Photo: Czech Television

In this week’s Panorama: how walled-in windows can be a big attraction, the Vltava river gets a symbolic lighthouse and, the nation’s fierce one-eyed commander is back on his horse on Vítkov Hill - facing a new enemy.

Photo: Czech Television
The west Bohemian town of Loket has many attractions including a 12-century Gothic style castle, but, like any town, it has features that harm rather than help –such as the walled in windows of historic buildings. Now the town hall has found a way to turn them into a local attraction. It is using the work of young artists to create not just an illusion of windows, but of characters living in the said house. In one house an elderly woman leans out from the window watching life go by in the street below, in another a man enjoys a smoke – an illusion perfected by a number of cigarette butts strewn on the pavement below him –courtesy of the landlord who has even given his new tenant a name. A third window shows a kitten scaling up some heavy red brocade curtains. Many of the paintings create the illusion that one is actually able to see into the house with details such as wardrobes, paintings and chandeliers. Štepánka Bergerová who organizes the international summer workshops says there were no restrictions on the subject matter.

“No one specifically stated that the paintings should depict mysterious figures living in the house, though these have proved to be extremely popular. Artists could paint whatever they considered fitting – and then the house owners selected from the available works what they thought would most suit their house.”

Photo: Martina Košařová
Some create the illusion of daylight, others that of lit windows at night. One shows a mysterious figure moving inside the house with a lantern, another a young woman with huge sad eyes, looking out from behind a curtain. So far over half a dozen of these paintings have been installed, but another twenty or so windows are in the pipeline – to be filled by artists who take part in future summer workshops. The town’s deputy mayor Petr Zahradníček says he’s happy the idea of Loket street art has proved so successful.

“There is no pressure on house-owners –it is entirely up to them whether they want to be part of this. The paintings used are not originals, but copies made to order and covered with a special folio to protect them from dust and adverse weather conditions. The original paintings are displayed at the town hall.”

The locals find the idea charming and tourists stop to take pictures.

Man: “I think it is really nice – it gives the town more colour.”

Man: “I think it is a charming idea.”

The EU-funded Plener workshop has a fifteen year tradition, but never before have the works produced been seen by such a wide audience or given so much enjoyment.

Photo: Czech Television
As of October the Vltava River boasts its very own lighthouse. On stormy, dark nights it will guide lost boats safely to port on Prague’s Liben Island and in good weather it serves as a new tourist attraction. The lighthouse is red and white and stands three meters tall. The head of local the association of boaters Roman Kelbich says that funny as it may sound sailors on the river really needed it.

“It is the first lighthouse on the river that is fully functional and it serves its purpose well. Boaters who are not familiar with the territory often have problems finding their way into port in the dark and, in fact, the reason why we decided to build it is that in the past few months three motor boats were damaged in the vicinity because of problems coming to land.”

Roman Kelbich who came up with the idea of building a lighthouse on the river has been appointed its keeper by the members of the two boating clubs who dock some sixty boats on the island. Equipped with a strong led light, it needs very little maintenance for the time being. In the event of a power failure the light would automatically be powered by an emergency power generator and its flashing light is visible from a 5-kilometer distance. Unless of course there is a flood –in which case the lighthouse would most likely disappear from view.

Metal theft is quite common in the Czech Republic with thieves targeting copper roofing, gutters and wiring which are generally hard to secure. Czech Railways constantly monitors the state of thousands of kilometers of tracks from which thieves steal metal screws – resulting in a serious public hazard. In more than one case a thief has been electrocuted in the process of stealing wires.

According to a recent police report thieves in north- east Bohemia have now moved into higher gear, targeting bronze plaques, busts and statues and none of the country’s greats are spared. In fact the bigger they are the greater the temptation. Police in Hradec Kralove are now investigating the theft of a 200-kilo bronze statue that disappeared overnight. How thieves could possibly have loaded it onto a truck unnoticed is a mystery. The town of Ostromeř has also reported a missing life-size statue. Some town mayors have given up replacing missing plaques and busts with bronze replicas and are getting fake copies made of hardened plastic materials. The town of Javorník has put its bronze bust of president T.G.Masaryk under lock and key and has replaced it with a fake copy. Bronze plaques of war heroes suffer the same fate –going into storage to be replaced by cheap replicas.

The statue of Jan Žižka on Vítkov Hill
Now thieves have a new challenge – last week the National Museum proudly unveiled the renovated statue of Jan Žižka on Vítkov Hill overlooking Prague. The monument honoring the famous Hussite commander is over nine meters tall and is said to be the second largest equestrian statue in Europe and the third largest in the world. Although for two days the statue was lit up for the nation to see in all its glory the excitement has now died down and thieves will soon be able to get to work undisturbed. It will be interesting to see how long the one-eyed commander will last for – though, on second thoughts – I may go and study him close up.