For example, the town of Kadan gives financial rewards to citizens who report on graffiti sprayers.

From Australia, Ben Vreke writes:

"Could you please supply me with the English translation of the lyrics to the song Dekuji by Karel Kryl. I heard this song recently on a video in the little cinema in the Museum of Communism in Prague and all I could get were the lyrics in the Czech language. The English translation would be very much appreciated."

We get requests like that quite often and, I'm afraid we cannot help you. Radio Prague is not able to provide translations or tips for good restaurants and shopping for that matter. We are here to broadcast. Professional translators from and into Czech are now available all over the world, if not physically, then always through the internet and a text like this should cost only a few dollars.

Our time is up now, so let's repeat our competition question for January.

"The sugar cube is something that everybody is familiar with but what do we know about its origin? This month we would like to know who, when and where first invented the sugar cube."

The address for your answers, as well as comments on our programme, is as usual: Radio Prague, 12099 Prague, Czech Republic or [email protected].